One of the most valuable (and simplest to accomplish) strategies a small business owner can implement is making connections with other small business owners. Business networking allows small business owners to meet other likeminded people, practice a business pitch and form valuable relationships with others in the business world.
Most entrepreneurs and small business owners do not travel in highly business-oriented circles within their personal lives. Networking allows a business owner to make connections with people whose services and expertise may benefit the business itself, or whose personal and professional connections include potential clients who can be referred. Business networking can be a valuable opportunity to expand one’s sphere of influence.
In many urban and suburban areas, there is likely a business networking event nearly each day of the week. From structured meetings and business lunches to business-social mixers and trade shows, there are countless opportunities to network. Many events are free or low cost, allowing a business owner to attend with little risk.
Types of networking
Many networking events are casual affairs in a restaurant or bar setting where small business owners have the opportunity to introduce themselves and meet other people. For socially-inclined service providers or sales-based businesses, these events can be a valuable chance for a business owner or professional to get his or her name out amongst a large group.
Some groups including Business Networking International (BNI), which happens to be the world’s largest networking group, have multiple chapters which hold meetings at set times. Each BNI chapter is industry exclusive with a single representative from each industry present. The same group meets each week, allowing members to get to know each other and form deeper relationships. Members are encouraged to refer business to other members of the chapter, and these interactions are tracked.
Other groups exist, often managed by an individual professional or business owner in which the group is not always the same and those present have the opportunity to introduce themselves and speak about their business and needs in a round-table setting. For those who attend often, there will be some overlap, providing perhaps the best of both worlds: business networking in which the opportunity exists to build relationships with others while meeting a larger number of people.
Don’t waste time; choose wisely
It can be frustrating for any small business owner or professional to attend event after event and not turn up any leads. It is a good idea to try different types of business networking and identify what is most effective for the individual business. While valuable for many, networking is not a required activity for business owners: if casual events in noisy or dark bars are not worthwhile, there is no reason to waste valuable time on them. Look instead for structured events which allow time for presentations and if necessary, feedback.
The right kind of networking can be an extremely valuable asset for team building and growing a client base. Connecting to professionals and business owners in complimentary industries can create distributions centers, where every member of a group can refer to the others without overlapping.
By experimenting with business networking and pinpointing the most appropriate venues for each individual small business, owners can tap into a wealth of resources and connections. These opportunities allow professionals who may be nervous in sales to practice and perfect business pitches as well as meet and greet others who can assist in business growth.
All it takes to get started is a local newspaper listing, some professional business cards and a firm handshake. By finding the right event or group and getting involved, a small business owner can make the connections to take a business to the next level.