Small businesses can often feel isolated when it comes to tackling everyday challenges and forming long-term goals. The truth is, entrepreneurs have so many common obstacles, and breaking out of your bubble to get in touch with business owners like yourself can help you overcome your immediate concerns and enhance your business’s success down the road.
So why aren’t you already focusing on building your network? Many small business owners see networking as a time-draining process with a slow return on the time invested. But not to worry-- we have 5 tips to make networking a rewarding, pain-free process:
1. Join a professional organization
No matter what kind of business you own, chances are there is a professional organization you can join that is devoted to furthering its members in their field. These organizations provide workshops and guest lectures in order to help you increase your industry knowledge. They also provide an opportunities to socialize with others within your own industry, allowing you to build on your sense of community, gain mentors, and perhaps be a mentor yourself for an up and coming entrepreneur.
Most organizations provide their members with a local job board, lunch & learn events, and an industry journal in exchange for an annual fee. Some organizations like the National Association of Women Business Owners have free membership.
2. Maximize your web sources
These days, it’s easier than ever to expand your network by connecting with the people who have the expertise you’re looking for. Platforms like LinkedIn and Biznik allow you to further your personal brand, share your industry novel, and connect with professionals within your industry along with people or companies who can benefit from your product or service.
3. Read up on your industry
Staying current with innovations within your industry is important when talking to people within your field. You can subscribe to magazines and journals, or you can find a favorite online blog to follow. You’ll start building a strong store of knowledge and opinions on current events within your industry, and this will allow you to contribute to an interesting, meaningful conversation about your business and others like it.
4. Watch a morning variety show
When expanding your network, you can’t talk shop all the time. As you’re getting ready in the mornings, have on a morning show like Today or Good Morning America, or tune in to NPR during your commute. These programs give a great overview of everything going on within politics, pop culture, sports, and foreign affairs. That will help you know a little bit of everything when meeting new people, and you can pull from subjects that seem to interest them. Just remember to veer away from controversial material in professional settings.
5. Follow Up
This is the most important step to take when networking. If you want to maintain strong relationships with people who can strengthen your business, you will need to follow up with them periodically. Connecting on LinkedIn is a great way to keep up with people, but sending a letter or picking up the phone every month is even more personal. Don’t forget to invite your connections to a cup of coffee before work every now and then-- you’ll show that you appreciate the time and advice they offer you.