As a small business owner, you will always be seeking new ways to improve and grow, and you will need to find a combination of tried and tested methods that work for your business. Whether you employ simple productivity tools such as Kaizen or a vast array of new digital technologies designed to increase efficiency, good old-fashioned business networking still has a crucial part to play in the success of any small business.
Benefits of Business Networking
It is worth bearing in mind the old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, when it comes to growing your small business. Building a mutually beneficial business network should be seen as a priority for small business owners.
While exclusive access to private events and even potential speaking engagements can be a nice bonus, there are many more worthwhile benefits to be gained from participating in a local business network. Networking can be a powerful tool, which can lead to new customer leads, collaborative opportunities and fresh ideas. It can also be a useful vehicle for learning directly from other small business owners, as well as an effective way to build authority in your niche which can ensure you’re always one step ahead of your competitors.
So, how does business networking work?
Joe Polish is regarded by many entrepreneurs as the king of business networking, and he has identified nine ways to achieve what he calls, “Magical Rapport”. Polish says that each of these skills is necessary to achieve success and create lasting impact when networking in the business world.
As you will see, most of these involve giving rather than taking, first and foremost. Polish emphasised the importance of this principle with his statement: “Life gives to the givers and takes from the takers.” He argues that if you make giving service to others your priority, then good things will come back to you.
This happens organically when others appreciate and respect what you have to offer, and when your relationships are genuine rather than pseudo-associations. Many small business owners find that they gain more referrals and opportunities when they give without the expectation of anything in return. When we let go of the primary goal of selling, we actually improve our ability to build valuable relationships and the sales will come naturally as a result.
Joe Polish’s “Magical Rapport”
- Focus on how you will help them reduce their suffering: when you focus on helping others to solve a problem or reduce their “pain” in some way, you create a long-lasting bond that they will never forget.
Invest time, money, and energy on relationships: Make it a habit to connect with others daily. Develop a genuine desire to help others and add as much value as possible to their lives, and you will reap the rewards ten-fold.
Be the type of person they would always answer the phone for.
Be useful, grateful, and valuable, and never take people for granted.
Treat others how you would love to be treated.
Avoid formalities, be fun and memorable, not boring.
Give value on the spot.
- Get as close to in-person as you can.
More Business Networking Tips
How to get started
Ask around and see what business networking events your peers are attending. Local conferences, events and trade shows are excellent ways of meeting new people and offer great opportunities for business development. You should also check out events organised by your local chamber of commerce.
Attend events with a plan
Have a specific goal—for example, to schedule three follow-up meetings. Small business owners should also update their networking strategy annually and set specific goals to work towards. At the end of each year, assess how far your met your goals, and how relationships with people in your network helped your business.
Pay attention to your appearance
First impressions count for a lot.
How Your Professional Appearance Affects Your ProductivityHow you dress at work can have a big impact on how you are perceived and also your productivity. Not convinced? Then let Tara Edwards explain what you wear at work is just as important as what you say and do.
Prepare a brief elevator pitch, introducing yourself and your business
This can be particularly helpful if you’re nervous about meeting new people, as it can open the door to a deeper conversation. However, you should always avoid hard selling and remember to focus on building genuine relationships first and foremost.
Avoid spending too much time with people you know
Make a concerted effort to speak to people you have never met before, but take care not to monopolise anybody’s time.
Focus on quality over quantity
It is more valuable to build connections with five quality people than 30 “contacts” you won’t remember afterwards.
Connect with influencers
Put time and effort into building relationships of trust with influencers and “movers and shakers” within your industry. Focus on what you can do for them, rather than what they can do for you. Nourish these connections and never take them for granted.
Make the conversation about the person you are speaking with. It doesn’t have to be strictly business talk. By maintaining eye contact, listening attentively and responding with relevant, insightful questions, you’re separating yourself from the rest of the pack and are well on your way to fostering a genuine relationship.
Develop open-ended questions
You can use these to ignite a conversation. Be curious about others and try to ask interesting and different questions. Don’t ask the same old, “so what do you do?” question if you can help it.
Step out of your comfort zone
Connecting with peers in your own industry is the first step in a networking strategy, but it shouldn’t stop there. Meeting people from outside your industry can bring a fresh perspective to your business.
Ask permission to contact people
>When you finish a conversation, ask if it would be OK to follow up or meet with them after the event, and try to suggest a concrete goal for any subsequent meeting.
Categorise your new contacts
When you arrive back at the office with a stack of business cards, it is a good idea to categorise your new contacts so that you can prioritise your follow up communications accordingly.
Follow up in a unique and different way. For example, send a handwritten note and reference something you actually talked about at the event. Reach out on social media or LinkedIn. Google them and find out more about them. Like, comment and share their content. Personalise your communications and don’t send out generic, standardised messages. Finally, offering to interview some of your most influential new contacts could help to further grow your network, especially if you take a strategic approach. This could be done in the context of a podcast or webinar.
What if you’re an introvert?
Some entrepreneurs feel uncomfortable at networking events because they feel like they’re walking into a party without knowing anybody. However, it helps to remember that everybody else is in the same boat. When you arrive, start by scanning the room and find someone who looks even more uncomfortable than you. Speak to them first to begin building your own confidence in the room.
To conclude, the most effective small business networking results in genuine relationships; it isn’t simply about exchanging business cards. When building relationships, treating people as friends rather than business contacts will take you much further. Identify common ground, keep communications light, and make it clear that you care about the relationship.