Networking 101: What you need to know to grow your small business
Networking is an important business development skill for every entrepreneur and is a major contributor to success, whether you’re a small business owner or you work for someone else. I’ve met many young lawyers, CPAs and business consultants who were shocked to discover that not only were they expected to be excellent in their basic job skills - they were also expected to bring in new clients.
Professionals in service industries, entrepreneurs, and small business owners all need strong networking skills. If you’re just starting out and trying to build your business, here are some networking 101 tips you should remember.
Networking tip #1: The best networking is done face-to-face, not online. Of course it’s uncomfortable to walk into a room full of people you don’t know. It feels awkward and at first, you might not know how to behave at networking events. (If I just described you, see My Top 10 Networking Tips for Entrepreneurs) Although it’s a lot easier or safer to connect via LinkedIn or Twitter, you need to be comfortable talking to people face to face. Real connections are made over real conversations.
Networking tip #2: Some of your networking should be online. Don’t believe what you hear when someone tells you that your target market or referral sources aren’t online. Of course they are! According to Pew Research Center, nearly 70% of all U.S. adults use Facebook - the most widely used social media platform. Small business owners, entrepreneurs, and individuals in service industries should have an active social media presence focused on their careers. The most logical place for online networking is LinkedIn. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile or it’s not up to date, fix that situation now!
Networking tip #3: Focus on being helpful. Don’t worry so much about what you need. Focus on helping the people around you. They’ll remember and be ready to help you when you need it. Besides, you’ll be demonstrating your expertise or the breadth and power of your network.
Networking tip #4: Tell others how they can help you. You won’t always have the opportunity to tell someone how they can help you, but be prepared when you do. Think about the situations your customers are typically facing when they need what you have to offer. Describe those situations to your referral sources. If they know to recommend you when they meet people who are going through a merger, or who have an aging parent, or a sick dog, or whatever - they will!
Networking tip #5: Remember it takes time. Networking is a cumulative process. Your networking might pay off within a few months, or it might take a few years. Once the ball starts rolling, it will continue to roll and gain momentum as your network grows. Be patient.
By understanding that networking takes time, you’ll be able to focus on enjoying the process. You might never love walking into a Business After 5 on your own, but with practice, it will get easier. Your business and your career will thank you for putting out the effort networking requires.