As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you’ve probably been spending a lot of time at your business or in your office. Most likely, it’s too much time. This is not the best way to grow your business or build your brand.
One major way to flourish is through networking. There are a lot of different ways to grow your business network. Some require more time and effort than others, but like many things, you get what you put in. Remember that in the end, it’s about building a strong network so you can have a successful business. Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Business associations
Some business associations and organizations are specific to your niche or location, while others are more general. There can be fees associated with joining an organization, so be sure to take that into consideration when researching them. Other things to consider are the group’s total membership, how many events it organizes and additional benefits such as group discounts, training or education, or political advocacy.
The biggest benefit to joining an association is the link it provides you to other entrepreneurs and small business owners. You’ll be able to connect with these people at association events and online. It’s also a good icebreaker to mention your connection to the association when you see a fellow member at a different event.
Conferences are probably the place where you will find the most important people in your industry, whether they are presenters or fellow attendees. This is the best opportunity to meet influencers of your field, so you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared.
This is a prime time to exchange promotional products for your business (such as pens and notepads). If you go with something more conventional like a business card, keep in mind that plenty of others will be handing theirs out, too. You’ll want to make sure your card stand out with a great design. Hire an expert to design your card if you are having trouble with it yourself. If you haven’t already connected with these people online, your business card is equivalent to their first impression of your brand.
3. Guest speaker
If you planned to attend a conference anyway, it’s a good idea to become a guest speaker. This will boost your credibility among your colleagues. Public speaking can be challenging for many, but enough practice will help you prepare to present like a champ.
Speak about your subject with confidence, and keep an open mind when it comes to comments and questions from the audience. Treat it as a conversation, and don’t read off of slides. Record your speaking events and post them to your website and social media to expand your reach. You may start at smaller speaking engagements, but you may get invited to bigger events as you continue to build your network and your brand.
4. Cross promotions
Cross promotion also builds good will among fellow entrepreneurs. Some of the ways to do this include partnering with another business to sponsor or host an event, bundle products together or put each other’s flyers up in your businesses. Be sure to partner with a non-competing brand to expand your network best. This also ensures you aren’t contending for customers.
This doesn’t have to be complex or time consuming. It can be as easy as sharing another business’s social media post through your social media. You could also mention the business’s latest promotion in your newsletter. If the partnership works out, you can use it as a successful example to partner with another business later.
5. Community Service
Call on your fellow business owners to get out in the community to help others. Not only will this improve your neighborhood, it’s a cost-effective way to build a relationship with the other entrepreneurs. It also helps build your brand in the community, which could produce new customers.
One option is to host a community picnic to connect people to local social services. You could also have a school supplies giveaway or clean up and repair a local park. Be sure to wear matching T-shirts or use bags with your business names and logos on it to build brand awareness.
If you can’t organize an event, volunteer to sit on a board for a nonprofit organization. Offer the nonprofit help with services specific to your expertise. For example, if you work in marketing, you might suggest a campaign using Google Ad Grants. Many of these boards consist of other business owners, and having this in common is a good way to start the ball rolling on a conversation.
Expanding your business network can be as simple as having a cup of coffee with your neighboring business owner or as big as hosting the next meet and greet for local Chamber of Commerce members. There is value in both. You have to decide what works best for you and your business because that’s what it’s about at the end of the day.