- Why do you need to network as a small business owner?
- How do you network effectively in person?
- How do you network virtually?
Q: How do I network my small business?
A: Small business networking is a key aspect of entrepreneurship that is often overlooked; be it in person or online, taking the time to network is an investment in the future of your business that’s importance cannot be understated.
Small business networking is the key to finding new clients, creating better business relationships, and in many cases, taking your business to the next level.
While business owner networking can be, and frequently is, carried out in person, the recent digital shift has made what used to be a very personal affair into something that can be done from the comfort of home.
With recent technological advancements and the boom of networking applications, there’s no reason not to be trying to build your business network digitally as well.
Although business networking can be broken down into two categories, in-person and virtual, almost any interaction can be connected to networking.
Stopping by happy hour with other business owners, introducing others to your business, and talking about your business online are all valid examples of networking.
Take a look below to understand how networking has changed over the years, how it’s stayed the same, and why it’s so important for business owners to build a network of their own.
Read more: Small Business Branding | Mastering the Attention Economy
Why is Networking Important for Small Business Owners?
Running a small business takes a lot of work.
It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday operations of your business, and sometimes it just doesn’t seem possible to do all the things necessary to keep the lights on and still make it to small business networking events.
Unfortunately, feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day is par for the course when it comes to running a business.
Networking is investing. You are trading your time for connections.
This exchange can happen in several different ways. There are various organizations that you can join, local groups that put you in the same room with other like-minded business owners, and several virtual small business networking solutions.
You can network any way you’d like. The important thing is that you invest your time in doing it.
In smaller communities, some of the more well-established small business owners might not think it necessary to network. Unless they don’t want to grow, this is woefully misguided.
A stagnant business is a dying business. A lack of networking severely limits growth, and experience, and could even be taking a considerable chunk of potential profits.
Regardless of how connected or entrenched in the community, a business owner might think they are, networking is a free practice that has historically proven to pay dividends in the long run.
By networking, these small business owners are not only helping their businesses through word-of-mouth advertising and introductions to potential clients, but they are also helping other business owners in their communities!
How Do I Network My Small Business?
There is no “right” way to network. Therefore, the best way to do it is by taking advantage of all of the resources made available to you as a small business owner.
This can include, but isn’t limited to:
- Small business networking groups
- Community-specific local networking organizations
- Using the internet to search for other similarly minded business owners
- Virtual networking applications such as LinkedIn or Clubhouse
Utilizing these methods grants entrepreneurs an almost guaranteed competitive edge.
Just taking a few extra moments a day to check an app or stop in for a meeting does something many business owners spend their entire careers chasing.
It makes you visible.
Read more: Why Networking Is Still Important And How To Use It To Continue Striving In Your Career
How Can You Network In Person?
You don’t need any fancy small business networking equipment to succeed at in-person networking.
Networking in person can be as professional as joining an elite community of other handpicked entrepreneurs, or as casual as a drink during happy hour with other business owners.
Networking is nothing more than the exchange of time for connections, so sometimes all it takes is a smile and a nod while you’re walking home.
Other times, however, it’s going to take a little bit more elbow grease.
Below, we will look at a few different small business networking groups that are accessible from almost anywhere.
After learning a bit about these groups, we’ll look into other ways you as a business owner can create a network; keep reading to learn more!
Read more: The Industry Leader Trap: Should You Ignore The Major Players?
Founded in 1905, the Rotary Club International has been doing good in communities worldwide for well over a century.
The Rotary Club focuses on growing local economies, fighting disease, and several other altruistic initiatives.
While not inherently designed for networking, showing your community that you as a small business owner have your neighbors’ best interests at heart goes a very long way.
Not to mention the connections made by interacting with other like-minded and community-driven entrepreneurs.
Giving back to your community shouldn’t be motivated by personal gain, but if you look at two identical businesses, one loved by the community and one hated by the community, the business respected by locals will fare far better than its counterpart.
Chamber of Commerce
Otherwise known as a business network or a board of trade, your local chamber of commerce is designed specifically for entrepreneurs looking to make connections, meet others, and bolster business.
Unfortunately, due to the high number of small towns and cities in the United States, your city’s chamber of commerce could be completely different than the chamber of commerce an hour down the road.
Despite these fluctuations in quality and design, the chamber of commerce is an excellent place to get started for any entrepreneur.
Not only does joining the organization grant access to an already functioning business network, but it also adds legitimacy to any current operations.
The best way to determine if your area’s chamber has something you are looking for is simply to reach out, get involved, and ask questions.
Local events will do wonders for your small business.
Many cities have festivals each year or other events that require vendors, if your business is selling a product – become a vendor!
Meet the people that you’re hoping to turn into customers; help them put a face to a name and let them know where you are operating.
Sometimes it takes a bit of hand-holding, but these local events provide the unique opportunity to network while still selling your wares.
If your business offers a service, find other ways to get involved in these events, you don’t have to be a vendor to stand out and build relationships.
American Marketing Association
Marketing is another one of those words that some entrepreneurs just seem to shy away from.
Regardless of whether or not your business is in the industry, your business could benefit from marketing.
There aren’t any businesses that would be worse off than they were before with a well-executed marketing initiative.
The American Marketing Association has been challenging the status quo and updating best practices for over fifty years.
While this organization does have fees associated with joining, these fees are relatively low, especially if you live close to a local AMA chapter.
Check out their member page to find your closest local chapter.
3 Quick Tips for Small Business Networking
#1 Organize Networking Events
There are several more ways to effectively manage small business networking, especially if you are a willing host. Throwing events yourself is incredibly effective.
By hosting local events yourself, you are given the unique opportunity to set the tone, attract the individuals that you would like to attract, and give yourself and your business center stage.
Getting what you want out of an event isn’t always guaranteed to happen, but if you’re the one organizing the event, it’s far more likely.
#2 Use Business Cards Strategically
Business cards are cheap, and easy to get printed, and their usefulness could not be overstated.
Always carrying these cards with you might seem tacky, and they should only be used in appropriate situations, but if you are selling vacuum cleaner parts and you strike up a conversation with a man who keeps mentioning his failing vacuum, the business card is going to go a very long way.
Independent of carrying business cards, don’t be scared to tell people about your business.
#3 Talk About Your Business
Casual conversation can quickly turn into business conversations with a little bit of nudging, you just can’t be afraid to give that push.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to network with your small business in person.
Whether it be joining local organizations to meet other entrepreneurs and create connections, signing up for local events, hosting your events, or even just making the most out of every casual encounter, small business networking is paramount for taking your business to the next level.
What Are the Best Ways to Virtually Network?
The ever-changing digital landscape has proven that technology knows no bounds and that there’s an application for anything you can think of.
It only makes sense that small business virtual networking has seen an explosion in innovation and applications in recent years.
Similar to the section on networking in person, here we will list some of the more popular virtual networking applications with some quick explanations.
Afterward, we’ll talk about other innovative ways you can take your networking digital.
LinkedIn doesn’t need much of an introduction, launched in 2002, LinkedIn is an online service designed for business and employment-oriented services.
Essentially, it helps place employees with employers and vice versa.
It can be easy to forego a LinkedIn page, especially if your small business is already operating smoothly, but the importance of an easily accessible online presence can’t be understated.
Not only does an online presence lend legitimacy to your operations, but the increased visibility can help drive potential customers as well as potential employees.
Spend some time adding all the relevant information to your page, if possible, add some friends, and get out there and network!
This one is a bit of a combination of virtual and physical small business networking. Eventbrite matches entrepreneurs with events or vice versa.
More than just a standard ticketing service, Eventbrite utilizes several marketing endeavors and social media initiatives to build community and determine which events are generating the most sales.
Although not as straightforward as some of the other applications, Eventbrite uses virtual tools to bring help you find physical networking locations.
Some of these networking applications started as nothing more than chat rooms or voice sharing apps. Clubhouse falls in the latter category.
As with a number of these small business virtual networking tools, the pandemic accelerated the use of this app considerably.
What began as a platform for podcasting quickly transitioned into an audio-sharing platform.
Clubhouse allows entrepreneurs to join rooms, clubs, and events, as well as many other features.
These easy access channels allow the motivated entrepreneur to make friends and connections without worrying about how correctly your sentences have been written.
GroupMe is a free group messaging app that allows users to join and interact with as many chats as they would like.
Interoperability on every device makes GroupMe an excellent way to bring iOS and Android users together without starting an argument.
This app’s unlimited access to chat rooms makes it a perfect device to utilize when meeting other entrepreneurs online.
The ability to quickly join conversations, send media and even share locations makes GroupMe an excellent tool for entrepreneurs hoping to boost their online visibility.
Speaking of apps that exploded in popularity during the pandemic, Zoom is a video conferencing app that is used by educators, entrepreneurs, and employers alike.
Similar to GroupMe, Zoom is compatible with almost any device. Additionally, there are two different plans on Zoom designed for businesses; the Business plan and the Enterprise plan.
These two business-oriented plans make networking as simple as signing in.
Paired with dedicated customer support and branding on all of your company invitations, Zoom makes small business virtual networking easy.
Similar to the physical networking options, there are ample opportunities for entrepreneurs to virtually network.
However, outside of the apps listed, there are still more ways to get the most out of virtual networking.
Other Virtual Techniques
First, be sure to join and participate in online forums.
While this may seem inconsequential, numerous websites exist solely to connect small business owners where you can discuss thoughts and ideas with other entrepreneurs.
Second, talk to everyone you can.
This step isn’t as easy for some of the less technically inclined entrepreneurs, but the internet connects billions of people from every corner of the world.
In other words, it’s designed for you to speak with people you normally wouldn’t.
Third, be active on social media!
An active page for your business not only allows you to be discovered by individuals who normally you wouldn’t cross paths with, but it also is an excellent way to connect with other business owners with pages of their own.
Finally, make use of virtual conferences and other networking events.
Being active in these spaces pays dividends, and for those entrepreneurs that struggle with the anxiety associated with in-person networking, these conferences and events are a great way to overcome some of those initial jitters.
Just because you are seeing success with your small business, it doesn’t give you an excuse to neglect networking.
A stagnant business is a dying business, and there are always opportunities to grow and expand; small business networking allows you to accomplish this without breaking the bank on marketing initiatives and consultants.
Utilize the many services provided for entrepreneurs, and take full advantage of as many in-person and virtual small business networking solutions as you can.
It’s important to remember that despite its necessity, networking requires a lot of energy.
Some entrepreneurs struggle with the emotional output required to handle building these connections, and that’s okay.
Building a healthy small business network is something that you’re working towards, so if you have trouble with the events and in-person networking, try it virtually.
If you’re having trouble virtually, focus on in-person networking.
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Just keep moving forward, and realize that there are several tools available for small business owners everywhere.
Alliance Virtual Offices has several tools that will not only help your business grow but provide much-needed networking support.
Alliance Virtual Offices’s Virtual Phone Number gives your business its network of phone numbers, adding professionalism and bringing your team closer together.
Our Live Receptionist gives you as a small business owner the time to make time for these networking events.
Never feel like you are too busy for networking.
Small business networking is an investment into your business that costs little more than time and pays dividends the stronger the network you build becomes.
Contact us if you’re an experienced small business owner looking to expand your operations, or if you’re a brand new entrepreneur looking to incorporate.
It doesn’t matter how big your business network is right now, we can give you the tools to make it great.