There's a reason companies spend time networking. Whether at local events or national conferences, most business events include time for networking. The reason is simple: networking helps businesses of all sizes. If you're a small business owner, here's why networking should be an important part of your overall marketing strategy and some tips and tricks for leveraging the time you invest in networking activities.
1. Learn From Others With Similar Goals
Networking is an opportunity to save time. When you get together with other small business owners, you're able to exchange ideas. This leads to something invaluable: learning.
Whether you are exploring changing POS systems, interested in finding a good photographer to take product photos or interested in learning about a local college's internship program, you'll find a wealth of information from your local business community.
Formal networking groups often offer a regular meetup where there's time to mingle, a presentation and then more time for networking. You'll learn from an expert with experience but also connect with others in your community. Share your pain points and solutions, and others will, too!
What Small Business Networking Groups Should I Join?
Start with your local Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber is a membership-based organization made up of business owners.
Dues pay for staff that advocate and consult on your behalf, host mixers and more.
You may think this is a social event, but mixers are usually hosted at local businesses. That means you can sponsor an event and get people in your door. Show off what you do, your space and your knowledge while building connections.
Chambers often provide benefits pools, which allow you to offer competitive perks to employees helping with attraction and retention of quality staff.
Finally, chambers offer training, access to grants and send out regular updates on legislative and other business news that's important to stay on top of.
Rotary international is another networking group to join
Rotary is a service-based organization for business owners. Chapters meet weekly, usually for breakfast or lunch, and enjoy a presentation and time to network.
Rotary members perform acts of service around their community (and the world). This community-involvement feels good to do but also offers a way to meet people outside of your immediate industry and social circle.
Volunteering is a great way to connect and it also makes you (and your business) more visible. Many business owners will volunteer a few team members to volunteer in a particular activity and all wear the company's logo on their clothes.
2. 85% of Jobs are Filled Through Networking
Networking is a great way to find candidates. For example, attending a trade show or conference opens you up to people from outside of your area and is a great way to find candidates for openings.
When attending these types of events, it's important to be prepared.
The first thing you should do is update job postings on your website and any online sites. Then, make sure to link to these on your digital business card. When you meet prospects, quickly share your information, which will include links to jobs right for them.
College job fairs are another great place for networking and students love to see employers that use technology so make sure to set up your digital business card today.
3. Develop Confidence and Skills
The more you put yourself and your business out there, the sharper you become.
Small business networking is a great time to give your elevator pitch and answer questions about your business. Quickly learn, based on others' reactions and follow-up questions, how to modify your pitch and answers to keep people interested.
4. Find Opportunities for Collaboration
Small businesses exist in a microcosm that is great for collaboration.
For example, if your small business is a printing company and you meet the local bookshop owner, there's a chance they might use your services over a local national office store that offers printing.
During the pandemic, restaurants saw fewer diners even once restrictions were limited. Teaming up with the local newspaper or courier service, though, made things like delivery possible. There may not have been enough delivery orders to hire staff, but teaming up meant more options for restaurants, and delivery drivers were able to work more hours.
When small business leaders get together and collaborate it's incredible the problems they solve.
Small business owners value what each other brings to the community, especially when it comes to keeping local dollars local.
Another benefit of small business networking is that you're exposed to people you like but might not have anything in common with. What better way than to find a way to collaborate and grow both of your businesses? It can be as simple as keeping each other's information on hand and as much as packaging products and services or even hosting pop-ups.
When business owners meet each other, they naturally fall into playing the game of "what if?" What if a car wash sold locally-made granola to customers waiting for their cars? What if the granola company started including a coupon or code to the car wash?
By collaborating with other local businesses, you both gain exposure to each other's networks and expand your reach.
5. Find Ways to Diversify Your Offerings
One of the keys of thriving as a small business is remaining agile.
Small businesses are great at thinking outside of the box and small business networking events are great places for this type of brainstorming to happen.
Often, business owners will share ideas they've had but won't work for them. It could be a suggestion to offer classes or workshops or to develop a youth initiative. Many people have ideas that won't work for them but that they'd love to help others bring to fruition.
6. Find a Mentor
Owning a business is a unique experience and skill set. Small business networking is a great way to find a mentor. By meeting with others, you will meet people who have been in business longer or who have special skill sets that you can learn from. And small business owners are always willing to mentor because they value what you're doing.
Mentorship doesn't have to be formal or long term. In fact, you can work together on something specific for a short time.
7. Be a Mentor
One of the best ways to learn and improve is to teach. Chances are you have a lot to offer and someone needs your help. At small business networking events you can offer to teach a session in your area of expertise.
You may also meet other business owners who need help in an area you excel in.
8. Use Small Business Networking Events for a Dress Rehearsal
Small business networking events are a great time to get feedback on new ideas.
It's easy to think that a change makes sense. Meeting with other small business owners at networking events is the perfect time to throw out ideas. This audience is perfect for giving pointed feedback. In fact, many will often have experience and can lend insight.
Some of the best advice comes from people who have done something similar and can help you avoid the mistakes they made.
9. Get Involved
As a small business owner, you live and breathe your business. Your clients, customers and staff are the focus of everything you do. And this is great.
Actively engaging in small business networking gives you the opportunity to engage with new people, places and ideas in a way that brings you into the public eye.
Sponsoring a mixer is a great way to get in front of other businesses. Meeting people from the non-profit and arts community can offer other avenues for getting your business out in front of new ideas.
There are also leadership roles available in networking groups. This is a great way to build your professional network and build relationships.
10. Capture Leads
Every meeting is a chance to meet your next client. Business owners need your service. Or, they know someone else who does.
Working with people within the community is the preferred option for small business owners. But small business networking is more than this. It's also a way to build trust, making you someone other business owners refer to.
Tips for Small Business Networking
When you're heading out to networking events, here's what to keep in mind.
Wear the Nametag
Always wear a name tag, whether it's one from your business or the sticker available at the check-in desk. Print your first name clearly and write the name of your business under it. People are more likely to remember your name when they hear, see and say it. And you want to be remembered!
Bring Business Cards
Make sure that you set up a digital business card specific for small business networking. We recommend having a page on your website just for what you're looking for as far as business partners, collaboration and positions you have open.
Your digital business card comes in handy at small business networking outings because it's the quickest, easiest way to share your information and capture that of collaborators.
It's also a great way to collect others' information.
Any time you meet others at a small business networking event, it's important to follow up.
Popl digital business cards do this for you automatically. People will appreciate the personal touch of a followup email or text. Be sure to follow and engage with their social media, too.
Final Words on Small Business Networking
Your business is served well when you take part in small business networking. Whether it's through a chamber, service-based group like Rotary or formal networking group, taking the time to connect with others will grow your network and business.