It’s often said that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As a small business owner, it’s important to network to market your business and the face behind it—you. It’s also a great way to build a referral network—a group of people that will send business your way, and vice versa. Check out these 7 tips on how to network effectively.
1) Have an elevator pitch ready. An elevator pitch is an overview of your product or service that gets the point across in the time it would take to ride in an elevator. Don’t get caught off guard or launch into a 5-minute monologue about your company. Rather, have a few short sentences prepared that describe your business. Have several pitches prepared that highlight different things based on your audience.
2) Have a goal. Why are you networking? Are you trying to gain more business? Do you need to hire new talent? Or are you simply looking to build up a network of people that you can go to for ideas and mentorship? Have a firm idea of what you’re aiming for so that you’re on the same page with the people you meet.
3) Join networking groups—both online and off. In-person networking adds a personal touch and truly puts a personality behind your business. Check out meetup.com or do a quick Google search to find interest-based groups that meet on a regular basis. In addition, online networking presents the opportunity to get your message out to the world with minimal cost and effort. Become a member of groups that pertain to your business on LinkedIn and Facebook and join the conversations that are always happening online.
4) Be interested in the person, not the opportunity. It’s always exciting when you meet someone that you just know can be a great resource for you. However, no one likes to be used. When you speak with someone, show interest in them as a person, not just what they can offer you. Relate to personal stories and build a connection about something that isn’t work related. Everyone wants to help out a friend and a genuinely good person. Build a positive connection first, and the business will follow.
5) Be a good listener. It’s never pleasant to meet someone who only talks about themselves. Ask those that you meet questions—and then be quiet until you hear the answer. When they’re done speaking, ask follow up questions that are related to the topic to show that you are genuinely listening.
6) Follow up. Don’t be a flake. Make sure you follow up within 48 hours of meeting someone. A friendly email, quick phone call, or a personal hand written note on your business’ letterhead reiterating a topic you discussed is all that’s needed for the first contact. Close with a question so you give them a reason to continue the conversation.
7) Return the favor. If you end up getting referrals and business as a result of networking, return the favor and send some business back their way. A relationship is a two-way street. In the end, you want to form a long-lasting, productive relationship.