It sounds cliché but a lot of business success depends on the people that you know. This doesn’t mean you have to be well-connected before you can pursue your dream and it doesn’t mean that you will do better if you were born into privilege. It also doesn’t mean that you have to be a social butterfly who exudes charm and congeniality. It just means that you have to be passionate about your business and be able to communicate that passion to other people.
Of course, being friendly doesn’t hurt either.
How to Start Networking
You’ve heard that charity begins at home but guess what? So does networking. Once you have decided to go into business for yourself, immediately begin promoting your business with the people you know. Start by telling your family and close friends your news and expand to your email list of business connections and acquaintances. The goal here is to let everyone know your ideas and ask for their help in spreading the word and finding the resources you need to launch your business.
In the earliest days of a new business, the people in your life can go a long way helping you take those first steps toward achieving your dreams. These days, it is even easier for your friends and family to help you network thanks to social media. It is critical to your business’ visibility that your family and friends (and you!) like, share and follow your brand’s post across all social channels.
Expanding Your Network
Once you’ve contacted everyone in your address book, told everyone on your Facebook and Twitter pages and informed your hair stylist, mechanic and postal delivery clerk, it’s time to start going out into the world and making new business connections. Do a Google search of networking events in your area. You may be surprised how many professional organizations there are that have networking events. There are networking events for small business owners, networking events by industry and networking events for women or other minorities. Many of these organizations are membership-based but will often have non-member rates to attend their events.
You high school alumni association, local Chamber of Commerce, local economic development office or local small business association are also great places to look for networking opportunities. Checked LinkedIn for great local events in your industry.
In addition to formal networking events, think of any chance to go out in the world and meet new people as a networking opportunity. Whether you’re going to a wedding, dinner party, pottery class or other social function, if there is a chance that you’ll meet someone you don’t already know, that is an opportunity to expand your network.
What to Bring to a Networking Event
- A stack of business cards to hand out: Make sure these are readily accessible in an attractive business card case.
- Appropriate dress. Most networking events are business attire. Some may have a casual dress code but if the event description doesn’t state “casual attire,” it’s best to err on the side of caution and dress professionally.
- The right attitude: You may be nervous walking into a room filled with strangers. Just remember, the majority of people there are doing the exact same thing. Make the first step to talk to someone. Start with the person closest to you. It’s a networking event. They are there to meet people. You won’t get rejected.
Networking Tips for Novices
Many of the principles that apply to a good sales technique are the same principles that apply to effective networking:
- Make the conversation about them. Listen at least twice as much as you talk and, when you do talk, keep the focus on them. Find out about your new friend’s skills, talents, abilities, who they know and what they might need from you. From here, if there are collaborative possibilities, they will become apparent.
- Come prepared with your business message. Your message should follow this formula: What your business does, who it does it for and why the listener should care. For instance, say you are having a conversation with someone you just met. She is telling you about how she just expanded her business from a home office to a rented office space and hired two full-time employees. She is having a hard-time setting up her office, especially when it comes to networking her computers, and she can’t find any affordable help. Perhaps you just started a business offering freelance IT services. If so, your message could be that you are a provider of IT services, specializing in small business, and you also set-up other office technology, such as phones, fax machines and photocopiers, all at an affordable rate.
- Aim to make a friend, not a sale. Even if you can’t see a business partnership with them right now, you never know what the future has in store. Plus, it can’t hurt to have one more person in this world praising you and your product.