Social media and online networking now take up a significant amount of time for the modern day entrepreneur. With huge numbers of businesses now promoting themselves online, it becomes ever more difficult to stand out from the crowd and be heard above all the noise. Here are six real-world small business networking tips you can’t do without:
1. Discover your value
Value is the currency of networking. Before you even go out to build your network, consider the value you can bring to potential partners. How can you assist their business? Will you be able to complement their network? Once you’ve already figured out what you have to offer, it’s time to get ready to meet people in the real world.
2. Meet them offline
A name and profile picture makes you just a blur in the fast-paced social media world. A website that stands out, a Twitter account with thousands of followers, and a Facebook page with an impressive number of “likes” is not enough to draw business partners. Virtual presence is essential in attracting interest, but not enough to sustain lasting partnerships.
Sooner or later you will need to transition your virtual connections into real-world relationships. You would want to tap into the potential of that online network, get peers to meet with you in person, and build a strong network around them. Suggesting meeting for a coffee is a great start and can open immediate opportunities.
3. Get referred
Most entrepreneurs are likely to respond to an invitation if you are referred by someone they know and trust. Your family, friends, and current business acquaintances can introduce you to people who can help grow your business.
Networking works the same way as selling a product: people are more likely to buy something if it has been referred to them or if they have read a positive review. Most of your blind introductions through e-mail or social media will end up in the trash. But getting a recommendation from someone else will greatly boost your credibility.
4. Join local business groups
Any social gathering will increase your likelihood of meeting people who can contribute to your business. Participating in an event by a non-profit organization or attending an alumni gathering in your alma mater exposes you to a broad range of professionals. Your local Chamber of Commerce should also be at the top of your list. The Chamber of Commerce is full of entrepreneurs who are willing to make referrals for like-minded individuals.
5. Entertain and Host Dinner Parties
Any lunch or dinner that an entrepreneur like you spends alone is time wasted. After all, being time-crunched means you have to make the most out of every minute of your day. Hosting dinner or lunch does require some capital. But if you have invited the right people, the party will pay for itself.
6. Attend business events
Participating in a business gathering can give your company maximum exposure to thousands of people who are looking to do the same thing–expand their business through a solid network. Getting qualified leads and making quality connections are much easier if you attend an event designed to do that.
A networking event, like the Small Business Expo, will give you the chance to meet prominent and successful people whom you have aspired to connect with in person. It will also give you the chance to meet suppliers, potential partners, and other individuals who can fuel the growth of your business.
More importantly, a vibrant business expo exposes you to the brilliant ideas and methodologies that have spurred the growth of many successful enterprises. Meeting new people can help steer your business into the right direction and help you identify new areas of growth. In fact, many successful networkers think that increasing your contact base is just the consequence of growth. It starts with getting great ideas from other people and learning from the best in the business.
Always remember that building contacts outside of the virtual world is not just an excuse to dish out those custom-made business cards. It is a long-term strategy that may not offer instant rewards, but it does offer good long term gains if you stick at it and persist. Business dinners and gatherings are just the start, networking should not end there.
“Business People Having Discussion At Cafe” courtesy of stockimages / www.freedigitalphotos.net
About the author: Sophie White is an Australia-based blogger who has a love for business creativity and networking. She currently works with The Small Business Expo, US’ largest business trade show, to encourage startup entrepreneurs to think outside of the social media box and meet people in the real world.