Networking for Small Businesses

Our theme for July is “Independence Doesn’t Have to Mean Alone,” and in our last post, we shared a few ways business owners can delegate their work rather than spread themselves too thin. This post is about making connections as a small business owner, or, as some like to call it, networking.

For introverts like myself, networking can be a bit of a challenge. But I know the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Networking has a few different purposes. First, it’s a tool for expanding your business and gaining potential customers. Second, it’s a way to meet and share experiences with other entrepreneurs. When networking, I find it helpful to think, “I’m about to meet some people who are in a similar boat as me. I bet some of them have cool stories and I could come away from this with interesting, new connections.”

Here are four helpful guidelines for successful networking:

Set a Goal. Plan to attend a certain number of events per month and talk to X number of people at each event. Or, reach out to a specific number of new people every week via email. These goals can make the whole networking experience a bit more fun, too. Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Have Something Ready. One of my greatest weaknesses in networking — and meeting people in general — is that I can become easily flustered. Something as simple as “So what do you do?” will result in me doing a lot of mumbling and rambling — “ramumbling,” if you will.

Know that at any networking event, at least one person is going to ask you what you do. Be prepared with an answer. This may also be a good reason to work on your elevator speech. You don’t need to sound like a robot, but you should sound prepared.

Also, keep your business cards at the ready for anyone who may ask for one.

Participate in Groups. Online groups can be found via social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or even Twitter. Participation can occur in a few different ways. You can create your own post within a group in which you share a cool resource, ask a question about something you need help with, or seek opinions on a challenge you face. Also, read posts made by others and respond with comments that are helpful and/or pertinent.

Stepping away from the internet, you can join the local chamber of commerce, Rotary, or any other business-oriented or volunteer organization. It’s a great way to meet local people who do business within your community.

A warning: Don’t approach these groups with a sales pitch. Growing your business is a good goal, but networking is more about fostering relationships.

Stay in Touch. Congrats, you’ve met a ton of new people through your networking! But, how are you staying in touch with them?

Nicole has a favorite app for staying in touch, which lets her know when it’s been a while since she has reached out to someone. Or, you may create a system (spreadsheet, flowchart, sticky notes) just to reach out to people, follow up about something from your conversation, maybe invite them to grab a coffee.

As a shy introvert, I find that following up with others can be just as difficult as making the first contact. But I try to keep in mind that comfort zones equal stagnation. It’s like the advice on water sources found in the wilderness: Drinking running water is usually okay, but standing/stagnant water … you gotta watch out for that stuff. (Sorry for the digression — I’m ramumbling again.)

For those who need help with networking (like me), check out this video I made last fall about networking for the shy introvert:

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.