We talk a lot about computer networking at Tech Masters, but for a business owner, business networking can be important as well. Networking helps you expand your contacts, connect with others, and build relationships. It also helps you learn more about yourself and what you are capable of doing on the “people side” to grow your business. It is a way of meeting new people who could help you in your career. In this first of four articles on business networking, we’ll share the key benefits of business networking and the top 4 ways that business networking can change your business for the better.
1. Increase visibility (for both yourself and your business)
When we think of networking, the image that comes to mind is usually some kind of industry happy hour where professionals hand around their business cards. Networking events are designed to bring together individuals connected by their career interests or the market they work in. It is a great way to get a sense of “who’s who” in your industry and to build your own recognizability as a leader in your industry.
But another benefit of networking is that it also builds visibility for your small business. Even if you are networking with established connections, your networking can reinforce your business’s branding. Building visibility and branding for your small business helps to attract relationships and connections which can be beneficial in future dealings. Not only will you attract clients and customers, but as your professional reputation grows, you will benefit from having network partners sending people your way as well.
That’s the value of business networking. When you take the time to network thoughtfully, you build value for both your personal brand and your business brand. Being a present and visible member of your local business network helps people remember you, and hopefully field potential clients and partners to you.
This goes both ways, of course. Being an engaged member of your business network means helping others in your network to build visibility as well. Let’s say you establish a great connection with a new business owner at a networking event. Maybe your services don’t exactly fill their needs, but because you know someone else whose business can elevate the efforts of this new business owner. Connecting the two of them won’t rob you of any potential business, but it will establish you as a community-minded business owner. Small but impactful actions like this can quickly build your reputation and brand within your business network. That in turn makes others in your network more likely to think of you when they see professional connections that could be a good fit for your small business services.
2. Identify key clients and partnerships
As mentioned above, the obvious benefit of business networking is in identifying key clients and potential partnerships that could advance your business goals and lead to more business growth. When you work at raising your visibility, identifying clients and partners can come quite naturally. But there are a few practical steps you can take to better identify people and communities that would benefit from your services.
Think about where and how you are networking. If you are attending business networking events in Seattle but your company and customer base are in Yakima, then your networking time might be better spent closer to home. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t attend networking events outside your region because, again, networking is about expanding the visibility of your small business. But if you are traveling to Seattle to network monthly but rarely or never engage in networking opportunities when your business is based in Eastern Washington, then you might be missing valuable opportunities. Think about what networking opportunities will give you the most impact for your time. Make sure you aren’t neglecting opportunities and business connections that are close to home, in favor of social events that are far outside of your company’s reach.
Think about who you want to network with and how to best get their attention. If there are a few influential people that you want to get in front of, think about how best to create personal connections with them. If they are someone you see regularly and you want to deepen the professional relationship, then reaching out to get a one-on-one meeting would be a great next step.
However, if you have no existing relationship, a “cold call” might not get you very far. But maybe there is someone in your business or social network that knows them well; find out if they would be willing to make the initial introduction. There is a reason that the adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is so well-known. Lean on your network to find connections between who you know and who you want to know.
3. Build confidence
Just the word “networking” can make some people break out in a cold sweat. And the fact that we’ve been in a pandemic for so long means in-person networking events have been far and few between.
It can be difficult to walk into a room of new faces and start talking about yourself and your small business, especially if you haven’t done it in a while. Where do you start? How do you enter a conversation naturally? How do you bring up the accolades of your small business without coming across as bragging? Successful networking is all about confidence, and the more you do it the more comfortable you are and the better you get at it.
Start by practicing your “elevator speech.” Can you sum up your small business services in less than a minute? Can you clearly communicate the value you offer and who your ideal customer is? Practice with a trusted friend or business partner, and also practice putting it in writing. A lot of networking happens online, so you also need to be able to communicate your services and value clearly in writing.
And when you do have an opportunity to network in person, think about people that are natural fits to be there to support you. Is there a business partner or employee that would benefit from networking while also providing you with moral support? Bring them along. It is always easier to walk into a room of new people with someone you know at your side. If you have existing business relationships who also network, keep an eye out for them at events and ask them to introduce you to new people.
Finally, remember that building confidence is mostly an internal exercise. Take time to reflect on the success of your small business and the positive steps you have taken. Knowing your worth as a business owner and having tangible examples of the value your business brings can help you feel more confident. Then when you get the opportunity to network in person, talking about your value with others reinforces your confidence.
4. Develop a long-lasting network
Finally, remember that business networking isn’t a one-time thing. It is a series of small steps and actions that build up over time. It takes intentionality and consistency to develop a long-lasting network of like-minded people.
Keep in mind creating a strong network is about more than small talk over drinks at a business professional happy hour; every interaction you take as a business owner is networking. Checking in on a colleague whose small business has been negatively affected by the pandemic . . . that’s networking. Steering a contact toward another small business whose services better suit that contact’s needs . . . that’s networking. Providing an introduction between a new business owner and your pool of contacts . . . yep, that’s networking.
The way you build long-lasting relationships is to be consistent in your communication with individuals in your network and take time, at least twice annually, to send a personal message or connect in person. This can be as simple as sending a card around the holidays wishing them and their family well, an invitation to catch up over lunch during a slow season in your industry, or a note of congratulations when they make a significant career advancement.
Consistency and intentional connection go a long way in building your brand, reputation, and a long-lasting professional network.
Tech Masters is a leader in supporting IT needs for small businesses. We provide managed IT services, computer repair, and cloud software services.
For quick answers to some of your networking questions, check out our frequently asked questions below.
What is business networking?
Business networking is how you establish a mutually beneficial relationship with other professionals in your industry, and with potential clients and customers.
What are the benefits of business networking?
Business networking increases visibility for both yourself and your small business. It can lead to mutually beneficial relationships with other business owners and industry leaders, and can also cast a wider net for potential customers.
How can I get started with business networking?
Find out if there are professional associations, memberships, or certification processes for your industry within the geographic region you serve. Getting professional certifications and joining industry associations is a great way to begin networking. They may offer professional development, industry directories, and business networking opportunities that can help you make new connections.
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