Better Networking Tips for Small Business Owners
For many, networking has become a bit of a buzzword and lost much of its importance as a concept within the business community. Simply put, without a plan for networking within your community or industry, your small business will not grow to its maximum potential.
Because of the stigma around the term, I find it useful to default back to the dictionary definition of networking:
The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. Merriam-Webster Dictionary
“Exchange of information or services” is the key. We tend to associate networking with a social event or something akin to direct selling. Networking is so much more. It’s an art and science. The art side of networking involves dealing with people and relationships. The science side means you carefully select the people with which you intend to network.
Know Your Customers
Research your target audience. Take time to establish your brand through discussing current topics and providing useful information, invoking a heightened sense of awareness around your service or product. Through micro targeting techniques, identify specific groups of online traffickers who would find your brand useful. Reinforce your brand by establishing a network of information on blogs, mailing lists, and websites. Improving and polishing your online social network experience will establish a greater sense of competence around your business.
Think Long Term
Creating a successful client base will take time. This includes your ability to benefit from any networking strategies. Take every opportunity to market your business or yourself and never overlook an opportunity to establish a connection. Patiently cultivate business relationships. Don’t allow your expectations to discourage your efforts or limit your potential. Guide your networking decisions with the philosophy of becoming informed and educated, as opposed to focusing on creating career opportunities. People can sense the difference and don’t like feeling that they are being used only so you can make money.
Follow up with people you met and with whom you have exchanged information. Research their businesses, plan a talking point or two, then make the phone call or send the email. The more engaged you are with your contacts, the more likely the possibility of successful, productive relationships. Keep an open mind and approach each situation without preconceived notions that would limit the full benefit of the experience.
Quality social skills are important to cultivate when establishing a connection with others. Ask open-ended questions in blog posts and social posts to keep the conversation interesting and focused on sharing the most information. This allows people to go into depth on different subjects that may render interesting or helpful information. Avoid using business jargon or buzzwords unless they are specifically important to the conversation. Increase the quality of conversations through speaking plainly.
Maintain a positive attitude in all your interactions with others. A positive personality attracts others. Active listening is the key. Showing interest will create a lasting impression and promote future correspondence. Your ability to grow as a company will be reflected through your ability to remain constantly curious about your industry. Be prepared to step outside your comfort zone and embrace personal growth. And always stay positive.
Social networking sites can be linked together to create a web of knowledge. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ are quickly becoming go-to sources of information about a business. Find tools to link your online sites together, such as HootSuite, so you can access all your networks in one interface. Pull information from other sources pertaining to your business’s industry to provide users with a larger base of knowledge on your specific brand.
A blog is an excellent way to network and promote your brand online. Blogs can easily be connected or referenced by your social media sites as well. Any time a new blog post is created, send out a message with a link through your social media sites to keep your network in the loop. This helps promote your company and establishes you as an expert.
Create business cards to further establish your brand or business. There are many ways to tailor a card to meet your needs. Consider adding a quick response (QR) code, a digital barcode-like image which can be scanned by a smartphone and immediately connects a user online to a website, video, or simply a plain text message. Different types of formats exist to allow for a professional and personalized look that will effectively create brand recognition for your prospective clients.
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