As the owner of a small business, you probably don’t have a lot of spare time. It is important to try to carve out some time to network, especially with other small businesses. You might be thinking that time is money for small businesses, and you’re right. If you do it right, this small investment of your time could turn out to be worth a lot of money.
Networking is a very good way to generate business leads, whether it’s a new partner for a future project or a new customer. It is also a good way to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in your industry. If you skip an event or cancel a lunch, you could miss out on the details of the newest money-saving techniques. Networking gives you a wealth of knowledge from which you can draw ideas, gain perspective, and grow your business.
Here are some of the best and most helpful strategies to successfully network with other small businesses.
7 ways to successfully network with other small businesses
Make Friends Online
Find other small business owners that you can connect with online. They could be from your industry or from within your community. Follow these business owners on social media, from your company’s account, to show that are interested in their business. Even better, mention their business or product in a tweet or Facebook post. This helps to create a feeling of goodwill among other small business owners, and they might return the gesture.
Another good way to make friends online is to create guest blog posts. Guest blogging will help you to get your content in front of a new audience and help build your brand. It will also help you to build your credibility if an influencer in your industry uses your posts. It’s also good to have other people write guest blogs for your site, as their audience is likely to check out your page to see posts from an author they know and trust.
Host Meet And Greets
It’s likely that you aren’t alone and there are other small business owners who are looking for ways to network too. You could be the one to break the ice and host a meet and greet at your business. This will give you a venue for networking and has the potential of building your customer base.
Encourage guests to bring information about their businesses and set up a large table for everyone to display their items. For your own, use your products and shop online for items to give away. Provide your guests with binders that are branded with your logo, containing information about you and your business, your product line, or the services you offer.
Use a minimal number of chairs so people are encouraged to move around and talk to each other. Plan exercises so attendees can learn more about each other. Hand out goodie bags with some free samples or coupons for your services and thank you notes for attending.
Try attractions that encourage fun interactions, like photo booths or ping pong tables, to create a lasting impression. A lot of event attractions don’t need much setup or money. Some photo booth apps, for example, can be run on an iPad.
Hosting an event could give you a confidence boost too, thanks to all the practice you will get talking to strangers and pitching your business. If your event goes well, you will probably get invitations to other events, which will continue to build your network.
Your time is limited, but taking part in an industry-specific organisation, small business associations, or your local chamber of commerce can be beneficial for your business. Make sure to consider your goals, customer needs, and what you want to get out of the membership when you choose an organisation to join. You also want to think about how many active members are in the group, how many events are hosted every year, and the cost of annual dues.
These groups can connect you to influencers in your industry, offer development opportunities, and help you to find resources if you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation. In addition to this, you will be able to attend the group’s events for more opportunities to network. Some groups also help members get discounts on common services, like shipping and handling or insurance. Others will contact state and federal lawmakers on behalf of their members regarding legislation that could impact business.
If you have time, consider taking on a leadership role in the organisation. This will get you and your business more exposure among the members and keep you among the first to know about changes in your industry.
Once you have hosted a meet and greet, or joined an organisation, you should attend a conference. This will take up some time and there will be a cost, so do your homework. Find out how many people usually attend and the calibre of speakers who present. Find social media posts from previous years to see what people said about them.
A large conference or event will connect with many more people in your field, including prominent influencers. It’s also a good time to catch up with people from your field that you haven’t seen for a while.
You can attend classes to learn new things or improve your skills. Check the itinerary before you arrive to make sure you get into the sessions that will be most useful to you. Conferences can get expensive, but you might be able to split the cost of a hotel or carpool if someone you know is going too. Check the social media page to see if someone near you is attending.
As well as the extra networking you will be able to do, there is another conference benefit. Attending a conference will give you a change of scenery. As the owner of a small business, it can be easy to get into a rut of only going home or to work. This change of scene could give you a refreshed mind and a creative boost.
Make sure you attend some of the social events too. This is a good way to network in a different setting and recharge your batteries.
Another good way to network with another small business is to partner with it. Like guest blogging, cross-promoting will get your brand in front of a new audience. Cross-promoting could be anything from pooling your resources to sponsoring an event to bundle your products together.
This could be as simple as printing joint promotional messages on each other’s receipts or hanging signs and posters to advertise for one another in your businesses. You could also drop each other flyers into your customers’ shopping bags.
If you want to take things up a notch, you could create promotional videos to post on each other’s social media or create a joint advert to put in local shopping papers. If the partnership works well, you can use it as an example to partner with another business later on.
Volunteering is a really great way to get out in the community and network with people. This will not only put you in direct contact with other small businesses, but it could make your brand more visible in the community.
One way to volunteer is to take a seat on the board of a local nonprofit organisation. These boards are often made up of other business leaders, and having the organisation as a common interest is a great way to break the ice to connect with them.
You could also partner up with local businesses for a philanthropic event, like a neighbourhood cleanup day, school supply giveaway, or food drive. Give your employees matching t-shirts that feature the logos of all the participating businesses to build brand awareness during the event.
Don’t forget to send out a press release to local media to let them know about your upcoming event and to help you to get a larger turnout.
There is more to networking than just swapping contact information and business cards. It’s important to take the extra time to build those relationships and nurture those connections if you want your networking attempts to be successful.
Did you want to have a deeper conversation with someone in particular? Make sure you make some kind of contact with them within 48 hours of the first meeting so they don’t forget about you. Emails can get lost in a cluttered inbox, so think about sending a more personal thank you note with your business card or a sample of your product. Explain how much you enjoyed meeting them and ask them to meet again to carry on the conversation. If you can’t meet in person, set up a virtual meeting through Skype or Zoom.
When you do speak again, don’t put the focus on yourself. See what you can offer to help them with first. Most people are likely to reciprocate when you have a need, and it will help to foster a positive reputation.