For many businesses to continue to grow and thrive, it takes more than just excellent products and services. It takes building awareness and a loyal customer base. It also requires patience and resilience to make it through the difficult times. And it takes building a community of partners, contacts and allies for continued success.
There is no substitute for a great network, even as our definition of what makes a network becomes more elastic as our preferred ways of connecting and sharing information evolve over time and in response to new technology (Twitter follower? Facebook Friend? LinkedIn Connection?). Here are our 5 favorite tips for networking better this year to help you build that community.
1. Attend Events Across Industries
If you are looking to build a network in your local business community, don’t limit yourself to events related to your specific business type or industry. You want to broaden your potential network as much as possible and open your business to as many relevant customers as possible. Look for events in industries that are complementary to your type of business, or that also target the same type of customer as you based on geography or demographics. You’ll be more likely to find businesses willing to cooperate and work together, since you are not in direct competition with each other. More importantly, you never know whom your new contacts will know and this is the key to networking. There is enormous unknown potential in every new relationship.
2. Share Your Story and Listen to Theirs
All business owners and entrepreneurs have at least one thing in common: the courage to take that big risk for something they believe will be successful. Take the time to share your founder story with other business owners and learn about what motivated them to start their business. You may learn that you have a lot in common–similar challenges, suppliers, even customers. Exchanging stories is the first step to building a relationship that can help your business grow.
3. Reinforce an Offline Connection Online, and Vice Versa
Any time that you meet a new contact at a networking event, conference, or even the coffee shop, make sure to also connect with that person online. Reaching out via LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook is a great way to thank the person for their time and remind them of a few points from your conversation. The same advice works for online contacts: if you’ve made a new connection through LinkedIn, make the effort to have a phone call or meet in person to explore how you can work together to make each other’s businesses grow. Bonus tip: Make sure your company’s online presence is memorable and professional. Put your logo on your LinkedIn profile, company Facebook page, or Twitter page for a consistent look online.
4. Always Be Prepared
Make sure that every interaction is productive by being prepared. Have a stack of updated business cards with you at all times, and keep flyers or postcards with your latest offers or promotions handy as well. These critical marketing materials can be made quickly and affordably online with an online business card maker, so there’s no excuse for being unprepared. Even as our social and professional lives move more and more online, business cards are here to stay. So challenge yourself to share twice as many cards as you did last time. It’s also easy to stay on top of your online presence. Prepare yourself before releasing a new product, service, or offer to your customers. Usually when a business does something new, customers can have a fair amount of questions and feedback. Grab a friend or two to man the phones at your business or saddle up on your Facebook messages page to help handle the rush of comments. Releasing new products should get people excited about your business, not get you too stressed out.
5. Set Up a Next Step
It’s easy to lose momentum after a networking event; they can be overwhelming at times. But all these events can be worthless if you don’t make plans to communicate after the event is over. Make sure you can gather as many business cards as you hand out, and reach out to these people soon after the event closes. Stay on the top of their minds. Set a date in their calendar, whether it’s for tomorrow or two months from now. All of your networking efforts can be worthless if you don’t follow through. You can’t always depend on the other party to set up the next steps. Take control of the situation and make a name for your business.
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