How to make the most of your networking to build your business, find a mentor and learn from the best in the crowd.
Networking – is it a waste of your budget & hours or can you really build a business, learn tricks of the trade and find a source for mentors and friends to help guide you along your entrepreneurial journey? The real answer may be the type of networking group your participate in:
SMALL BUSINESS LOCAL NETWORKING
You don’t have to pay for a networking group for it to be worthwhile. These type of localized groups are intent on referring each business and carefully select members who will participate and work diligently to build business referrals for each other.
The Shore Business Network located in Ocean & Monmouth Counties in New Jersey have been holding well attended weekly meetings for over six years. Founding member, George M. Kachmar shared his perspective on the success of their network.
"Nearly six years ago a group of five business owners sat down to lay the groundwork for our networking group. From this meeting Shore Business Networking was born. The five owners had all experienced life under the formalized networking groups that I am sure many of you have tried. They definitely have merit and serve a purpose. We identified several of the concepts we liked and began to set our mission statement. The first thing we all realized was that we wanted a formal meeting with less rigidity. Less promotion of anything other than the members themselves. The end goal was to develop relationships to the point we could feel comfortable referring our clientele to the other professionals. We wanted to be able to enhance our client experience by having a team of professionals as a resource. The idea was to forge a relationship as a group and the referrals would come naturally.
I can happily say that six years later we have accomplished everything we set out to do. We have grown to 18 members and I would feel comfortable referring anyone from my best client to a family member to any one of them. I know they will treat my client with the same level of respect and professionalism they treat their own clients having seen it firsthand. I believe that it was our mindset going in that has created that environment. We all know the main reason people network is to meet new people, grow their business and try to forge relationships with other professionals. We all have those same goals. I believe the reason we have had the success we have had is the idea of building the relationship first and referring second. We are always looking to expand our pool of professionals. If you are interested in learning more please feel free to reach out or stop by a meeting on Wednesday!"
TRADITIONAL NETWORKING TIPS:
- First and foremost: SMILE. This is a social setting where you want to meet people who can potentially help you build your business, you want them to have the impression that you are positive and inviting.
- Ask a lot of questions to learn about others in your group. Showing sincere interest in others allows them to take center stage. They will appreciate your attentiveness & will often reciprocate with similar questions. Listen for areas where you can help solve problems or offer service. Bring business cards and share with those people who show interest in you and your business.
- Be on time! Arriving on time allows you to mingle before everyone has settled into groups, and it will be easier to find someone who doesn’t have a partner in conversation yet.
Joining a national or international networking group usually includes an annual membership fee. Some groups such as the Ellevate Network hold weekly networking via video conference calls. These types of networking groups offer you exposure to a variety of businesses and demographics. Ellevate Network offers educational opportunities as well through podcasts, lunch and learn and regional networking events.
VIRTUAL NETWORKING TIPS
- Prepare your introduction or elevator pitch ahead of time, this way you can jump right in once the event begins. Not sure what to share in your elevator pitch? Hubspot shares examples of effective pitches for inspiration.
- Take notes on other participants questions, success stories and careers. Use the notes in future networking meetings to facilitate follow-up questions and conversation starters.
- Follow up by asking for contact information and connect outside of the group by email or LinkedIn.
If you are an entrepreneur/small business owner there are LinkedIn groups for almost every industry. Maximize the benefits of the groups you join by reading other posts, commenting and sharing of information. Here are 19 groups every entrepreneur should belong to.
LINKEDIN GROUP TIPS
- When first joining a group, introduce yourself and join the conversation by commenting on others posts.
- Be the expert by sharing content that provides value to your group.
- Shameless self promotion doesn’t work for LinkedIn groups, or networking in general. Instead, craft an engaging post that poses a question that your business can be the solution for.
Whether you choose one type of networking or all three remember to follow up and periodically check in with members of your group. You never know when your services may be helpful to someone you meet or when you may need the expertise of other professionals. Networking is a valuable way to expand your exposure, share your expertise, grow relationships and gain knowledge.
Watch for our Small Business spotlight interviews with owners who share how they got started in their business and the hurdles they overcame to build the business of their dreams.