April 11, 2023 By Suzanne Robertson

Marketing is generally key to business success, but it’s not the only way to forge business connections. Networking may also link your business with potential clients or customers, as well as new suppliers or third-party partners. Read on to learn more about how to network your business like a pro and why you should consider making networking part of your overall marketing plan.

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The 5 types of business networks

Generally, you may build professional relationships within the below five types of networks.

1. Casual contact networks

Anyone may join casual contact groups that host informal networking events with guest speakers who talk about business, legislation, and community topics. An example is the local chamber of commerce get-togethers. 

These events may feel less imposing if you’re just getting started with your networking efforts. At the same time, they’re often so casual that there may be fewer shared networking goals among people in the room. This means you’ll typically need a way to really stand out and form connections. Consider volunteering to be a chamber ambassador or serving on a committee.

2. Strong contact networks

Strong contact networks are typically groups in which each member is the only person from their profession. Your goal will be to get to know everyone else in the group, then go to other networking events and find business opportunities for them. They’ll generally be doing the same for you. 

The result of this arrangement may be a powerful referral network through which you may be able to build new relationships even when you’re not in the room. However, you’ll typically need to attend as many of your network’s weekly events as possible. You may also be asked to leave the group if you struggle to find leads for other members.

3. Professional associations

These industry-specific associations may often hold events where you can meet people in your field. These groups’ events are typically a great place to just talk about industry topics with others in the know. If you stay in touch with the people with whom you had great conversations, you may gradually develop a meaningful professional relationship.

4. Community service clubs

Though not necessarily networking opportunities in name, community service clubs may provide the foundation for meaningful long-term relationships. After all, by working alongside others to benefit the community, you may be able to develop close friendships. When these friends hear of potential business opportunities for you, they may even refer you. Or when they need services like yours, they may consider going right to you.

5. Social media

In the era of “personal branding,” social media is generally an increasingly powerful tool for building your professional network right from home. Surely, you’re already on LinkedIn® – regularly posting there and engaging with your connections is typically a great way to network your business. But you should also consider going above and beyond this one platform for a greater potential impact.

For example, look at all the influencers on Instagram®. Consider following their lead and using photo and video content to develop a compelling brand that draws your potential business connections’ attention. Set a schedule for creating and posting content to keep things manageable – social media may quickly get time-consuming. Focus your content on topics that interest the people you’re looking to network with, and you’re typically off to a great start.

How to network your small business

Successful networkers often take the following steps to get their small business out there.

Going to local trade shows 

Trade shows in your area are often tailored to a certain crowd. If a certain trade show’s crowd overlaps with the types of professionals you’re looking to network with, you should consider tabling there. For example, if you run a bike shop and you’re looking to connect with more suppliers, you may want to table at a local bike expo. You might meet suppliers looking to expand their client base. The result could be the new bikes your customers want at prices that better fit your budget.

Building local business partnerships

Though often discussed in business-to-consumer marketing contexts, local business partnerships may be effective for networking too. For example, let’s say your advertising company has connected with an online reputation management firm with offices nearby. You and the other company may strategically partner to refer your clients to the other brand. The result could be many people inquiring about using each company’s services.

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Mastering the elevator pitch

Networking events may be jam-packed, so you might have limited time to explain your value to a potential new business connection. You’ll need an elevator pitch, which is a concise yet informative – and always memorable – summary of your value. Following an elevator pitch with a business card is typically a great way to encourage your potential connections to pick the conversation back up later.

Bringing business cards everywhere

Whether you meet other business owners in professional contexts or unexpectedly in your social life, you’ll typically need a way to stay on their minds afterward. Business cards may be exactly that. A memorable design with a quick slogan and clear contact information may remind potential connections to reach out to you. From there, you’ll typically be able to continue building the relationship. 

Hosting networking events

If you can’t find networking events, you may consider creating them yourself. Invite your current business connections to your event and encourage them to invite other people. This way, everyone gets to meet someone new, in a room full of people that have already earned your network’s trust. Chances are these people may prove meaningful for your future business endeavors.

Why networking is important for small business

Networking is generally important to businesses for the following reasons.

  • Finding business leads and partners. Business-to-business companies market to other organizations rather than everyday consumers. Meeting this target audience face-to-face (or reaching them on online professional networks) may be a great way to start showing your value. You may also meet partners such as vendors or third-party firms whose services you need.
  • Understanding business trends. Listen to the conversations you’re hearing in networking spaces. What trends can you identify? Chances are you couldn’t have observed these trends without extensive market research. Instead, you’ve likely now obtained this information much more easily and quickly.
  • Knowledge sharing. Rooms full of similar professionals are typically great places to learn new facts or ideas that can improve your work. This remains true even if you’re highly experienced. After all, the best professionals never stop learning.
  • More confidence. Networking may be anxiety-inducing at first, but the more you do it, the more confident you’ll feel. Bringing this confidence to your everyday work may result in stronger decision-making and better results.

Small business networking success tips 

With the below quick tips for business networking success, you may be in a better position to make the most of any event.

  • Set a networking budget. Just as you might allot a certain percentage of your monthly spending to your marketing budget, you should consider setting aside money for networking. You may use this money to cover the costs of networking event access, business cards, or anything else.
  • Know when to say no. Many networking events will be well worth your time, but you shouldn’t necessarily go to each and every one. That’s a fast road to burnout and feeling dissatisfied with the results of your networking efforts. Instead, consider sticking to events that you’re certain will include people who could benefit your business.
  • Set your goals. Are you attending a networking event to meet five people whom you could convert to customers within six months? Are you looking for better vendors or third-party firms than you currently use? Set SMART goals beforehand so you may be strategic about how you spend your time in networking spaces.
  • Prepare beforehand and show up ready. Check that your business cards are with you before you head to a networking event. Practice your elevator pitch beforehand, and leave for the event with plenty of time to spare so that you’re not late. Then, walk into the event, be confident, and start networking.
  • Plan for potential business increases. If all goes well at networking events, you may land yourself enough new work that growing pains could become a concern. That’s typically less likely if you put the appropriate resources in place beforehand, whether better internal systems, new hires, or the capital needed for either.

Prepare for business growth with SmartBiz®

Successful networking is often a precursor to business growth. And that’s great! But it typically does come with the challenge of needing to spend money to earn money. On that front, you can use SmartBiz® to find funding opportunities such as SBA loans, term loans, and custom financing. Check now whether you pre-qualify* – you’ll have an answer in just five minutes.

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