As most business owners can attest, building a business from the ground up often comes with some growing pains. Sometimes it can be harder than expected to attract new customers. Other times, new start-ups might not have enough capital to invest as heavily in sales, marketing, and public relations as their larger, full-grown competitors. Regardless of the issue at hand, the question for all business owners remains: “how can I grow my business to its fullest potential?”
This question was addressed head-on at the BizLaunch webinar “How to Use Offline and Online Networking to Grow Your Business” presented by Andrew Patricio. There are many small steps a business owner can take to achieve cheap and effective expansion, but networking is one of the most powerful tools at an entrepreneur’s disposal. Strategic networking can help build and maintain relationships, generate leads, and raise corporate visibility for a small business not only in the local community, but all over the world.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Patricio’s networking webinar:
- Set Benchmarks
Entrepreneurs should set networking benchmarks to achieve on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. For example:
- Meet two (2) new people every month
- Attend three (3) business events per month
- Attend two (2) major conferences a year
- Schedule one (1) coffee meeting per week with a current contact
- Send three (3) relationship building emails per week to current contacts
This will ensure a steady pace of new connections being made for the business.
- Be Strategic
Develop a profile of what kinds of people you want to meet. Identify who will be attending the event beforehand and create a list of the people you would like to build a relationship with. When you are at the event, target these people (rather than spending your energy on whoever happens to be closest to the bar).
Additionally, identify the types of organizations in your area where your target clients might be found. Some of the best networking events and organizations include:
- Local Chamber of Commerce
- Community Service Clubs such as Rotary International
- Trade shows, seminars, and conferences
- Networking and referral organizations like Business Network International (BNI) and Le Tip
People that work in PR, successful entrepreneurs, journalists, and people that work in the media are all definitely worth targeting. However, it never hurts to be kind and engaging to everyone you meet. You never know who you might be able to help, or who might be able to help you!
- Networking Basics
When introducing yourself to people at events, speak slowly and clearly, and always begin with the basics: tell the person your first and last name, what company you work for, and lastly (but briefly!) tell them what you do.
People do not care about what your occupation is. What people care about is how you can help them with their own business needs.
What most of us say: Hi, my name is John and I am an accountant.
What we should be saying: Hi, my name is John, and I help small business owners like you save money on their taxes.
- Networking Basics (Part 2)
Learn how to listen. Ask questions like: “who is your ideal client?” and “how did you get in to this business?”. This can reveal a lot about who you are talking to, and can help you determine whether you can help this person or not. It also helps build trust, as it shows the person that you are capable of listening, and genuinely care about who they are and what they do.
Try to find some common ground with the person. Maybe you are fans of the same football team, or you both have big families… whatever your commonalities may be, keep the conversation going and make a connection with the person.
After your first meeting, do not try to sell your product/services to them. Set up a coffee date instead. Remember: people do business with people they like. Once a relationship is built, there will be more opportunities for success.
- Before you Meet
Before meeting a person at an event or meeting, do some research and learn what you can about their background.
- Utilize Google and run a search
- Check out their profile on LinkedIn
- Visit their website
- Write down a few questions to ask
This can lead to a more purposeful encounter, and can be a useful tool for getting a conversation going.
- Collect Information
Create a spreadsheet and keep track of all your contacts information. For example, a sheet listing the following information would be invaluable in keeping track of everyone you might meet at various networking events:
- Key stories about them
Networking is key for a business to succeed. Though it comes more naturally to some than others, even a highly introverted person is capable of holding a short, meaningful conversation if she/he takes the time to be strategic. With the proper planning, networking with a purpose has never been easier.
Patricio, Andrew. (2016, February 2). How to Use Offline and Online Networking to Grow Your Business. Lecture presented at Webinar in Online.