How to network as a small business

Networking is essential to growing a new or existing business as it opens up opportunities and connections for all facets of your business: customers, staff, suppliers, partners, investors, marketing opportunities and more.

But for those with little experience of networking, or who don’t have the sort of personality to just go up to a stranger and strike up conversation, here are a few things to know to help you get started.

Who do you know?

While you may have existing online networks, it can be hard to picture exactly who you know, and what your connection to people is.

A great first step when trying to build up your networks is to simply write down everyone you know. Family, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, business owners you deal with, past employment networks, everyone!

Write these down and categorise them, then define what sort of network you may have with these people. How can they help you, who might they know and how could you help them? With this information, you can start planning who you want to approach, how and when.

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Attend the right events

Try not to go in blind to an event. Choose those that relate to your business goals and that include people that you want to meet. An extra boost to your networking can be finding events where networking is expected, encouraged and time is set aside for it.

These can be through startup accelerator events, for instance, where investors are encouraged to talk with startup entrepreneurs. In these sorts of events, don’t just target those investors who are already swamped with business cards. Look outside the box at people you may be able to help or who can help you, with the goal of these networks paying off in the future if not the present.

An event where there is plenty of interaction between people

How to approach others

Following your choice of the events to attend, you need to have your ‘messaging’ ready to go. This means, how you approach people, what you first say, and the ‘elevator pitch’ of your business. When people start talking about ‘messaging’, ‘boilerplate messaging’ and ‘elevator pitches’ it is easy to discount this as marketing speak. However, you need to be able to sum up who you are and what you can offer, otherwise there is no point in you trying to network.

With your messaging comes your branding. A business card is still your best friend, even in the digital age. There are some great budget business card providers but it is best not to skimp on some basics, such as the quality of the paper you use and the design of the card. While you don’t want it to list everything you do in clunky dot points or tell your whole life story, your business card should be clear about what you offer. You also don’t want to be so vague that people are left wondering what it is you do. Test samples on your friends and family to see whether they quickly grasp what the card says.

Finally, when handing out your business cards, be sure to ask people how they like to be contacted. This is for your benefit as you will want to follow up your connection with a person by reaching out to them a week or so after meeting them. If you know they prefer receiving emails, then you have a higher chance of receiving a reply.

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Look towards unseen benefits

Through industry associations, online networks, social events that you hold, and networks that you build, look at ways in which you can help others rather than how others can help you. Building connections with other businesses helps you to develop your own skills and opens opportunities in the future that you cannot yet identify. It is these connections, which don’t immediately show their value but in months or years to come result in a benefit for your business that are the keystone to effective networking. Make sure that as a new business, you prioritise both short term and long term networking, so as to help accelerate the initial growth of your business while ensuring its long term success.

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