Build Your Small Business Network

Networking – it’s more than handing out business cards or shaking a few hands. The connections you make as a small business owner can help you increase sales, identify new opportunities and elevate your profile within your community or industry.

USA Today’s small business expert, Rhonda Abrams, explains why networking is such a great strategy for small business owners. “Networking is affordable and effective because people like doing business with people they know. So the more people you know — and the more people who know what business you’re in — the more potential customers and referral sources you have.”

Here are ways you can start to build a professional network for your small business.

Get Local

If you’re not already, become active in your local Chamber of Commerce. Studies show that by involving yourself with your Chamber of Commerce, you increase customer favorability by 44%, and increase the likelihood of future patronage by 64%. The Chamber of Commerce also offers a wealth of information about local economic trends and policies and studies are sponsored to help give chamber members a competitive edge.

Attend Small Business Conferences

While networking locally is key, business today is often done on a national or global scale. Professional networking events allow you to get out of the office and meet people you might not have otherwise ever encountered. Review this comprehensive list from Inc.: 14 Conferences Every Small-Business Owner Should Attend

Get Online

Join a robust small-business forum online. You can find private networking groups on LinkedIn and Facebook or check out 5 Top Online Communities for Small Business from lifehack.org. You’ll have access to insights from other entrepreneurs, the ability to post comments and share what you know.

 Be Unique

As you go about your day, you come in contact with lots of folks who aren’t aware of your business. Use organic opportunities to grow your referral network. Be energetic, outgoing and friendly when chatting with strangers in line at the bank or in other situations where it’s natural to strike up a conversation. You never know which connection could equal a great sale or a lucrative partnership. And don’t leave home empty handed. Have professional business cards or branded promotional items on hand.

Strategies for Success

You’ll want to maximize the ROI when you put networking strategies into place. Here are some best practices to make the most out of your efforts.

 Practice Your Elevator Pitch

A good elevator pitch should last no longer than a short elevator ride of 20 to 30 seconds, hence the name. Practice an easy and engaging way to explain the services or products offered by your company. Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady, suggests that you focus on using her “X+Y=Z” method. Develop a memorable sentence that explains,” I do X for Y target audience and deliver Z results.” And be prepared for questions.

 Don’t just show up

You’re working hard to get your name out there. Stay out there! Don’t just attend a few meetings or appear online from time to time. Strive to show up regularly, post often, join committees or volunteer to help out.

 Be an early bird

There’s usually a small group of folks that show up early. Join that group to get a jump on networking before the main crowd arrives.

 Follow up

Don’t let all of your hard work go to waste. Organize the business cards you’ve collected into your contact management system and send emails to those your personally met. If they are active on social media, follow their business profiles and connect on LinkedIn.

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