Next Level Networking: Smart Strategies for Small Business Owners

By: Allan Thompson | Chief Operating Officer

As your business grows, so should your network of professional connections. At Jet Capital, we have a lot of experience building businesses and the networks of people that lead to success. We understand that for some business owners, networking comes naturally, but for most people networking requires a certain amount of getting out of their comfort zone.  We tend to run in the circles we build within our families, our work, and our friends. Breaking out of our regular patterns to meet new people requires effort and planning.

Growing your network offers countless benefits from staying in touch with your community, learning about new resources or technology, growing your business with referrals, and even just meeting new and interesting people. It can take courage and patience to build new relationships, but the results will benefit your business and enrich your life. Having a smart strategy for networking will help you make the most of the time and energy you spend making new connections.

Get Out There!

No one, and no business, is an island. While social media gives us many tools to connect online, there is no substitute for a phone call or (even better) a face to face meeting. Making connections with other local business owners might be as easy as visiting their retail location and introducing yourself. Your local Chamber of Commerce is a valuable resource, too. Check with their website to see if there are any events in the upcoming weeks. These events are a fantastic way to meet new people and learn about the small business concerns in your area. Explore other local trade groups or associations for even more opportunities to meet new professionals.

Make a commitment to meet new people by visiting and calling other local business owners, joining the Chamber of Commerce and other local merchant associations, and attending meetings at these groups when you can. Having a specific goal for each visit or event, e.g. to meet two new people or to speak to the event organizer, can also help you structure your outreach and hold yourself accountable for making new connections.

Smile and Listen

Putting yourself out there to meet new people takes bravery. Stand up straight, take a deep breath, and dive in with a smile! Breaking the ice with a warm smile and a straight-forward introduction goes a long way towards building trust. If you are a little nervous, it is totally acceptable to admit it. You might be surprised that the people around you are nervous, too, especially at organized events.

Be polite and listen carefully. Manners count greatly when you are making a first impression. Do not allow your phone to distract you. It is very difficult to be a good listener while you are distracted, so put your ringer on silence and excuse yourself to a private location if you must check your phone. Keeping your phone out of sight will allow you to focus on the people in the room with you.

Ask follow up questions and listen carefully to responses. Diane Gottsman, owner of the Protocol School of Texas, suggests “listening 60% of the time and responding, asking questions, and engaging with the other person 40%” of the time.1 Listening with care shows respect and will help you remember conversational details when you follow up or meet again.

Ask Questions

Above and beyond showing interest within a conversation, questions can help move your networking forward by leading to new introductions and useful advice. Ask to meet the organizers of the event you are attending. Ask to be introduced to co-workers and partners. Ask how other business leaders approach marketing or training. There may be more experienced business owners who can offer insight into challenges your business is facing. You will never know until you start asking.

And to make your relationship building even more meaningful, find the opportunity to ask, “How can I help?” Helping others make useful connections, making a great recommendation, and contributing to the success of others will help build your own reputation in the very best way.

Follow Up

Now that you have gone out into the world and met new people, remember to follow up within 48 hours. While it can be easy to let this step slip by, following up is the key to building new relationships. An email to say that you enjoyed meeting is a great start, but make a stronger connection with an invitation to coffee or lunch. If there was a question you discussed, perhaps emailing a relevant or helpful article would continue the conversation. Since following up is so important, schedule your follow up emails or phone calls on your calendar with the contact information. Having the information handy will make following up even easier.

After you meet a few more times, you may decide that social media is a nice way to stay in touch with your new contact. If you would like to keep the relationship on a professional level, LinkedIn is the perfect place to connect.

As a busy business owner, you have a calendar full of commitments. It can become all too easy to miss opportunities to reach out in your community to meet new people.  As experts Herminia Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter note, managers that are moving into leadership roles need to orient their networks in a strategic way that looks to the future.  Their research also reminds leaders that successful networking is a matter of will and practice.2 Your business is ready to grow, so you should be, too. We wish you the best of luck in your networking outreach!

1. http://www.inc.com/diane-gottsman/10-tips-for-your-next-networking-event.html

2. Ibarra, H. & Hunter, M. L. (January 2007). How Leaders Create and Use Networks. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2007/01/how-leaders-create-and-use-networks


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