Networking. It’s a word laden with sweat-inducing pressure – particularly for the introverts among us. But as small business owners, getting to know other businesses, potential clients and the local community through networking events or groups is a skill we need to learn to embrace. If you don’t let people know you’re in business… well, you’re making it difficult for your business to thrive.
Putting yourself out there is hard. Small talk can be awkward and blowing your own trumpet doesn’t always come easily. The good news? People want you to do well. They want you and your business to succeed. And if they can refer a potential client to someone they know and trust, they will. So, if you’re not taking the time to network, you’re losing a fantastic opportunity for people to promote your business on your behalf.
Business networking doesn’t have to be awkward or stressful when you find the right way for you. Say goodbye to long-winded business lunches or hovering anxiously near the exit. Here the best ways to network – even when you don’t really want to:
1. BE A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY
Social networking often gets a bad rap but when it’s used for its original purpose – to be sociable! – it can easily help you to build your profile and your business. Posting regularly about what you and your business do, sharing some free tips, commenting on other profiles’ posts, and supporting local businesses or suppliers are all low-cost and easy ways for other business and clients to get to know you.
Once you’re comfortable with the basics, you can start leveraging hashtags (or create your own), selling your products, running competitions, IGTV, Facebook Lives and Reels… the options are only limited by the number of hours in your day!
Tip: Follow businesses in your own field. Not only can you get inspiration from their posts, take the time to comment and get to know them. Your competition can be one of your best allies (see #4).
2. JOIN A FACEBOOK GROUP
While you’re being sociable, let’s talk about Facebook groups. Free, paid, local, national, industry and professional groups, freelance, creative or women in business… there is something for everyone and every niche.
Just like social media, Facebook groups are a great way for people to get to know you, ask for advice, recommendations and referrals, and for you to gain insight in to the ways people run their own small businesses. As members get to know you, they’ll often tag you in requests for your service – those “can anyone recommend a celebrant/cleaner/psychologist/cake maker/web designer” requests shouldn’t be underestimated.
Tip: Many Facebook groups have a designated “Business Share” Day where members can promote their service or products. Mark the day in your diary and make the most out of the free shout-out!
3. PAST COLLEAGUES KNOW YOU BEST
By the time we’ve made the decision to start our own business, many of us have years of work experience behind us. And that means meeting some pretty awesome colleagues over the years.
Now is the time to reconnect and let people know about your new business and how they can support you. Sure, it might feel a bit odd asking for help – but colleagues are the best people to promote you and your abilities. They’ve worked with you, for you or across the hall from you and can be your biggest advocate on how you work, your reliability and expertise. Consider them your cheer squad. Just like your friends and family, past colleagues want to see your business do well and are best placed to recommend you.
Tip: LinkedIn is a great way to reach out to past colleagues. Start with 5-10 contacts that you know are encouraging and understand your skillset. Plant the seed, let them know about your business and new contact details and the types of clients you’re looking for – and let the ripple effect take hold.
4. GET TO KNOW THE ‘COMPETITION’
Rather than looking at the competition as a threat to your business, treat your competitors as potential collaborators. Reach out, ask what their niche is and if they’re taking on new clients. Are they at capacity? Let them know you’re available to help with overflow work or referrals and vice versa. Collaboration over competition, always.
A trusty network of professionals in your field are worth their weight in gold. When business gets busy or you have an enquiry that’s outside of your niche or interest, a go-to list of contacts is good for business. The client is happy and your ‘competition’ has a new referral – and you get a whole bunch of good karma points for referring on the work.
5. OLD SCHOOL, IN PERSON
As much as Zoom and social networking has revolutionised how we connect, nothing quite comes close to talking to people in person. You pick up on their energy, body language and vibe – so grab a glass and get chatting.
With many in-person business networking groups available, it’s important to find one that resonates for you and reflects how you like to do business. From your local Chamber of Commerce, BNI-style referral networks to women in business groups like She Will Shine, the opportunities to meet like-minded business owners are endless. Ask for recommendations, get a friend to join you or simply mention to the event organiser that it’s your first event – they’ll happily get you started with introductions.
Or try a co-working space – it’s a great way to meet other business owners in a relaxed atmosphere, without the pressure of mingling at a business networking event. With many of us working remotely, a regular day at a hot desk or communal workspace provides a nice balance of knocking out a work day plus getting to know new ‘colleagues’. Chatting in the kitchen or over lunch, it’s bringing back the water cooler chatter of the old days.
Tip: If you’re new to the face to face game, start small – or ‘1:1’. That’s committing to ONE event and introducing yourself to ONE new person. And if you’re still mastering your pitch, ask them questions about their business – but only until you’re ready to shine.