Monthly Challenge: Improving Your Network for Profit
It takes a lot of time, effort and funds to push your small business growth; many times, you can’t do it alone. As a successful small business owner, you know you’ll need more than just yourself to drive your business forward. However, finding those connections and building them into relationships can be a challenge.
The charisma and confidence needed to forge new business contacts comes naturally to some, but not most — especially introverts. No matter where you fall in the spectrum of social ability, we have tips to help branch out and make connections to benefit your business and encourage growth in ways you never thought possible.
Tip #1: Offer Your Help
One of the best benefits of networking is finding someone that complements your skill set and someone whose skill set you can complement in turn, filling in the gaps for both of you. For this reason, consider offering help to new connections as a way to establish your value to them. While they might not return the favor by offering to help you, it will at least leave a good impression on them. It could also demonstrate expertise in your area, and they might recommend you to their friends, thereby expanding your network for potential customers. It’s a win-win!
Tip #2: Build Credibility in the Social Space
The digital space has opened up the opportunity to not only connect with others, but also to share your knowledge with a broad audience in a cheap and effective way. Write and share content that will build trust among your followers (other businesses and potential customers alike). Don’t think of it as giving away secrets of the trade as much as proving how your knowledge could provide value to them. Other businesses may connect with you to share more, increasing your reach and exposing your business to new audiences.
Tip #3: Reach out to Local Media
Every business has a story to tell, but how do you make sure that yours is heard? Utilize the press in your own area to get the word out. Look into community writers in your area or a journalist relevant to your industry (e.g. a home and garden writer could be a useful connection for your flower shop), and invite them to come by for a free demonstration, meal, product or service. By inviting them to experience your brand, you’re in control of how it’s presented, and it will make them feel special because you chose them — it shows you respect their opinion and proactively sought it out. They may or may not feature you in an article, but that’s not the purpose — that’s just a perk. You may be top of mind later down the line for a relevant story they’re writing about a certain local business. Or maybe you’ll host a special event and that person can get the word out.
Tip #4: Use Your Top Customers to Network for You
You probably have regular customers that simply love your product. The loyal advocates for your brand share their enthusiasm for your business unprompted already, so why not take advantage of that (and reward them, too!). If they’re happy with your product or service, it’s likely that they fall into your key demographic and are connected with similar people. Set up a referral program that rewards customers for their loyalty.
Tip #5: Always Be Prepared for a Marketing Opportunity
Always carry a sample of your product to share in the right moment. You may find this silly, but what is more effective and memorable: your business card or a cookie from your bakery? It’s a great conversation starter and allows your product to speak for you, helping you stand out.
Tip #6: Give Yourself a Goal
Before you head to a networking event or any social scenario where you know you’ll be talking about your business, set a specific goal for yourself. This is especially important for introverts or novice networkers: If you don’t have a specific goal in mind, you may throw in the towel and stay in your comfort zone. Start small, like promising yourself that you’ll hand out (or collect) five business cards or make one quality connection with plans for a follow up. Work on your elevator pitch before you go to get comfortable with it so it sounds natural.
Networking is a skill just like any other — it takes practice to get good at it and time to figure out what methods work best for you (and your business). It isn’t an exact science, so use the tips that apply best to your personality, your processional goals and your business.