Business networking doesn't have to be formal - it can be fun!
Everyone knows how important it is to network to promote your business. But not everyone is naturally social. You may be reticent, preferring to hide behind the anonymity of an online brand or your well-known product. I know, as this is exactly how I felt when I first launched my own business. Little did I know what I was missing? With the power of social media today, your consumers, clients and customers are curious about you. Even the big box stores, like The Bay, Sears, corporate names we’re all familiar with, are getting down and personal. They know where their next dollar is coming from and they understand the power of networking. Your target market love to see you out there, part of the community – showing you care, about them!
Simply put – networking is you giving more than you get.
People want to “Know, Like & Trust” you before they buy from you or work with you. Naturally they will first ask “Who is this person”? So relax and accept that, even if you’re not naturally the social type, it really is in your best business interests to step out of your comfort zone and find out what networking strategies you can most effectively use to build your business (both online & offline).
This way you can achieve positive results. Fortunately, you may not know anyone personally at your first few events, so if you venture out with the right attitude and a generous spirit you may be surprised to find that it’s actually a lot of fun – work that you can enjoy! Aim to empathise, share and support those you meet at these events. Listen, learn and put store by what you take away. You are not alone, you share the same challenges, frustrations and problems of other small business owners. Inevitably, as you share your own experiences, you will help others and reap rewards for your own business and quality of life as well.
So where can you network?
Our own personal lives are a good place to start as they offer many opportunities e.g. personal friends and then working outwards through our own children’s curricular and extra-curricular activities or the local community itself, e.g. sporting events, neighbourhood community events, business networks and leisure group activities. Two of the most popular ways to network effectively to build your business include Person-to-Person and Online or a hybrid of both, so let’s take a brief look at each and what drives them.
1. Person-to-Person is still one of the most effective networking strategies:
People need people and the ‘real people’ factor cannot quite be replaced by online networking. This is why most businesses still encourage you to attend as many live conferences and seminars as possible. You can also explore places where people gather in person at local meet-ups, chambers of commerce, toast masters or small-business groups. Some are more casual than others – like the one I attended at a Pub in a nearby neighbourhood.
This particular group was the business brainchild of some enterprising consultants whom I met at a local Women’s network luncheon. The group has now grown to include a diverse group of entrepreneurs and business people who attend regular monthly after-work networking evenings. The owner of the pub generously prepares lavish snack platters for her new beverage clientele (you) and reaps some grateful repeat customers, month after month. Along with a sincere greeting for each and every participant in the group to make them feel welcome and at home, the setting is relaxed and the networking effective. We share a lot in common as ordinary people, as well as independent professionals. This is where dreams are shared and a lot is learned – for those who care to listen – about new businesses, ideas and strategies which you can put to use in your own life or business.
2. Virtual or Online Meetings:
The world’s a big place and the internet has expanded our markets to reach all corners of the globe. Anyone with the desire to learn and perfect their craft, business or opportunity will do well to get inside a group affiliated with their industry online. Not hard to do in today’s virtual world with online meeting rooms and social media leading the way; LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to name a few, are busting at the seams with groups to congregate and share your interests online. Add to this, online seminars, meetings and events to broaden your own skill-set and you can appreciate the benefits to your own business horizons as well as your growing online fan-base.
Long-term relationships are formed and trust is gained. Share your own unique positive energy, strategies and support with people you meet, and the more fun you will have. Referrals will naturally arise, and since this is one of the most effective ways to market your services, you will see the value in being a proactive networker. Valuable “word-of-mouth” and written referrals are the by-products of “Simply Networking” and these will help you grow your small business while you sleep, worldwide. Imagine the power in that!
Since I learned a lot as a Virtual Assistant (VA) from Michelle Jamison’s book “The Virtual Assistant’s Guide to Marketing” I will end off with a quote from her:
“Networking is a great way to deal with the isolation of working from home. Approach networking as a social event, having fun and meeting new people, not as a way to get as many referrals as possible.”