Networking is essential for small business owners who what to optimize their brands and gain new clientele. Whether you’re looking to make new contacts or uncover opportunities for your business, here’s how you can become a master networker.
1. Set up an online presence. Creating social media accounts for LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook will help build an online presence for your small business and attract more customers. JJ DiGeronimo, founder of Tech Savvy Women, Purposeful Woman and Journey Charms, based in Cleveland, Ohio, says it’s important for businesses to stay consistent across all social media platforms so that their brands remain integral no matter where people go to look for them.
2. Create content online. DiGeronimo says it’s important to schedule time to write or post articles on social media about your take on the latest industry news.
“It keeps you up to date on current events with things happening in your industry and helps elevate your brand,” DiGeronimo says. “If you’re sharing content with people, they will start to seek you out.”
Writing original articles such as blog posts also enhances search engine optimization, which moves your articles higher in search results—increasing the chance that others will want to network with you for your expertise. DiGeronimo’s name jumped to the top of the first page of a LinkedIn search after she posted articles related to cloud computing a couple times a week for four months.
3. Develop good email etiquette. Kaneisha Grayson, founder of The Art of Applying, an Austin, Texas-based admissions consulting firm for business school and fellowship program applicants, uses what she calls “a networking email that always works.” She says people are more likely to respond to emails if they share some kind of affinity with the sender.
“Some affinities might be you both went to the same college, or you’re both from the same city, or you both play the same random sport,” Grayson says. “The reason why it works is because it’s short, very clear and to the point.”
4. Think outside the box. Besides going to networking events filled with other small business owners, it’s also a good idea to go where potential customers are. The social networking site Meetup.com, which allows people to plan offline meetings with others who share similar interests, is a great place to find and create networking groups around specialized interests, such as speed networking events and seminars for business owners, Grayson says.
5. Give and take. Putting in an extra hour or two to reach out to people willing to share their business expertise with you can work to your benefit in the long run. It’s important to approach people with earnest humility at networking events and entrepreneurship conferences, says David Simnick, CEO and co-founder of SoapBox Soaps, a Washington, D.C.-based company that donates a bar of soap to those in need when a bar is sold.
Cultivating a relationship with someone can start with a simple phone call or email inviting him or her for coffee. Simnick also suggests handwritten thank-you notes after your meeting as it reinforces the appreciation of the relationship.
“Treat everyone as if they were the No. 1 person that you want to talk to,” Simnick says. “You never know who that one person knows.”