Does your networking add power to your small business? Does it help set you apart from your competitors? Does it increase your visibility? Does it add to your bottom line?
If you answered yes to each question, congratulations. If not, could it?
Effective networking can:
- let people know you are in business
- keep customers aware of your business and the changes you are making.
- help owners find answers to questions and new resources
- find mentors and guides
- provide an early warning system of upcoming changes that might impact your business.
Research suggests that networking is one of the most effective marketing tools because it has little cost, other than time, and offers one of the best returns on your investment.
Yet research also shows that most of the networking we do is not very effective.
First and foremost, we don’t have a plan for why we are networking. And our plan does not define who we should network with. We tend to often pick those who are in our circles already. And while these individuals might not know everything about you and your business, they also are not completely unaware that you exist.
When networking we also tend to forget some of the important rules such as: decide what you want to get from each event before you walk into the room; get there early (your best contacts will usually come in the first 30 minutes of an event); be a host (meet people and introduce them to others); and it’s not just a game of who can collect the most business cards.
Then there is the follow-up after the event. If you made promises, keep them. It’s also important that you just get back in contact with the individuals you met who you see as a resource for you and your business.
Also, critique your networking. What worked, what didn’t, and what questions or information do you still need from a contact you made?
Effective networking means you have to give as well as receive. It also means follow-ups and building relationship over time. Networking rarely pays off in the short term.
And lastly, stand by the food. Food draws people and you want to be in the traffic. Until your company is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, no one will be seeking you out.
This doesn’t mean you can’t talk with friends and people you know at an event. Just train yourself to not get into those conversations immediately. Give yourself those golden 30 to 60 minutes first.
Effective networking is a great marketing tool. It can add tremendous punch to your business growth curve. Take the time, do it right and make it work for you.
- About the Author
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Glenn Muske is an independent expert on rural small business, working as GM Consulting – Your partner in achieving small business success. He provides consulting, and writes articles for county extension agents and newspapers across North Dakota. Previously, he was the Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality.