Love it or hate it, there is no denying the role of networking in growing and maintaining a healthy business. And, while networking may be especially important when first launching a business, the truth is that networking is an ongoing process for most business owners. Strong relationships and new connections are beneficial at every stage of your entrepreneurship journey. Whether you are just starting out or a seasoned professional, networking is always a good idea!
Entrepreneurs should care about business networking
Networking is so important because it can help solve any business challenge. From staffing, to finding suppliers, to securing funding and beyond, networking broadens horizons and opens up business opportunities for any entrepreneur who is ready to build meaningful professional relationships. Some even argue that networking is the most effective and least expensive form of marketing!
Check out our business networking tips to help you make the most of your networking efforts
1. Know what you have to offer
Knowing your value and what you have to offer is critical to successful networking. Make sure that you are able to clearly communicate your offerings and current business goals in simple language before ever setting foot into a networking event.
Prepare your sales pitch before any networking event
The ability to succinctly give your "elevator pitch" will help you to exude confidence and make a great impression on everyone you meet. It will also allow you to be more present when listening to others as you will not be as preoccupied by details you may have forgotten to mention. Having a clear vision of what you can offer will help you to identify "win-win" situations and common ground as you meet other business professionals and hear what they have to say.
Tailor your networking efforts to your audience
For the greatest level of success, we recommend having a few versions of your pitch ready to go. The way that you present yourself and your business to someone within your industry should be different from how you pitch to someone in a completely different field. Using lots of industry specific terms can show that you are up to date on the latest trends and technology, but it can also turn people off, so always be aware of your audience and adjust your approach accordingly.
The best way to get comfortable pitching while avoiding sounding like a robot is simply lots of practice, so enlist your friends and family and get their feedback to help you be ready to pitch to anyone in any situation!
2. Get out there (and get online!)
Now, let's talk about the hard part—actually getting out there! While some personalities thrive in social settings where they get to command a roomful of business leaders, other introverted entrepreneurs may be happiest working away on their networking within the privacy of their own home offices. If you fall into this more introverted category of entrepreneur, don't worry! Just get out there and start by playing to your strengths and practicing the skills you already have. You don’t have to captivate a roomful of people during your first event in order to become a successful networker. There is great value in showing up to an event, introducing yourself, nodding, smiling and listening intently as others share about their businesses and aspirations. You can always work on practicing being more outgoing in the future!
Every entrepreneur networks in a different way
If you are less comfortable with socializing in general, we recommend that you start networking with a small lunch group, a local trade association or a local chamber of commerce. Sticking to small groups and local groups will be less intimidating and let you focus on the task at hand. For those who love to socialize, take advantage of this strength and be sure to join larger organizations and travel to conferences each year in order to widen your network and gain access to a variety of perspectives and opportunities.
Online networking is easier than ever before
In addition to traditional in-person networking events, online events and online networking are becoming increasingly popular with entrepreneurs and other business leaders around the world. Thanks to professional networking platforms such as LinkedIn and business networking platforms such as B2BeeMatch, it is easy to conduct your networking comfortably from your home office.
B2BeeMatch is especially valuable for entrepreneurs interested in networking because it is all about making B2B connections. It is accessible for pretty much any entrepreneur because registration is free and because using the platform actually helps entrepreneurs reduce or eliminate the travel costs associated with a traditional in-person networking strategy. In addition, it is the perfect option for introverted entrepreneurs because they can meet companies and business leaders from all over the world without feeling pressured to make small talk or engage with a roomful of people.
Whatever you do, make sure you stay up to date on the latest networking trends, so you are able to get the most out of your networking efforts. And keep in mind that online and in-person networking events both have their pros and cons, so everyone should strive to have a bit of both in their networking strategies.
3. Find common ground
As an entrepreneur, any business event or social event is a potential networking opportunity. No matter what situation you find yourself in, make sure to keep an open mind and listen to everyone you meet. While it is important to know what you are offering and what you are looking for, being overly focused on yourself can prevent you from engaging with others meaningfully which could lead to you missing out on a great connection. When you truly listen to someone, you can start to find common ground with them (even on a personal level!) and start to build a positive relationship that lays the groundwork for trust in your professional relationship or business relationship.
Business opportunities can be found anywhere
Sometimes you will find yourself seated amongst people for a period of time who you would not imagine doing business with. Instead of quickly cutting off a conversation with anyone from a different industry or a foreign market, we instead recommend that you seek out your common ground and go from there. You may be surprised! For instance, you may get access to important information about a large supplier or gain a deeper perspective about wider consumer trends.
That having been said, while building relationships across industries or markets can bring great value to an entrepreneur, it's also important to value your networking time and energy by prioritizing conversations with those who align with your goals. So, don't hesitate to politely end a conversation if it's simply run its course, or if you need to move along to make sure you have time to speak with others.
4. Always follow up on business connections
Great! You've made some connections and identified potential ways of working together—don't let things end there! Meeting people and exchanging contact information doesn't benefit anyone unless that connection is nurtured. Don't be shy to make the first move and send a follow-up message soon after meeting. Doing so shows initiative and will let you know quickly whether or not this new contact is truly interested in working together.
Build a reputation as an entrepreneur with integrity
It is also important to follow up with people as it can help demonstrate your integrity. If you said you would message them, actually doing so shows that you can align your actions with your words—and that helps in developing trust in new business relationships. Your reputation in the business world is shaped by your ability to keep your word, so always avoid making promises you can't keep!
Following up regularly with your contacts keeps the channel of communication open and makes it more likely that others will think of you when a relevant opportunity arises.
5. Don't forget about mentorship
While networking that results in direct sales or formal partnerships represents the most obvious type of success, we encourage entrepreneurs to also consider the value of mentorship while planning their networking strategies. Yes, a mentor can help you to develop your leadership abilities and sharpen your business acumen, but the point we want to bring your attention to today is that once you have developed trust with a mentor, their networks can become your own.
It is also important to note that the benefits of mentorship go both ways, with mentees also bringing the value of their different knowledge bases and connections to the mentor. No matter where you are in your career, there are always people that you can learn from and people that can learn from you, so stay open to being both a mentor and a mentee.
Don't underestimate the value of a business mentor
Just because the benefits of mentorship go beyond the easily quantifiable, it doesn't mean that it is any less essential to the success of your business! Don't forget to include these types of professional relationships as you pursue networking opportunities.
6. Be grateful
Our final networking tip is to express gratitude to everyone who provides an insight, offers to make an introduction, or otherwise supports your networking efforts. Remembering to say "thank you" strengthens relationship bonds and makes people feel appreciated. If people feel good after meeting you or working with you, they are much more likely to recommend your business to their contacts.
Networking is all about relationships
Successful networkers know that relationships with people must be valued. While it is important to know what you have to offer and be confident in sharing that, the real magic happens when you find common ground and actually follow up and continue to develop the connections you make at events or online.
The way you interact with people while you're networking is also incredibly important. Like any other skill set, networking skills can be improved with practice, so whether you need to work on putting yourself out there or learning to listen effectively, you can improve your networking outcomes by always continuing to develop your skills in ways big and small.
Effective business networking is full of business opportunities. With time, it can turn potential clients into established connections who can then recommend your business to others. When done right, it is the gift that keeps on giving! So, get out there and follow these tips to expand your network and enjoy the many benefits of a large and supportive community of colleagues and friends.