Building a successful small business takes a lot of time and energy. One of the greatest challenges you might face as a small business owner is finding the time to develop your business while you’re already balancing the work of actually running it.
With so much already on your plate, it can be tempting to put professional networking on the backburner. But don’t let yourself make this mistake! Networking is a key activity that can not only be enjoyable but also critical to your personal growth and the development of your business.
Professional networking allows you to build a valuable pool of resources to leverage. It allows you to build relationships with like-minded individuals and gives you a chance to take advantage of different business opportunities, such as new clients and potential partnerships.
So, how can you start putting this into action and reaping the benefits of professional networking? First, let’s talk about how to find the right event for you.
With so many networking events available, the challenging part can be knowing where to look for them. Here are some of our favourite places to find valuable events:
- Chamber of Commerce – Your local Chamber of Commerce is the best place to find local events. For a small fee, you can join your Chamber of Commerce and become part of its existing network of local businesses in your market or industry. Attending your Chamber’s events will put you in place to engage with other business owners, allowing you to make strategic connections and mutually beneficial partnerships.
- Business Queensland Events – Business Queensland is a government-run one-stop shop for any small business owner. Their Business Events calendar is continually updated with events that not only provide businesses with advice and assistance but also great networking opportunities. You can stay up to date with upcoming events and even request your own event to be added to the calendar.
- Eventbrite – Eventbrite is an online platform that’s the gateway to millions of events. It essentially offers small business owners a searchable database of the top professional networking events happening in their local area. You’ll be amazed at what events you can find by simply searching for “small business Brisbane”.
- Meetup.com – Meetup is another networking platform, similar to Eventbrite. It makes it easy for people to find in-person gatherings, meetings, and events centred around a common interest. Although this website can be used for personal interests, it’s a great resource for small business owners looking for networking opportunities.
- Facebook and LinkedIn groups – It’s increasingly common for businesses to take advantage of Facebook and LinkedIn groups to connect with other industry professionals in their local community. Although these are both great places to find local networking events, by simply joining groups on these sites, you’ll be able to connect with potential business partners and grow your customer connections, and therefore network with people online.
If online networking isn’t your thing, some other physical places to join include The Brisbane Club, The Rotary Club, QLD Leaders, and Tattersall’s Club. Keep in mind, however, that with the rise of online networking events, you might be missing out on some great opportunities if you limit yourself just to physical networking.
Now that you know where to find networking events, let’s move on to looking at the kinds of events you want to attend. This is usually the most difficult decision, but there are a few things you should consider before deciding:
- Where is the event being held? Is it at a location where people you’d like to build relationships with are likely to be? Many small business owners go into the city for networking events and disregard the ones located on the fringes, but this could be to your detriment if you haven’t really thought about the types of people you’d like to meet.
- Who is the audience? Is the event aimed at business owners, or is it aimed at your potential customers?
- What is the subject matter? Is it something you would like to learn more about, or is it something you already know well and where you could add value? Maybe it’s something that doesn’t even appeal to you, but that may appeal to your potential customers.
- Who is running the event? Is it an organisation, another small business, or a set of individuals? Keep in mind that, regardless of the subject matter, sometimes it’s worthwhile attending an event to build strategic connections with the hosts or others who may be present.
Once you’ve chosen the right event for you, the next step is to show up and make the most of your time there. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Go with a colleague if you can. Sometimes it can be better to show up to a networking event in a pair, so each person can tackle their own side of the room. This will allow you to meet more people and increases your chance of making greater connections.
- This one goes without saying, but make sure you dress appropriately and look professional. After all, how you dress is the first impression you make.
- Present yourself and your business concisely and excellently. Make sure you have a clear ‘elevator pitch’ prepared, as well as some professional, good-looking business cards to distribute. It’s also good practice to have your LinkedIn profile clean and up to date as some people may prefer connecting with you directly instead of getting your business card.
- Ask lots of questions (and make sure they’re open-ended!). Don’t launch straight into talking about yourself, let the other person speak and really listen to them. People will naturally feel that they are talking about themselves and ask you questions too, at which point you can ease into how you may be able to help them.
- Move on if you’re not getting value out of your conversation. Another benefit of asking lots of questions is that you can quickly find out if you’re talking to the sort of person you want to be networking with. The same thing goes if you find someone who is nice but who doesn’t add value to your business. The point of networking events is to make valuable connections, so don’t feel like you need to be stuck with one person if you realise you’re not the right fit for each other
- Take notes and follow up. Many people expect to show up to a networking event and generate a sale while they are there, and while this does sometimes happen, it’s exceedingly rare. Instead, before leaving, make some notes about the people you spoke to so you can plan what you’ll say to them in your next communication: maybe it’s an email the following day or coffee a week later.
It is very important to follow up those you meet at a networking event. The best way to do this is by connecting with them on LinkedIn or sending them an email, but make sure you offer them something of value if you can.
You could share an article with them based on what you learnt about their interests or invite them along to another event with you in the future. This way the relationship will feel more natural and is much more likely to end up a long-lasting, valuable connection.
As the old saying goes, it’s not what you know but who you know. From attending events at your local Chamber of Commerce to using social media to reach out to business owners with similar industry focuses as yours – the more you network, the more opportunities you will give your small business to thrive.
At Advivo, we regularly host events throughout the year to not only share important tips and tricks for small businesses but also to give you the chance to expand your network and meet like-minded individuals. To stay up to date with our upcoming events, click here.