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How to Start Networking your Small Business
By Rich Kahn, eZanga.com
For successful small business owners, it’s not what you know -- it’s who you know. Networking is crucial for growing your customer base and professional connections. You need to have contacts, not only for possible customer referrals, but also for professional resources you can turn to when you have questions or issues related to your industry.
It’s always a good idea to build a relationship with your customers in order to increase word-of-mouth referrals. But reaching out in various ways to build new relationships with others in your industry will make you look more trustworthy, and ultimately help your business grow. Here are six easy tips to help you make that happen.
Be Active in Online Forums
As a small business, your online presence is crucial. It’s the first place potential customers will look when they’re in search of a specific product or service. But, it’s also where other small business will turn to for information.
Staying active in various online forums will not only build your reputation as a knowledgeable industry leader, but it will also allow you to build relationships with other industry professionals. Sure, it may feel like you’re being friendly with the competition, but the chances are that their small business, even though it’s similar, isn’t close enough to your location to steal any potential customers.
Stay in Touch With Your Local Community
For SMBs, sometimes the local community is the biggest and most active customer base. For that very reason, it’s important to stay in touch and engage with the local community and give them a face behind the business. It’s more personal, and it makes your place of business seem more open and inviting to questions or inquiries.
Plus, you might be surprised to find out how many other small business owners are in your area. Building a relationship with fellow business owners gives you the opportunity to collaborate on “shop local” campaigns that can build awareness and benefit everyone involved.
Go to Networking Events
For some, going to a networking event may be too impractical or expensive. But, if the opportunity arises, networking events are a great way to build professional relationships with others in your industry, especially if they aren’t necessarily close enough to be your competition.
By networking in the same industry, you’ll be able to discuss various strategies that have or haven’t worked, and the reasoning behind these successes or failures. But remember, at a networking event, it’s quality over quantity. You don’t have to meet everyone. It’s best to scope out the people that would be most beneficial for you to meet, and then focus on building a relationship with them.
Look for Opportunities Everywhere
Networking doesn’t only happen at a special event or gathering. Sometimes, a networking opportunity can arise just from striking up a conversation with the person standing behind you in line at the coffee shop. Networking can happen at any place and at any time, so it’s important to be open to them, and try to strike up a conversation whenever possible. Be sure to keep some business cards handy wherever you go.
Join Social Networking Sites
There’s no denying that social media is essential to a strong online presence. If you haven’t joined any social networking sites, you should. Facebook and Twitter are great customer service platforms. But, social sites are also useful for finding and interacting with new industry leaders.
While LinkedIn is better for the more professional side of networking, Twitter and Facebook are great for sharing content and interacting with what others post. You can also join various industry-related groups where you can discuss small business tactics or any recent changes in the industry with fellow owners.
It’s extremely important to follow up, not only with customers, but with new connections. For any new professional connections, you should reach out within 48 hours. You can start by connecting on LinkedIn, and then call or send an email. With professional networking, it’s all about speed. You want to make sure you follow up quickly in order to keep your business front and center in your contact’s mind.
When you’re following up with either customers or new connections, the most important aspect of the follow up is to give back. Yes, the ultimate goal is for you to improve your business and gain more customers. But the most successful networkers are the ones who give back to their customers and network, either through promotional offers or educational material.
Rich Kahn is the CEO of eZanga.com and has been recognized as a leader in the online advertising industry since 1993. Rich started eZanga.com, a digital marketing firm specializing in pay per click and pay per call advertising, in 2003 with his wife, Beth. Follow him on Twitter at @richkahn.
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