You may think of business networking as something you'll do after your business is successful. But in reality, networking during the planning and startup phase of your business can make launching your company much easier.
What are the benefits of networking during the startup phase of your small business?
- Networking helps you practice your communication and sales skills, which every startup business owner needs. Especially if you're shy, learning to introduce yourself and talk to people you don't know will build your confidence and boost your business.
- Networking connects you with other small business owners who can serve as mentors and offer moral support during the startup process. Starting a business is lonely—even if you have employees or supportive family members on your side, the buck stops with you. Getting to know other entrepreneurs who have been "in the trenches" and know what you're going through will help you handle the tough times.
- Networking gets you involved in your community and your industry, which raises your profile and attracts attention to your startup. People like to do business with people they know, and by getting known via networking, you make it more likely that people want to do business with you.
- Networking is a great way to find prospective customers. You may meet people who want to buy what you sell — or, more likely, you'll meet people who know people who want to buy what you sell. Referrals are one of the top sources of new business, and by networking, you'll naturally obtain more of them.
To make networking work for your startup, follow these tips:
- Set goals for networking. Going to lots of different networking events without a plan is a waste of time. First, decide exactly what you want to achieve. For example, you may want to network to meet potential customers, or you may want to network to find potential investors. Achieving these two goals will require different types of networking and different organizations. Choose networking organizations to join based on your goals. Look for events that will attract the types of people you want to meet or where you can learn the skills you need to build your startup.
- Don't forget about social networking. Today, social networking is an important component of business networking. LinkedIn is the number-one business network, especially if you are starting a business-to-business company. Create a LinkedIn profile for yourself and for your business, and follow the guidelines on LinkedIn for completing them. Many small businesses also find value in Twitter or Facebook. Whichever social networks you use, make sure your social media profiles are professional. Don't post anything you wouldn't want a prospective client to see.
- Be prepared. When you attend a networking event in person, be well groomed, bring business cards and have a positive attitude. If you're feeling nervous, start by approaching one person who's also attending solo — chances are they’ll be eager to talk to you. Focus on listening more than talking and thinking of ways that you can help the other person instead of what you can get from them. Don't monopolize anyone's time, and always get contact information from those you'd like to follow up with.
- Build relationships. You can gather dozens of business cards at a networking event, but unless you follow up, it won't mean anything. Reach out within the next week or so with a friendly email or an invitation to connect on social media. This is how you build strong business relationships.
- Set aside time for networking. With so many things to do during the startup phase of your new business, it's easy for networking to fall by the wayside. Make it a priority by setting aside time each day to connect with those in your social networks, and by attending one event each week in person. Over time, you'll discover which social networks and networking events or organizations are truly valuable for you. Then, you'll be able to focus on those and eliminate the ones that don't deliver a benefit.
A strong business network will deliver for you in more ways than you can imagine as your company grows. Start now to build a network that will enhance and support your startup.