Networking is a necessary evil of building a successful business. There is no way to get around or out of it. That’s the bad news. The good news is that networking does not have to be limited to uncomfortable mixers filled with strangers who just want to get a few business cards so they can leave. On the contrary! There are networking opportunities everywhere. You just have to learn how to recognize them when you see them.
Every niche has conventions and conferences. You’ve probably even attended a few. At these events, the norm is for people to seek out those whom they already know and stick with them until the event is over. It can be incredibly difficult for newbies or the introverted to meet new people. The way to counteract this is to use the event’s app. Many event organizers are pairing with companies like DoubleDutch to build a live engagement event app that allows attendees to better connect with the event’s speakers, coordinators and even each other. Interact with people on the app to break the ice and then meet up with them in a face to face environment when you feel comfortable doing so.
Note: These apps can also be fantastic marketing opportunities!
We don’t mean fairs with rides and animal stock contests (though, if you provide a local service, buying space at the county fair might be a good idea). We mean that you should be taking part in your local business and art fairs. There are two ways to do this. The easiest is to simply attend them (with a healthy supply of business cards on hand, of course). If you go this route, however, do not simply make a quiet lap of the event and then leave. That is the antithesis of networking. Instead take time to talk to the vendors and exhibitors whose work is similar to yours or who would benefit from your product or services. Trade business cards and social media info with them. If they are selling something, buy it.
The harder, but ultimately better method for building your business is to have your own booth at these events. This way you get to hang out in a single location and wait for people to come to you. Do not simply sit behind your table and play games on your phone, though! There are a variety of methods you can use to make yourself (and your booth) more approachable. Use them! Remember: you *want* people to talk to you and to take a flyer or business card. You *want* them to buy your sample products or schedule an appointment for your services.
Be a Joiner
Every business owner and entrepreneur should join their local chamber of commerce. There are a lot of benefits associated with this membership that can help your business. One of them is being invited to their gatherings and events. These events are fantastic places to meet your fellow small business owners and local entrepreneurs. Remember: shopping locally is incredibly popular right now!
It is also a good idea to join professional guilds and associations. In addition to building and expanding your network, these organizations are fantastic places to find new clients and jobs. Memberships look good on your CV and can help you command a higher rate.
The best way to find these organizations is to search locally and then expand your search via Google or network recommendations. Before you hand over your membership fee, though, make sure that you do your research. There are a lot of organizations out there trying to mask themselves as professional and highly regarded but that won’t actually help you. Contact current and past members, look for reviews of the organization, its leaders, and its events, etc.
For the extremely introverted, social media is a fantastic way to begin building your network. Talking with other entrepreneurs and prominent members of your niche on Twitter, Slack, and Facebook is a great way to begin building a relationship in an environment you both find comfortable. Make a point, once you feel secure, to try and meet your social media network in person. Sure there are other networks out there: Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. When you start out, however, focus on those that encourage conversation. Then, as you build your audiences and network there, branch out to the more output oriented.
Look, you’re never going to build your business without building a network. And you are never going to build your network if you hide yourself away in a room and never talk to anybody. Putting yourself out there is scary, sure, but it will definitely pay off!