You’ve probably heard it said that networking is an essential art to master for any small business owner in search of success. However, actually getting out there and doing it is often easier said than done. Where do you start? How should you prepare? What’s the etiquette? There are dozens, if not hundreds of specialised networking groups all around New Zealand. Some have specific areas of interest, while others are broader. Some are free and some require paid membership. It can all be a bit confusing.
It’s not about collecting a stack of business cards
Some business owners think networking is all about attending functions and gathering business cards. While you can meet some interesting people at these events, a pile of cards by itself is simply a collection of cardboard.
Growing your business through networking is all about building relationships. To make these relationships work for your business, you need to develop a more sophisticated approach. Here are four tips to become a master networker.
1. Develop a barbecue pitch
What would you say if you were at a backyard barbecue and were introduced to a prospective customer? You have 20 seconds to get them interested.
Don’t just mumble something offhand or baldly state what you do. Tell your listener how your business solves problems for customers. Share a success story. Watch for any signs of interest and be prepared to expand on your story.
Having a polished but natural sounding ‘barbecue pitch’ is the first step in business networking. The person you’re talking to might not be in the market now – but he or she may know someone who is.
2. Join a networking group
Many business owners know the value of a local business group such as the Chamber of Commerce. There are other avenues you can try as well.
You can also take advantage of the free evenings run by BNZ. These kick off tomorrow night and will run every first Tuesday of the month at BNZ Partners Centres all over New Zealand. You can register here. These provide a forum for local business people to meet once a month and share stories, experiences and ideas. You can learn from others, raise your profile and even pick up referrals.
3. Extend that network through social media
Perhaps one of the best ways to turn that pile of cardboard into a useful and supportive business network is to sit down with them when you get home and see if you can find them on social media. LinkedIn and Twitter are both great networks for small business and using them can be an incredibly effective way of maintaining a good-sized network.
Send a note introducing yourself on LinkedIn and asking to connect. If you’re stuck for a format, something as simple as this will work:
It was great to meet you at… Thought it might be worthwhile connecting here as well. Look forward to chatting again.
If you had a good a conversation with someone at the event, mention that or even better send them an article or resource that they might find useful.
If you’re on Twitter, sending a tweet saying it was great to meet up and then following the person can often be the start of a beautiful thing.
If you’re attending BNZ Connect Events you can talk to your fellow attendees and guest speakers here on BNZ Community before and after each event.
4. Get involved in your community
Networking doesn’t have to be done through a formal networking group. Serving on a school board, running a sports club or helping run community events can be a great way to connect with local people from all backgrounds. It’s only too natural that the people you meet in the community turn into customers or clients over time.
As a small business, your big advantage is that people can see the human face of your business. The more you build contacts in the community, the more people will think of you as their local problem solver.