It could be about the money (but it’s probably not). It could be a lifelong passion or dream you’re living. Or it could be your unique way of helping the world around you. Because at the start, being a small business owner is all about people.
It’s about the clients and the employees and your family and your friends. No small business is an island, and many of us know firsthand the benefits of having a flourishing network. While it is obviously imperative to work your network when you first started your business, it’s equally (if not more) important to consider it a necessary element of everything you do.
“Personal relationships are always the key to good business,” said Australian businessman Lindsay Fox. (And he would know, with an estimated net worth of $2.4 billion.) “You can buy networking; you can’t buy friendships.”
Understanding the importance of networking to the health of your business, consider these five simple steps to building (and maintaining) your business:
Be on social media. Never before has technology played such an active role in the vitality of business. Yet while usage continues to soar, research on the actual quantitative impact of those daily Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram feeds and LinkedIn messages can be clear as mud. Google Analytics have made great strides in helping understand some of the numbers, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to see what we all know is true. Social media is everywhere. It’s literally in the palm of our hands. Dailymail.com reports that the average person picks up their phone more than 1,500 times a week and spends an average Smartphone user spends more than three hours a day on their phone. That’s about as big an opportunity as you can get to share exciting news about your business with friends, family and strangers alike.
Be approachable. Whether it’s a fundraiser, volunteer event or a cooking class you thought you’d try, the best first step to making any occasion into a networking opportunity is to be approachable. Getting yourself out there is a good start, but it’s important to mind social and nonverbal cues and find some common points of interest with who you’re meeting. The absolute worst thing you can do is forget that networking is a two-way street. Forbes offers some insight to this, suggesting that “whenever you meet someone, you need to ask them as much as possible regarding their business, as well as informing them about yours.”
Be prepared. A little research can go a long way toward turning an opportunity into something that will benefit your business. Your local chamber can offer a wealth of knowledge, in addition to hosting regular networking breakfasts or “Business After 5” style events. Some small businesses and even municipalities do the same. But it isn’t so much about showing up as it is about being there. You need to be present and ready to talk about the business you love. One great way to accomplish that is to be prepared with a 30-second-sales pitch that helps you tell someone new who you are, what you do and what’s in it for them.
Be friendly. We’ve all been there. We attended that annual chamber awards dinner or volunteered at a fundraiser golf outing. We loved or hated every single minute of it, but ultimately we did what we were there to do. We came, we sold, we conquered. So what happens next? You’ve got six business cards for people you may or may not actually remember all that well. The best thing you can do is remember it doesn’t stop there. Networking is just as much about building relationships as it is anything else. Forbes even suggests to consider scheduling a “second date” to a coffee shop or something, particularly because the other person is probably in the exact same boat.
Be memorable. Networking is an ongoing process. Making a good first impression means only as much as quality, consistent follow up. But finding ways to set yourself, to set your business, apart will help your network grow into a well-oiled machine. Consider following up with a thank you note after that so-called second date or inviting them to that new cooking class you tried. Relationships are built on trust, which takes time to cultivate. Time is money, and when it comes to marketing networking is gold.
Because in the end, it’s all about people.
In the words of John Lennon, “we’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or think it’s going to get on by itself…you’ve got to keep watering it, you’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”