As a small business owner, it can help to network. Whether you are trying to raise awareness for your brand, look for clients, or forge partnerships, networking can provide you with a number of opportunities. The basic rules of networking are the same, whether you are online or offline.
1. Be Yourself — and Be Consistent
One of the most important keys to successful networking is to be genuine. Be yourself, and make sure you are the same person online and offline. When building an online profile, you need it to reflect who you really are. When someone meets you offline, you want him or her to be able to recognize you as the online contact he or she already “knows.” As you make connections, be consistent, and always be yourself.
2. Share Your Own Knowledge
Become a resource that others can use. One of the best ways to network is to share what you know with others. While you don’t want to give out proprietary secrets, and while you don’t want to devalue your time, you can still help others. Act as a mentor, and let it be known that you are someone who is willing to give back — and to pay it forward.
3. Articulate What You Need
Whether you are connecting online, or whether you are interacting with others in person, it’s important to articulate what you need. Know your needs, and how others can help you. Conversely, you should also know what you can offer others. Be able to articulate what you do, and how it can benefit others, as well as coherently describe how others can work with you more effectively.
4. Go Where the Networking Opportunities Are
Once you know what you need, and what you can offer, you need to go to where others are. Online, this might mean signing up on LinkedIn, or setting up a profile on a social bookmarking site that focuses on your industry or niche. Offline, this means attending conferences and trade shows. It can also include community events in your locality, attending meetups, and being a part of a club or organization. Volunteer opportunities can also connect you with like-minded people.
5. Follow Up in a Timely Manner
When you meet someone, it’s a good idea to follow up in a timely manner. If you meet someone at a conference, send a quick email when you return home reiterating how much you enjoyed the connection. If you talked about a partnership with someone, follow up with more details, or with the desire to set a solid a meeting time to discuss the project. If you have promised to provide information, or offered to send something, fulfill that promise as soon as possible. Following up in a timely manner reminds those you have met of your meeting, and establishes your credibility. Even when you “meet” someone on social media, it can help to send a quick message, just to say “hi” or even to offer your help.
Networking can be a great way to establish relationships with clients or potential partners — or even just to connect with a new friend to bounce ideas around with. Carefully consider the way you network, and improve your interactions to boost your business.