Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team
People do business with those they know and trust. That’s one reason networking is such a powerful tool for small business owners who want to build strategic partnerships and attract new customers. Networking intentionally, or the act of marketing your business at networking events, is much the same as courting new clients. Find common connections with potential sales channels by inquiring about their past and seek out shared experiences that will help to bridge the divide.
Nobody understands how to break into new markets better than Chris Borja. He’s a life-long entrepreneur and founder of Become a Better Networker, a coaching and training company in Dublin, Ohio. Borja, who has hosted networking presentations for small business counseling organization SCORE, teaches entrepreneurs the skills necessary to build, serve, and profit from their network. We asked him probing questions about how to best create a powerful marketing strategy — he shares his secrets below.
Why is networking particularly important for small business owners? Growing a business is all about relationships. Networking is a good way to build relationships and trust with other business owners and future clients who can become a source of ongoing referrals.
Do you think small business owners network enough? Most small business owners don’t network nearly enough. Some of the more common reasons are a lack of skills, lack of time, and lack of importance.
What are your top strategies for overcoming those obstacles? One quick-fix strategy to overcome the lack of skill is to find a seasoned partner to network with. This person can help by providing moral support, making introductions to key people at the event, providing guidance on proper networking etiquette, and leading the conversation in a natural manner. For someone who does not have a networking partner, it’s best to focus on LISTENING to the other person, rather than worrying about SAYING the right thing. Listening is the most important networking skill.
My top strategy for overcoming the lack of time is to schedule networking time like an appointment. That would include attending a networking event, making a follow-up phone call, or a meeting over coffee/lunch.
Overcoming the perception that networking isn’t important is simply a change in mindset. Networking is important, but different from the traditional churn and burn of the sales process. Proper networking is more like farming, as opposed to hunting. It may take a bit more time, it may seem like nothing is happening initially, but when the harvest comes in, it’s abundant.
What about the shy person, how can they break the ice at social/business functions? Get good at asking questions. Most of the social anxiety comes from the pressure of looking good and sounding good. Asking questions is a good way to eliminate that concern. At most business functions, it is standard to ask for someone’s name and what they do. This is a good starting point. From there, I would recommend asking probing questions to keep the focus and attention on the person they’re talking to.
Here are a few sample business-related questions that can be asked:
Here are a few sample questions to learn more about them personally:
Where are some of the best places to network? I believe that the best places to network are at formal networking events because everyone is there for the same reason… to meet other people. Great events can be found on meetup.com, eventbrite.com, chambers of commerce events, referral groups, conferences, trade associations, local neighborhood meetings, and many more. Find an event where the organization, venue, and time fit your personality and target audience the best.
What are some rules for networking, what are your top must-dos, and why? Focus on the other person first and foremost. When they know that you genuinely care about them and their needs, they will naturally care about you and yours.
Keep your answers concise.
Let them talk first. Baseball teams with the home-field advantage get to bat last, so they know what they need to do to win the game. When you are networking, use the same advantage of going last so that you can tailor your elevator speech to be more relevant to them.
By that same token, what are some major mistakes, things you shouldn’t do and why? One of the biggest mistakes people make is talking too much.
The second mistake that people commonly make is giving out their business cards BEFORE being asked. Don’t be a blackjack dealer, giving out two cards to each person, in case they have a referral for you, even though you just met. Hold off until asked for them. A good tip on how to get them to ask you is to ask them for their business card or brochure.
Another thing NOT to do is to rush around the room trying to meet everybody and collect business cards without having any meaningful conversations. Nothing breaks rapport faster than not paying attention to the person in front of you.
Networking deserves a regular spot on your business’s schedule just like your other pressing meetings and projects. “Good networking is all about building relationships, providing value, and exchanging resources and referrals. It’s a team sport. More players equals more resources, and improved results for all participants,” Borja says. Finding the right rapport is all-important. Remember to jot down important details that you can reference later to reinforce the ground you’ve covered at your initial meeting. Remember, your efforts will pay off. Developing new relationships requires time and attention; soon you’ll be reaping the benefits of intentional marketing as new sales channels open up for your business!