Make meaningful business connections for your small business

Networking tips to grow your business

Are you looking for sole proprietor inspiration? Need business advice or seeking new business opportunities? There is no better way to start those conversations than through networking. There are numerous forums and business networking groups in social channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Reddit. Online forums are excellent ways to make connections all over the world. There are additional opportunities to connect with others at a live in-person networking venue. Face- to- face interactions build strong rapport.

Laurel Alper,  Founder of Laurel Leaf Networking began a professional networking and advertising group on Facebook in 2014. In less than a year it grew to over 6,000 members. Seeing the value of  relationship building and cultivating business connections,  Laurel  expanded her offerings to hosting in-person networking events. Her active membership is reaping many benefits such as passing referrals, refining their business presentations and building long- lasting connections.

“The point of attending networking events is to meet other like-minded professionals, to make solid and long-lasting connections and, ultimately, receive referrals.  Investigate networking events in your area, which may mean attending a few, then decide on which one suits you and your business best.  It takes time and effort to build up personal relationships and it’s no different in business, put a smile on your face, be sociable and listen as well as talk about your own business.
It’s often not what you know but who you know and you never know who you’ll meet when you step out of your front door”-Laurel Alper- Laurel Leaf Networking- Telling is Selling.

You have to get out there to make meaningful connections and ask people for their business.

You can start with asking a business contact to go out for coffee or participate in a local chamber of commerce event. Do you have a friend who attends networking events? Ask to join them as a guest, typically the first time is free or heavily discounted. You can attend conventions or tradeshows that cater to your target audience or business influencers.   For your first visit, sign up for one of the networking sessions ( typically a breakfast, lunch or happy hour). Attend with your business cards and set a goal to have  5 meaningful conversations focused on making a solid business connection.

Have several practiced conversation starters but be genuine, don’t act rehearsed.

If you are a bit nervous about meeting new people, it is perfectly alright to practice some conversation starters. But have them be just that, starters. Remember people love to talk about themselves so you are better off asking them questions. Ask thoughtful and open ended questions. You want to start the dialogue and give people an opportunity to tell you more about themselves instead of just a yes or no reply. When you respond, connect authentically. Share a balance of personal and professional stories to find common ground.  You never know how a personal interest or hobby can lead to an even stronger business networking opportunity.

Practice reciprocity

Be an attentive listener. Look for ways to help others in the conversation make connections too. Be a resource. Can you equally pass along a name, initiate an introduction or make a referral? Have a genuine desire to help. Others will see this effort and look for ways to reciprocate. Make sure there is balance in the discussion and you are making an effort to practice reciprocity as you network.

Be passionate.

Now is the time to shine and show others why you are in your chosen profession. Talk about your business and what inspires you. This is the perfect opportunity to give the 10 second elevator speech on your business and see where the conversation goes.  Be careful to not monopolize the conversation or talk strictly business. Ask them for feedback and be open to their advice. Feedback is a gift and can help you identify areas for enhancement in your business through these discussions.

Business networking requires follow-up

Remember to follow up with your new connections within 48 hours. Add the encounter to your CRM system and send them a thank you message or invitation to book an appointment to meet up again. For small business professionals networking is essential to finding customers, associates, investors and fellow connectors. All this activity and energy will be wasted if you don’t follow-up on the opportunities, referrals and relationships you create.

Face- to- face interactions build trust.

Talk with most business owners in the growth phase and they’ll suggest to spend roughly 20 hours each week connecting with business contacts and participating in networking opportunities. All with the intention to generate referrals. In general, we are social individuals. Regardless if you are an introvert or extrovert, an effort to network, build relationships and grow professionally is always an activity worth engaging.

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