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Updated: November 7th, 2023
Networking isn’t just for entry-level job applicants and startup entrepreneurs—it’s also a valuable exercise for aspiring and established small business owners. Keep reading to learn more about the power of business networking and how you can use it to propel your business growth.
Professional networking is the process of expanding your connections. Effective business networking means building relationships not just with customers and clients, but with fellow small business owners, investors and mentors, community members, and professionals in other industries. You can use networking opportunities to:
If you’re intimidated by building your professional network — or if your past networking efforts haven’t yielded great results — try these tips.
Before you start introducing yourself around in networking groups and emailing acquaintances for coffee dates, consider your networking goals. Do you want to create new business partnerships, find a mentor, or raise your business’s profile? What can you offer in return? Do you have specific knowledge or business contacts to share? Can you provide any pro bono services to your business network?
Answering these questions helps you make a plan, so you can focus on the most meaningful networking activities instead of trying to do everything.
One of the best ways to start networking as a small business owner — especially if you own a brick-and-mortar establishment — is to get more familiar with your local community. Community ties are strong, and most people want to help one another out and support local businesses. Here are some ways to get involved:
Professional business associations are a perfect place to connect with like-minded individuals and sharpen your skills. Many small business networking groups and associations have in-person annual conferences and regular virtual webinars, as well as business courses, networking events, and mentorship matching. Some associations even offer their own business grants.
Look for associations in your business industry and region to start. Many industries and cities have their own niche professional groups for social networking. From there, check out associations that cater to people with similar backgrounds and needs as yours. Here are some professional associations that support women business owners, minority business owners, LGBTQIA+ business owners, and veteran business owners:
Industry trade shows and conferences are great opportunities for successful networking, but showing up isn’t enough to have a meaningful experience. To maximize your time (and your investment), keep these strategies in mind:
Networking is a give-and-receive exchange. If you only look out for yourself, you won’t make genuine, lasting connections. That’s why it’s important to proactively find ways to support your connections and peers. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:
A healthy, strategic business partnership is one of the best networking outcomes. Business partnerships can take lots of forms. You can do a joint venture, where you and another business owner team up to achieve a common goal, like hosting a community event or buying a shared location. Or you can pair up for cross-promotion, where you refer your customers to your partner business and your partner business does the same for you.
As you network, keep a running list of potential business partnerships. Then, when you connect with someone you see potential in, set up a conversation to learn more about their business goals, skills, and communication style.
Networking is ongoing work, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Start with one simple connection; before you know it, your circle will be bigger and your business will be better for it.
Paige Smith is a content marketing writer who specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige regularly writes for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.