Today, small business success is rooted in the core of trusted relationships. Imagine sending an email to a person who you believe might show some interest in what you have to offer. The recipient does not know you or your business. They receive a plethora of spam every time they log into their email, so most, if not all, unsolicited contacts go straight to the trash. You’ve just spun your wheels!
Business networks replace the outdated spammy strategies of meeting new contacts through unsolicited phone calls, postal mail, email, or knocking on doors in hopes of selling products or services.
Have you created a network for your small business? A powerful business network is critical to your small business credibility, yet it is not difficult to build.
How to Create a Successful Business Network
Strong business networks are built with foundational key ingredients – intention and attitude.
Digital resources enhance the foundation of your network by helping you reach out to the world. Your community and industry become a vital part of your digital footprint.
None of these resources are of any value to your business, however, unless you consistently communicate and stay in contact.
Here are the building blocks for a successful business network:
A helpful and giving frame of mind is healthy to your business as your contacts and colleagues will see that your networking goals are not focused singly on your monetary bottom line. Your approach will reflect a giving intention, one that shows others that your purpose is to help or improve the lives and businesses of others.
Learning and Teaching
Expect to learn from others as you grow your business network. Learning from other business owners is valuable to both your versatility and growth. Your knowledge and intention to share information, to help other entrepreneurs and businesses grow, is monumental to building a strong business network.
Referrals are gleaming (priceless) stamps of endorsement from your customers and business colleagues. Word of mouth referrals bolsters trust in today’s small business world. Your most valuable customers can prove to be your greatest networking assets.
How do you tell the world about your products, services, create a call to action, or invite people to connect with you all in one place with updated and consistent information about your industry that you publish regularly? With a blog.
Social Media/Networking Sites
Whichever social media platform(s) you select, you’ll grow connections in your community (both local and online) through virtual networking with your business page or account. Your commitment to consistent posts, sharing of what is going on in your business and in your industry, as well as linking to your site and your blogs, and commenting on other business pages, initiates engagement between you and your audience. Create your own business groups in these platforms to develop a more one-on-one experience, which increases the chances of bringing people to advanced networks that you may set up through invitation (opt-ins). Interaction in a group setting helps connections become relationships.
The act of swapping business cards isn’t a way to build a business network in itself, but when you share business cards and ask if you can reach out at a later time or date, this is a sound opportunity to grow a connection into a relationship.
Tip: When you exchange business cards with a person that you just met, ask if you may contact them, and state that you enjoyed the conversation and look forward to interacting with them in the future. Make this a friendly and upbeat connection—open the window to your network.
Follow Up/Maintain Your Contacts: There is no point in building a list of contacts if you never follow-up with people. This is important to both building and strengthening your business network.
Reach out to contacts that you consider “hot leads” within 24-48 hours. Include specifics in your conversation—what brought you to reach back out, what you believe you can help them with, or how they can help you. Ask if you can take your connection to the next step, which may mean including them in an email list, or if you may follow up with a phone call.
A stack of business cards or a handwritten list of connections is not an effective way to build a business network system. As your business network grows, consider using software to maintain your contacts. It may eat up more of your time, but you can also keep records on a spreadsheet.
Determine how and when you will reach out to your connections. Determine who you will reach out to first, or next. Who will you send emails to you? Who will you call? Who will you send a newsletter to? Who are the hot leads? Who are the hottest leads? Categorize how each contact is valuable to your business (i.e. same industry, similar industry, possible customer, teacher, industry leader, possible service provider or distributor, etc.).
Software will also help you to maintain two different types of networks (closed and open):
- Closed networks are those where everyone within the network knows everyone else. Closed networks are valuable to your business as they help you build a group that you can refer business to or connect with when you need advice. Connections within a closed network are mutually beneficial to each other.
- Open networks are those where few people within the network share the same industry or have few common connections within the group. This is valuable to your business as it opens you up to fresh ideas and opportunities, but an open network is not the fastest or most crucial route to growing a successful business network.
To grow your business, it is vital to meet and network with new people. Opportunities flourish when you interact with the local community, with business owners in your industry, and with other small business owners not in your industry (Note: All entrepreneurs have challenges and experiences similar to yours!).
Networking face to face helps you to develop trusted and much-needed business relationships. It is the perfect way to nurture growing relationships and to create business networks.