Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, business networking is one of the key factors that can turn your small business into a major player. But how can you navigate the sea of small business networking events, online platforms, and referral marketing tactics to stand out from the crowd?
In this article, we'll reveal 12 secrets to help you make the most of every opportunity, from smashing your first impression to mastering the follow-up and staying up-to-date on industry trends.
But it's not all about business — we'll also explore how embracing failure, giving back to your community, and networking with a purpose can make a massive contribution to your long-term success. So, get ready to sharpen your skills, unlock new opportunities, and take your business networking to the next level!
Before you go anywhere, whether it’s a major in-person conference or a meeting over a video call, make a concerted effort to believe in yourself. Quite frankly, if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.
Sure, this comes naturally (sometimes too naturally) to some people, but even if you’re shy, there are strategies for putting your game face on. Your first port of call is to learn your elevator pitch inside out. Make sure you hit those key targets: what do you do, who do you do it for, what pain point are you solving, and why should people choose you?
If you’re not fully convinced about your place at the table, try small business networking events to get started. The more you practice, the more confidence you’ll gain, and the easier it will be to value yourself.
Networking without a purpose is like sailing without a destination — you might have fun, but you won't get anywhere. To make the most of your networking efforts, you need to have a clear goal in mind. Ask yourself: what do I want to achieve through networking? Is it to find new clients or partners, learn new skills, or advance your career?
Once you've identified your goal, you can tailor your approach to suit it. For example, if you're looking for new clients, you might attend industry events and conferences where your target audience is likely to be. If you're looking to advance your career, you might seek out mentors and sponsors who can offer guidance and support.
Remember, networking is a long game. It takes time to build a personal brand, and even longer to build meaningful relationships. But with persistence and purpose, you'll get there.
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and when it comes to networking, that couldn't be more true. So, how can you make a great first impression?
First off: Appearance. Whether we like it or not, people do judge us by our appearance. Dress appropriately for the event you're attending and make sure your grooming is on point. You don’t necessarily need to wear a suit for business networking — just make sure you look clean, professional, and put-together.
Second: Being confident and engaging. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but by making eye contact, smiling, and greeting people with a firm handshake, you’ve won half the battle. Remember, everyone is at the event for the same reason, so introduce yourself clearly and be prepared with a few conversation starters.
Lastly: Prepare and research. You won’t make a great first impression if you’re clueless about who you’re talking to. That approach is likely to come across as aloof or not serious. Take time before attending a networking event to research both attendees and hosts and your conversations are far more likely to flow.
You can’t expect a great first impression to automatically transform into a long-term relationship. Beginners often miss out on the follow-up, even if they’ve gathered a bunch of phone numbers and LinkedIn profiles.
As a general rule, it's best to follow up within 24 to 48 hours of meeting someone. That way, you're still fresh in their mind, but you're not coming on too strong. Be sure to personalize your message to the individual by mentioning something you discussed or a common interest you share.
But we’re not making friends here, you’ve got a point to get to. Don’t be afraid to ask for a call or a meeting, but always be respectful of the other person's time and schedule. Make sure to get that meeting down in your calendar and share the event with them so they don’t forget you!
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In today's digital age, online networking is just as important as in-person networking — especially for getting in contact after the event. Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Instagram can be valuable tools for business networking and each industry has its preferred network.
Make sure your profiles are up-to-date, professional, and unforgettable. By posting engaging content frequently, you can stay present in the minds of your network without pestering them with emails. Then, when it comes to going for a deal, you’re not appearing out of the blue. You can also use social media as an online headquarters for your portfolio. This way, while you reach out to some new customers and collaborators, others will be getting in touch with you.
To organize your contacts like a boss, save your new contacts in a CRM. Before you say anything, a customer relationship management tool isn’t just for sales teams. When networking, you can gather phone numbers, email addresses, and social media profiles all in one place — with a few personalized conversation starters for next time. Rather than using your overworked brain to remember personal details, you can keep them all in one database shared across your desktop and mobile.
Just like a sales team, you can rank your contacts on how valuable they are to you. And when it comes to strategic collaborations or cross-sector relationships, you can segment your contacts into customizable categories. Organize them however suits you best. You could go for “potential providers”, “possible mentors”, and “ideal partners”, or “suppliers”, “collaborators”, and “customers.”
The simple maxim “two brains are better than one” is especially true when it comes to business networking success. By partnering with other businesses, you can share resources, contacts, and expertise, and leverage each other's strengths to achieve common goals.
Looking outwards, collaboration allows you to reach a wider audience and tap into new markets. By entering into a trusting business relationship with another organization, you can pass contacts between yourself and co-promote each other's products or services. If you really hit it off, you could even combine your forces to create a unique value proposition that sets you apart from the competition.
But on a more personal level, there is a huge amount to gain from working with other businesses. You can share advice on how to refine your networking approach, or exchange your perspectives on the same industry and fast-forward each other’s learning curve.
At its core, negotiation is the art of finding mutually beneficial solutions that meet the needs and interests of both parties. By negotiating effectively, you can build trust and respect with your clients, and lay the foundation for long-term business relationships.
One of the keys to successful negotiation is preparation. Before entering a negotiation, it's important to research who you’re dealing with and understand their needs and priorities. This will enable you to identify areas of common ground and provide creative solutions that are tailor-made for your new contact.
During the negotiation, you can’t prepare anymore, but you can communicate clearly and effectively. There is no replacement for active listening, so pay close attention to what your client is telling you — and what they’re not. By meeting them at their level, you stand a much better chance of building trust and creating a positive and productive negotiation.
Even in this interconnected online world, there is no replacement for referrals. If you make a good impression on just one person with the right influence, you can crack a new market wide open. It doesn’t take a killer elevator pitch or a shower of gifts either.
You can get great referrals by maintaining ultra-high standards of service, staying in touch, and offering extra insights to take your product to the next level. Trust and credibility are at the core of this game, so be honest and open, and make your contacts feel special.
However, people might need a nudge to make a referral, so work on a not-too-pushy strategy to get things moving. Start off by saying how much you value referrals and how you’re always looking to build your network. If you want an injection of energy, you can create a referral marketing strategy too, offering discounts or premium features for a successful referral.
If you’re not keeping up, you’re falling behind. So work on small habits that make a big difference.
Continuously educating yourself may sound like a lot of work, but if you incorporate learning into your daily life, you might not even notice you’re doing it. Podcasts (at 1.5 speed if you’re feeling adventurous) can pour industry trends into your ears as you’re doing the washing up, and starting your day with industry publications and news is just something to do while you enjoy a coffee. Online courses are another simple trick but integrate them into your day or they’ll end up on the back burner.
In just a few weeks, you’ll find yourself at a business networking event, holding a room with what you’ve learned while you were getting on with life.
The fear of failure holds everybody back at some stage in their career. In business networking, this manifests itself as a snub from someone you respect or a series of deals that break down just when you’re getting hopeful. These feelings are inevitable, so you may as well accept them. Sure, feel sorry for yourself for a moment, but then look at what you can learn.
A growth mindset would see patterns in your approach — and you can even set up a workflow to track your performance. Do you find you’re great at the initial small talk, but nobody is interested in your follow-up? Try some A/B testing, finding different ways to reach out and see what works.
Remember, success in business networking is not always about avoiding failure and rejection, but rather how you learn and grow from these experiences.
Business networking doesn't have to be solely focused on advancing your own career or business goals. By giving back to your community, you can make a positive difference and branch your network out in a new direction.
Whether you’re volunteering, mentoring, or supporting local causes, you can make an impact on those around you. At the same time, you can strike at the core of a concept that is rapidly increasing in popularity among customers across all industries — value-based consumption. This is a proven strategy that helps small businesses draw customers away from the big guns in their sector.
A word to the wise — make sure to be genuine in what you say and do. Any hint that you’re not following through on your promises and you could face a serious backlash.
From building strong relationships to giving back to your community, these 12 tips will help you expand your network in a smart, measurable, and sustainable way. And there are a lot of options there, so where do you start?
We’d recommend launching your efforts from Bitrix24 — an all-in-one business platform that combines every tool you need for networking success. Among much, much more, you get:
A CRM to save your contacts
Workflows to map out your strategy
Performance data to analyze your approach
So if you want to start networking like a pro, sign up to Bitrix24 today and start building valuable relationships for your business.
Networking with a purpose means having a specific goal in mind for your business networking efforts. Start by setting clear goals then prioritize the events and people you want to meet to achieve those goals.
Rejection is an inevitable part of business networking. Try to learn from the experience by asking for feedback, and use that feedback to improve your networking skills and approach in the future.
To balance your time between online and in-person networking, set clear goals and then prioritize the events and people you want to meet. Use industry conferences to build in-person connections, then social media to stay connected.