Professional networking when you’re a very small business owner is vital, but it can also be challenging when you don’t know where to turn. Chances are that you want to give it a shot because you’ve heard how integral it is to marketing your brand, yet you don’t know where to start first.
Professional networking puts you in touch with business opportunities galore, such as new clients and potential partnerships, so it should definitely be at the top of the list of things to do well when you have a very small business to run. Surveys also confirm that networking is the best way to find a job.
Clearly, you should be doing it, whether your run a small business or work in one. This comprehensive guide will show you the ropes and help give you a strong introduction to professional networking.
The Advantages of Professional Networking
The world is a huge place when you run a small business. Somehow, you need to find a way to make your industry take notice of you, which can be a struggle if you’re a solopreneur or a very small business with just a few people on your payroll.
Professional networking provides this benefit and more. Here are some of the many advantages of networking:
- Making Connections – You need connections to succeed in your industry. Networking means you’re not just connecting with the people at an event or in a room, but all of their connections as well. That’s the compounding impact of networking, which will open many doors for you beyond your initial points of contact.
- Boosting Your Profile – Very small businesses always need extra exposure to boost their profiles since they’re constrained by finite advertising budgets. By regularly going to business events and networking-based social gatherings, you’re able to stay on the radar of those in your industry. This’ll come in handy when they’re thinking of whom to refer their contacts to—if you’re always networking, you’re likely to be near the top of their list.
- Nabbing Opportunities – Opportunities don’t come along all the time, especially when you’re running a business, which in and of itself is a risky enterprise. There’s a degree of urgency with which you need to approach networking because the fewer networking events you attend, the fewer chances there are to get a referral, hear about a partnership possibility, or receive a direct request for your business’ product or service.
- Get Good Advice – Good advice is hard to come by, but a networking forum with people in your industry (and there will always be those more experienced than you) is the perfect chance to learn. Now’s the time to ask questions about how to deal with problem employees, how to handle your accounting, if you should be putting more emphasis on marketing and advertising, etc. Of course, beware whom you ask since not all advice is going to be high-quality, so stick to folks in your industry who’ve successfully been in business for a while.
- Build Up Your Credibility and Brand – The beauty of professional networking is that it’s not just for getting leads and referrals—it’s also about boosting your reputation as a very small business brand. The more you listen, take and give advice, ask the right questions, and consistently show up to various networking events, the more you’ll be seen as a serious player in your industry. And that can lead to all sorts of opportunities and connections, too.
Our guide to building healthy business relationships touches on the reasons why those running small businesses will benefit from networking:
The benefits of networking are clear: it will help you grow your small business connections and give you greater exposure in your community. Now lets turn to where professionals network effectively.
Different Kinds of Networking Events
You have great flexibility to choose the kinds of networking events that you want to attend. Not all are created equal, and each has various pros and cons. To branch out and really come into contact with more connections, leads and opportunities, it makes sense to get out to as many of these as is feasible.
I’ve also been talking up to now about face-to-face networking events, but the Internet and social media afford excellent professional networking opportunities as well that you should be aware of.
Let’s cover the in-person events first.
In-Person Professional Networking
There are a number of opportunities for small business networking, such as:
1. Happy Hour Networking Meet-ups
These more informal gatherings can still be of great use to small business onwers. The casual, more relaxed environment can even be a huge plus if you’re a bit shy or unsure of how to approach people at networking events. For super suggestions on how to overcome shyness and confidently network, see our two guides on:
How to Start (And Continue) a Conversation With Anyone
Networking for Introverts: How to Connect with Confidence
2. Breakfast Networking
What could be more disarming than gathering to eat while forming business relationships? Such an event is best for morning people who come caffeinated, ready to share ideas, ask questions, and form mutually beneficial relationships.
There is one, giant advantage to this approach: You get to have the first crack at potential contacts, employers, clients and partners before they are besieged with various other requests and offers throughout their workday. Since your networking peers will be full of energy, it’s also a good opportunity to gain cooperation from them you may not otherwise get.
3. Industry-Specific Events With Speakers
Going to an event featuring popular business speakers is a perfect learning opportunity for small businesses. Ideally, you want to attend one of these forums that features speakers directly related to your business or focus. For instance, if you’re in charge of marketing for your small business, bring along an employee you want to groom to slowly take over this position from you if there are going to be marketing-specific speakers on hand.
4. Roundtable Meetings
Roundtable events are meant to help small business owners get more info and knowhow in their industry by communicating directly with their peers in the same situation as they are.
Roundtables promote both open exchanges and discussions that are very useful in the march toward new ideas and solutions to problems and issues that entrepreneurs have. Should you happen to suffer a block on a project, proposal or initiative, then a roundtable event is a fertile environment for new sets of eyes to help you see things a bit differently.
Conferences attract the best and brightest from all across a region, country or even the world, which makes them highly valuable resources for small business owners. From the sheer number of people who attend, it’s a great opportunity to build up your contact list, attend workshops, listen to speakers talking about problems you’re facing in your journy as an entrepreneur, and even rent out a booth for a more palpable presence for your brand.
Online Professional Networking Opportunities
You don't have to solely focus on in-person networking alone though. There are great opportunities for small business people to connect online:
This huge social network exclusively for business networking is ideal for those with small businesses, as there are millions and millions of people who are potential networking contacts there. Also, a number of them are actively looking to connect through LinkedIn.
You can search for people in your industry, join and start networking groups or forums, follow big-name influencers (think of this as going to speakers’ events, but staying in front of your desktop or mobile device instead), publish content on Pulse to brand yourself as an authority in your industry, and so much more.
For more info on mastering LinkedIn, learn how to get setup and stand out, as well as our advanced guide to client acquisition:
2. Tweet Chats
Twitter’s tweet chats are available to anyone to join as long as they use the appropriate and specified hashtag for the particular chat. Many authority figures and people host chats on Twitter at set times each week and month for specific industries or niche issues of interest.
To network with your industry peers, simply log into Twitter at the right time, use the correct hashtag to filter your comments to the right participants, and ask away through comments. Communicate similar to a face-to-face networking event, expressing your thoughts on the subject, contributing to the conversation, and meeting new people in your industry (while keeping your words to 280 characters or less, of course).
3. Online Conferences
Conferences don’t always have to be in person. In fact, some of the most popular ones occur on the web. Case in point: Recently, I was invited to a huge, annual, online conference just for social media aficionados because I was published in a notable publication for social media. Instead of having to worry about buying a plane ticket and getting myself accommodations, I can just attend this event in front of my iMac, which I absolutely will. Makes it easier to attend.
Where to Find Professional Networking Events
Good networking events don’t just fall out of the sky. If only it were that easy! Here are some of the best places to find valuable networking events:
- Meetup.com – Meetup is a networking portal that makes it a cinch for people to find in-person gatherings, meetings and events centered on a common interest. It’s no surprise that it’s a great resource for small businesses looking to network.
- Chamber of Commerce – Your local Chamber of Commerce is the place to be to find local networking events that put businesses in touch with community members and vice versa. Yes, you’ll have to pay a membership fee, but that’s usually no more than a few hundred dollars a year.
- Eventbrite – Eventbrite is a tech platform that’s the gateway to more than 2 million events that are promoted on the platform. It essentially offers very small business owners a searchable database of the top professional networking events happening in their local area. Simply enter “small business” in your local area and check out the results.
You can also follow industry blogs and get on popular email newsletters to find out about upcoming events.
5 Quick Tips for Successful Professional Networking
There are simple approaches you can take at networking events that greatly increase your rate of success, whether you measure that by the number of new connections you make or the mutually beneficial support of building long-term business relationships you forge. Here are several quick tips to help you master networking:
1. Mingle with Many People
This is just a matter of math. The more people you talk to, ask questions of, help out, give advice to, and simply communicate with, the more your chances of finding that new client, partner, mentor or business opportunity increases.
But keep in mind, you want to be authentic in how you approach people and find a real connection point. Tim Ferris gives a number of helpful tips on how to network in-person in a low pressure way and how he used these techniques at a SXSW tech conference to help launch his book first book.
2. Hand Out Business Cards
In this day and age of digital, surprisingly paper in the form of business cards still work wonders. To help your new connections remember and refer to you efficiently, pick up a business card template with a quality design from Envato Market.
Follow etiquette when handing your cards out, such as giving them out selectively, only after you first form a legitimate connection with someone. Here are a few more tips to get it right:
3. Follow Up With People
There’s barely anything worse than over-promising and then under-delivering. Be sure to follow up with those connections you met who said they’d do something for you or put you in touch with their contacts. Likewise, ensure that you come through on the promises you made to your new contacts.
4. Gather Intelligence Before You Go
Read up on who will attend the networking event you plan to go to. Arming yourself with this vital info will empower you to start conversations easier and converge on similarities to make building relationships more efficient.
5. Make Networking Part of Your Job Description
The best way to become a masterful networker is simply folding it into what your role at your small business already is. This means hosting your own networking events and promoting networking as a way to build out employee development and training. Create a culture at your small business that views networking as a necessity.
Small Business Networking
Professional networking isn’t just something that’s nice to find the time for. As a very small business owner who’s a solopreneur or has just a few people working for them, networking is a must. It will open up doors, put you in touch with the right people, and ensure your business thrives and flourishes for years and decades to come.
- Helps you make long-term business connections and raises your brand’s profile.
- Is available both in person and online.
- Can be found at sites like Meetup and Eventbrite.
- Works better when you hand out business cards.
Find great business card templates from our unique selection:
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2016. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.