You may have the most lucrative product or service, but how do you move from no one knowing about it to achieving great success in business? Networking for your small business is an integral part of marketing and promoting what you offer. Networking is the next step of branching outside of the office, meeting new people and forming new relationships.

Networking can be a cost-effective way to find meaningful connections for you and your business. Not all networking for your small business is the same. There are varying types of networking events. Some events consist of open networking, which allows attendees to mingle and have conversations. It is important in open networking events that you don’t do all the talking. To learn more about other attendees’ businesses, ask more questions before you share about yourself. Active listening and asking questions tells the other person you’re engaged in what they have to say.

Forming a relationship is more valuable than exchanging business cards when networking. There are more organized networking groups, often called leads or referral groups. These groups tend to meet often, usually weekly, and are more structured. These groups include an agenda and introductions of each member’s business. Often these groups emphasize active participation by setting requirements for all members to continually pass along business leads. Some networking groups also have a business spotlight, which highlights a member’s business for that week.

Utilizing this spotlight, it is a perfect opportunity to share in-depth details about your business and share what type of connections you are looking for. The old adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know” is absolutely true when it comes to building a successful business through networking. To grow your small business quickly, you will need to have a strong source of relevant connections in your network whom you can call on when you need them. Networking can open the door to talk to highly influential people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to easily talk to or find.

Attending a new networking group can be daunting. When planning out your calendar for networking events, especially ones you are trying for the first time, think ahead of who you are trying to connect with. Meeting every single member in the room is not manageable, especially at an open networking event. Walking away with two or three new strong connections is far more valuable. To continue to grow relationships, plan to follow up with all new connections immediately. Send an email, call them and, potentially, set up another time to continue the conversation. To be successful with networking, connections must be mutually beneficial.

Be reciprocal by introducing your new connection to your network. Finding the right networking group requires commitment. Start your new year right by attending a new networking group each week for the next month. Allow yourself time to find the networking group that works best for you and your business. Once you find that right network, the growth of your business is sure to come.

This article was written by Jodi Towns, ASBA Director of Partnership Development & Marketing.

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