One of the key practices to making any business a success, networking allows entrepreneurs to connect with a wealth of customers and suppliers, building a bank of connections. Whether you're comfortable with networking or not, remember it could be a vital ingredient to your business success.
Technology has improved significantly in the past few years, and you now have multiple platforms on which to network that are free and easy to use. Sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter allow you to become familiar and friendly with other businesses in your area and beyond. Remember, you can't completely replace a face-to-face relationship.
If you’re struggling with confidence issues, begin by making people aware of your business and trade on social media, a friendly demeanour will go far and make a lasting impact. When you feel that you’re confidence has been boosted, we recommend attending a networking event to make contacts. It can be difficult at first, but persevere; it will be worth your time. You may face some obstacles; you are only human, try not to take anything personally.
The difficulty is in knowing where to begin: The most effective way to start networking is to find a healthy balance between creating an online presence and face-to-face meetings. Take a look at the elements below for some guidance.
One of the best places for any company owner to begin is arguably LinkedIn. Often cited as the business orientated social-network, millions of users log on to make those all important business connections. If you find yourself struggling with social-media, persist. You will eventually find that it is an invaluable tool for your business and opens you up to a web of online contacts.
Don’t be afraid to jump straight in, especially if you don’t have the technical skills required. We recommend honing your skills on a sight such as Facebook or Twitter; use a personal account to send messages to friends and family. Don’t feel intimidated, most social-media platforms are user-friendly, and you will learn how to use them in no time at all.
Remember that your LinkedIn profile is an online representation of you as a business individual, so the information you provide the site needs to be accurate and you will require a profile photo that looks professional. Set the best impression that you can.
The first step in using LinkedIn is to connect to anyone that you are already acquainted with or have done business with in the past. When connecting, change the generic message sent to something a little more personal. Perhaps suggest meeting up for dinner, you never know, it may lead to something new.
Take a look over the connections that your acquaintances have, there might be some valuable business relationships that you can build. Don’t be afraid to click the ‘request an introduction’ link, after all it is there to be used.
Twitter is an extremely valuable tool for small businesses. It gives you the opportunity to connect in a way that LinkedIn and Facebook do not. The fast-paced nature of the platform allows quick connections, and the manner in which people connect is slightly less formal than the previously mentioned social networks. Feel free to express yourself, whilst maintaining that professional edge.
Engage with conversation, keep a look out for hashtags (#) specific to your area, you never know when you might come across somebody in need of your supplies or service. Make sure you follow local businesses, and remember to follow other businesses back, nowadays, social-media etiquette is almost as important as face-to-face manners.
Possibly the most important area of networking is the one-to-one connections that you make, these leave an impression of you and your business. FSB members have direct access to networking events across the UK, where they gather to meet and discuss business opportunities. These events give you the chance to make your mark in the FSB community.
Before you attend the events, consider what you would like to achieve. Would you like to find an investor for your small business or connect with some new suppliers? Go into the events fully prepared, do your research and be aware of who will be attending. Being equipped could be the difference between raising capital or leaving empty handed. A top tip here is to take business cards with you to every event you attend, keep them simple, and make sure your new contact has space to write added information about you on the card.
One of the most important factors here is that you are yourself when you go to these events. Remember that people buy people, if you are approachable and honest then you are much more likely to make those valuable connections. Keep in mind that each member who attends these events is there for the same reason that you are. Use your time wisely and work the room, it’s no use waiting for people to come to you, you must go to them.
Remember that you can’t spend all your time and assets on networking, but it is helpful to take part. Many events are free of cost, but be mindful of the events you must pay to attend. The adage of ‘time is money’ comes to mind here, you will need to strike that delicate balance between business hours and networking hours. Obviously you will not be networking constantly, but be aware that you may end up wasting your own time if you stay for too long.
Probably the most valuable piece of information here is to try not to over-complicate networking. Your key aim is to build and nurture long-lasting business relationships. Every day is a networking opportunity – you never know who you might meet along the way.
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