by Jessi Burg
When we think about “networking”, the image that so often comes to mind is that of a crowd. Whether it’s a sea of faces on zoom or a group of people chatting in small clusters, it’s easy to feel like the odd one out. Even though it’s not always for everyone, networking is vital to growing your business, and we’re here to talk about how you can use it to build lasting relationships.
Relationships are the key to any success story. You want a good rapport with your clients, suppliers, and vendors, which is formed naturally over time as you go through the day to day operations of your business. Through networking, you can cultivate that same rapport with other people in your industry, which in turn creates a path for partnerships and referrals.
Business relationships fall into several categories, and knowing which category you’re looking to build on is an important factor in deciding how you spend your networking time. Let’s start with outlining the different categories.
Different Business, Similar Demographic
These businesses operate similarly to yours, but aren’t a direct competitor. Typically, they have a similar demographic, but offer a service that you don’t. For example, if you are a landscaper, this could be a company that does stone work. This relationship will prove beneficial when you have a client who wants to add a cobblestone pathway through their new garden. You can refer the client to the hardscaping company and vice versa if they get clients looking for landscaping work. It flows both ways, and is a great source for business referrals!
Similar Business, Different Demographic
These are businesses that do the same type of work you do, but have a different demographic. To use the same landscaping example, you could know a fellow landscaping company that does commercial sites, where you only focus on residential properties. Ideally, you also have companies that do both larger and smaller projects in your referral network. That way, you can pass clients who aren’t a good fit for your company on to someone you know, like and trust.
It’s beneficial to have relationships with companies that provide services such as bookkeeping, accounting, marketing, consulting, or anyone who works with businesses that have similar needs as yours. These are connections that you can send your industry contacts to who need help with their operations.
Fellow Small Business Owners/Colleagues
This is your network of people who run businesses that have similar problems to yours. These are the ones you turn to when you need advice, have questions about general business adventures, or need help solving a problem that they may have already encountered. It’s helpful to have connections you feel comfortable bouncing ideas off of without the pressure of paying for an appointment.
All of these categories may have some overlap, so it helps to think about them in a venn diagram.
Is there someone on your list whose business advice you trust, works in your industry, and also has pairable services to use for referrals? Whether it means having a monthly e-meeting to catch up on both of your businesses, or attending a networking event together, these are the contacts you will want to keep in your close circle.
When you decide you want to join a networking group of some kind, consider the following:
- Will you be able to give and receive business from the members of this group?
- Are there various different types of businesses, or more of a pairable demographic to yours?
- Would you be comfortable soliciting advice from these members if you have a business problem?
- When is your slow season?
- Pro tip: Start networking in your slow season because it’s a good time to start trying new systems, and you will actually be able to follow up with the people you meet and have flexibility around meeting/collaborating.
Oftentimes, it can be difficult to answer these questions without actually going to a meeting, so branch out and try new things. Your network of people should be forever evolving, so go to the events that are relevant to you and see who you meet! The events you choose to attend will depend on your industry, your business, and your personal tolerance for highly social events.
If the mere thought of being in a room full of people you don’t know fills you with abject terror, then you don’t have to do it. There are other ways to build your business network in small doses. Opt for smaller events, bring someone else with you from your existing networking circle, or try out targeted events like local “lunch and learns”. Learning oriented events are a great place for introverts to meet new people in their industry, and it provides a clear starting point for conversation.
For our more extroverted readers, check out Eventbrite, Meetup, Facebook, or industry organized events in your area to find different groups of people to meet with. Once you join a group, challenge yourself to go regularly. It can take several meetings before you really start to build those relationships.
Outgrow Your Garage’s Co-Working & Office Hours sessions are another great introvert & extrovert friendly safe space for networking and meeting other small business owners!
Want More From Outgrow Your Garage?
-Support, connections and resources are invaluable tools for entrepreneurs. Small business owners from a variety of industries come together twice a week for Co-Working & Office Hours to work on their businesses, share insights, and troubleshoot issues. Running a business can feel isolating. You don’t have to do it alone!
-Business education should be easily accessible for everyone at an affordable price. We want you and your small business to succeed. No matter what area of your business you need help in, we offer a variety of business course topics that teach you how to turn your every day tasks into organized systems.
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