Do you believe in the power of networking? I won’t even hesitate to impart the power of networking. Believe it or not, networking literally changed my life. Back in 1996, when USA TODAY was starting up their website USATODAY.com, they were looking for a lawyer and writer who knew small business to become one of their new online columnists. At that time, my first books had just been published and I was busy with my small business law practice. Through the power of networking, a colleague who knew someone at the paper recommended me for the position. An editor contacted me, and even though I had no idea what an “online columnist” was (remember, this was 1996 or ’97), I readily and happily accepted the position.
I can honestly say, that networking connection changed everything. First, I found my calling. Second, while I knew I was a good writer, I also knew I was a mediocre lawyer, so I was able to give up that ill-fitting gig. I owe much for that referral. I am so fortunate, and I owe it all to networking.
While this is my story, there are many more who have a similar experience — some unexpected and profound leap in business that came from someone telling someone about you. There’s no other way to put it – networking simply works.
For so many small business owners, networking is their bread and butter, and it is not hard to see why. Networking…
- Creates new customers
- Exposes your business to new people
- Builds your brand
- Cements relationships with old customers
- Can lead to unexpected opportunities
And that is just for starters. The great news is that there are so many ways to network your business these days. It really behooves the smart small business owner to taste test them and see which fits and works best. When you think you have something that works, dive deeper into the wining recipes. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a couple of ideas to get you going.
Networking In Person
Many small business owners remain committed to the granddaddy of all networking, the traditional networking event or group, and for good reason: It produces results. Whether it is networking with folks at the chamber mixer, attending a professional networking group, or meeting up at a MeetUp, the fact is, shaking someone’s hand, cracking a joke, establishing rapport, and creating a relationship is a tried-and-true, effective way to market and grow your business. People like working with people they have met, and this one-on-one interaction is a huge boon in that regard.
Increasingly, networking has become social networking, and again, it is not hard to see why. For starters, instead of handing one business card to one person as you would at a physical event, online, with social networking, you are tweeting one tweet to 1,000 people.
Now, is it as personal? No, not usually, that’s a fact, but it certainly can turn into that. The best online networkers know how to transform an online relationship into offline opportunities. That’s the secret and the trick.
Another great thing about networking, and networking online in particular: You are far more easily able to tap the wisdom of the group by getting involved in an online networking group. Sure, exposing your business to potential new customers is nice, but maybe even better is that you can learn from other small business owners, get feedback on your ideas, give feedback, share leads, and more.
There are all sorts of communities out there on the Internet that you can join. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are the usual suspects, but the fact is, if you look, you will find some great communities that are just for freelancers, entrepreneurs, small businesses, or even just for your industry.
So go on, get out there and network some more. You never know what opportunity (or column!) may come your way.
Steve Strauss is a senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible.