Apart from the more formal events, National Small Business Week hosts mixers, happy hours and similar informal networking opportunities. Not only are these pleasant ways to destress and meet other small business owners, it’s also a valuable time for comparing notes and making new connections.
Networking is a great way to grow your business, but it can be a bit intimidating for even the most successful entrepreneurs. The good news is you can get better at networking with study and practice, and it can pay off with new business, new knowledge and new perspectives.
Reasons To Network At National Small Business Week
National Small Business Week is a rare opportunity to gather with a lot of small business owners in one place. Besides the valuable knowledge that is shared there, it offers a chance to enjoy comradery with people you share important common interests with. Expanding your circle of acquaintances and business associates can lead to many benefits.
Of course, the benefit you receive from this network can be economic—new customer referrals and orders from your new associates—but there are other, more subtle benefits too:
- Pooled knowledge: As entrepreneurs and small business leaders, each person at these events is a wealth of insider knowledge. They have all seen similar struggles and found answers that work. A challenge you are facing now, perhaps a question about smart technology for your business or an issue with the local administration, may be familiar to someone in your network who can advise you.
- Collective resources: Can you set up a service exchange within your network? The economic benefits could be significant. You may be able to find joint advertising opportunities, participate in promotional events together, or save money with bulk purchases of supplies.
- Strength in numbers: If you find you have common problems that no one has resolved yet, speaking out about it with a common voice can have greater impact than an individual could muster. Whether that’s a state lobby, a municipal hearing, or a legal issue, there is strength in numbers.
The Art of Networking
So how do you go about reaping the rewards of a growing business network? There is much more to networking than simply chatting at special events.
To begin with, don’t underestimate the power of a follow-up message. While the days of handwritten notes on crisp white stationery are over, a “nice to have met you” email is very much contemporary etiquette. It might even be appropriate to provide some promotional materials for your business, such as a brochure or press release, as well.
Second, try to find a way to establish the groundwork for exchange. If you have something to offer—business, a referral, recommendation or even just encouragement, you will encourage your associate to offer what they can in return.
Finally, make sure you “click” with the other person. Inspirational speaker and author George C. Fraser, who is considered an authority on business relationships, differentiates between self-serving networking and “clicking,” based on shared values and mutual benefit. Regardless of what you choose to call it, an attitude of sharing and mutual benefit is what makes networking work.
Networking Beyond National Small Business Week
Once National Small Business Week is over, you don’t have to stop growing your community. Networking is a state of mind. Talk to people and be open about your interest in building connections. People will appreciate that, and many will be happy to reciprocate. If you are a retailer, the small business next door to you or around the corner is a good place to start “street networking.”
You are probably a member of several communities at the same time, and some of those communities are already organized. Oakland Small Business Week’s website provides a wonderful list of organizations that shows how many businesses have banded together on the basis of ethnic and gender commonality. Green businesses can take advantage of a statewide alliance as well as numerous local groups, and the level of organization seen in the LGBTQ small business community is simply enviable.
Professional organizations provide another opportunity for networking, as do neighborhood associations. Once again, you may not have given it much thought, but if you do business in a specific location, there is likely to be a local business group waiting to greet you. Furthermore, those who are more inclined to virtual interaction can find groups dedicated to small business networking online as well.
TMC Financing’s sister organization Working Solutions provides microloans and support to small businesses. Networking is an integral part of what Working Solutions does, both formally, such as at their annual Holiday Gift Fair, and informally, in the course of their workshops, trainings and other group events. The person sitting next to you is only one “hello” away from your network of colleagues and associates. That is the networking mindset.
Working Solutions has educated over 14,500 entrepreneurs and provided over $15 million in microloans, ranging in size from $5,000 to $50,000. It has offices in San Francisco and Oakland and is active in all nine Bay Area counties. It is a partner in the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund. For more information about Working Solutions, contact them today!