When you hear the word “network”, you probably think of the wireless internet connecting your computers or even of sites such as Facebook. However, there is another important type of network: the people who you know in the small business world. While you may think of them as acquaintances, colleagues, or even friends, these people form part of your small business network.
The most successful business owners in every field are those who have successfully made relationships. These people often have a Blackberry full of contacts they have made in the business world. These contacts often become suppliers, employees, customers, and collaborators. It never hurts to have a few more people on your side, which is why we offer the following tips for building your small business network.
Don’t let your fears hold you back.
Many people are wary of aggressively building business contacts because they feel that they are too introverted or otherwise just not social. You may also fear rejection or worry that you will spend too much time for a limited amount of payoff. However, networking does not require that you invest huge amounts of time or that you be a natural public speaker. You likely deal with people successfully on a daily basis; simply place yourself in places where potential contacts will be and act naturally.
Try to quantify, measure, and evaluate networking the way you would any other aspect of your business. For example, try to attend one networking function every other week and to follow up with three contacts on alternate weeks. Routinely take time to go through your contacts and touch base with a few of them. These types of contacts will build a network organically and give you a list of people to turn to when you have a question or need a favor.
There was a time when businesspeople had a Rolodex, but few use that kind of system anymore. However, your contacts still will need more management than a Contacts entry on your cell phone. Many people find that making a database is the best way of dealing with this issue. List your contacts, their business, any pertinent information such as birthdays, and the last time you contacted them. This will help you easily access information and keep track of a growing network.
Be a good contact.
Everyone dreads dealing with someone who is always asking for a favor, but we all love to help an old friend. Keep your contacts on an ‘old friend’ basis by sending them cards at applicable holidays. When someone does you a favor, thank them personally and warmly. In other words, be the kind of guy that people want to have in their own network.
Be your brand.
You may think that your brand is limited to your logo design and your marketing plan, but you in fact are a personification of it. Making contacts is not like making friends; you are representing your business and need to toe the party line. Think about what kind of person your brand would be, and then try to be that person when acting on behalf of your small business. Personal branding is an important part of small business branding, and networking is a great way to build your personal brand.