If you’re just launching a new business, you probably realize that networking is an essential part of your growth strategy.
But knowing how to tackle that beast can be intimidating (to say the least).
Networking is one of those concepts that sounds great in theory, but is much more difficult in practice. Network where, exactly? With whom? How? These are just a few of the questions that might be popping into your mind.
Let’s look at some easy ways to approach networking when you’re first launching a new business, as well as some tips from seasoned business owners who can share what’s worked for them.
Business Networking: What Is It?
Let’s start by getting on the same page about our definition: Business networking is essentially building relationships with others to bring in a steady stream of new leads (AKA money).
Business networking is not just showing up for networking events and passing out your business cards — it means establishing real, personal connections with relevant, interested parties.
A good way to get started building relevant connections is to look for places where your peers and potential clients spend time. Ask yourself where your target audience participates. Is it:
- In Facebook groups?
- At local, in-person gatherings (like Chamber of Commerce meetings)?
- In threads on Reddit?
- At industry meet-ups or in co-working spaces?
You should be aiming to connect with your peers (for referral opportunities) as well as customers who fit with your buyer personas. Both are invaluable to your business.
Once you’ve picked a few worthwhile places to devote some time to networking, the next step is to come up with your strategy.
The Many Forms of Networking: Building a Strategy
Now that you’ve nailed down the ‘where’ of your networking activities, it’s time to decide how you’ll approach it.
Networking your new business off the ground can take many forms. Largely, the route you choose will depend on your personal preferences. For example: If you’re not good in large groups, one-on-one meetings probably make more sense for you.
Your strategy might be:
- Using email to connect with cold and warm leads
- Meeting up for coffee with peers and well-connected individuals
- Participating in online spaces and sharing your expertise
- Testing the waters with industry meet-ups or local clubs
And for you, maybe it’s a mixture of these approaches. It all depends on what you’re comfortable with and what you find produces worthwhile results for your time investment.
If you’re not sure which option is best for you, try a few different paths to see where you gain the most traction. You may find that your time is much more wisely invested in email, or maybe you’ll discover that a local meet-up is teeming with a need for what you’re offering.
The bottom line: Give yourself room to experiment and test the waters.
Business Owners with Experience: Their Two Cents
It’s always nice to hear from fellow business owners to see what’s worked well for them when it comes to networking. We reached out to a few to see how they approached it, and they shared some interesting insights (and very different approaches).
Leverage Your Current Networks
Consultant and entrepreneur Ross Simmonds recommends capitalizing on existing relationships (both online and offline) to effectively network when you’re just getting started.
"Let people who you've connected with over the years know about your new business via LinkedIn & email. During this initial interaction, be sure to let them know what problem you're solving and how they can help,” he said.
It's also important to embrace a combination of both digital and in person networking to meet new people. Whether it's joining a local Facebook group filled with entrepreneurs or joining a community chamber of commerce - these groups can offer great opportunities for building a wider network and building new relationships.
Using this approach, he’s connected with his best clients and long-term business partners to grow his consulting business exponentially.
Don’t Quit On It
Kasey Fleisher Hickey, who owns a communications business, noted that networking is an on-going activity. By regularly following up with potential clients, she keeps a steady flow of work coming her way.
“Even if a potential client isn't looking at the moment, create calendar reminders to check in with them every 2-3 weeks. Send them articles you read that you think they'd find useful, say hello, offer to grab a cup of coffee... Be friendly and engage on the regular,” she said.
Be Smart About Cold Emails
And if you thought the cold email was dead, think again. Business owner Heather Morgan bootstrapped a million dollar company using cold emails that helped her develop relationships with founders and sales leaders.
She said, “I got to know a lot of people in my early days in Silicon Valley (and still do) by cold emailing them to ask for an interview for an article or podcast. But I also leveraged the fact that I had unique economic insights into emerging markets with a number of other people, including Kai Huang, the founder of Guitar Hero.”
Network Your New Business Off the Ground
As you can see, there are a lot of different ways you can network your new business off the ground. It’s up to you to test the different options and discover what works well for you — as much of business is a journey of trial and error.
If you’re a veteran business owner with networking tips for newbies, we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments below.