Building up a business network is vital to the survival of any company, but especially vital to the survival of your company. Business networking has become the pivot for successful sales and continues to get more sophisticated as the internet matures. Gone are the days when an unsolicited phone call and a mailshot would bring in a hot lead, even an email risks being lost in the spam folder these days, if you want to bring in new or repeat business you need to learn how to use social media and network like a pro. Or in other words, business networking means more than just throwing your name around like you’re throwing mud at the wall, hoping some of it will stick. Your business depends on building quality relationships with customers, potential customers and people looking into the industry by proving that you are a trusted resource. The following will successfully show you how to build up your small business network. In this article we are going to review how to build up your small business network.
With all the online marketing choices available to you knowing which media you need to use to network to the best effect can be overwhelming, but here are a few ideas to help you choose the right ones for your company:
The first place you need to work on building up a strong presence is LinkedIn. This platform has the highest use by professionals (obviously) and the easiest way to separate them and work them in niches. You can search them by industry, job title, company or a mixture of all three, so by connecting to them, it gives you access to network with them and their connections. If you also make use of LinkedIn or industry related group pages, you can reach a much larger audience of professionals, interact with them and in the process generate leads impress them with your knowledge.
LinkedIn has become the new ‘cold calling’ in the digital age – but a much more effective way of contacting prospective clients. You can find out almost everything you need to know from their profile pages, the kind of company they work for from their online resume and company page and maybe even spoken to some mutual connections. By working all that is open to you via the pages of LinkedIn you know more about the contact than you could have found out before a cold call, and could have had a couple of marketing touchpoints before you actually connect.
One of the quickest ways to build your network is to ask for referrals. One thing that never seems to change is the fact that people sell to people, so a recommendation for a product from someone they know will always go further than a cold contact, towards a successful sale. If you stand back and wait for people to offer up a referral you will wait in vain. If you want to build up a solid network you need to ask for referrals from those customers that you know are happy with your business.
Everyone is hyper-connected these days, so if you have two happy, connected customers in a social network, then those around them in the same type of position will take note. In a way, you are borrowing their professional standing, and their knowledge of the needs of the potential client to help increase your sales. Ask for permission to use their name, or for a direct introduction, and you’re halfway there.
Even though social media seems to be the new ‘tour de force’ for networking, face to face meetings are not dead. Industry meetings or trade associations are a great way to meet people with the same goals, offer advice and introduce you to markets that you may not be aware of.
If you have a local market then your Chamber of Commerce will have regular meetings that may open up doors to you, as well as organizations such as the Rotary club. These are an opportunity to mix with other company owners and find out their needs, but also they are a captive audience if you get the chance to sponsor activities, offer services or training or serve as part of the leadership.
If there are any online forums that are already established around your product or service, then it’s the perfect opportunity for you to engage with potential customers not just to be aware of any sales, but also to know what they need or want. If you can set up your profile with the company name and a signature with your contact details including url, then you are well on your way to letting people know you are open for business.
When you spend your time on online forums, don’t forget to join one or two peer forums for entrepreneurs so that you can get support for your business needs, as well as sales needs. If you have a problem that you’re wrestling with you may find that there’s a lot of good ideas from your peers which will save you time and wasted energy, but any interaction will get your name and business across, which may lead to a prime contact.
With any of the contacts you make you need to follow up to turn a contact into a connection. Whichever of the methods you use to build up your network, make it a rule to follow up within 24-48 hours. The key to a strong and useful network is turning a contact into an active connection quickly, then to keep them interested. These are best practices considering how to build up your small business network.
Reach out via an email, message or inmail and thank them for the connection, go over any main points you discussed that were important and reconfirm any next steps or commitments made. This confirms that you are not interested in a passive relationship, but that you are interested in actively working with them on the long term.
These are only a few ideas of building a strong business network, but as you practise them and any others you pick up on the way, you will increase your pool of potential clients and support for your business. Using a good mixture of tried and true business development tactics, with your proven strategy of social media success, your business network will grow, as will your sales.