To a lot of small business owners, like me, networking doesn’t come naturally. The mere mention of the word can send shivers down my spine, but very early on in my business venture, I’ve learnt that in order to survive you’ve got to get out there, make yourself visible and let people know what you’re capable of. Work, sadly, doesn’t just land in your lap.
The good news is, you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not, and get all ‘salesy’, and you don’t have to attend any scary networking events (of course you can if you want to). So here are my tried and tested top tips on networking like a pro even if it doesn’t come naturally:
You already have a network.
Yep, they’re already here. Your current contacts – they are your network. Your suppliers, ex-colleagues, neighbours, all the local places you shop. The list goes on. All these people are your starting point for growing your network. Treat them right; stay in touch, and don’t take them for granted. They might not always be around – they might shut up shop and move on (to a place with more connections that could benefit you), so if you stay at the front of their minds, simply just by saying hi and stopping for a quick (non work related chat), or keeping in touch frequently on social media, you’ll be more likely to spring to mind when they meet someone who requires a service or product like yours.
Recently I’ve been growing my network amongst local businesses by taking them a business card along with a mince pie, just to say hi and introduce myself. It can be that simple. I just took advantage of it being Christmas and the season of goodwill. You don’t need to have a big sales spiel – in my experience people don’t like it; if they think you’re too pushy, you could put them off wanting to work with you.
Just be yourself, and if people like you, that’s half the battle. We only really want to work with people we get on with, don’t we?
Mindless chit chat.
Carry a business card with you. Always; and at least 2 or 3. You might get chatting to a local shop keeper who might let you leave a few on their counter, or the person in the queue behind you – they might be interested in what your business offers.
When you get confident with your patter, it shows; you could end up on a roll, with the opportunity to give out your contact details to several people on the same day – because you’re actually enjoying networking, and you didn’t even realise you were doing it!
Further reading: My blog post on business cards