Acquiring and retaining customers are the most important tasks for every small business owner. Networking is the key to achieving that. Gabriel Weinberg, in his book, ‘Traction‘, states that there are 19 tractions (customer acquisition) channels and one of the major traction channels noted is “offline events”. You will learn networking tips to grow your business network.
Offline events are more popularly known as ‘networking events’. They offer you the opportunity to connect with potential customers face to face. Oxford Learners Dictionary defines networking to be a system of trying to meet and talk to other people who may be useful to you in your work.
Networking is one of the most potent traction channels that small business owners need to leverage to acquire their first and subsequent customers.
Also, we know that the internet is changing the way we live. People are increasingly leveraging the internet to communicate with each other. It is important for you, as a business owner to leverage various online tools to grow your business network.
In recent times, business owners are using effective offline and online channels to network efficiently to grow their business networks.
In this article, I would be sharing 10 networking tips that small business owners should use to build and grow their customer base and their entire business network.
10 Networking Tips For Entrepreneurs
Below are networking tips you can use to grow your business network.
Find Your Audience
Going to events is great, but without properly targeting what event to attend, it can end up being a huge waste of time for you and your business.
The first and probably most important aspect of networking is identifying the right people with whom you want to build a relationship. The relationship could be as a customer or partner. But, how do you really identify what networking event to attend or not?
Industry-based events would probably be the best place to start. This type of event will give you the opportunity to engage with thought-leaders in your industry. These thought leaders can transform into mentors or advisors for your business.
Also, you can connect with businesses just like yours and share experiences with each other. At this type of event, you would identify competitors, complementary businesses, and market leaders who are championing innovation and growth in your industry.
If you sell products online across different social media platforms, events around learning how to effectively market your product and convert more customers online will be a good fit.
An example of a really never-to-miss event for food entrepreneurs is the GT Food and Drink Festival that occurs around the Easter period. The event connects foodies with food and drinks entrepreneurs. It is one of the biggest opportunities for food-based entrepreneurs to grow their customer base. They get to showcase their food items to thousands of food lovers and enthusiasts that attend the festival.
Other business meetups or communities like BNI (Business Network International), Toastmasters, and even online communities on WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram also come in handy.
Tools like Eventbrite would help you identify the festivals, training programs, or conferences that are happening in your city.
When you have really identified the right event/audience you have taken the first step in leveraging networking to build and grow your small business network.
Dress As You Want To Be Addressed
More important in the African content than anywhere else, people at events are generally expected to appear smartly dressed. They can dress in traditional attire that might not come off as extremely dressy. When in doubt, you are better off attending the event in English attire. A plain shirt and trousers for men, or a plain skirt and a blouse for women will do the magic.
Some business owners wear their company-branded attire. This strategy is great because it helps register your brand in the mind of people. Anytime customers see or meet you anywhere they can easily recall your brand.
Most networking events provide name tags which makes networking easier. It makes it easy for you as a business owner to start a conversation.
People make decisions on how you as a business owner appear. The way you dress determines if they would perceive you as important, intelligent, or successful.
The way you dress would determine the first impression people at the networking event would have of you. Try as much as possible to be memorable.
Meet, Mingle, Build Relationships
The goal of attending any networking session is to meet and build relationships with people who would positively impact your business. The growth of your business network is dependent on efficiently making use of networking events to meet and mingle with business owners like yourself.
First impressions matter. Your ability to build a relationship with anyone is in communicating effectively with anyone you meet within the first five minutes of entering a conversation. Prepare to passionately listen as well as speak about your passions and your business.
Usually, networking events, based on how they are structured, leave 30 minutes at the beginning or at the end of the event for participants to mingle. It’s better to spend quality time interacting with 6 people for at least 5 minutes than talking to everyone at the event for less than 30 seconds.
When you connect with someone, do not fail to share contacts with them and a selfie if permitted to share online. Ensure that you always have a business card handy. However, it’s not about handing out and receiving business cards, it’s ensuring that you take out time to nurture that relationship, just as you would do any other friendship.
This is critical in building business networks in Africa, where most relationships are built directly, not over the internet. Although we are quickly adopting the internet in the way we work in Africa, relationships still need to be built offline. So, it’s important that you follow up on the people you meet at events to grow your business network.
Follow up/Connect On Social Media
Following up is one of the networking tips every business owner should employ. Once the event is over, take out those business cards and begin to add them up to your contact list. Then, follow up with them with simple texts or emails. This shows you are interested in engaging them either on a personal or business level as the case may be.
Another effective way to follow up is to connect with the people you met at events on social media. You can connect with the business owner and their businesses on social media. That way, you can see the type of content they post on social media.
Even though social media may not be as direct as emails or phone calls, it will give you better insights about the person based on their content type.
Make Online Content
The world consumes billions of content online daily. So, it’s important to share content online, to promote your personal and business brand. Your content will help you interact with potential customers and other players in your industry, therefore this is one of the networking tips you should not neglect.
Writing articles on Medium, creating posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or sharing your opinion either as a vlog on YouTube or as a podcast on Anchor are avenues through which you can build your presence online.
Tagging or mentioning the people you meet at events on your social media as they do the same for you is useful. You could leverage each other’s presence online to build more relevance to online consumers.
Most people do not respond effectively to posts online that are predominantly focused on selling products to them. People respond to content that they believe is relatable. Your content should entertain, inform, or inspire your audience.
Sharing testimonials or positive reviews also add credibility to your brand.
Build Online Relationships
The internet continues to change the way people communicate with each other and we are becoming more globalized. People across countries can communicate instantly with each other on different platforms. This has increased the opportunity to meet and build relationships online and offline.
Business owners use tools like WhatsApp and Facebook to build online communities where they share content, seek and offer products and services to each other. These are networking channels that business owners can exploit to grow their business network. A good example of a Facebook group for technology business owners in Nigeria is Silicon Africa.
LinkedIn particularly sets itself out as a platform that caters to business owners and professionals. It enables you to build professional connections with experts and peers in your industry. Your ability to communicate your value offering through these platforms will help you grow your business network. A typical example of a LinkedIn Business Group is Nigeria Business Communities.
You can create your own group and build an online community organically depending on the type of business you are running.
Follow Influencers In Your Industry
In every industry, there are leaders, some of whom have a strong presence online. In the startup and technology scene, names like Iyin of Future Africa, and Jason Njoku of Iroko are influencers, who predominantly engage and inform the startup community through their posts on Twitter.
As a startup entrepreneur, following their content online, makes you aware of the new technologies, job opportunities, and investment opportunities available. You also get to learn other subjects around running successful businesses in Africa.
Let’s say you just started a make-up business in Nigeria, it would be ideal to follow Tara Fela-Durotoye and her business, House of Tara. You may not get the opportunity to speak or email directly. But, by following her on social media, you might have an idea of her next speaking engagement. When you attend the event, you can get the opportunity to speak with her for at least 3 minutes.
Engaging and learning from influencers in your industry will open you open to potential opportunities. Also, this is the easiest way for young and aspiring entrepreneurs to get mentored.
This is one of the evergreen networking tips you can use to grow your network. Electronic mail is a potent tool business owners can use to communicate with their existing and potential customers. People spend a decent proportion of their day, combing through their emails for important information from brands they trust or from people they know.
Emails prove to be a good tool in encouraging potential customers or customers who might have stopped using your service to come back.
Emails are a good way for businesses to inform their customers of operational changes, share receipts/invoices, company news, and market new products and services.
Online tools like Mailchimp help you to properly leverage email marketing to grow your business network.
Speaking gigs is a good channel through which entrepreneurs can grow their business network. Imagine a digital marketer speaking at the social media week. It will be an opportunity not just to impart knowledge but also to subtly promote your brand.
Speaking gigs places you as an authority and thought leader in front of your audience.
Going back to the digital marketer example. If you are a digital marketer and the organiser of the social media week reaches out to you to speak to business owners, what would you speak about?
Ideally, you will share your knowledge and experience with the business owners. You will teach them how to leverage digital marketing to grow their business. Also, you will advise them to reach out to you if they have challenges with digital marketing.
Marketing is often granular, one customer at a time. But speaking gigs will give you access to tens or hundreds of potential customers all in one place.
Speaking gigs offer the opportunity to grow your customer base and entire business network. Also, it promotes your personal and business brand.
Run Online Contests/Promos
Online contests and promos are channels through which you can grow your brand on social media. Besides, it often leads to an increase in sales for your business.
Recently, Falz, a musician, recently released a song, ‘Bop Daddy’. When the song was released, he used online contests on Instagram to popularized his song. Currently, the song is placed #26 on Top 100 most played songs in Nigeria on Apple Music.
These online contests could either be a retweet to win or a photo/video contest where the contestants have to follow and tag the brand to register for the contest.
Online contests when executed effectively, will boost your online presence. Also, potential customers may be convinced to buy your product or service.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners need to harness networking opportunities both offline and online to grow their brands. These networking tips will always come in handy. As a business owner, if you can hack networking channels, you will set yourself apart from your competitors.
These networking tips when dutifully followed will set you apart from the competition. In addition, you will build an outstanding personal and business brand that will stand the test of time.
Best of luck!