When it comes to networking, the potential benefits that can be had for your company are seemingly
endless.  Establishing contacts within the business community can help provide your company with resources that may come in handy on the freeway to success.  What exactly is networking, you ask?  it is, “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.”  Specifically, “A business network is a type of business social network which is developed to help business people connect with other managers and entrepreneurs to further each other’s business interests by forming mutually beneficial business relationships. Business networking is a way of leveraging your business and personal connections to help bring you regular supply of new business.”  In reading this blog you may find some tips that will help you to fully understand networking and the potential it may have for your business.

Networking can take place in a variety of locations.  Depending on your professional vocation, some career fields hold specific networking events in which you may meet people that hold the same title as you.  However, in today’s age, a large amount of networking occurs online.  If you prefer to meet like-minded professionals in person, the list below, provided by Julie Bawden-Davis in an article for American Express, may be of assistance.  The top 7 places to network for your business are as follows:

Business Networking International (BNI)– Founded in 1985, this international business networking organization has 150,000 members. Members meet weekly to share referrals and increase exposure, which can be profitable.

Chamber of Commerce– Don’t overlook your local chamber of commerce. Most chambers host networking events designed to bring small-business owners together with each other and the community. Visit the website of your local chamber or give them a call and get a list of upcoming events, such as mixers and trade shows, the latter of which gives you a chance to showcase your business.

Eventbrite- Besides being a ticket-purchasing portal, this website lists local events, including those of interest to small-business owners. You can access the events on the “Find Events” tab and further narrow your search by looking up small-business events near you.

Le Tip International– An international business networking organization dedicated to sharing personal referrals, this company has assisted more than 120,000 members to increase business through word-of-mouth advertising since 1978.

Meetup– This organization is well known as a conduit for those looking for fun social groups, such as hiking and dancing, but the organization also publicizes a wide variety of business-oriented groups, such as for those interested in public relations, real estate, digital marketing and networking. It also has a site dedicated to small business meet-up groups.  

Score– Sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a nonprofit mentoring program that has been around since 1964. The organization consists of more than 13,000 volunteers who offer mentoring assistance.

Volunteer Organizations– Though their direct intent is not to build business, organizations that strive to make the world a better place, such as Kiwanis International and Rotary International, end up offering vast networking opportunities. Joining such organizations offers the chance to build your business and volunteer your time. (https://www.americanexpress.com/en-us/business/trends-and-insights/articles/the-7-best-places-for-business-networking/)

As you can see, there are a plethora of events out there structured specifically to meet your networking needs.  The above list does not include local watering holes, job fairs, and social mixers that give you the opportunity to establish contacts.  For many individuals, the thought of walking into a room and going with the flow of conversation can be frightening.  Some may fear the unknown of the “professional mixer” world and liken it to speed dating.  Have no fear, your networking tips are here.  Below you will find 5 tips that may come in handy for you at your next scheduled blind networking date.  

1. Develop relationships. Networking is not about selling, but rather developing relationships that can lead to sales or referrals. The idea is to get to know people and allow them to get to know you.

2. Be prepared. Bring plenty of business cards, but only give them to people who show a real interest in what you do. Brochures or printed postcards can also be effective. Also, craft a short description of what you do — no more than 10 or 15 seconds

3. Ask questions and listen. You don’t have to talk a lot about what you do in order to find potential customers. Rather, ask people you meet questions about them and their business, then listen carefully to their answers. Find points of commonality that you can bring into the conversation.

4. Talk to people who are standing alone. People attend networking events to meet others. If someone is standing alone, that’s the perfect opportunity to make a new contact. You might want to start the conversation by saying, “May I join you?”

5. Follow up. If you make a good connection with someone, after the event, send a note saying how much you enjoyed meeting them. If appropriate, send an article or some kind of information that they might find helpful. Do not add them to your mailing list without their permission. (https://prosperityplace.com/10-effective-business-networking-tips/)

The above tips are seemingly simple and risk-free.  Additionally, meeting someone face to face makes the interaction more personable and noteworthy.  As mentioned above, nowadays there is a large variety of websites and apps out there that help one to establish a professional, social network.  We suggest utilizing both in-person events and online opportunities in an effort to broaden your matrix.  I have listed 10 of these online networking apps below, courtesy of sitepoint.com

  1. AngeList – AngelList is a social network that connects startups with investors to help raise funding; also allows for browsing of jobs at startups.

  1. Beyond – Beyond helps millions of professionals network with each other and find jobs to advance their careers.

  1. Data.com – Data.com Connect is an online community to share ideas, get feedback, and discuss industry best practices.

  1. E.Factor – E.Factor is an online community paired with a virtual marketplace designed for entrepreneurs by other entrepreneurs.

  1. Gadball – Gadball is a LinkedIn alternative that features profile and resume creation and job searching.

  1. LinkedIn – LinkedIn is a professional network that allows you to be introduced to and collaborate with other professionals.

  1. Meetup – Meetup is a networking website for finding like-minded groups and meetup opportunities locally.

  1. Networking for Professionals – Networking for Professionals is a business network that combines online business networking and real-life events.

  1. Opportunity – Opportunity is a business network built around a lead generation tool that connects you to other professionals who could bring you leads, sales, and clients.

  1. PartnerUp – PartnerUp is a Google+ community connecting small business owners and entrepreneurs.

If you are interested in seeing the complete list of the top 20 online networking sites, follow this link: https://www.sitepoint.com/social-networking-sites-for-business/.  As you can see, the information available to you regarding creating a network for your business is insurmountable.  The above tips and lists represent just the tip of the iceberg of what is available to you.  The fact that so much information is out there is a good indication of the importance networking is to your business.  So, when you are working on building your business, whether from the ground up, or attempting to increase sales, ensure that networking is one of the first things you attempt to tackle.