When working with those who are just starting to get a business off the ground I always stress the importance of networking. As a result one of the common questions is, “Where do I network?”
Although a common question, it is not necessarily an easy answer. My question of them is, “Who, and where, is your customer?” Also, it depends on why they are networking. Some networking, especially for those working from home, is simply to have a connection to others in similar situations so that you are not totally alone. Other networking involves connection to your professional group or association, sometimes to maintain certification. You may be networking to promote and market your product or service.
You have to be vigilant in choosing how you network. Chambers of Commerce, BNI groups, Service Clubs, and Professional Organizations all cost money so you need to be sure that you are getting a bang for the buck. They also take time out of your business. Money and time are generally the two things in limited quantity for a start-up.
There are some ways of networking that will take some time from you but very little in the way of money. You can volunteer. This puts you in front of the community so you get known, especially if you wear a hat, T-shirt, or jacket with the name of your business on it. There are many volunteer options in any community, but if you are unsure of what to do go to the local volunteer agency. They will have many options for you.
Remember also that you are always the face of your business so if you are at sports events with your children wear the logo clothing. This way those you meet will have a potential topic of conversation.
You may have no choice and have to belong to a professional organization because of a designation or certification you hold. On those organizations you do have a choice on, be diligent and investigate who their members are and if they are your customers. If not you may want to consider a different one. Once you are established in business you can join organizations for personal reasons.
Do not forget Social Media. In today’s world it has a huge presence in reaching your potential audience. Having business pages on Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as a blog or website can be effective but will also drain time from your schedule.
Some tips for networking:
- Target your client or customer: You need to know who and why you are networking.
- Evaluate your options: Talk to others in business, find out where they belong and why.
- Don’t join everything at the beginning: More is not better at this point and difficult for you to evaluate effectiveness if you are in more than one to start.
- Monitor the results of your networking – What’s working, what’s not, be prepared to change your approach!
- Be prepared to engage those you meet: You may not be the most outgoing person but you really need to learn to greet and meet others to make effective use of your time and money!
Have fun, smile, and make sure they know who you are!
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