Small business growing pains - To hire or hold off?
Professional networking is an important part of building business and recruiting employees. Yet, finding the time to network as a small business owner can be challenging, and planning often results in numerous questions: Which events should you attend? Which ones should you ask employees to attend with you or on their own? How often should you go? Is this worth your time?That’s why every small business should consider developing and implementing a networking strategy in order to address these questions and be more efficient. From identifying who your small business should connect with to knowing where to find them, here are some pointers for creating a networking plan that wins.

Decide who your prospects are and what your goals are

The first step in creating a networking strategy that’s most efficient is to decide how networking best aligns with your business’s goals. Determine who it is your business is trying to reach and why, then identify which individuals or groups of professionals can help connect the dots. Need some direction on getting there? No worries:

  1. Define your needs
    Is it more valuable for you and your team to connect with industry leaders or with customers? Are you looking to build contacts and connections or business? Perhaps all of the above. By looking at sales figures and address books, your team might be able to better pinpoint how they want networking to fit into the grand scheme of things and which events to attend.
  2. Do some research
    Take a look at your business and marketing plans to refresh your image of target audiences—who they are, where they are and what they are interested in. Try and identify what networking events they are likely to attend and take your networking strategy in that direction.
  3. Scour client lists
    Review clients from the past year and build a profile—who are they, where are they and what interests them. Take note of industries and professional associations that they may be members of or nonprofit boards they might serve on.
  4. Tune into your existing contacts
    Call, e-mail or connect with colleagues, peers and friends online and see where they’ve had success. Like-minded networkers often know the “hotspots” for building business in more social settings.

Look for events
Once your networking strategy has a focus, you’ll be able to start pinpointing events. Recommendations and cues from target audiences will be huge, but simple Internet searches, tools like AllTop® and social platforms like Meetup.com are all great ways to find out what’s going on and where. Then, pencil in the dates and gear up to go!

Make an impression
When you attend a networking event, make the most out of it. Work it! Have plenty of business cards ready to go, a business card jotter to stash the cards of others, and an elevator speech (Read the Blue Paper®!) to connect with contacts. Be sure, to follow up after these events with a thank-you or e-mail.

Invite others to join you
If you find reoccurring networking events that you enjoy attending, consider inviting clients and vendors to attend with you as a guest to help them grow their network, too. It’s sure to be a great bonding experience and a value-added service to those who know you. Get them excited to join you by sending event-themed items as their invitation, like mini footballs or poker chips.

Networking does take time—but with careful planning it can be a fun and efficient way to build relationships and nab new clients.

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