I know, I know. You’re sick of the word networking. I don’t blame you. It may well be the most overused and pretentiously-bandied-about buzzword of all time. But if you have a service or product that you want others to buy into, then you need a network – and networking is something you need to do.
Don’t think of it as networking, if that helps. Think of it as casting your net as widely as possible to catch the maximum amount of fish. Which leads me to ask, how big is your net? Are you using all the methods below to ensure it’s as big as possible?
Yes, it can feel awkward and pushy handing them out to people. But they’re a convenient way to ensure that people you speak to or send items to via the post have all your contact details in one handy place. Business cards should include your name, the name of your business, your phone number, your email address, your website and your business social media profiles – not your personal profiles, with those embarrassing pictures of you and the feather boa at Ben’s 30th bash in Magaluf. Nobody’s going to want an aromatherapy massage from those hands after they’ve seen them.
Making Yourself a Familiar Face
Support local events in any way you can. Here are a few suggestions:
Consider sponsoring a local club or sports team.
Give talks to local clubs.
Take part in a charity walk or event.
Donate your time, or that of your workers, to a cause for a day.
Nominate a charity to support every year and if possible, visit the place where they do their work.
Forge connections with local schools or colleges, offering prizes, equipment, work experience or talks – whatever’s appropriate for your industry.
The Local Press
Depending on where you’re located, this could be anything from the village newsletter, local directory or free local magazines, right up to countywide press. You’ll need to do some research to see which of these publications are worth advertising in, or perhaps do a short trial run (to keep the fish theme going, think of it as dipping your toe in the water).
But a presence in the local press doesn’t start and end at advertising. Could you provide an advice column based on your expertise? Do you ensure you inform them whenever you sponsor something or hand over a cheque to charity? They may not have a photographer to spare, but many local newspapers will accept your own photos and copy to publish in their community pages.
Local Business Groups and Consortiums
I live in a village – together with neighbouring hamlets and dams that form the parish, it only has around 3000 people – but it does have more than its fair share of small businesses and freelancers, and it does have a village business group.
Wherever you live, there will be some kind of local business network or group – you may it helpful to contact your local council, which may run one or more and know of others. These groups may have regular meetings (whether informal or formal), arrange speakers, co-host events, join forces to run event stalls and have service-bartering reciprocal business agreements (e.g. you use my printing service, I use your landscaping skills). If nothing else, you may benefit from their support and expertise – and that’s another group of people who have become aware of who you are and what you do. They may not want one of your Lord of the Rings themed wedding cakes right now, but when their niece Galadriel mentions she’s getting married next year…?
Trade Fairs, Shows, Conventions and Conferences
Whether they are general local shows or specific to your industry, these are a no-brainer – providing the price of attending them or having a stall there isn’t exorbitant (if it’s borderline, see if you can contact previous attendees to discover if they found it worth the outlay). Ensure you take along plenty of attractive, printed information about your services or products, and if it’s appropriate to what you do, offer free samples or trials. Chat to other stallholders while you’re there, too.
Online Forums and Websites
These could be local websites for your village, town or city, or industry-specific sites. Answer a question someone’s posed; comment on a blog post; get involved in a discussion. Whatever kind of interaction you have, don’t hide behind an impregnable alias when you do so. This is about being seen so include a link to your own website, direct people to specific pages (unless it’s inappropriate, overly-pushy or forbidden to do so), and always bear in mind that you’re on these sites representing your business – so be on your best behaviour. This isn’t the time to get involved in heated arguments with trolls. Save that for when you’re trawling the net as Gandalf the Super Trooper 547.
Of course, I’m presuming you have your own website and at least some presence, however limited, on social media. If you haven’t, go and sort that right now. Yes, now. Go on. Don’t even finish this article. You’re at least 10 years behind your competitors; let’s not make it any worse.
Your Inner Circle
You may have a small family and a select group of friends, but you are not the only person they know. They have families, friends and colleagues of their own. Make sure they have a few of your business cards handy and gently remind them to mention your business and share links to your website whenever the opportunity presents itself. If they flatly refuse, perhaps it’s time to rethink their position on your Christmas card list!
Hopefully, I’ve proved to you that networking isn’t that complicated – and deep down, you already knew it was important for your business. So go forth and cast that net!
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