As we move towards the end of 2016, small business owners should already be thinking about the 2017 business year. To give you a jump on the business connections you plan to make, we have compiled a list of the top tips you can implement ensure successful networking in 2017.
Network Outside of Your Industry
Conferences are an easy place to meet people and network–we all know that. However, getting out of your industry and seeing a new side of how business works can be an eye-opening experience.
Talking to other professionals who may have similar positions or responsibilities in different industries can help you adjust the goals you set and how you go about accomplishing them. You likely already have plenty of friends who are in random industries, whether it’s finance, tech, web design, or healthcare. Tag along to one of their happy hours or conference dinners and see if you can reach out of your industry box and learn something new, or meet some people with which you might not otherwise come into contact.
Share Third-Party Vendors
Vendors are some of the best connectors between industries. Whether it’s a vendor that you have to interact with on a daily basis or someone that you just see every so often, strike up a conversation and ask about the other clients they have.
Building stronger relationships with your vendors could not only help your business, but it could also open you up to other opportunities in different companies and/or industries. As you build relationships with more and more vendors, people will start asking you for recommendations on who to use for what, which could also help you network further.
Don’t use many vendors? Ask people in their industry how they outsource work and what companies they leverage. You should find out some valuable information.
Host Networking Events
Everybody knows the host, or at least knows their name. Put yourself in the spotlight by being the host of a networking event, whether it’s an internal event within your company or simply a casual happy hour with a few cheesy “Hello, my name is _________.” stickers.
You could even take a fun approach at the name tags and have something like “Hello, my favorite pretentious coffee order is _______” or something equally as snarky, but relatable.
There are several benefits of hosting these small events in your local business neighborhood. First, if you can set up a series of events with others in your industry, you can successfully position your company as a thought leader. Second, you have an opportunity to control how the event is structured, providing your team with the best avenues to generate new business. And finally, you can improve your relationships with other non-industry business owners near you. You will be surprised how much business can get thrown your way from a few outgoing bar owners.
Harness the Power of the Blog
It’s all about referrals and word-of-mouth these days, or at least word of the social network. Writing up blog posts or working with bloggers and writers within your industry is a great way to keep your name in the mix of the conversation.
Reach out to personal blogs or other company blogs and ask if you can write a featured article. Pitch a few different ideas and explain why these ideas would be relevant for their readers. Not only does this help with digital marketing and SEO, it also can be the gateway to a great working relationship. Good content goes a long way!
Go to Startup Events
Even if you are an established business, startup events are filled with passionate and motivated people. You might find the next big thing to invest in or work with, or at least meet someone with similar passions.
People who are willing to gamble and invest themselves into a startup are entrepreneurs and adventurers, and they’re likely to one day come back with a big idea for you to help them with. These are the people to keep in touch with, even if it’s just occasional social media contact.
Utilize Social Media
An easy and non-intrusive way to network within your industry is through social channels. Even an occasional like on Instagram or sending a funny video via Facebook can keep the friendship/working relationship alive.
The bottom line here is to be fun. No one likes self-promotional social media posts these days. Interact and engage with your audience. Even major brands are engaging in fun social media campaigns.
Leverage Your Employees
There’s a reason more and more companies are offering referral bonuses for their employees. Simply put: good people know other good people.
If you love the culture that your staff and coworkers are creating, offer incentives to bring other people into the mix. Whether it’s a lunch or happy hour that’s open to friends, family, and spouses/partners, or a holiday party or sports event that’s open invite, have people you already work with and enjoy bring other people they enjoy. You may be able to find some new staff and new business relationships.
As we all know, we work better (and longer) with people that we enjoy spending time with.
Volunteer and Connect With Local Charities
Getting out of your usual routine and spending time volunteering is not only rewarding, but could be good for business. There’s a reason that the NBA and other sports conglomerates advertise their volunteer work: because it’s good for their brand.
It doesn’t have to be a big commitment or a big deal, it can be as simple as a beach cleanup, making a short presentation, or a visit to a local school to educate kids about recycling, sustainability, or whatever other skills and knowledge you’re passionate about.
Furthermore, offer your employees time off to volunteer individually or as a group in their communities. This not only promotes your brand, but allows your employees a great opportunity to break out of the “work grind” every once and a while.
Start a Meetup
Good relationships have common ground, and that common ground doesn’t always have to be something as dull as work. Business meetups, much like networking events, are becoming more and more lucrative with today’s digital world.
It could be a sport, a hobby, or another way to relax. There are some pretty niche activities out there! If the lady who enjoys untangling yarn can start a revolution from her computer in her kitchen, surely you can muster up a few people who want to participate in the activities that you love. While you’re at it, you could meet some new friends, new business partners, and even new employees.
Use Food to Your Advantage
Everyone loves a great lunch. Why not leverage people’s need for nutrition to your advantage?
Setting up industry-focused tasting events is a fantastic way to network and share some laughs over a great plate of food. Just like the hosting tip, if you take the lead on creating a series of local tastings you will be seen as the industry leader in your neighborhood. You will be surprised at just how many people want to join your event when great food is involved!
Make sure that the cost of entry covers the tasting event. It looks very amateur to have people reaching into their pockets to pay for food at your networking events.
Networking doesn’t have to be dull and painful like sitcoms and movies would have us believe. Get out there and network the way that works for you, and have some fun while you’re at it!