Welcome to our networking to grow your business guide. Over the years, we’ve met a lot of business owners who were a little anxious about networking along with many others who’ve mastered the art and shared their best practices.
Their collective feedback, along with the realization that COVID significantly changed the way we communicate, came together as we created this guide.
Regardless of where you are on the networking spectrum, we hope it provides you with some inspiration, confidence-building ideas to consider, and the ultimate conclusion that great networking can have a very positive effect on your business.
We’ve seen that happen for thousands of members, and we know you can reap the rewards of strong networking, too.
Now, let’s get into it.
Relationships & Networking: What’s The Correlation?
Why is networking so important when it comes to building your business?
Because the best source of new customers is word-of-mouth referrals, and they only happen when people trust you enough to put their reputations on the line for you and your business.
The people willing to do that are the ones you’ve met and built relationships with over time. These people are the mouths driving your word-of-mouth referrals, and they got there one way or another through networking.
Networking is a process of making new connections and building relationships with others to the point where trust is formed and referrals happen. It’s not the act of showing up to a Chamber of Commerce meeting and showering the room indiscriminately with your business cards. But when it is done right, networking has serious potential.
In a recent survey of Alignable small business owners, 78% reported business growth from networking, while at the same time 57% acknowledged they’re not confident about their networking skills. Just think about the potential for improvement there!
The Steps You Need To Take To Network Effectively
Step 1: Know Your Ideals
Your “ideals” include three types of people. Fill in the blanks below to start the process of building out your ideals:
- Ideal customers: who are the types of people you want your network to introduce you to as potential customers for your business? My ideal customers include: _________________ (e.g., restaurants, accountants, consumers, real estate agents, etc.)
- Ideal partners: who are the types of people you are likely to share referrals with? My referral partners include _________________ (e.g., related businesses share similar customers, suppliers, etc.).
- Ideal friends: who do you share things in common with? My ideal friends are _________________ (e.g., women, minorities, veterans, neighbors, industry peers, second-degree connections, etc.)
By doing some work upfront to answer these questions and know your ideals, you’ll be able to network with a purpose in mind: identifying the people who fall into one of these categories, so you can make them part of your network.
You’ll do this by first finding all of the people you already know. Then, you’ll expand your efforts and network by introducing yourself to the ones you’d like to meet.
Step 2: Add Ideals to Your Network
Now, where do you find these connections? Here are a few tips:
Mine your inbox: your inbox is full of people you’ve met over the years: business colleagues, parents of your kids’ friends, people about town, etc. We often find members are super surprised when they match their inbox addresses to the Alignable membership, only to find out how many of the people they know are somehow affiliated with a local business. Francois sums up this experience beautifully in this quick video clip:
Ask your existing network: Ask your family, friends, or existing networking partners to introduce you to business owners they think you should know. Leveraging existing relationships is one of the easiest ways to build your network.
Take advantage of an online network: Alignable is the largest online network for small businesses. There are 7 million+ businesses you could add to your network. Plus, you get to decide who you want to connect with. Join here or take this course to learn how to leverage an online referral network.
Match To Your Ideal Networking Partners: We have a solution if you’re unsure who to connect with. First, you’ll need to define your ideal referral and networking partners. When coming up with this list, think of the following types of businesses:
- Businesses that can help you reach your ideal client
- Businesses that offer services needed by your customers (that you don’t offer)
- Businesses with large networks of their own
- Businesses with a strong reputation
- Your ideal client
Once you’ve defined your preferred partners, you can use Alignable’s ideal matching feature to match to your ideal networking partners. Simply add in your customer and referral partner tags on your profile, head to your my network page, and Alignable will automatically match you to suggested businesses to connect with.
Step 3: Be Present Where Your “Ideals” Hangout
Imagine being able to walk into a room full of your ideals and you have the opportunity to speak to them all at once. That’s the power of groups here on Alignable. You can learn about some of the many different types of these groups below.
Join Networking Groups: Networking groups are an easy way to connect with like-minded business owners in your industry, those with similar interests, and/or those in your local community. Check out this networking groups finder to sort through and join groups of interest to you.
Attend Networking Events: Sign up for virtual or in-person networking events. With so many event formats available, it’s hard to know which is best for you! Learn more or register for an upcoming event via the below links:
- Local Networking Events: Join your local Alliance to learn about in-person and virtual networking events happening in your community.
- My Networking Events: Check out your “My Networking Events” page. Here you’ll learn about virtual & in-person events hosted by your Alignable network.
- Networking Education: Register here for upcoming events to learn more about the new way of networking & how to be successful.
- Masterminds: Ever heard of a Mastermind? They’re peer-to-peer mentoring events used to help members solve their business problems. Sign up to be notified about future Alignable mastermind sessions.
You can learn more about who to network with and why here or register for the upcoming “Discovering Your Customer & Referral Avatar” event on April 27th at noon (EST).
Step 4: Formalize The Connection
Let’s say you just met your ideal networking partner at an event or via a networking groups thread.
You want to make sure you follow up on that initial introduction within 24 hours of meeting that person. There are a few ways you can do this:
Customize Your Follow-Up: Your follow-up message, whether via an Alignable connection, phone call or email, can be the determining factor for a successful connection. Our suggestion: formally send them a connection request via Alignable, so they are forever a part of your network. Here are a few tips on how to circle back the right way:
- Do your homework: Find something you have in common on their profile or touch on something you had talked about in your initial introduction.
- Be genuine: Craft a message explaining why you want to connect. Here is how to send a custom message with your connections.
- Re-introduce yourself in an appealing way: Remind your referral partner who you are and why you’re following up. This will help reignite that initial connection spark between you. See more tips here.
Step 5: Build Trust
Trust is the most critical step in your networking efforts. Why? Once you’ve established trust, your networking partner is more likely to feel confident in referring you, thus leading to more business.
We’re also here to tell you that this is the step where you weed out those that are unintentional with their networking efforts. Here are two simple steps to help you succeed in building long-lasting, trustworthy relationships with other business owners:
- Be Consistent: Allocate an hour each week to build existing relationships. It can be as easy as sending a message to your connections, inviting them to coffee, scheduling virtual 1:1 video check-ins, etc.
- Be A Partner: Relationships go both ways. Make sure you ask how you can help your networking partners just as much as they are helping you. (Many of our members are “givers,” and they appreciate it when they find other givers).
Remember the time you spend on existing relationships contributes to growing your business through word-of-mouth referrals. Give it a try!
Step 6: Win Referrals & Customers
You’re likely to see business flowing in from word-of-mouth referrals if you follow these steps. The truth is, we prefer to buy from people we know, trust, and like.
So, what are you waiting for? Start building those relationships.
If you scrolled through this article and missed a few links – no worries! Below, we’ve outlined all of the tools you need to network the new way to grow your biz successfully.