Networking for small business owners (who hate networking)
Admit it: when it comes to networking for small business owners, it’s not exactly many folks’ favorite thing to do. (Unless you’re one of the lucky few who can honestly describe themselves as a “people person” — if so, good for you!) Even if networking isn’t an intimidating, palm-sweat-inducing prospect for you, with all of the other day-to-day responsibilities a small business owner faces, networking can simply be a hassle that gets put on the back burner.
If attending a networking event sounds about as appealing as a root canal or doing your taxes, this survival guide is for you. Here are a few tips to get you out of the door and in front of the right people:
1. Conquer your fears
The first step in becoming a natural networker is forcing yourself to look into the terrifying dark abyss of your own inner-fears and debilitating social anxiety. Now, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it?? Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. The bottom line is, you have to conquer your fear of networking in order to move ahead professionally. The trick is to look at it as just another tool to build your career or small business (after all, you don’t get that worked up about SEO, do you?) and it instantly becomes less scary. Or, in the words of a high school football coach, suck it up and keep your eyes on the prize!
2. Make it a game
At its core, networking is about building relationships. If you just thought to yourself, “I’m out!”, hold on just a second. Try looking at it like a game, and reward yourself for each new contact you make. Did you attend a local tech happy hour and talk to someone about your small business while desperately clutching onto a cocktail for dear life? Congratulations! Treat yourself to a new book, a massage, a walk in the park, or whatever your heart desires. Hopefully you’ll start to associate networking engagements with a positive feeling, and not dread them as much in the future.
3. Start small and build up
If you’re new to the world of networking, or hate the idea of having to talk to people you don’t know, try starting small. Research networking events in your own industry or those that will have professionals who have similar interests. By already having things in common, the conversation will come much easier. If you find yourself in a group setting, approach either an individual or people in groups of three or more. In general, people in pairs are usually in a good conversation, so interrupting to join in has the potential to become awkward – and no one wants that.
4. Have an elevator pitch
If you’re nervous about what to say at a networking event, come prepared with an elevator pitch to avoid being at a loss for words when someone asks you about your business. For those who’ve been under a rock, an elevator pitch is a short and sweet explanation of who you are and what you do, usually 30-45 seconds long and delivered in a conversational manner. Introduce yourself and incorporate the mission statement and goals of your business, along with information about what makes your company unique. Memorize and practice it! See our previous post on perfecting your elevator pitch for more tips.
5. Talk to random people
This may seem a bit simple (and odd), but really – do it. Challenge yourself to strike up conversations with people you come across in your daily routine, even if it sounds intimidating or you really (really) don’t want to. At the coffee shop, in line at the grocery store, at your favorite restaurant—it will get easier and become more natural over time. Start small by making a point to talk to one new person everyday. Doing this for five days out of the week ultimately adds up to 260 new people a year! You never know who you might meet or where a new conversation will lead. It can also be a good way to practice using that elevator pitch.
6. Join the local Chamber of Commerce
This is a great way to get out from behind that desk and in front of other people. From luncheons to after work socials and happy hours, your local area Chamber of Commerce host multiple monthly events aimed at providing networking opportunities. For those of us who are bad at going out and networking on our own, having a full event calendar with upcoming networking opportunities often does the trick. For a small membership fee, you can engage with other business professionals in your area and get involved in the local community. Make sure to bring plenty of business cards to hand out to new contacts.
7. Don’t forget to follow up
So, you’ve finally ventured out to a networking event and even handed out a few business cards. (Yay, you!) Make it a goal to follow up with the people you meet within 24 hours. A quick email saying “It was nice to meet you at…” can go a long way. Try to include specifics about their company and your conversation. If you’re worried about trying to remember details correctly, simply jot down a few notes on the back of their business card for you to refer to later.
Though networking can be intimidating and seem like a chore, taking the time to create lasting relationships in your industry or local business community can produce huge benefits for your career and your small business. By starting with baby steps and eventually incorporating it into your regular routine, hopefully you can learn to actually enjoy it. Or, at the least, tolerate it. Be patient and be consistent. Like most things, becoming good at networking takes practice. So take a deep breath, memorize that elevator pitch and go talk to a stranger!