The idea of connecting with people to grow and improve a business is not new. But it is especially important nowadays, as the competition between companies gets tougher, especially for small companies with limited resources.
Because of this, building strong connections with customers, both current and prospective, is crucial. And networking is also a great way to connect with other professionals, share experiences, and grow the business.
But how to network effectively? And where to look for people to connect with — customers, business owners, other professionals? For everyone new to business networking, it is better to start with the three basics — communication strategy, specific events, and social groups.
Before diving into the details of business networking, it is crucial to discuss communication in general. After all, networking is a part of it and must be included in a particular strategy.
What does it take for small businesses to thrive? Great product, dedicated workers, top-notch strategy — all these variables are essential. But there is also a thing that small business owners sometimes neglect or consider unimportant. We are talking about communication.
It is crucial for any business to communicate — with customers, potential stakeholders, professionals who operate in the same sphere. The most effective way to do so is coming up with a communication strategy. It will establish which channels and methods are the best to apply.
Every small business is different, and there is no universal template. But, coming up with a communication strategy for the first time might be intimidating. If so, here are two basic points which every business owner can use to start building the communication strategy:
PR plan or Public Relations plan is a document that determines how the business will communicate with target audiences.
What are the key messages a business strives to communicate? What types of media to choose? What are the stories worth sharing? It is essential to answer all these questions while preparing a well-thought PR Plan.
Brand Promotion Strategy
What is a brand? It is a set of values, ideas, advantages of the business that distinguish it from others. For example, why all people know what Starbucks is, but have no idea about the myriad of other coffee shops? The reason is a strong brand and its powerful promotion.
So, brand promotion is all about communicating the values and advantages of the business, making it recognizable. There are lots of strategies for these purposes. One can decide on using social media or, say, creating promotional products.
Business networking is a part of brand promotion strategy as well. But it is more subtle and focuses not on customers but other business owners and professionals. Networking must be included in any brand promotion strategy and PR plan, so it is essential not to overlook it.
Participation in Relevant Events
To some extent, participation in events, relevant to the industry the business operates in, is a part of the brand promotion strategy. The modern market is getting more and more competitive, so it's important to fight for customers' attention — both online and offline.
Attending such events is beneficial not only from a marketing standpoint. In fact, 41% of marketers see events as the single-most effective marketing channel over digital advertising, email marketing and content marketing. For business owners, it is also a chance to expand their network by connecting with other professionals.
Luckily, there are lots of events for businesses to participate in — the trick is to know where to look. These events can be found via social media (think about LinkedIn and Facebook) or specialized websites such as Meetup or Eventbrite.
Many places like coworking spaces, event halls, cafes and theater venues host networking meetups, workshops or seminars which are worth attending. If there are no local events for your particular business, it may be wise to co-operate with a coworking space and create one. There can be a thematic panel discussion, or feature representatives of different industries or local communities can meet to share their experiences once or twice a month.
The business can collaborate with coworking and conduct a workshop or seminar under its roof. It is a great way to show the expertise the company has, connect with other professionals, and boost brand awareness smartly and efficiently. If so, investing time and money in such offline events can be extremely beneficial.
Belonging to Social Groups
In her TED Talk, organizational psychologist Tanya Melon mentioned the importance of so-called weak ties. It means that often great opportunities come from people we do not know very well. At times these almost strangers might help in finding a job, give a valuable piece of advice, or share some knowledge and experience.
But how to find these people? The most straightforward and easy way is to join different social groups. For example, small business owners can connect with other professionals via LinkedIn or even Facebook.
But there is no need to limit yourself to online social groups. It is important to go offline and connect with people face to face. A great way to do so is by joining a coworking space, where dozens of teams can workshop and collaborate, even across company lines.
According to a survey published in Harvard Business Review, 82% of respondents mentioned that coworking spaces improved their professional networks. Coworking is known to connect people with diverse experience, skills, and mindsets under one roof, making it a perfect place to network, gain professional advice and insight, and grow a business.
Business networking is an integral part of the communication strategy of every small business.
Creating a detailed communication strategy, participating in networking events, working alongside other professionals in coworking spaces - all these activities can also be beneficial. If combined correctly, these basics will help every small business owner network effectively and grow one's brand.
Elizabeth Price is a passionate writer and researcher. She works here as the Head of Marketing.