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Mastering the Art of Networking for (Nervous) Small Business Owners:

Essential Tips for Online and In-Person Connections



I’ve learnt that as a small business owner, building a strong network is essential for my growth and success. But, only 18 months ago I would have been terrified of putting myself out there and speaking to people I didn’t know about the service I offer and the clients I support. Luckily for me, I stumbled upon networking completely by accident!....


How it began


I was asked by a student on a course I was teaching if I would deliver a 10 minute talk on the benefits of Google My Business. The session would be on Zoom and I would be discussing something that I taught already. I had the slide deck, the script and the knowledge. It would be super-easy, I told myself! So, I took a deep breath and said yes!


Surprise!


What I didn’t know was that the session itself would be 2 hours long, that in addition to my talk I would need to speak for 60 on my own business and ask the group for support in finding new leads. There would also be a business exercise and a spot at the end where everyone gave testimonials, thanks and gratitude for connections made in the previous month.


Shocker!


The group loved my 10 minute slot. They found the lesson on GMB extremely useful and asked lots of relevant questions. Many of them connected with me (on LinkedIn or Instagram) straight away. Lots subscribed to my weekly newsletter.Three asked for 1:1 chats with me after the session and I got two 10 Hour Block bookings straight away.


WOW! And I REALLY enjoyed myself.


The group was warm, welcoming, encouraging and inspirational. The 2 hours flew by and I really felt a connection with the women in the group. They had similar experiences and struggles to me. I loved the diversity of the group and the overwhelming feeling of support and cheering-leading. I finished the session fully motivated and energised to crack on with the rest of the week - really fired up to move my business forward. Two weeks later I had signed up for the year.



How to make networking work for your business


Networking offers you a platform for establishing valuable connections, exchanging ideas, and expanding your reach. In today's digital age, online networking has become increasingly popular, but in-person interactions still hold immense value.


The Benefits of Networking


  • Opportunities for Collaboration: Networking exposes you to a diverse range of professionals and entrepreneurs, creating opportunities for collaboration and partnerships. By connecting with like-minded individuals, you can tap into complementary skills, resources, and expertise that can benefit your business. Not only have I seen this work time and time again in the networking groups I belong to, but I’ve been part of those collaborations. It’s a great feeling! Sometimes working for yourself can be lonely so these partnerships can be really valuable for your personal wellbeing too.


  • Knowledge Sharing and Learning: Engaging with other professionals through networking allows for the exchange of insights and experiences. You can learn from others' successes and challenges, gain industry knowledge, and stay updated on emerging trends. Networking opens the door to valuable learning opportunities that can enhance your business acumen. Every month I learn something new or find myself relating to someone’s experience or challenge. It’s comforting to know that though you might be a solo business owner, you really aren’t alone.


  • Business Growth and Referrals: Networking enables you to expand your customer base and generate referrals. By establishing genuine connections with fellow entrepreneurs and professionals, you increase the likelihood of receiving recommendations and introductions. The trust built through networking can lead to a steady stream of qualified leads and potential clients. The beauty of this is that your name is being recommended by members of your networking group to their own larger communities. It goes far beyond the group itself.



Choosing the Right Networking Group


To make the most of your networking efforts, it's crucial to choose the right place or group to engage with. Consider the following factors:


  • Relevance to Your Industry: Look for networking groups or events that cater specifically to your industry or target audience. Engaging with individuals who understand your industry's nuances can yield more meaningful connections and opportunities.

  • Size and Engagement: Evaluate the size and level of engagement within the networking group. Larger groups may provide a wider reach, but smaller, more intimate gatherings can foster deeper connections and a sense of community.

  • Diversity and Variety: Seek networking opportunities that offer a diverse mix of professionals from different industries, backgrounds, and expertise. This diversity can broaden your perspectives and open doors to unexpected collaborations.

  • Online or In Person: Look at both online or in-person options. Online meetings will be less of a time commitment and if you’re new to networking this might be more appealing. For me, I found having a screen between myself and the group helped me feel less nervous. The in-person events are great for building local connections, you’re able to have 1:1 conversations spontaneously and you can get to know someone’s vibe/style more easily.


Most networking groups allow you to have a taster session. Have a google to see what’s local to you. Read the reviews and get in touch with the host for a chat. You’ll get a good feeling if it’s right for you or not. If it’s an in-person event ask a business buddy to join you.




Preparing for Networking


Being fully prepared is key to maximising your networking experience! And for my first networking event I could have been more prepared. The mistake I made was that I didn’t fully understand the format of the meeting. Make sure you get a run down of how the event works.


Here are a few tips to consider:


  • Craft a One-Minute Introduction: Prepare a concise and engaging introduction that communicates your business's unique value proposition. Clearly articulate who you are, what you do, and the benefits you offer. Practice delivering your introduction with confidence and enthusiasm. This is something I do for every single session. I practise and practise. I want to sound relaxed and natural whilst still delivering my message that is memorable.


  • Bring Business Cards: While we live in a digital age, business cards still play a significant role in networking for in-person events. Ensure your business cards are professionally designed and include essential contact information. Handing out business cards facilitates easy follow-up and serves as a tangible reminder of your interaction. For my first in-person networking event I totally forgot to order any business cards, but as a last-minute workaround I ordered a stack of photos of a business-style card I created on Canva. They were 6 x 4 inches, so not your business card size, but they were easily recognisable - and a bit of a talking point!


  • Share your lead magnet/freebie link: With online networking you’ll be given the opportunity to share your contact details and any other links which the group might be interested in.Have a link to subscribe to your newsletter, lead magnet or even social media accounts. Connect with people while you’re in the moment. Give yourself an extra 15 minutes after the session has ended to drop messages to those you want to have 1:1s with. Don’t leave it until later, as it’s unlikely to get done.


  • Be Smart With Your Automations: Take advantage of tools like automated appointment booking links such as Calendly or Dubsado (see my booking page below - I have an affiliate link). By sharing your availability and allowing others to schedule meetings directly, you streamline the process of setting up follow-up discussions.




Making the Most of Networking


During networking events, it's essential to focus on quality interactions rather than collecting as many contacts as possible. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:


  • Be a Good Listener: Show genuine interest in others and actively listen to their stories and experiences. Engage in meaningful conversations, ask thoughtful questions, and provide support when appropriate. Building rapport and trust is the foundation of successful networking.

  • Offer Value: Networking is a two-way street. Look for ways to offer assistance, share resources, or provide valuable insights to others. By being helpful and generous, you establish yourself as a valuable connection and someone others would want to engage with.

  • Follow Up and Stay Connected: Networking doesn't end when the event is over. Follow up with the individuals you connected with by sending personalised emails or messages straight away. Reference your conversation, express gratitude for their time, and propose a 1:1 call, meeting or collaboration.


I’ve learnt over the last year that networking is one of the most powerful tools for small business owners. It offers numerous benefits, whether online or in person. By carefully choosing the right networking group, putting the time in to be fully prepared and engaging meaningfully, you can build and nurture your connections to drive business growth. Foster your collaborations, learn from others' experiences and embrace the opportunities networking presents. It far exceeded my expectations. I feel more confident, more driven and more supported by those around me.


Give it a go - what’s the worst that can happen? And the potential is endless!


I’m a member of WIBN run by Sarah Van Dort. I have also attended a Growth Club workshop with Nell Op de Beeck and I’m part of Ruth Gilbeys membership (an affiliate link for Ruth's new membership).


If you have any questions about how to get started or if you would like to come along as a visitor to the WIBN then just drop me a message and I can help.





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