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5 tips to maintain a healthy business network—online and off

june 24, 2024

Whether you’re in the early stages of starting your first small business or you’ve become a respected business owner in your area, knowing how to network opens doors for new opportunities and helps you grow your business. It’s the first step in building and maintaining a robust local network that can support your personal growth and the trajectory of your business.

What is networking?

Business networking connects you to new customers, other small business owners to bounce new ideas off, and mentors with invaluable guidance. Networking is more than just asking for favors—successful business owners are skilled at networking to create authentic, mutually beneficial relationships with other people. A key element of networking is providing value to others, like giving helpful advice or referring customers. If you aren’t naturally outgoing, that shouldn’t stop you from improving your networking skills.

How to promote your business locally and build your network

It’s easier than ever to network, with plenty of opportunities in real life and online. You can start networking by pursuing new business connections and learning opportunities while keeping in mind what you’re able to offer to their local network. In return, business networking can lead to collaboration opportunities and business growth through word-of-mouth marketing. You’ll be able to use your local network to fill job positions, ask for feedback on your business plan, and get support for new projects.

Building your local business network won’t happen overnight but by following these tips, you’ll be able to confidently connect with new people and maintain business relationships.

1. Know where to go

Networking can happen anywhere but putting yourself in the right places to network makes it easier to start conversations that lead to meaningful connections. When building a local network, you’ll likely focus on local events and businesses first. Attending relevant business conferences in your area can be a great place to start, especially because many conferences build time to socialize and network into their itinerary. Like-minded business owners are likely looking to make connections just as much as you are.

If you admire someone in your local community or notice another business’ success, don’t be afraid to reach out directly to network. Asking other business owners to have lunch or coffee is a great opportunity to ask questions about strategy and share your own experiences. Having a prior connection makes reaching out easier, but it’s not necessary.

Online business networking provides just as much value as meeting someone outside of your screen. Social media platforms like LinkedIn were built with networking in mind and can be useful for connecting with other people in your industry. Don’t overlook Facebook or Twitter—business owners often use social media to advertise events or create online groups. Improve your chances of networking success by optimizing your social media bios with relevant information about your expertise and your business.

2. Consider what you have to offer

Although networking has a wide range of benefits, don’t approach building your network only by thinking about yourself. Business networking should be mutually beneficial, and you’ll need to consider what you have to offer to other people. Understanding what you bring to the table can also help ease any networking nerves, as you’ll be confident in your value. If you’re just starting out in the business world, this might look like a fresh perspective or knowledge from your prior work experience. Once you’ve made a name for yourself, you’ll be able to maintain your local network by helping other people make new connections.

3. Set networking goals

Business networking encompasses many different types of connections, so it’s a good idea to hammer out your goals before you begin. The goals you set dictate how and where you build your network and can help you maintain realistic expectations. For example, if you’re looking to learn more about your industry, your networking efforts should focus on businesspeople within that field. On the other hand, making connections with local business owners in various niches can help you improve your word-of-mouth marketing.

4. Prepare in advance

Before you reach out on LinkedIn to set up a networking call, do your research. It’s a good idea to write down questions or practice how you’ll introduce yourself before you meet a new connection. If you’re going to an event, look at the schedule in advance and plan when you’ll want to socialize with other attendees. Keep plenty of business cards with you wherever you go so you’ll be able to keep in touch and connect online.

5. Find reasons to follow up

Meeting a new business connection is one of the most exciting parts of networking but building your network doesn’t stop there. To maintain a healthy local business network, you’ll need to take time to build real relationships with the people you meet. If you had a great conversation with someone new, follow up soon after by email to thank them for their time and ask to continue your discussion in the future. If you don’t have anything to discuss further, try sending relevant resources or inviting them to an event related to their business niche.

Virtual meetings or phone calls make keeping in touch easier than ever but be cautious about communicating too frequently with new business connections. It’s a good idea to reach out to offer your own expertise if someone has expressed interest in your help. Not only will helping others improve your reputation, but it will also likely lead to them returning the favor.

When it comes to building a local network, the time and thoughtful energy you put into forming authentic connections will pay off over time. By networking with like-minded business professionals in your community, you’ll gain valuable insight to help grow your small business.

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