With everything involved in running and growing a company, many small business owners may feel there are not enough hours in the day. Because of this time crunch, business owners may focus so intently on their company that they fail to form connections with the surrounding business community. They may also avoid networking events out of the assumption that they’re populated by salespeople trying to sell products or services or that these events are simply a waste of time.
However, when they’re approached correctly, networking can be an extremely valuable tool for owners of businesses of all sizes. Fostering relationships within a networking community can help leaders find solutions to persistent issues, create opportunities to collaborate, or provide new opportunities for mentorship. At the very least, socializing with like-minded people can help build or strengthen friendships while also fostering external business relationships.
While many leaders may understand and appreciate the benefits of networking, some may not know where to begin. Here are a few tips to help identify and select the right community to share thoughts and ideas.
Find the right fit
Many small business owners quit networking after attending just one event. This may be due to gatherings that lose focus or seem to be an avenue only for salespeople to approach attendees. In order to avoid this sort of situation, look for well-organized events that focus on bringing the economic community together.
Identify groups that host events focused on a variety of topics of interest to local business leaders, as these events often offer valuable opportunities for networking and information sharing. For example, an event featuring a panel of experts discussing the future of a particular subject or trend (including advice for company leaders on how to best prepare for any upcoming changes) would be a good option.
Weave networking into daily life
Although organized events can provide opportunities for individuals to socialize and strengthen relationships, networking can happen anywhere. A frequently visited coffee shop, bookstore or sporting venue can also provide business owners with the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who may be able to help advance business objectives.
Look for shared interests
Look for events attended by other individuals with shared interests who are dealing with similar issues. The largest networking group may not necessarily be best. Sometimes a lot can be learned from smaller groups or business organizations that feature leaders from unrelated industries.
Prepare and research
Before attending a networking event, research the names and backgrounds of key participants or presenters. This may include reviewing LinkedIn profiles or checking to see if the presenters have been quoted in recent news stories. First-time attendees should also consider developing a concise summary, or “elevator pitch”, to explain and highlight what their company does.
Bring an open mind
When attending networking events, business owners should recognize that they are there to provide information about their own experiences and expertise while also taking in the thoughts and advice of others. The most successful gatherings result in one-on-one relationships where both parties benefit.
Above all else, business owners should remember that networking events should be enjoyable. Owning and running a business involves a lot of hard work, requiring long hours and endless dedication. Networking should not feel like another chore. Instead, it should be a rewarding, beneficial, and fun experience for business owners.
Eric Bonugli is a district manager and Kay Oder is a Certified Business Performance Advisor for Insperity. They are located in the company’s Austin office. Insperity, a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 31 years provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance.