One of the hardest things to do as a small business owner and entrepreneur is to take a step back from your day-to-day efforts and make sure you are doing enough to keep your business successful and growing. Although it's important to focus on getting the work done, there is always a danger that sales may begin to slow down. Even if you are just a one person venture or part of a small team, dedicating time to network and market your business is critical.
Let's break down networking 101 and three areas of focus you need to make it work for your business.
Traditionally, getting the word out about what you do would have been just that — speaking to individuals in person and telling them about your business. There is still great value in telling your story that way. It is often the most powerful approach to get across the history of your company and to inspire others to buy from you. You can start by joining local business groups and attending networking meetings to connect with other entrepreneurs in your community.
Always have a plan and be well-prepared. Don't forget your business cards or brochures, and keep them ready to hand out. When you try a new group, make an honest assessment of its value. If it is a great social group, but over time you find that you are not getting any new business leads, then maybe it is time to seek out fresh pastures. By the same token, don't dismiss a group with high fees. You could get lots of leads or high-value sales, and it may only take gaining one regular customer to justify a year of group membership. Most business groups will let you attend a least one meeting as the guest of another member, so use this to test the waters without financial commitment.
Conferences, industry events and exhibitions are also good opportunities to meet a lot of the right people at one time and can be good ways to drum up new business.
Make it Social
Social media is a powerful tool for telling the world about your business. At an in-person event, try to amplify your physical presence by having a social media strategy. This means being ready with a good camera or smartphone to take some photos and video. Have some messages prepared to promote during the event. Don't just tweet or use Facebook or LinkedIn on the day of the event, but plan a series of posts building up to the day and then report back on it afterwards. You can even offer your followers an incentive to share your posts! Be aware of any hashtags for a live event and use them to join the online conversation and show your knowledge and experience.
Rare and Retro are a custom trainer design company. They used Facebook to let their fans know about a rare sneaker event they attended.
Connect with peers or potential customers you meet via LinkedIn and always have a way to collect details from people who visit your booth or meet you during the event. This can be as simple as exchanging business cards or collecting emails. You can also give something away in return for email addresses or scan badges at a big exhibition. It is vital that you capture contact information in order to follow up with potential leads after the event.
Tell Your Story
Take any chance you have to speak at events or be on a panel. These are great for building awareness of your business, but it doesn't have to be a fleeting opportunity. You can make the moment last — record a video, then share it on your website and social media. Write about the experience on your blog or share the text of your speech or presentation. This way your appearance will resonate with a wider audience.
Tammy K. Johnson of Female Idea Tank knows the value of public speaking both as part of her business, but also to reach out to new customers.
People love to hear directly from an entrepreneur. Writing in publications and blogging are the perfect vehicles for sharing your thoughts. If you don't enjoy writing, then try a simple, short video and promote it on your social networks. Talk about what inspires you and how you turned your business dreams into reality.
With proper planning and time management, you can make the most of networking 101 and sales opportunities. Reach out to potential customers in person, but also tap into the power of online communications to spread the word.
Barney runs a digital marketing consultancy and writes about technology, startups, music, movies and business, as well as his hometown in the UK.