As most professionals and job seekers know, networking plays a huge role in helping you achieve your career goals. But strong industry connections can be beneficial to entrepreneurs, too: According to a recent survey by Dell and small business community Manta, one in five small business owners made networking their top priority when they first launched their startups.
"The phrase 'knowledge is power' is not a cliché," said John Swanciger, Manta's CEO. "New and aspiring business owners need to network to gather as much information about prospects, competitors and the industries they are targeting in order to make the strategic decisions that will set them up for success."
"Business is about people," added Anna Urban, co-founder and creative director of Aviva Hair Revitalizer. "It starts with an idea, and gets off the ground with networking. Whether you're looking for customers, help or information, it's all much easier to achieve when you start connecting."
Trade shows and industry events are the most common networking opportunities for tracking down potential sales leads and business partners, but they're far from the only ones. Networking events designed specifically for business owners provide a perfect forum to meet other entrepreneurs and peers from different industries, said Erika Kauffman, executive vice president and group director of 5W Public Relations. Attending these meet-ups gives you the chance to learn about running a business firsthand from fellow entrepreneurs. [3 Tips for Growing Your Professional Network]
Whether you're handing out your business card at an event or reaching out via email after a webinar, networking is only effective if you're smart about it. Follow these three expert tips to help you grow your startup through your connections.
Have a plan
Most event websites have a list of the speakers or exhibitors attending, and general attendees will often post on social media about their plans to attend these events. Do some research before the event, and identify potential connections. Frans Van Hulle, CEO and co-founder of lead-exchange platform ReviMedia, suggested reaching out to attending companies beforehand to set up meetings. Work on your elevator pitch so you're ready to deliver it when you do meet these contacts.
If you don't know who's going to be there, at least have a goal in mind, Urban said. Make yourself a priority list, but remember that sometimes, the smallest connection can lead to big things.
Take advantage of social media
Not all networking has to take place in person. Connect with industry contacts, and even your customers, via social media, to get feedback on your products and services, Swanciger said. This can help encourage word-of-mouth referrals and positive reviews — two great strategies for gaining new business.
Van Hulle recommended networking through great social media content as well. Use platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to produce, comment on and engage with relevant industry content to build trust among your followers. You'll also generate inbound networking — contacts will find and reach out to you, so you'll spend less time having to actively seek more contacts.
Always follow up
While you may have made a great impression on the person you just met, you may never hear from him or her again if you don't follow up. Send a short email or LinkedIn message recapping what you talked about at the event, and invite the person to continue the conversation. Kauffman noted that this follow-up should occur within two business days of exchanging contact information.
The same rules apply to online networking scenarios like webinars and Twitter chats. If you notice that some participants offered particularly helpful advice, reach out to them afterward, and praise them for their insights, Swanciger said. A simple compliment can go a long way.
Originally published on Business News Daily.