It’s never been easier for a small business to connect with customers and leads. Open a Facebook page, target some advertising, and within a few days a business could have thousands of followers all within its market area and matching its customer demographics.
That’s valuable and it can bring sales. But it’s no replacement for the word-of-mouth recommendations that come from networking.
These are two very different strategies. Online networking gives you the lightest of contacts with a large number of people. Offline networking gives you deep, powerful relationships with a relatively small number of people.
While networking on social media can provide sales, networking in the real world can give you loyal customers who return to you again and again. Those customers also act as advertisers, sending the people they know to your business.
But networking doesn’t just increase sales. Networking ensures that businesses that need help with the Christmas rush or over the summer break have people to ask when they need temporary staff. Instead of advertising and interviewing, they’ll be able to call a contact and ask whether their friend’s student offspring is coming back from college and needs some work.
When they need an insurance policy, a good connection can tell them where to turn. If a business owner is looking for a new location, networking can put them in touch with people who know of outlets for rent and who understand the market area.
And if the city decides to make changes that could affect their business, networked owners will hear about those changes, and have the channels to influence them before they’re fully implemented.
Social media marketing is about sales and branding. Networking is unique. It’s about information, which is no less valuable.
Building those networks doesn’t happen quickly or easily. But it does happen enjoyably because meeting people is interesting and fun. Local chambers of commerce might be ideal networking centers, venues in which people with shared interests swap information and advice. But they’re also social hubs where people with similar outlooks meet and talk.
They’re good places to start networking, but the value of a network depends on its nodes. Some people are just more connected than others. We all have friends who have huge contact lists and who seem to know everyone. It pays to build a relationship with those people.
They may be consultants whose work requires them to network at conferences around the world. They could be local activists whose volunteer work puts them in touch with the municipality and with other local service providers. Or they could be teachers who meet dozens of parents each year and manage to stay in touch with many of them.
Every community has individuals with extraordinary numbers of friends. Good networking should include identifying those people and building a relationship with them.
You can often find them by volunteering in your local area, by taking part in PTA events or by joining local clubs and schemes. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t enjoy—if you don’t like golf, don’t join a golf club—but look for activities that you find meaningful or important.
Most of a small business owner’s work involves creating products and making sales. That effort is made in the workplace and during work hours. Networking happens outside the store or office, and it happens after working hours.
But it doesn’t just make sales. It also makes friends.
As an Internet pioneer, Joel has been creating profitable websites, software, products and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995. He has been at the frontlines of live video online since 2008 and has a deep expertise in using tools such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast a clearly defined message to a receptive audience or leveraging the power of webinar and meeting technologies.
Joel is a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books, including “The AdSense Code,” “Click Here to Order: Stories from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs,” “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays and Twitter Power 3.0.” He is Co-Host of The Bad Crypto Podcast one of the top crypto-related shows in the world and has spoken before thousands of people around the world and seeks to inspire, equip and entertain.
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