It's so easy for small business owners to get caught up in the daily running of their operation that they forget to devote time to an essential activity—building and maintaining their professional network. Along with servicing their existing customers, refining their products and services, and staying ahead of the competition, cultivating relationships with people in different fields can lead to new business opportunities.
Jonathan Long, the founder and CEO of Market Domination Media, a Miami Beach, Florida-based online marketing agency, recommends these steps for growing and nurturing a productive professional network:
1. Announce yourself to the community
Tell your existing network what your business is doing now and what's coming up down the road. A straightforward message sent by email, on social media, or in person at meetings will keep your network informed about and involved in your business—and cause them to think of you first when they need your services.
2. Participate in networking events
Attending trade shows and conferences within your industry is a great way to find people to add to your network under one roof. Also, don't overlook local events and get-togethers. Meeting with businesspeople in your own neighborhood or region may even give you an edge over national competitors. Look for online networking opportunities. LinkedIn and Twitter both have groups where people with similar interests or needs congregate.
3. Meet them on their own turf
"Frequent the places that the people you want to connect with can be found at,” says Long. “This could be a particular lunch spot. Be friendly and social and you will make new connections."
4. Give of yourself
Be willing to share what you know to help others out, whether offering your expertise or connecting people together—without expecting or asking for a return favor. Demonstrating that you genuinely want to do good for others will motivate them to reciprocate on their own.
5. Be diligent about following up
Whenever you make a new connection, follow up promptly. Send an email to express your satisfaction at meeting them and invite them to get in touch with you if they ever need your help—and fulfill any promise that you make.
Maintaining a presence among the people who need your products, services, or expertise—whether in offline get-togethers or through online communications—can be an inexpensive but effective way to amass a strategic professional network.
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