As every small business owner knows, referrals from trusted connections or past customers are one of the best ways to get new business.
Building a strong local community network can help. Creating a local network has other business benefits as well. It provides a support system to encourage you and offer advice when you need it and exposes you to new ideas that can help grow your business.
How can you build a stronger business network in your local community? Here are three ideas.
1. Join local business organizations: Even if you’re already involved in national organizations such as your industry association, joining local business groups can have additional benefits. It doesn’t have to be an organization for your industry; the local Chamber of Commerce, leads club, Rotary club or other service organization are all great ways to meet other business owners, professionals and community leaders.
BNI, a worldwide networking organization, has a unique focus. Each local chapter allows only one member from each industry to join. Members focus on referring business to each other. Since you’re the only representative of your industry in your chapter, you won’t be competing with other members for customers or referrals. Also consider joining local organizations targeted to your own special interests, such as groups for women in business, Hispanic people in business or business owners under 30.
Can’t find such a group? Consider starting one. Whether you’re joining an existing group or starting one of your own, taking on a leadership role is the best way to get to know others and the most out of your membership.
Read next: Small Business Networking Plays Vital Role in Growth by Joel Comm
2. Get involved in a community-based social networking group: Sometimes it’s surprisingly hard to meet other business owners just down the street. After all, you’re both busy running your businesses, and if you’re in different industries, you may not belong to the same organizations.
That’s the problem Alignable, an online social network of over 4 million small business owners, was launched to solve. Joining Alignable is free and you can connect with other local business owners to get referrals, build relationships, spread the word about your business and get advice from your peers.
Townsquared is another free site that offers similar features to help small business owners make connections. If you’re already on LinkedIn, use it to search for other business owners in your area and get connected with them.
Many small business owners lack the time to physically get out and attend local business events. If that’s you, an online social networking group that’s focused on your local area is a way to accomplish many of the same goals without leaving your office.
3. Hold a networking event at your business: Often, the best way to meet other business owners is to make the first move yourself.
Get the addresses of local business owners in your area and stop by in-person to introduce yourself and invite them to a special event at your business where they can get to know lots of other local entrepreneurs. Hand out your invitations well in advance so you can plan for the appropriate number of people.
At the event, make it easy for people to network by planning some icebreaker activities or playing games. Provide refreshments, music and drinks to make it feel festive. Ask attendees to bring their business cards, share product samples, be ready to do a demonstration or otherwise find a way to bring their businesses alive to the others. Try holding a contest or giving prizes for the newest business, oldest business, most unusual business, etc.
If you’re having trouble finding local business owners to invite, you can try using Meetup, a social network that helps people connect for real-world activities.
You’ll never regret forming new relationships, and the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to do so. Start planning your community-building activities now and you can start 2020 off with more support than ever before.
About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.
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