As a small business owner, there is never enough time in a day. You may feel that taking time away from your business can cost money. However, if you are looking to strengthen your B2B relationships and grow your company, you can’t afford not to! Find a slot in your busy schedule to participate in an outside activity; the types of networks, activities and groups available are endless and the rewards are far reaching. Here are a few to consider:
1. Chamber of Commerce
Many communities have a Chamber of Commerce. These are organizations comprised of local businesses of all sizes. They look out for the best interest of their members through coordinated marketing efforts, training programs, discounts and more. The membership fees vary between cities and business size, averaging about $300-$400 per year. As an added benefit, according to a 2012 study by The Schapiro Group, consumers are 49% more likely to think favorably on a business that is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and 80% more likely to purchase from the company in the future.
2. Professional Networking Group
Networking is a great way to keep up with the latest industry trends while exchanging ideas and insights with fellow professionals. Some limit the types of businesses allowed, for example they may only allow one health insurance representative, one financial advisor, etc. Vendors are usually not permitted. Meetings may be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly and have various formats which may include guest speakers, round table discussions, workshops and more. The idea is to find the group that fits your interests and builds your network. To help you find a group that suits your needs, the Chamber of Commerce has some networking groups of their own, or you can ask fellow business owners. There are generally modest dues, but most groups will let you come to a meeting to check them out before committing to join.
If you are new to networking and the idea of introducing yourself to a room full of strangers is intimidating, joining a volunteer organization can break you out of that comfort zone. You will meet many new people in a short amount of time. Groups like the Kiwanis, Habitat for Humanity, and many area churches support neighborhood as well as national projects. Now more than ever, people want to do business with real people who demonstrate integrity and purpose. You will gain new skills, your company will gain notoriety, and best of all you will be doing your part to make your community a little better.
4. Trade Shows
Whether hosted by a national company or a small local event, trade shows are attended by people who are interested in hearing more about your industry. The experience of attending one of these shows either as a participant or as an exhibitor is valuable. It is a chance to mingle and interact with others in the industry on an informal level, at a pace you choose. As an exhibitor, trade shows are an excellent opportunity to establish a reputation within your industry. Look to trade magazines and local newspapers as well as your Chamber of Commerce for a list of events.
5. Online Groups
Online groups are a popular way to connect with like-minded business people. Both Facebook and LinkedIn host thousands of different groups. It is easy to search and find the ones you would like to join. Try not to get carried away by joining too many, keep them manageable. You can always delete or add groups later. Both platforms also allow anyone to start their own group if you choose. Online groups make it easy to communicate with other members, post content, and ask for help and advice. You can also communicate directly with other group members. For details on how to join a group, follow these links for Facebook and LinkedIn.
You Reap What You Sow
Meeting and talking with business owners like yourself often results in opportunities, new business, and friendships. However, it’s important to understand that you only get out what you put in, just joining a group or network is not enough. You will need to attend, volunteer and participate. Building a strong network doesn’t happen overnight, but it is an investment of your time that is certainly worth making.