Successful entrepreneurs agree that building strong professional networks is imperative, but the reality for many small business owners is that it’s hard to find the time to build and nurture their networks. As a result, they miss out on valuable opportunities to learn from others and grow their businesses.
To make it easier to focus valuable time on your business network, Excelsior Growth Fund’s Business Advisors compiled this list of ideas and resources that can help you target key opportunities.
Here’s who you want in your small business network
Simply stated, no one builds a successful small business without help from others. Even if you work by yourself, there are people you interact with daily, from clients to vendors to accountants, who are part of your small business network.
That said, with limited time available to build and maintain a network, who should you have in yours?
- Start with the people who form your business’s support system, like your accountant, attorney, marketing agency or freelance designer. In addition to doing great work, they should be advocates who help promote your business to others, just as you’ll do for them.
- Look to your industry. It’s always helpful to have colleagues in your field who can help you stay on top of trends and formulate new ways to leverage opportunities and challenges. Also include people who work peripherally in your industry: through them, you’ll likely learn about new business leads and find strategic partnerships. You can also learn from others who are further along in your field and have insight to share, whether through casual conversations or more formalized mentor relationships.
- Build connections in your neighborhood. Changes happening there may impact your business and you want to stay ahead of the curve. Building this arm of your network not only helps in uncovering opportunities, but also in resolving potential challenges.
Here’s how to effectively build your small business network
Now that you have a sense of who should be included, use these excellent resources, all of which are free or low-cost, to help you find the right people and build your network. Here’s where to look:
- Industry networking groups: Essentially every industry has an association or other networking group. Join yours and attend local and regional meetups.
- Local Chambers of Commerce (CoC): Your Chamber of Commerce is an excellent resource for connections that are outside of your industry. Here, you’ll find professionals whose expertise and offerings can benefit your business, like attorneys, accountants and others who you need as part of your network. You’ll probably meet some potential new clients as well.
- Community-based organizations: If there’s a business- or neighborhood-development organization in your area, join and learn about what’s happening. Usually, neighborhood advocates include a diverse mix of business owners, residents, school personnel and local government representatives who are on top of potential developments.
- Small business support agencies, like the U.S. Small Business Administration and Small Business Development Centers, are excellent resources for professional development and networking. Here, you’ll meet audiences full of small business owners and local professionals who act as topic presenters in areas like marketing, business lending and financial management.
Build and nurture your network
A strong network is essential. Your network doesn’t have to be large to be effective, and developing one doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming or expensive. Use these cost-effective resources to build out your professional network and with some time and attention, it will grow and the long-term benefits will be well worth the investment made today.