Whether it’s a conference, a business meeting or even drinks at a bar, interacting with new people can be uncomfortable. The bad news is that as a business owner, it’s more important for you than most to get out of your comfort zone. The good news is that it will pay off in some pretty amazing ways.
Take the Lead to Get a Lead
When it comes to credibility, nothing beats good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. After all, people are much more likely to purchase something they’ve heard about from someone they know. By getting your name out there and forming new relationships, you expand your circle and therefore your word-of-mouth reach. Think of every person you connect with as a promotional lawn sign. The more hands you shake, the more signs go up and the more chance you have of getting spotted and snagging a new lead. Big networks get big business.
Play the Long Game
You’ve heard the old saying “You have to be in it to win it”. The same can be said about getting business leads. You never know whether your next job will come from a repeat client you’ve known for years or a stranger on line at the bank, so never underestimate someone’s potential to become a client. Introduce yourself, strike up a conversation and leave them with a business card – even if they don’t ask for one! Every time you network is an investment in future business. They might not need your products or services today, but you’ll be top of mind when they do.
Learn from Your Competitors
Attending conferences or mixers with competitors might seem counterproductive. Everyone knows you don’t fraternize with the enemy, right? Wrong. Staying in touch with your industry mates keeps you in the know about the latest technology, best practices and consumer research. These days, small businesses are in competition with not just each other, but also DIY-ers, big chains and international brands. By networking, you keep both yourself and small business as a whole strong.
Getting your name out in the community is especially important for small and local businesses. Reach out to neighboring stores for help with a town fundraiser or participate in existing community programs/events. Customers, especially millennials, are increasing their expectations of businesses to give back. By honoring your responsibility to the community, you’ll gain awareness and respect among its residents (your potential customers). Best of all, by creating a better place for your customers to call home, you’ll also create a better place for your business to operate.
Become a Better Businessman
Networking isn’t just beneficial to your business; it’s also a great way to build confidence and communication skills. Just like heights and flying, talking to strangers is a fairly common fear. It’s human nature to prefer the company of our own well-established groups. Networking forces you outside that comfort zone to pitch yourself to new people. Don’t be discouraged if it takes some practice to perfect. Use that time to read up on social cues, body language and how to deliver a great “elevator pitch”. As your self-selling skills grow, you’ll find your confidence grows with them, making you a better communicator and a stronger leader.