Whether you own a storefront business or operate from your home, relationship-building plays an essential role in your business.  Networking has the potential to provide many opportunities such as word of mouth marketing, potential customers, and mutually beneficial partnerships with other small business owners.  Read the following tips on how to make the most out of the time you invest in networking.

  • Be generous in giving out referrals.  Referrals are as valuable as gold in the small business world because receiving one provides a basis on which to build a relationship as well as giving you a foot in the door when making that initial contact.  In order to receive more referrals from others, offer them to other fellow small business owners.  It is human nature for people to return a favor; just think about the last time someone gave you a referral.  Didn’t you want to give them something in return to show your appreciation?  The more referrals you pass on to others, the more likely they are to pass some on to you.
  • Look beyond your target market.  Although the bulk of your time should be spent focusing on your target market, it is still a good idea to look beyond that demographic in order to connect with new people.  For instance, a seller of women’s beauty products caters mostly to her target market of young professional women.  However, at certain times of the year such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas, she markets her business to men in search of thoughtful gifts to give their girlfriends or wives.  She holds men-only shopping events in which a guy can feel comfortable shopping in a “girl’s store”, and she encourages them to bring some photos of that special lady so she can help guide him toward the appropriate products.  When the men come away with a good shopping experience and a grateful girlfriend, they are likely to return as loyal customers and recommend her business to their buddies, dads, and brothers.
  • Develop a reputation for excellence.  In these times of economic hardship when mostly everyone is looking for the best deal, people are still willing to pay a little more for a quality product and outstanding customer service.  Make each customer glad that he/she chose you to do business with instead of a competitor by providing those two things.  Additionally, find ways to make customers feel special each and every time they shop (not just the first time when you want to make a good first impression).  If you can consistently provide what your customers wants and needs and do it in a way that they will enjoy, then you will begin to build a reputation for excellent business practices.  Customers will recommend you to others, and you will become a trustworthy and dependable force within your niche.  Remember that this takes time, so be patient, persistent, and always put forth 100%.

Just like any other skill, networking requires practice in order to improve.  Follow the tips mentioned above and always seek out other resources to stay aware of current networking trends.  How do you improve your networking skills?  Please share your comments below!

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