6 Creative Networking Tips for New Entrepreneurs
When you start your own business endeavor, you need to start spreading the word about it in as many ways as possible. This may involve a variety of strategies such as advertising, SEO, social media, and press releases. You should not, however, overlook the value of networking.
There's no substitute for connecting directly, whether it's online, by phone, or in person. Here are a few creative networking ideas for new entrepreneurs.
1. Get a Digital Business Card
Business cards are probably the oldest and most familiar networking tactic of all. Digital business cards let you enter your information on people's smartphones. People are likely to lose or misplace a printed business card. With a digital card, however, the information is with them for as long as they have their phone.
Aside from impressing everyone with your high-tech business card, this approach has another advantage. It lets you share far more information. Aside from your name and a few other details, a traditional business card is quite limited. With a virtual business card, you can link to your resume, website, LinkedIn page, or anything else you want to share. There are many apps for digital business cards.
It's also a good idea to carry traditional printed business cards, of course. Some of your prospects may be old school and not use smartphones or may simply prefer printed cards.
2. Send Personal Videos
You can always connect with new prospects via phone, email or LinkedIn, but if you really want to make an impression, try something different. A short personal video doesn't take much longer to create than an email but it'll make a much stronger impression. You can easily create a fast video on your smartphone or laptop. It doesn't need to be more than a minute or two. In fact, you don't want to go on too long as this isn't meant to be a sales pitch. You simply want to get someone's attention and open a dialogue. Even 30 seconds is sufficient.
The key is to make it personal and refer to how you know the person. This absolutely has to be a custom, original video. A generic video that you blast to a hundred people is just another promotional message. Instead, say something like, "Hey Tom, we met at the marketing conference in San Diego last week. I just wanted to touch base and talk about how we might be able to help each other. By the way, I'd like to learn a bit more about your business. It sounds like that new product you released is pretty exciting. Anyway, feel free to get in touch anytime!"
3. Organize Your Own Events
What's better than attending a networking event? Creating one of your own. If the idea of organizing an event seems overwhelming, relax. You don't have to plan a huge conference. A small, local event is easy to create nowadays with social media and platforms such as MeetUp.
You can organize events based on the interests of your prospects or those of fellow entrepreneurs. For example, if you're a home-based travel agent, you could have events that highlight the attractions of certain destinations. Or you could connect with other business owners and share marketing tips.
You could hold your networking event at a meeting room, restaurant, or any public space that's appropriate in your area. You could even get creative and combine it with another activity such as a walk.
You can make it as broad (e.g. Meetup for Entrepreneurs) or specific (e.g Meetup for Home-Based Travel Agents) as you like. Another idea is to make it a regular event and perhaps choose certain themes each time. It's also a good idea to invite expert speakers to your event. Or, if you have the confidence, be the featured speaker at your own event.
4. Shine the Spotlight on Others
This approach is appropriate when you want to connect with someone who has expertise or clout in a certain field. It's a truism of networking (and life in general) that you need to give in order to receive. One of the best ways to do this is to feature someone in a blog post, article, podcast, or video. You could offer to interview them as well. At the very least, link to their blog or article in your own piece (with permission, of course).
When you focus on someone else, you're providing a tangible benefit. If you don't get a response, you don't lose anything. As long as you choose people who have something interesting to say, you're also getting valuable content to share with your followers.
5. Circulate in Your Community
When people consider networking, they often think only about business-related events. The truth is, however, that some of the best opportunities for meeting people are in social or everyday situations. Too many people nowadays don't get out in their communities, spending all of their free time at home focused on their screens. Depending on your interests and schedule, you might connect with people by participating in:
- Community gardens.
- Religious services and events.
- Gyms and exercise classes.
- Outdoor groups such as walking, hiking, and biking.
- Groups dedicated to interests such as reading (e.g. book clubs), gaming, geocaching, local history, and countless other topics.
Don't waste time engaging in such activities only to network for your business. Choose activities that interest you. That way it's a win for you no matter what the results. As you meet more people in your area, it's very likely you'll also find potential clients or referrals.
6. Participate in Forums, Groups, and Niche Social Media Sites
Now that almost all of your prospects are using social media, the challenge is to narrow your focus. Simply connecting with someone on Facebook or LinkedIn doesn't always make it easier to actually engage with him or her. Here are a few of the best ways to reach a target audience online.
- Forums. These predate social media and are still quite prevalent. You can find forums about pets, travel, weight loss, marketing, and any other conceivable topic. Joining and participating in a few forums is a good way to meet people in your industry.
- Social media groups. Facebook groups are a good way to connect with people in a more focused way on this giant site. There are also groups on LinkedIn.
- Specialized social media sites. You might join smaller niche social media sites and build a following.
Closing Thoughts: Get Into the Networking Mindset
While these tips will help you get more publicity for your business, you should really have a networking mindset wherever you go. It's good to have a brief elevator pitch ready to deliver at any point.
You don't have to overdo it and try to sell all the time. Look for signs that someone is interested and that the timing is appropriate. If you stay alert, you'll find that there are many opportunities to share information about your business.
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