Owning and operating a small business becomes a lifestyle for many people. Day-to-day tasks, managing employees, maintaining market initiatives, developing relationships with customers and evoking a positive image of the business: All of these realities add up, requiring more time and energy than you think you have on some days. While even the most successful business owners only have 24 hours in a day, they have mastered a skill that keeps their business moving forward: networking.
Your business isn’t the only thing that requires a little marketing. The most effective and fulfilled entrepreneurs rely on a diverse network of people to support, inspire and challenge them. Networking (not to be confused with social networking online) allows you to form more concrete business relationships and partnerships in your community. Who are these people? Where can you find them? Take a look:
Mentors are a great place to start. Is there anyone who has supported you, advised you or taken a hands-on role in your success? Is there someone in your industry whom you admire? Reach out to these people. But instead of contacting them for help or answers, get to know them and the problems they are faced with. You can create strong bonds with people you already know simply by demonstrating concern and a willingness to return the favor.
Protégés are another great example of utilizing people at your disposal. Becoming a mentor helps another person gain valuable knowledge and skills that can help them in the future. It also gives you the opportunity to share the workload with someone you trust and bounce ideas off of someone who may not be boxed in by conventional thinking or experience.
Former colleagues can offer priceless insight into your strengths and weaknesses. Because they know how you work, but have nothing to lose by being honest with you, your old workmates can provide the kind of insight you might not get anywhere else.
Volunteers can help you get outside of your business and industry by doing something good for the community. A lot of business owners donate gift cards or services for a good cause, but many non-profit organizations view time as a coveted resource. Serving on a committee or performing some understaffed tasks can create the right environment to meet business people outside of your typical scope. Donating your time to the right organizations can also introduce you to new social events and opportunities that may have been under the radar.
Your local chamber of commerce or business association can be a great way to increase your influence in the community. Collaborate with other entrepreneurs and learn about the issues that are affecting business as a whole in your community. This can also be a great foray into meeting your local politicians: The local chamber of commerce often works with government to cultivate pro-business enterprises.
Remember that networking is based on reciprocation and relationships. Before you ask for favors, get to know people and see how you can help them. Focus on meeting people who are relevant and are interested in forming a quality network of professionals. As you meet new people, be sure not to spread yourself too thin – a solid network requires maintenance and attention. Taking the time to develop a diverse professional network is a high-efficiency, low-cost way to keep you sharp and make your 24 hours stretch a little farther.