uilding relationships is one of the best things you can do as an entrepreneur. New connections can help you expand your business and improve yourself. Plus, professional relationships can set you apart from your competition. But, as a small business owner, networking can seem like a daunting task (especially if you consider yourself an introvert). Where do you even start?
Unfortunately, the typical approach to hand out business cards or send a connection request on LinkedIn profiles won’t work. And most of us don’t have a Rolodex full of contacts when first starting. You’ll need to utilize more extensive networking strategies.
Here are four tips to upgrade your networking approach:
Draw from Inbound Marketing Tactics
The term “inbound marketing” became popular over ten years ago and, in essence, refers to creating valuable content like blog posts and videos to draw potential customers to you. This tactic enables you to supplement or avoid costly and tedious outreach like paying for advertising or making cold calls to get leads.
Think about how networking works — it’s not unlike outbound marketing in most cases. Many business owners are constantly looking for others to connect with and sending LinkedIn connection requests or emails. Maybe you’ve received messages from people who want to chat and hear more about your expertise. Or perhaps you’ve received messages from others interested in a potential professional partnership. But do you reply to those if you didn’t know anything about them?
Unfortunately, continually performing random outreach most likely won’t work, or at the least, it will be inefficient.
In contrast, you can take what inbound marketing professionals use by attracting potential connections to you. That means creating a presence so engaging that people want to build a relationship with you.
How can you do that? By leveraging the following strategies.
Leverage Your Uniqueness
You can build a connection with someone by finding things you share in common, like your alma mater or the industry you work in, but there are better ways to go deeper. In other words, it’s easy to find commonalities, but people can forget you easily.
To really pique someone’s interest, first, figure out what makes you unique. It has to be impressive enough that you are memorable to a group you’re trying to network with. Then, be sure to highlight it in how you tell others about yourself and your business. It can also help to practice giving an elevator pitch of yourself and your business. Think of this process as creating your personal brand.
Determining what can set you apart depends on the context, namely, who your audience is. For instance, if you’re networking with finance professionals and mention you’re building a new budgeting app for kids, that’s not unique. However, if you were to say that at a conference full of educators, it might be attractive to those looking to find ways to teach those skills in the classroom.
It might be a slow start, but the more memorable you are, the more people (even those in powerful positions) will hope to talk with you and learn about your skill sets.
To be successful at this technique, work to find the most exciting thing about yourself in context. You can consider asking your professional and personal network for help — what are the fascinating parts of your interests, experiences, and even your life? You can repay the favor and help others do the same so they can also network successfully.
Cultivate Expertise Outside of Your Niche
It may seem strange to consume content that’s outside of our niche in a professional context, but that’s what might draw people to you. You may be surprised at what people are interested in and when they would seek you out for your expertise.
For instance, if you’re in the financial industry, it may make sense for people to seek you out for investment advice. However, if you’re good at finding the best sights when you’re on an extended layover, business owners who often go on business trips may seek you out for that.
Or, you’re good at surfing and happen to meet someone who loves to do the same. You never know — you could form a lifelong friendship from this commonality. Consider your hobbies, interests, and skills outside of your professional setting, and don’t be afraid to bring them up in conversation. You never know when this could help you network better.
Host your own networking opportunities
It’s hard to attend networking events continually, especially when you’re not sure if it’s worth your time. Why not take the initiative and host your own networking opportunities instead?
It may seem difficult initially, especially if you don’t feel you know a lot of influential people, let alone others in your industry, but it’s okay to start small. Start by inviting those you already know to a gathering and ask them to invite others who they think are interesting. Soon enough, you may find people will seek out your events, enabling you to build new networking contacts.
Plus, as the host, people will see you as someone influential enough to gather a group of people together. They may look to you to connect them to others or find you so interesting they’ll talk about you to their professional network.
You don’t even need to do in-person gatherings like dinner parties if you don’t have the resources. There are plenty of virtual opportunities like online forums, Zoom calls, or even starting a small Meetup and eventually meeting in person. What’s important is to be consistent and continually ask those who attend your networking events to invite others who may benefit from your group. Follow up with people you meet after these events to maintain the relationship.
Meeting new people is complicated, and building a meaningful connection can be even more challenging. The most successful networking strategies are ones where you apply inbound techniques so that people come to you and where you aren’t afraid to speak to your interests and expertise outside of your niche. That way, you can encounter the most people quickly, which gives you more time to create valuable connections and become someone perceived as a sought-after leader. Your networking efforts won’t go unnoticed.