One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since starting my own business six years ago is that, as John Donne famously wrote so many years ago, “no man is an island.” In order to succeed, we small-business owners need to encourage and support one another. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely adventure when you’re the boss and no longer have coworkers to share your challenges and triumphs. (You have to be careful what information you share with your employees.) Meeting fellow entrepreneurs can not only help you find simpatico people to talk to, but could possibly deliver other business owners to partner with.
The key to finding the right business support system is networking. Here are a few ways you can network for success:
- One successful entrepreneur I talked to recently told me how in the beginning of her business she was a “professional networker.” She attended every local organization meeting she could find, including networking groups and Chamber of Commerce groups. Look for trade organizations in your area as well as niche groups like women business owners or minority business owners. Consider offering to speak to the groups once you get comfortable. You’ll get more attention and make more connections if you’re seen as an expert in your field. Remember, you’re there not just to take, but to give as well.
- Ask people you meet to mention your business to anyone they think might be interested in your products or services. Bring plenty of business cards and be sure to get cards from everyone you meet.
- You can’t afford to be shy as a business owner. If you bring an employee along to an event, be sure that you split up to work the room. Head over to the refreshments area (where people are sure to congregate) to start a casual conversation. Smile, be friendly and show a genuine interest in people, and you’ll make connections.
- Hopefully you’ve refined your elevator pitch. You need to be able to briefly and clearly describe your business. Don’t use industry jargon and be sure to ask people you meet about their businesses as well.
- Don’t forget to follow up with potential partners after you meet. Connect with them on social media and make plans to get together for a more formal discussion “off-site.” Never try to pin anyone down for a commitment at a networking meeting, though, or you’ll come off as desperate.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends or sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.