Succeeding in business is about making connections.  But how do you reach out, especially when you’re just getting started?  Read on for some advice on the best way to broaden your professional network.

Business Network

Photo Credit: Newtown Business Network (http://newtownbusinessnetwork.com)

Strategic Social Networking

If you can establish a digital presence on a platform like Twitter or Facebook, you can follow and friend other people in your industry.  If you share their content, they’ll be more likely to share back.  Make sure to keep your social-media accounts integrated for maximum impact.  Do you have a link to your Twitter on your other social-media accounts?  Do you promote your blog posts and in-store events on Facebook?  Make the most of every part of your social-media presence.

Consider, too, how much work social media does to facilitate natural conversations.  You won’t have to worry about an elevator pitch – you can just ‘like’ a Facebook post or repost a video with your own comments.  Remember to keep your LinkedIn and other profiles updated – if your information isn’t current and comprehensive, people won’t know how to find you!

Traditional Network Hubs

Your local Chamber of Commerce is a great place to make connections with businesses in your area.  You’ll learn about networking events and special opportunities, and you’ll be first to find out about municipal business initiatives like revitalization funds.

Main Street Marketing

Your town may have a local-business program designed to keep its downtown thriving.  These networks are a great way to find local business owners with similar interests.  If you offer related services, you may be able to co-refer.  For example, a wedding planner may be thrilled to know about a local stationer or caterer, and a tutoring service might be excited to work with an independent bookstore on stocking a summer reading list.  Farmer’s markets and seasonal fairs can help you advertise and pull traffic into your store.

Go Full-Service

Can you collaborate with another business to offer a service package?  If so, you might be able to double your customer base.  Banner ads, blog and facebook posts, and online coupons are an easy way to drive traffic to a business connection’s site – and a great way for them to steer customers to you.  A new business in your area is a perfect candidate for this kind of reciprocal arrangement.

Lend a Hand

Consider volunteering with a local nonprofit organization.  You can offer space, donate used equipment, or collect donations for a seasonal food, toy, or clothing drive.  Hosting a charity event like a dinner or an auction gives you an opportunity to promote your own products.  If you’re an organizer, you can make contact with other companies by asking them to co-sponsor or donate merchandise.

Talk to Strangers

After all, they’re just friends you haven’t met.  Don’t underestimate the power of the cold call, and don’t feel embarrassed to send an email or LinkedIn message to someone you don’t know well.  Whether they’re an industry star or a newcomer, chances are they recognize the value of a strong professional network.  If you reach out to them with a genuine interest in their expertise, they’ll be receptive.  Keep your communique short and polite, and use a question to start a dialogue.

Business Network 2

Image Credit: Host Dime Blog (http://www.hostdime.com/blog/three-social-networking-sites-that-you-arent-visiting-but-probably-should)

Be a Mentor

Young professionals in your industry are extremely grateful for any insight or help.  In time, they’ll become valuable allies.  You may also be able to sign up for a local organization that helps people enter the workforce with seminars and one-on-one counseling.  If you can donate a few hours of your time, you’ll meet motivated young professionals who may have some impressive ideas about the future of your industry.  Better yet, you’ll have stellar candidates on call for any job opening!

Think Ahead

Like the classic question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” frame your network as a way to reach your professional goals.  Do you want to break into international markets?  Do you want to learn how to implement new technologies or ideas?  Do you want to find ways to sell more products online?  Look for industry professionals who are already successful at achieving your objectives.  Their strategies can serve you.

Host an Event

You’ve attended networking events – why not host one yourself?  You’ll meet every attendee as a “connecter,” a contact with demonstrated value.  You’ll also have a chance to show off your administrative skill.  A presentation or seminar will give you a chance discuss the insights you’ve developed through growing your business.

Go Back to School

Alumni networks are a fantastic avenue for getting in touch with other professionals, especially industry leaders who might otherwise be out of reach.  You’ll learn about career and venture options across your field, and you’ll have the chance to advise younger colleagues who are just starting out.  Many alumni networks are online, which makes it much easier to contact fellow members.  A request for advice or a simple congratulation are easy ways to start a conversation.

Join a Professional Organization

You could start with an organization like Vistage, whose purpose is to bring together professionals in diverse fields.  You can also join an association specific to your industry: an entire professional network made up of people who are interested in growing their professional networks!  If you join an organization with a website, blog, or event list, make sure to share, retweet and comment.  You may even be able to write a guest post for an industry organization blog, which will raise your profile online.

Quality vs. Quantity

Don’t underestimate the importance of targeted interactions with a select group.  Make sure that your networking communication is as personalized and directed as possible.  What information do you hope to obtain from your contacts?  What kinds of partnerships do you envision?  Setting a goal for each relationship will help you stay focused and in touch.

Counting Cards

Have you ever dropped your business card into a jar for one of those sweepstakes at the local café?  Think about doing something similar.  If you’ve got a brick-and-mortar business, hold a contest with a special offer at your register.  If you do business online, attach a promotion to a pop-up request to join your mailing list.  Every email you collect is a potential associate.

Gamify

Stay motivated by keeping score.  Make a networking plan and give yourself goals on a regular timeframe.  These can be as simple as, “Email ten new contacts every month,” or as ambitious as, “Attend three professional conferences this year.”   If you can make networking part of your daily routine, it’ll be that much easier to grow your contact list.  This strategy will also help you follow up with contacts on a regular basis.

Social networking is like building any part of a business: steady, strategic effort over time.  How many ways can you think of to expand your network?

Are you hoping to connect with a group of dedicated digital marketing professionals who can advise you on the best way to grow your contact network?  Contact Square 1 Group for a consultation today!