Building strong networks and connecting with other business owners who care about their customers as much as you do can pay off in myriad ways. Your network can provide connections to help you find needed services, new customers and other contacts to help you better serve your customers. Plus, it’s useful to have a trusted network of people who are also in your shoes and who can give you advice, provide feedback and help you solve problems.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made networking more challenging. Many conferences and events that provided ready access to other business owners were postponed or are now virtual. And due to social distancing, it may not be possible to simply meet a contact to chat over lunch or coffee. But, with a little creativity—and a few safety protocols—you can reconnect with and build your network. Here are five ways to do so.
- Check your professional associations. Many in-person trade association or business group gatherings have shifted to virtual formats. Take advantage of speeches, seminars, or workshops just as you would in-person events. Connect with the speaker and other attendees on social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter. Then, follow up after the event with questions or for further discussion.
- Take an online class. Remote professional development has skyrocketed. Some online course companies are reporting 300% to 400% spikes in class consumption. Taking an online professional development class not only helps you build new skills or learn new talents, but other people in the class and the instructor could also turn into valued colleagues. Focus on classes that might attract other small business owners, such as those about how to promote or grow your business and then take the time to get to know your fellow classmates.
- Contact alumni networks. Colleges and universities, former employers, or other organizations may have alumni groups to keep in touch with former students, employees, or members. If you have access to one or more alumni groups, explore their membership lists or directories and reach out to people who may be good contacts. You can also contact the head of the alumni group and find out about any upcoming seminars, online events or other networking opportunities, especially if any are targeted toward business owners.
- Volunteer. Whether it’s a professional association or community group, putting your expertise to work as a volunteer can help you build your network. Whether you opt to serve on a board or volunteer to consult on marketing, fundraising, or whatever your specialty is, you will have the opportunity to meet other professionals who are involved in the organization. In addition, you may be able to showcase your skills or business in a way that may attract more customers.
- Ask for an intro. Know someone who knows someone? Ask for an introduction. If you have a friend or colleague who is connected with a fellow business owner who may be helpful for your business, ask if the person would connect the two of you by email, phone or through a social media platform. Having a warm introduction can help you build a relationship faster and invites trust.
As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities for you to continue to build your network. Use existing contacts, associations and technology to find other business owners who are as passionate about their businesses and customers as you are.
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