You have worked hard to put together a great business plan or you already have an operating business and now you are looking to take it to the next level … have you thought about who may be able to help you do it? Do you have a network of people you can reach out to? If have an existing business, you may already have relationships with clients but what about with your peers? Have you talked to others in the same industry or other industries in your local area? Are there other business owners in your market looking to also grow their business? Small business is about building relationships. How do you do that? Networking may be the answer and it has many benefits. Here are some:
- Expanding and sharing knowledge—Small business owners love to talk about their business. Even if they are in the same industry, they like to see others succeed. The more success one has the more success all will have. Sometimes a little competition is healthy. It can bring more awareness to a lesser-known product or service. And if you are starting a business, most people are willing to offer advice.
- Increased opportunities—By nature, networking will result in new opportunities. Whether it’s a referral, potential partnership or a request for your product or service. Opportunities may be immediate, or they can be in the future, but the key is to find ways to create them.
- Creating additional awareness—ust letting people know what you do, or what you are looking to do is great. Maybe someone doesn’t even know your business is out there? The more you network, the more people will know what you offer.
- New Connections—Meeting new people will only lead to additional opportunities. Not only might you benefit, but you will also likely provide others with the same benefits. Everyone needs to expand their connections. The larger and more diverse the network the more beneficial to all involved.
There are many opportunities out there to network, especially in our smaller communities here in Northern Michigan. Some are industry specific; some are community support/volunteer based and some are just here to help others meet new people and business owners. Some of the ones that come to mind are:
- Your local Chamber of Commerce—They have events that promote networking such as “Business After Hours” or other type of meet and greet events; Business expos; speaker lunches and coffee hours at local businesses. They are usually looking for businesses to sponsor these events and that is an easy way to get started.
- Local service volunteer groups such as the Rotary Club and Kiwanis—These groups usually meet weekly or monthly with speakers, breakfasts or lunches and they plan and execute ways to provide community service. It is a great way to get to know a diverse group of people in the community.
- Professional Associations—Members of these groups would be from a specific industry, such as finance or accounting or even more specific, like a local brewer’s club for brewers. These associations are a good place to learn industry specific things and talk about what may be put there that could help you start or build your business.
The old saying goes “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and networking is a great way to get to know more people. It is important to have a strong, healthy network you can call on when you are looking to start or grow your business. If you are looking for more information on networking events or organizations to join, or simply just need additional help or advice, reach out to us at SCORE-Tip of The Mitt or go to www.score.org. We would be happy to be part of your network!
Tracey Dryovage is Vice President of Commercial Lending at First Community Bank in Petoskey and a volunteer business mentor with SCORE’s Tip of the Mitt Chapter. To request SCORE’s free and confidential mentoring services for small business, call (231) 347-4150 in the Petoskey area or (989)731-0287 in the Gaylord area.