Networking may seem like a thing of the past—an old school way of growing your business. Why would you waste your time "chatting" with people when you could be building Google Analytics reports, conquering social media algorithms, learning the newest TikTok trends, or figuring out how to get your brand in front of millions of followers?
As an extremely extroverted and social being, that's a rhetorical question. I would spend every second networking over learning SEO and social media algorithms; but, alas, we can't always get what we want and small business owners have to wear a lot of hats, even the ones that they don't want.
It's hard to measure the ROI on networking. It's a big investment of time and effort that doesn't always have an immediate (and obvious) pay off. However, networking is still an incredibly powerful tool, especially for small businesses, to build relationships, raise awareness, learn from others, access resources, and build a support system.
Building relationships: Networking provides an opportunity to meet and build relationships with potential customers, suppliers, and other businesses in the community. This can lead to new business opportunities and referrals. You never know who you'll meet and you never know who knows who!
Raising awareness: Networking is a great way to raise awareness about your business and what it offers. By attending networking events, you can showcase your products or services, share your expertise, and establish yourself as an industry expert.
Learning from others: Networking provides an opportunity to learn from others who have experienced similar challenges and successes in their businesses. You can gain insights, advice, and inspiration from other business owners and industry experts.
Accessing resources: Networking can help you access resources that can benefit your business, such as funding opportunities, training programs, and mentorship.
Building a support system: Owning a small business is challenging, and networking can help you build a support system of like-minded individuals who understand the unique challenges of running a small business. These individuals can offer support, encouragement, and guidance when you need it most.
The most important part of networking is to show up intentionally—stay genuine and authentic. Focus on getting to know the other person(s), not just selling yourself or trying to force a partnership. No one likes to feel used, and other professionals/businesses are less likely to work with you in the future if they feel like you're only looking to boost your presence.
I'd like to highlight that I am talking specifically about in-person networking (sharing a meal with a colleague, showcasing at trade shows, attending events, conferences, etc.). I'm not saying that online efforts aren't important because they definitely are; but the art of networking is hard to beat. I'd actually argue that in a world inundated with online connections, people are craving real, in-person connections more than ever. So get out there and let people get to know the real you!