As an online entrepreneur, there are probably a lot of things you’re doing to grow your business. You’re creating stellar content, streamlining your sales funnels, and establishing a solid online presence. But are you growing your business network? Do you know other online professionals who can recommend you to their clients? Do you have a list of businesses you can refer your clients to? If you answered “no” to any of those questions, it’s time to grow your business network.
Don’t like networking? You don’t have to network in the traditional sense! I’m not suggesting you go to crowded events where everyone shoves business cards at each other.
The method I’m advocating will help you easily and strategically grow your business network because it focuses on actual relationship building.
How to Easily and Strategically Grow Your Business Network
Know What Your End Goals Are
When you get ready to network, you need to know exactly what your goals are. You can have several networking goals at once,d as you’ll likely want to find both potential clients and potential businesses to refer. That being said, decide on some goals for each particular meeting you have.
For example, if you’re going into a coffee chat, you need to know if you’re talking with the person to eventually book them as a client, or to know them better so that you can refer their ideal clients to them.
Taking the time to decide what your goals are can help you avoid confusion when you’re networking. That being said, these goals are long-term. You likely won’t meet someone online once and then immediately book them as a client, especially if you’re meeting in a casual, coffee chat-like atmosphere.
Remember, you’re trying to build relationships. They take time and patience to develop.
Know Which Niches Compliment Yours
Before you even start growing your business network, you need to know which niches would be best to add into the mix. Going into networking with a mindset of filling the gaps in your network will benefit you in the long run. You’ll be able to refer your clients to a business they’ll likely need, instead of just telling them you don’t know any copywriters, photographers, etc.
If you’re a graphic designer, you’d likely benefit from knowing a few photographers, developers, branding professionals, and copywriters. Those are all niches that might come in handy when you’re doing client work.
You could even take things a step further and grow your business network by working with a professional in each of those niches to create a custom package, like partnering with a branding professional to create on-brand graphics for a website and social media accounts. That would save people the stress of having to find a branding expert and then take everything to a graphic designer and hope that they get it right. You’ll already be working with the branding professional, so it becomes a one-stop shop!
Take a few minutes and think about which niches or industries compliment yours. Make a list and keep it where you can access it easily. You don’t want to head into online networking and forget which niches you’re targeting.
Find and Follow Relevant People
Using the list you just made, search Facebook groups and Twitter to find and follow people who are in the industries you’re targeting. If you aren’t in any Facebook groups yet, check out Miranda’s list of great Facebook groups to join.
When you’re in Facebook groups, use the search bar to search within the group.
If you’re looking for graphic designers, try searching “graphic designer” and “designer.” You’ll probably find a lot of threads where people ask for designers, which is great. Look in the comments of those threads. Find some designers who seem well-recommended and check out their websites and their work.
From there, follow them on social media and start sharing their blog posts, if they’re relevant to your audience. Keep an eye out for them in Facebook groups and try to interact with them when you can. If this seems like stalking, it’s not, I promise. It’s purposeful relationship building, and you’re just honing in on a few select people.
Another thing you can do is hop on Twitter and look at who the people you follow on Twitter follow. Keep your list of specific niches in mind when you go through Twitter. It’s easy to get sidetracked. Aim to find at least three or four professionals for each niche. When you find people you’re interested in following, follow them and start interacting with them on social media.
Follow People in Your Niche
It’s also a good idea to get in touch with a few people in your own niche. If you’re a copywriter, get to know fellow copywriters. If you’re a developer, talk to other developers. Why?
In addition to sharing similar frustrations and problems, you’ll be able to refer out work that doesn’t quite fit with your personality or style. If you’re a designer who creates softer, more feminine websites, and a client comes to you wanting an edgier, hipster website, you may feel like they’re not the right fit for you. Instead of turning that client away, you can refer her to another designer.
The designer you refer will love you forever, and she’ll remember that you referred her when a job didn’t quite suit you. She’ll likely be more than happy to return the favor and refer you to her clients when the job isn’t a good fit.
Schedule Coffee Chats
Once you’ve followed several people in complementary niches, start scheduling coffee chats with them. All you need to do to initiate this is either email them or tag them on social media and let them know you’d love to chat. Coffee chats can be awkward at first, because you’re meeting a new person for the first time, but the awkwardness shouldn’t last long.
To help move the conversation along, keep a few get-to-know-you questions where you can see them. Here are some questions to keep things rolling:
- How did you get started in business?
- What types of clients are you looking for?
- What do you have coming up for your business this year?
- Is there anything I can help you with or help you promote?
These questions are great conversation starters, and you’ll be able to learn more about the person and their business, which is great for building solid relationships and growing your business network.
Once you’ve scheduled a coffee chat, write down what the purpose of the chat is. The first few chats you have with someone will probably be just to get to know them better, but if you already have a great collaboration idea (like a webinar, guest post, workshop, etc.) in mind, tell them about it.
The key thing to remember when you want to grow your business network is that you’re not actively selling to anyone.
Your goal is form connections with other people, and you can’t do that by just talking about yourself. Show up and be present. Help the other person in whatever way you can.
Keep In Touch
Don’t forget to follow-up with the person you talked to! This step is crucial, and it often gets overlooked. If you just have one coffee chat with someone, you may find a good business to refer to, but you won’t really grow your business network much.
The key is to build relationships, and those take time and keeping in touch.
Immediately after your coffee chat, open your planner (or whatever you use to organize your days) and make a note about three or four weeks out to reconnect with the same person. You can email them or message them on social media asking how they’re doing and if they’d like to do another coffee chat.
Be sure to stay in touch on social media between your chats. Share their content, help them promote a new product or service, and generally interact with them. By showing up and helping them where you can, you’re letting them know that you’re interested in them and their success.
Grow Your Business Network (the fun way)
This approach does take time, but once you get it down, you’ll find that you’re making friends with fellow entrepreneurs. All you need to get started is the desire to connect strategically and the confidence to make it happen.
Have you and your business benefited from networking? Let me know in the comments.