A group of four people of various ages, races, and genders stand in a loose circle in an open circle. All four are wearing blue lanyards with ID cards at the end. The person facing the camera is the focus of the group; they have short hair and they're speaking and gesturing as the other three people watch.
Although more opportunities for in-person networking are opening back up, there are still ways you can network digitally or remotely. — Getty Images/shapecharge

Networking is more than just a useful way to meet others in your profession — it’s also a marketing tool that can also help you grow your business. Here are some tips to network your way to a healthy bottom line.

Pay it forward

There are many ways to show you care about the people in your community. Volunteer, sponsor an event, or lead a relief effort. Not only do these networking opportunities offer a way to connect with potential future customers, but they also create a sense of good will that goes far in building trust in your business.

Mattress Mack, a small business in Houston, paid it forward when Hurricane Harvey destroyed homes in 2017. Owner Jim McIngvale opened doors to his two furniture stores to provide shelter for 400 people, offering couches, beds, and mattresses, as well as food for people and their pets. The story became national news and gave McIngvale a chance to meet his neighbors and stand out for his generosity within his community.

[Read more: How to Network ... the Right Way]

Go to trade shows

Trade shows are starting back up after a two-year hiatus. They’re a great opportunity to promote your business and gain traction with a captive audience. A study conducted by Oxford Economics found that 5% to 20% of a company’s new customers come from attending trade shows. Participating in a trade show gives you a chance to perfect your elevator pitch, meet potential customers, find partners with whom to collaborate, and scope out your competition.

Attend other industry events

Think of industry events like in-person content marketing opportunities. When you sign up to be part of an expert panel, share knowledge in a breakout session, or be the keynote speaker, you’re practicing thought leadership. Thought leadership is an important way to nurture leads and build trust among consumers. It can also activate word-of-mouth marketing, in which someone with whom you networked at the event talks about how great your business is to others. Alignable found that word-of-mouth referrals are the best way for 85% of small businesses to acquire local customers.

Explore the possibility of partnering with other small business owners to offer cross-promotion.

Send personalized videos

Maybe there aren’t in-person events taking place in your area. Or maybe many of your customers are remote. Digital networking is still a powerful way to grow your sales base and retain existing customers. That’s right — it’s still important to stay in touch with your existing customers, and networking is one easy way to do so.

[Read more: You Can Still Network From Home! Here's How]

Send emails or direct messages on social media to prospects and existing clients featuring a tailored, prerecorded video message. “You might briefly update customers on your latest product or an upcoming event,” wrote Forbes. “This is a good way to engage with people and get them to pay attention to a short message. Keep it casual and avoid using hard-sell tactics.”

Video messages are also a good way to follow up after an industry event or trade show. Put a face to your name and brand to keep your business top-of-mind. Just a short, one-minute video recorded with your phone is enough to stay in touch.

Network with other local businesses

Explore the possibility of partnering with other small business owners to offer cross-promotion. Network with a brand that’s industry-adjacent: A bakery and a coffee shop, for instance, could partner to offer members of their respective loyalty programs discounts (“Buy 10 coffees and get a free cupcake at the bakery”). Work together to find a scheme that doesn’t put either business in the red, but does increase interest and foot traffic.

If you prefer to keep it simple, just ask if you can put up a promotional flyer or punch card for your loyalty program at a nearby store’s cash register. Of course, you should offer to do the same in return. Good networking is all about business owners supporting each other!

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published June 21, 2022