Networking has always played a critical role in creating and supporting the relationships at the heart of every small business. In a global pandemic, when the natural flow of connecting with colleagues and industry peers is missing, intentional networking remains equally—if not more—important to nurture your business and keep it growing.
Below, we’ll touch upon some tips for staying connected and networking virtually, as well as list popular networking groups to check out. But first, a refresher on the reasons that investing in networking is so critical.
Benefits of networking for a small business
- Visibility. Networking puts a face to your business, adding an element of depth and increasing the visibility of your business in your community.
- Sharper messaging. Having to speak clearly and concisely about your business, in the few seconds you get to make an “elevator pitch” when you meet someone, forces you to refine your messaging down to its core elements. This skill of quickly and memorably articulating the benefits of your business in just a few sentences will be a boon to all of your marketing efforts.
- Referrals. People trust the recommendations of people they know. Networking and introducing yourself, and your business, to people who will share your name with their clients is a powerful way to score leads that have a higher degree of trust in you at the outset. This makes you more likely to win their business. This is a benefit money can’t buy.And referrals go both ways. It’s also helpful to have a cache of referrals for your clients when they need a provider for another product or service. This saves them time and energy, and makes you look savvy—increasing your value to your clients and deepening their loyalty to you.
- Support. Owning a business can be, at turns, exhausting, mystifying, and lonely. Whether it’s a challenge you’ve never faced or a nagging problem you’re trying to solve, building a network of business peers is a fantastic way to garner the advice and encouragement you need to make good decisions for your business and your team.
- Stay cutting edge. Industry networking groups increase your proximity to both education (in your field) and also to industry news. This keeps your skills sharp and ensures you ride waves into the future instead of getting left behind.
We could probably come up with even more reasons networking is paramount, but hopefully the list we have here is enough to convince you to make it a priority in 2021.
Tips for virtual networking
Perhaps networking itself is hard to make a priority even in “normal” times. Perhaps you value face-to-face connection so much that virtual networking feels flat. Or perhaps you consider yourself shy, and reaching out to people you don’t know through zoom or other platforms makes you want to run. Whatever your reasons for struggling with virtual networking, we think it’s important enough to embrace—or at least accommodate.
Here are a few tips and ideas to make virtual networking a regular part of your work week.
- Lean on LinkedIn. Yes! Connecting on LinkedIn, and other social media platforms, counts as networking. And it can be done in your pajamas, at any time of day.
Start by updating and optimizing your LinkedIn profile, so that when you connect with new people they’re seeing the most polished and professional angle. Then, dedicate 30 minutes a week to initiating new connections, posting relevant content about your business or industry, and commenting on the posts of others in your industry to stay top of mind.
[Not on LinkedIn yet? Check out our guide to how LinkedIn is useful for small businesses and how to get started.]
- Start with people you know. You don’t have to make a cold call or walk up to a stranger to increase your networking. You can begin by rekindling a connection with people you do know to get warmed up. Make a list of people you could reach out to via email, phone, or social media, then commit to working through your list at a reasonable pace. A great way to start a conversation is to check in on them and see how they’ve been doing during the pandemic, and letting them know how your business has adapted and grown over the last year.
- Attend to your appearance. Social media notwithstanding, approach virtual networking with the same attention to attire and body language that you would bring to in-person networking. Make the effort to put your most professional foot forward on zoom. As a bonus, this also boosts your confidence and helps you approach each interaction with poise and pluck.
- Follow up (with folks you meet in virtual spaces). Reach out to colleagues and industry peers that you meet in online events and trainings. Whether you call, email, or find them on LinkedIn, build on the connection you made in an online space by taking the extra step that will boost your signal.
At heart, networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships, so think not only about what you hope to gain, but about what you have to offer. When you approach networking—virtual or otherwise—with this goal in mind, it can open new avenues and kindle inspiration to make time for it in the day to day of running a business.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are a few popular or common networking opportunities worth seeking out in Rhode Island.
- RISBDC Facebook Group
- Newport Interactive Marketers
- Uncle Jay’s Network
- Out of the Box Networking
- Network After Work – Providence
- BNI Chapters (find a chapter here)
- Executives Association of Rhode Island
- Millennial Rhode Island
- Twisted Networking
- SpeedProvidence Networking
- RI Manufacturing Affiliates
- Center for Women & Enterprise
- Venture Cafe Providence
- Chamber of Commerce
- Coworking Spaces:
For more networking opportunities, check out EventBrite.com and Meetup.com.
If you have a suggestion for a helpful networking group, please send us an email and we’ll add it to the list.