Table of Contents
- What is Networking?
- Benefits of Networking
- How to Network
- Easiest Places to Network
When you’re first getting started in business, it can be daunting thinking about how to make your first few sales. I remember when I started my second business as a firearms retailer and training instructor. I had invested thousands of dollars and about six months of my life just for licensing to get started, and I was ready to recoup some of those costs!
I was working from my home at the time, so people couldn’t really find me by accident. For safety reasons, I didn’t want to list my home as a place of business online. Traditional digital advertising channels like Facebook and Google didn’t allow me to advertise on their platforms either, and traditional advertising like television and radio were out of the budget. I was stuck!
I started having conversations with my family and friends about the difficulties of starting up the business though, and quickly realized they were a major source of referrals to their own personal networks. In a short amount of time, I sold a few guns, had a few training classes and was off to a good start. That is when I learned the value of networking.
What is Networking?
Networking is the art of connecting with other people in your community. Notice I said “art” and not “act”. As we learned in our early school days, it is not always easy to break into a social group and stake our claim. Breaking into social groups really requires both an understanding of the art and the science, but we will get into that shortly.
As an employee, you might have found yourself at the watercooler, shootin’ the breeze with some fellow employees. This made the workday easier, and often you can build friendships out of those conversations. It works the same in business, except your ability to connect with others becomes exponentially greater and more powerful than you’ve ever realized before.
Benefits of Networking
We all engage in the business of networking daily, but until you enter the world of business development, we’re not all so aware of the benefits of what we’re doing. In the same way that it’s good to know your neighbors, you know, in case you need borrow some salt or sugar from them or something, it’s good to start building outside of your immediate network in your community.
In business, just as in life, the stronger your network, the more power and ability you will have. The more people you know, especially if you’ve helped those people with a need, the more likely you are to have them there to help you in a time of need, like, with referrals for business!
Challenges of Networking
Breaking into new social groups can be a challenge. We all experienced this working through grade school, right? For most of us, we kind of “fell into” a group of people and that is where we stayed. We didn’t really venture out into new groups of people very often, primarily because most of us were never taught how! Some of us, like myself were more like nomads, moving from group to group depending on what day it was, and even that came with it’s own challenges.
For the sake of your time, since there is still quite a bit of reading to do here, I will sum this up: the primary mechanism that prevents us from breaking into social groups is trust. It’s a big world out there, and there are a lot of people who don’t play by the same rules as others. We inherently know that we cannot trust everyone we meet to have our best interest in mind, but from our perspective, because we know ourselves, we deem ourselves trustworthy of being invited in anywhere, right?! Wrong.
People, business owners especially, have a long road behind them of people trying to take advantage of them, shut them down and all sorts of other terrible human experiences to glean from. This means as an outsider, you’re not necessarily “not welcome”, but you aren’t welcomed with open arms either. To break into new social groups, or “markets” or anything dealing with new people, really, you need to establish that you can be trusted; and we are going to discuss that next.
How to Network
There are mechanisms that work in society that are not taught to us in the lower and working middle class that help us break into new social groups much more easily than simply walking in expectantly. For some, we might find that we meet some serious resistance when trying to enter into groups of people, and not be quite certain why. Here are a few tools you can use to help make that a little bit easier.
The first thing you can do is read some books on social constructs and start gaining knowledge on how to become a better networker. The age-old favorite, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a great start to your new collection. Found on nearly every business owner reading list, this book will teach you and help you understand principles not taught to us expressly in grade school or college. The perspective shift that comes from Dale Carnegie’s book will provide a great jumpstart into the world of networking and connecting with others.
If you want to get into more advanced books, after they are out there, but they are outside the scope of this guide. I will leave you with one additional book called “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion“. This book goes more in depth into principles that impact the human mind and human behavior and gives great insight into how the rule of reciprocity can be used to your advantage when breaking into new groups of people.
If you’ve read the books above, you’ve likely heard of this term and how this social mechanism can be used to help you break into social groups. If you haven’t read those books, this still isn’t likely a foreign concept to you, you’ve likely just heard it said in terms of “favors”. You’ve often heard of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” or a more nefarious version of this mechanism call “quid pro quo”. But reciprocity at it’s core is a good construct for us to have, and for you to understand.
The “Rule of Reciprocity” essentially dictates that we repay in kind what others have done for us. Simple, right? Just don’t let others do you favors without finding ways to help them in return. In the United States, we have a strong social code when it comes to reciprocity. It is considered a moral value here, that if someone does you a favor, you should repay them however you are able. Some take this principle of repaying others to the point of pride, which I do not recommend, as that can be destructive and insulting to others.
The reason you are finding this rule in this article, is because you can use this mechanism to help you break into new social groups of people and remove much of initial resistance to you. It will not build immediate trust, but it may earn some goodwill and favor amongst a group of people when you do something nice for them first, a kind gesture if you will, that shows you are there to help and not to harm them. Don’t overthink it of course, this could be as simple as bringing a box of donuts to your next gathering!
Easiest Places to Network
Most of us have at least a small network to reach out to: parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, friends. If you don’t that is okay, but what do you do when you’ve tapped out your warm market? The quickest way to jump start your business is to get out into the community and start promoting yourself to the people you meet.
Gather with Like-Minded People
The fastest and easiest to start networking is to make a list of all the things you enjoy doing alone, and find ways of doing them with other people. For example, if you are religious, your local church can be a great resource for connecting with other men and women like yourself. There may even be a business networking inside the church that you can connect with, but don’t stop there. Bible studies and other recurring events are great ways to connect with new people. Each person you connect with becomes a potential resource and source of future business and referrals.
Also consider the gym. If you like to exercise, shift from working out individually at a gym to a group class where you can meet and interact with others. I remember when I first started working towards this goal. I didn’t really enjoy the CrossFit style workout, so I found a Jiu Jitsu gym to get started at. Not only was it a great workout, but there were a lot of like-minded guys there I was able to instantly connect with, and soon I was invited to Friday morning breakfasts with the crew.
Take some time to consider what types of social groups you can start breaking into and make a list of the activities. Then, start researching what groups exist in those categories around Bakersfield. Facebook Groups and Google are quick resources for this type of resource. Just remember, every person you connect with and build a relationship with will become a resource for you and your business.
Chambers of Commerce
The easiest business communities to find are Chambers of Commerce. These typically non-profits that exist in the local community to help business owners connect with other business owners. They often have resources like business directories and connections to local resources that are much more difficult to find when you’re not connected to a chamber. Additionally, they typically offer multiple events you can attend or sponsor each year to bring brand awareness to your business!
Communities are built on commerce, so if you live amongst people, you can likely find a business networking group. To make things easier, there are more conspicuous networking groups like the Business Networking International organization, which offers a paid seat at the table for dozens of groups in Bakersfield. Then there are offshoots that offer a slightly different experience, like Bakersfield Business Network, Executive Association of Kern County as well as others. Depending on your industry, you will likely find business networks related specifically to your field.
A less commonly known opportunity to connect with your community is through a rotary club. Rotary is more about giving back to the community, but is often full of business owners and local professionals who have strong character and sense of community.
Conferences & Conventions
Lastly, for this guide, you can find other like-minded individuals, strategic partners and more at conferences and conventions. You’ll likely meet business owners doing what you do in other markets that are willing to share how they found success. Simple search Google for industry conferences for a list of annual conferences for your niche, purchase your tickets and voila! You’re in the networking game 😉
I hope this guide was helpful to you. I know starting out, it took months to find out that most of these things even existed, so if I have saved you some time on your journey towards success, then I have accomplished my mission. Networking is a vital component of your business, and is ultimately stronger for some types of business than other types of marketing. Of course, if having a brand presence and online reputation is vital when you’re meeting these individuals and sharing your business information, so if you need any help with establishing your website, Google listing, social media or other online assets, give me a call and I’d be happy to help! Best of luck!