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Fulton Bank
Fulton Bank

How to use networking to grow your small business

Networking is an efficient and economical way to increase the name recognition and growth of your small business. Joining organizations or networking groups allows you to interact with like-minded people who can be invaluable sources of information, support, and collaboration.

Networking can require long-term focus, sometimes it takes time to see the payoff but as your network of contacts grows, so do new opportunities. Follow these strategies to help you elevate your networking skills.

1. Research the sponsoring organization

To get the most out of the time you spend networking, do some prep work.

Before you step foot into a room, physical or virtual, make sure you know who is likely to be there. What’s the purpose of the organization? Who are typical members? Who is on the leadership team? What is this event that you’re attending all about? Are attendees potential clients, potential vendors, or potential referral sources?

Having some background on who is likely to be there and why can help you steer conversations to topics of interest to those you meet and ensure that you make a good impression.

2. Hone your elevator pitch

An elevator pitch is a term used to describe a brief speech that outlines an idea for a product, service, or project. The name comes from the concept that your idea should be delivered in the short time period of an elevator ride (think about 30 seconds).

When you’re given the chance to introduce yourself or are introduced to others, another way to make a good impression is to repeat your practiced, brief summary of what you do. Many elevator pitches are a couple of sentences long and follow this format:

  • Explain the problem or opportunity
  • Share the solution you offer
  • Give proof of how it works


An example of an elevator pitch might sound like this: “I own a local bakery that specializes in gluten-free and specialty breads. We’re passionate about meeting the needs of those with gluten sensitivity by creating cakes, breads, and pastries with the highest quality ingredients so we don’t compromise on taste or quality. I’d love to cater your next event, lets chat over one of our gluten free cookies so you can experience the quality for yourself!”

Perfecting your elevator pitch is a good use of your time so that when you’re put on the spot to explain what you do, it confidently rolls off your tongue.

3. Update your online presence

After a networking event, often the first thing attendees do is connect with people online. They might head to your website, look at your LinkedIn profile, or scroll through your Facebook or Instagram posts.

For that reason, you’ll want to be sure that your online accounts are up-to-date and reflect the work that you’re currently doing or the products and services you currently sell. It’s also important that your various accounts look alike, to reinforce the sense that you’re an established business owner. When your online persona matches what you share at networking meetings, you continue to build trust with the people you meet.

Alternative Networking Opportunities

Instead of waiting to be invited to attend networking events, consider looking for places where you can expand your circle of colleagues and acquaintances. These might include:

  • Local business groups

    One of the best ways to mix and mingle with fellow business owners is through business groups like the Chamber of Commerce. You might find organizations for women business owners, like the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) or Black Founders for entrepreneurs of color.

  • Local civic or charitable organizations

    Area business leaders frequently join civic organizations like Rotary or Kiwanis or serve on the boards of directors of local nonprofits. These affiliations can be effective ways to get into the orbit of people you want to work with, as long as you also support the work the organizations do.

  • Tip clubs

    To network with other business owners who are interested in helping each other generate more business, you may want to explore a tip club like Business Network International (BNI) or LeTip. Joining them requires attendance at weekly meetings where business leads are shared amongst members.

  • Trade shows

    Meeting people in your industry is often easiest when you attend a trade show or conference. Depending on the location, you may be able to connect with other local businesses or with business owners from other parts of the country or world. Being able to share information with people in your industry who are not your competitors can be extremely fruitful.

Make the most of your time

No matter what type of event you elect to attend, once you enter you’ll want to focus on getting as much benefit as you can from your participation.
To maximize the benefit of attendance at or participation in business networking opportunities, take the following steps:

  • Introduce yourself. Even if you’re more comfortable as a wallflower, push yourself out of your comfort zone and extend a hand to introduce yourself as often as possible.
  • Act like a super-connector. Take every opportunity to introduce attendees to each other. This positions you as someone who is both well-connected and gracious.
  • Be generous with information. Share all that you know that might be helpful to those around you, such as business tips or free resources.
  • Balance speaking and listening. It’s important to create a balance between how much you talk and how much you listen. Generally, people are more open and responsive to good listeners.
  • Follow up. The saying goes that "the fortune is in the follow-up." Build on those first conversations with quick emails that convey you enjoyed your interaction and look forward to seeing them at a future meeting.

Networking doesn’t cost much, but the connections you make and the relationships you form have the potential to fast-track your business success.

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