A common misconception is that you only need to network when in search of a new job. However, the reality is that networking and face-to-face interactions are crucial for any small business’ continued success. As an entrepreneur, connecting with new people is a necessary skill for growth.
We’ve listed out why networking is important and some best practices to help you get the most out of the experience.
Why Networking is Important
Increase Brand Visibility
Before anyone can utilize your services or shop for your awesome merch, they have to know who you are. While social media presence has become a prominent factor in brand recognition, word-of-mouth marketing still reigns supreme. As a small business owner in the fast-growing custom apparel industry, attending as many relevant professional and social events as possible can help spark conversations that lead to word-of-mouth recognition. It will also help your company break through the noise and increase brand visibility.
Regardless of the industry you’re in, it really is “who you know” that matters. Networking allows you to connect with influential people you may not have had the opportunity to meet. These connections can lead to new business contacts, potential customers, possible collaborations, partnerships and more.
Stay Current on Industry Knowledge and Trends
Understanding your industry and staying in tune with audience preferences is vital for any successful business owner. In fact, 42 percent of new businesses fail because they don’t meet a market need. If you’re just starting out in the custom apparel industry, there is a learning curve you must understand before developing flawless garments for your niche market.
Attending industry events can give you the help you need. You’ll have the opportunity to learn trade techniques during workshops, get advice from savvy business owners, hear about new market trends, develop relationships with suppliers and make new connections. This can lead to future partnerships.
Build Community Relationships
You don’t have to attend fancy events or conferences to network. Some of the best face-to-face interactions can happen by attending local community activities or through interaction with mutual friends.
According to a recent survey, 72 percent of Americans said they often times purchase goods and services from small businesses. As an owner, building a reputation within the community means creating a reputation for your brand, and this can be the difference between neighbors coming to you or going to a competitor. Whether it’s showing up to a community meeting, a new local restaurant opening, or wearing one of your brand shirts to the gym as a positive conversation starter—building community relationships are priceless.
To help you make the most out of your networking time, we’ve highlighted some best practices below.
Networking Best Practices
Pick the Right Venue and Organization
When you’re a small business, your time and resources are limited. Thus, it’s important to vet out events, conferences and organizations to ensure you get the most value from them.
Your local chamber of commerce—an association dedicated to promoting and protecting the interests of the business community within your area—is generally a great organization to join. Studies have shown that simply involving yourself with your chamber of commerce can raise your customer favorability by 44 percent. While the process for joining can vary depending on location, the first step is to find out where the nearest chamber of commerce is in your area. Then, you can reach out and ask them for more information on how to get involved.
Pro Tip: You don’t always have to think large scale, participating in local flea markets or craft shows are a great way to get recognized by the community.
Have Your Elevator Pitch Ready
An elevator pitch usually includes a short description of who you are, what you do and the value you offer your customers—typically delivered in 60 seconds or less. There are many sources online that break down how to write an elevator pitch.
It’s a good idea to practice with friends or family to get feedback. Having this prepared ahead of time can help alleviate any nerves you have going into any networking event.
Come Stocked With Business Cards
Never show up to network without business cards. They provide people with essential contact information and reinforce your brand message. There are numerous websites where you can design polished cards for your services.
Mingle, Mingle, Mingle
Walking into a room filled with industry professionals and business owners can be intimidating, but don’t let it keep you from mingling! Make it a point to talk to 10 new people and come home with a few business cards. After the event, don’t forget to follow up.
As with any new skill, it can take time to develop. Just make sure that you’re having fun in the process!