by Debi Enders
Building a strong business network is crucial for the success of any company. These vital connections will help accelerate growth whether you are interacting with potential investors, seeking additional business partners or searching for new customers. There’s no question that COVID-19 has made it harder to network in person, but with a little ingenuity, you can still build relationships that can last far beyond the pandemic. Here are just a few ideas:
1. Join a civic group. It may not be business as usual at your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club, but many groups of this sort are hosting virtual meetings and events that allow you to connect with other business leaders. By sharing leads and resources, you can help each other grow while expanding your network.
2. Make an offer. Whether you operate an IT consulting business, an appliance repair company or a fitness studio, you may have products or services that other local business owners need. To help cultivate relationships, consider offering discounts or other special deals to local businesses. Even better, ask for referrals and then thank fellow owners with a discount or reward.
3. Share what you know. Many owners belong to small-business-owner meetup groups. These groups meet regularly – either in person or virtually -- to discuss local business news, market trends, new opportunities, and other topics of local interest. Most groups welcome new members – especially business owners who can contribute to the conversation. Ask around or look for a group online. SCORE and Business Network International (BNI) are a couple of popular associations.
4. Partner with a local charity. Identify a nonprofit that is doing good work in your community and get involved. Whether you volunteer your time and expertise, join the board of directors or host a fundraising event, you can meet like-minded people while supporting a good cause.
5. Professional online groups. The pandemic isn’t going to last forever, but while in-person opportunities are tougher to come by, take your search online. LinkedIn is a huge social network that specializes in business networking. You can search for people in your industry, join or start your own networking groups or forums, follow big-name influencers, publish your own content, and more.
The bottom line: Take into account some of the suggestions above and your bottom line could very well reap the benefits.
Debi Enders (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president, small business banking at Commerce Bank.