As a small business owner, you have to wear a lot of hats. On a day-to-day basis, you may find yourself acting as bookkeeper, customer service manager, CEO, marketing strategist, or a combination of them all. One crucial responsibility of any small business owner is on-going business development.
Different types of organizations approach business development differently, but whatever the strategy, everyone (yes, even you!) can benefit from seeking out networking opportunities to promote growth. Networking, when done well and with the right people, develops new sales leads and partnerships. Finding development resources to increase your networking opportunities will help you grow in a sustainable way.
Find and take advantage of development opportunities with these three simple steps:
- Find the specific opportunities that will help you further your business’s goals.
- Join in and listen. Learn all you can. Write down notes- it sends a strong message.
- Give back by sharing your unique wisdom.
How to Find Opportunities
The first step toward mastering business development is finding opportunities to grow your business externally via networking and internally via professional development.
Networking Opportunities: Networking events and groups are natural places to hunt for new leads and partners. Use LinkedIn Groups, MeetUp, and even Google (try searching for “[your town] networking opportunities”) to find local networks in your area you can join either virtually or in person. Definitely make sure you check out the website of your local business bureau or chamber of commerce to see where to start.
When you search for the perfect meetup groups, don’t be afraid to be specific! Meeting up with a “Small Business Owners” group may produce myriad opportunities, but there is also a lot to gain from meeting up with people in your niche field of expertise.
Professional Development Opportunities: Business development is as much about education and gaining new levels of expertise as it is about finding new partners to work with. Find and utilize resources geared to help educate you and your team on how to run a smoother operation. Looking for a good place to start? The Small Business Administration (SBA) has Small Business Development Centers in every state and U.S. territory.
Other Opportunities: Consider joining an industry alliance or a trade association. Often there are local chapters of much larger national organizations. These are places to find industry-specific resources and camaraderie. Learn from others who have run similar businesses, and share your experience in kind.
Becoming a Master at Networking
It’s one of the first rules you learn in kindergarten: sharing is important. Networking is not an act of taking whatever you can get from whomever will give it to you. It’s about sharing what you have to offer your partner, and vice versa. If you keep this golden rule in mind, you can become a master of business development in no time. As Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of BNI has said previously…think “farm”- not “hunt”!
1. At networking events, ask about the other person first. Seek out a connection beyond your respective businesses. Are you both sports lovers? Do you like the same music? Did you grow up in the area or move there from another town? Any opportunity—whether sales, partnership, or friendship—you can gain from a networking event will build slowly, so take your time. A shared love of sports or a musical artist will be more effective at creating a true bond- or at least a memory of meeting you! If you’re only looking for what you can gain from the exchange, the conversation will end before you know it (and your business will have nothing to show for it). Save any talk of partnerships for the third meeting.
2. Make the most of your time by trying to talk to the most important people first. The easiest (and smoothest) way to do this is to greet the event organizers right when you arrive. Make small talk by asking general questions about the event (How long did this take to organize? How many people worked on this event?), then ask more direct questions like “What’s the expected turn out?”, and then “Any big names attending tonight”. If they don’t point out the specific individuals to you, you’ll at least get their names and can Google their images. Don’t forget, it isn’t always just about the specific person, but who they can introduce you too!
3. When describing your business and development goals- stick to an elevator pitch, not a monologue. You want to capture their interest, so let them ask all the questions- don’t just tell them everything all at once. Make sure you ask them about their business as well- don’t be rude!
4. Ask individuals you’re interested in working with, or getting to know better, what other events they like to attend. This will not only help you find more networking opportunities, but also give you another chance to interest with your potential business development partner.
5. Follow up! Send “Nice meeting you” emails – again, no business talk until the third meeting. If you have a business Twitter or Facebook, also include a post along the lines of “Had a blast last night meeting the brilliant minds of the Chicago Business Club” and tag the organization or specific people you met. This is excellent, immediate marketing collateral from the networking event- it builds up your business’ expertise and trust via association.
6. To get the most value out of your local business development center, you must hunt for answers to the important questions. You know your own business better than anyone else, so only you can know what new skills, processes, or technologies your team needs. Be open to the suggestions from the professionals, but also be willing to do your own research. The more you know, the better you will be able to make educated decisions about your business, and the more helpful your networking conversations can be to achieving your business goals.
7. Invite your local press to attend- give them interesting bios or backstories to the issues and people who will be there. Additional press coverage is a major win for all businesses involved, and the reporter will be appreciative that you passed along a great story idea. Earned press coverage is the single best and most powerful marketing tool (trust and SEO value!). The best case scenario would be to invite the press when you’re making a presentation, or leading the meeting in some way. Make sure to supply the journalist with story ideas when inviting them to attend.
8. Don’t forget about online networking opportunities! Google Hang Outs, TweetChats, and Webinars are great places to meet thought leaders and vale valuable insight. You can still be a star of online networking too- be on the look out for though-provoking questions or helpful commentary. TweetChats are probably the easiest online networking event to be an active participant in, as thought leaders typically pose questions to the participants. Easily follow along with TweetChats by using TweetChat.com.
You can even host your own webinar!
- #SmallBizChat – Wednesdays at 8:00 pm EST
- #HBRChat- Hosted by Harvard Business Review, Thursdays at 1:00 pm EST. Covers topics from the HBR blog.
- #BRandChat- Wednesdays at 11:00 am EST
- #CustServ – Customer Service Topics, Tuesdays at 9:00 pm EST
- #DIYchat – DIY Business ideas! First Thursday of the month 7:00 pm EST
- #LinkedInChat – Tuesdays at 8:00 pm EST
Find and Contribute to Leadership—Locally and Nationally
Becoming the master biz dev in your area requires only that you take care to listen to the needs of others and learn everything you can. Sharing the knowledge, time, and connections you’ve gained along the way will earn you a spot as a respected business leader in the community. Over time, this creates a virtuous cycle: you add to the community (both locally and within the context of your trade as a whole), and it will give back to you in return. Organize additional events for groups who could benefit from meeting, and don’t forget the benefits of organizing a community service event!