When I just started my business, I did not have a rolodex of potential customers. The easiest people to talk to and market my services to were family. They laughed it off.
Then I approached friends. Even they were wary. How long will you be in this? What if I refer someone and you do a poor job?
I had no money to engage a lead generation company. I did not have the courage to cold call (not yet at least). I turned to business networking. This is the most effective method for developing contacts, discovering opportunities and getting introductions to potential clients.
In this article I will share with you where I’ve gone to develop my business network. I will also share how this has evolved as my business grew.
This is when you have just started. You are full of energy and ready to show the world some amazing work. However, you have no portfolio of work, no clients to vouch for you and little or no money.
Go to meetup.com. Meetup.com is a portal that facilitates offline group meetings of groups that are unified by a common interest. You can find two kinds of groups – industry peers and potential customers.
For example, you might be running a creative business. You can find meetup groups for individuals in your industry. Attending these would allow you to find peers, potential business partners and also get some work for your new business.
If your business is in the pet grooming space, you could join a dog lovers meetup. Here you can network and find potential customers.
2. Free Events
There are a number of free events that go on each week. You can use Peatix and EventBrite to discover those that are relevant. Similar to Meetup.com, you can find events where you network with potential collaborators or with potential customers.
3. Business Networking International (BNI)
Business Networking International is the world’s largest business networking and business referral organization. BNI has been the most helpful platform for my business from the beginning. BNI members belong to a chapter. Each chapter meets once a week where members learn about one anothers business. Your chapter members then become an extended sales team for you. Since BNI is a business referral organization, the members are driven to refer business to one another.
Your small business now has a number of paying customers. With a few completed projects under your belt, you can now up your business networking game.
4. Join a Chamber of Commerce
Chambers of commerce are great places to build your business network. The membership is made up of mainly established businesses. The chamber organizes talks and monthly networking events. By joining as a member, you not only develop your business network, it also elevates your business status.
5. Join an Industry Association
For some industries, joining an Industry Association is helpful. It gives your potential customer a reason to trust your new business. The industry association team can help refer you to potential partners, mentors and customers.
Your small business now has worked with recognizable brands. As you up your business game and aim for bigger clients, trade shows and industry conferences is where you can meet them.
6. Attend industry conferences and trade shows
Invest in attending industry conferences and trade shows.