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Small business entrepreneurs are the movers and shakers of their industry. They’re constantly staying updated on emerging trends and following competition from large and other small companies in their sectors.

It’s challenging to compete with other large-scale business entrepreneurs, but sometimes it’s also beneficial to share and socialize with your competitors and other professionals. Whether you’re a first-time entrepreneur building a business in college or a long-time business owner, networking events are essential ways to build connections in the industry, share goals and ideas, and socialize with potential clients.

To get the most out of your networking experience, small business owners should consider these five essential tips:

 

1. Find the Right Networking Event

Find an event that can help your business gain direction or helpful tips. Small business owners can benefit from large industry trade events that offer unrivaled opportunities and networking contacts. Some trade shows even offer free entrance for a day without having to pay for full conference entry. These dynamic conferences are great ways to meet other professionals during planned programs or activities.

How to prepare: Compile a list of small business networking events that you can attend and schedule the events that are the most relevant to your business goals. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers events which might be suitable towards your business needs, but for specific business needs check out ones in your industry.

 

2. Circulate with Confidence

Networking events can be intimidating, especially for small business owners who have never attended events with competitors or others in their industry. Yet, it’s essential to overcome this fear. Circulating around the event with confidence can help you achieve your business goals and gain support for your endeavors.

How to prepare: Bring a colleague with you for support, but make sure both of you socialize with others. As you network, focus your attention on your business goals, not on your faults. Use your business card as a convenient tool to introduce yourself. You may even want to wear a noticeable accessory to act as a conversation piece. If you have something other than business to talk about right off the bat, it may help open the doors to a congenial conversation. Learn as much about the event, the hosts, and--if possible--those who will be attending. Conduct some research on prospective attendees because you can piece together interesting topics geared toward the industry or a local connection. Soon, you’ll be brimming with confidence!

 

3. Consolidate your Elevator Pitch

Always consolidate an elevator pitch beforehand. You should know how to pitch your business and why it’s essential for niche audiences or the local community in 30 seconds or less. A 10-second overview that makes someone want to know more about your small business is even better.

How to prepare: Run through your elevator pitch with colleagues. Instead of saying “We work in IoT”, be more specific. Say “We help businesses understand how to use IoT to connect with their audience.” Specifics and business goals that highlight your niche are more compelling!

As you prepare your pitch, ask yourself: What is the key purpose of the business and why does it matter to someone else? How can they relate to it? These messages in a strategic two-sentence pitch makes them interesting and offers other professionals an opportunity to understand your business’ unique goal. Every business should have a unique selling point, so use it!

 

4. Manage your time

As a small business owner trying to make connections, you should remember to manage your time wisely at networking events. There are bound to be networking “stars”--the business people everyone wants to talk to-- at each event. Don’t waste your time waiting for their free time. Instead, weigh your commitments to gain the attention of the networking stars. Your time may be spent better making new connections.

How to prepare: Plan ahead and estimate how much time you want to spend talking to each person. If there’s a specific person you’re planning on speaking to, try introducing yourself with an insightful thought and straight-forward introduction. Authenticity and transparency always go over well.

 

5. Create Lasting Connections

Appearing genuine is part of making strong connections. Try not to sound like you’re making a sales pitch since networking is not a sales event. Connecting with other small business leaders and larger business ecosystems can positively impact your business threefold, but it can also make you more cognizant of the needs of your local customer base.

How to prepare: After you’ve connected with someone at an event, try to reach out to them in a timely manner. If they’ve expressed interest in your business, include a call to action in your follow-up correspondence; you may want to link to your website, offer a trial subscription of a product, or attach an article about your company or a topic you’ve discussed.

Networking events are a great way to meet face-to-face and build opportunities for your enterprise. It’s a small investment that can offer big rewards, especially if you own a newer business. It’s time to get out there and mingle!