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Is Your Networking Working?

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For small businesses that rely on word of mouth to bring in new clients and sales, networking is a vital part of marketing. But many small business owners find that the amount of time they spend networking doesn’t balance out with the small number of referrals they see as a result.

So what are people doing wrong? Here are five common networking mistakes that small businesses make:

Small Business Networking Mistake 1: Networking in the wrong places

When I started my business, I networked everywhere and anywhere. I attended mostly free networking events from Meetup and discovered quickly that my target market was not at these events. Understanding who your prospects are and where they network is key to getting in front of them. If your target market is made up of medical professionals, for example, attending a happy hour that has one medical professional in a room full of people may not be ideal for you. Instead, you should seek out events specifically geared toward medical professionals, where your chance of meeting prospects or great referral partners is higher.

Small Business Networking Mistake 2: Relying on only one networking platform

One mistake I see often is a business owner choosing a leads group or networking event that meets with the same people regularly…and then relying on only that one group to feed his or her business growth. The key to reaching new clients or customers is diversity of connections and relationships. I’m not saying that leads groups aren’t valuable or that you need to attend 20 different networking events each week, but you do need to create a balance between building new relationships and maintaining existing relationships.

Small Business Networking Mistake 3: Attending an event in hopes of making a sale

How often do you, as a small business owner, go to a networking event planning to buy something from someone? Yeah. The rest of the people at that networking event feel the same way. The purpose of a networking event is to meet new people and create mutually beneficial relationships that will develop over time. It’s not an ideal environment for you to try to make a sale.

Small Business Networking Mistake 4: Not following up

You attend a networking event, and you bring home a stack of business cards. You put the business cards on your desk. Three weeks later, you notice the stack and realize you can’t remember who most of those people are. Does this sound familiar? As I’ve mentioned already, the point in going to networking events is to build relationships. Those cards aren’t likely to turn into sales or referrals by sitting on your desk!

Small Business Networking Mistake 5: Making networking your only form of marketing

Depending on who you ask, it takes seven to 12 “touches” for a lead to become a sale. If you use networking as your only form of marketing, you will need to have seven cups of coffee or phone conversations—both of which can be time-consuming—to make one sale. Instead, diversify your marketing portfolio. Try social media, speaking and writing opportunities, or relevant advertising avenues. Find ways to keep in touch with your target market that accomplish your goals while using your time well.

Networking is indeed a great way to grow your business, but it’s also an easy way to waste time and money if you’re not careful. How effective is your networking?