Toast talks to Saskatoon-based serial entrepreneur Jess Tetu. This column is all about her fifth key to entrepreneurial success – networking to win.
#5 – Network
#6 – Stay Inspired
#7 – Give Back
#5 – Network
“Networking is the #1 unwritten rule of success in business.” – Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Cofounder, Ellevest
As you navigate your way through your entrepreneurship journey – and the chaotic world of business – it will become very apparent that your professional relationships are your most prized possession!
Benefits of networking
- Build relationships and create a circle of connections that you can contribute to, connect with and utilize for years to come. Your network has the potential to provide you with insight into different fields and grow your knowledge in business fundamentals.
- Cross collaborations – this is an opportunity to work with another business and cross-promote one another. This strategy will help you reach another demographic, a new market or build your current customer base.
- Advertise – networking provides direct opportunities for advertising by giving your business a face and showing your community there is a ‘real’ person behind it. If done well, participating in events gives you the opportunity to showcase your company. Often, you can go a step further and sponsor the event. TIP: if you have a service or product that would be of value to attendees, connect with event organizers and offer a sponsorship in-kind. It’s an important element of networking to win.
- Offer support – help other professionals and business owners by offering guidance from experience, and to learn from leaders who have encountered similar hurdles. These insights into problem-solving, creative marketing techniques and scaling up is priceless knowledge. Learn to be like a sponge and soak up everything you can!
- Refer – you’ll find that you may be in need of professional services or support. Looking to your network for referrals can be a significant help. For example, if you need a bookkeeper or a lawyer, get a referral and direct testimonial from someone you trust.
- Stay on top of industry awareness and trends – networking provides an opportunity to stay current within your industry faster. It’s an avenue to gain fresh ideas and perspectives, as well as to exchange ideas in an environment that can act as a sounding board. Likeminded individuals can offer exceptional creativity, an alternative opinion or ‘outside the box’ suggestions that could be very beneficial. It’s all about networking to win.
How to build your network of supportive peers
- Attend events – when this pandemic ends, pick a handful of events that appeal to you and that align with your business (choose those that attract other like-minded individuals). These can be business conferences, seminars, webinars, charity events, awards galas, leadership sessions, educational classes or fundraisers.
- Volunteer your time by joining a Board of Directors or a committee.
- Join a mastermind group or business support group. There are generally many options in your community, so don’t be afraid to ask other owners for suggestions! Register and invest in a membership with your local Chamber of Commerce or entrepreneurial club. Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (WESK), North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA) and Executive Women International (EWI) are all great options. These groups often offer or host different themed leadership events and classes – providing significant educational opportunities. These memberships can be KEY to providing incredible resources to your business.
Virtual networking to win
- Join online community groups and programs (both in your industry and non-industry specific). Join multiple groups locally, provincially, and even internationally. For example, Facebook has hundreds of leadership pages and groups. Find those that speak to your needs, or industry, and stay active, share insights and soak up the experience of industry leaders.
- Follow likeminded businesses that align with your company and connect with them through email or social media. Introduce yourself, tell them a little bit about your business and create an opportunity to build a professional relationship. Follow their business and engage in their online content to show that you are a consistent source of support.
- Support other small businesses – refer customers to them, purchase from them when you can, and show you are loyal. In turn, it’s likely that small business owners will do the same for you.
- Keep your online profiles, website, social media platforms and account information current and updated. Ensure your email and phone number (if listed) are current. Be certain that your headshot, or profile photo, are recent and familiar. Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook only work if you’re active and the information you share is up-to-date. Make sure you are networking to win.
Network well and leave a positive impression
- Introduce yourself and your business to others. Shake hands (if and when handshaking is applicable again). Give out your business cards in person or tag your business if it is an email or social media post.
- Represent yourself well – be kind, show support and never speak negatively about other business owners. When you are networking, never forget that you are representing your business, creating an impression and building a reputation. Ensure your morals and values align both personally and professionally at all times when representing your business.
- Follow up and stay in touch – after meeting someone, or creating a new connection, follow up with a friendly email or social media message. Let them know you enjoyed learning about their business and would like to stay in touch. Networking to win is about connection.
- Stay proactive – maintain positive relationships year-round. Even a quick hello occasionally, can keep you connected. Your network is less likely to support you if you only come to them when it benefits you or you need help. Keep these relationships close and stay grateful for their support.
- Always remember that your networking actions can directly impact the reputation and success of your business (both positively and negatively).
- Be generous with your support – when you see others seeking support, suggestions, tips or advice, offer what you can. This same behavior will be extremely helpful to you when you find yourself in need.
- Stay loyal, respectful and honest. Never share the struggles of another colleague and keep your discussions confidential. Often, as owners, we share our hard moments with one another. The only way this works is if we have a mutual understanding that sharing is done in a safe and trustworthy environment.
Final tip on networking to win
It’s important to remember that if you expect to learn from others, be prepared to listen thoroughly, offer genuine suggestions, guidance and support back. These two-way relationships only flourish when it is mutually beneficial on both sides.