So you’ve finally crossed that threshold and are starting your new business. Congratulations! You’ve made the right choice. But now what? How do you build up your customer base and build working relationships when you’re, well, new? Relying on your family and friends will only get you so far. It’s time to expand your network. Here are some suggestions you may not have considered.
- Social Media: With both Twitter and LinkedIn boasting approximately 300 million active users and Facebook having surpassed the billion mark, social media is no longer a private playground. Businesses small and large, local and international are signing on and using these online mediums as free marketing platforms. If your business doesn’t have its own social media page, make one now. Update your content regularly and selectively. Not only are you networking, but you are also crafting your business's public image.
- Blogs: Unlike general social media, blogs are slower-paced. You aren’t clawing your way to the top of the feed. Not every business needs a blog, but they are useful for expressing expertise and personality. If you do choose to keep a company blog, update at a gentle pace with pointed and relevant content. You don’t want to inundate “followers” with “update” or “new post” emails. That’s a good way to get sent to the spam folder – the exact opposite of what you want.
- Networking Groups: Technology is great but nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. It’s a scientific fact that people remember something better when it has more tangible context. Compared to the sterile online environment, networking groups are a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, tastes, smells and touches. Nearly every major city has regular networking group events. Seek them out (or start your own) and show up prepared to leave an impression and a business card. Networking groups help push you from a connection that’s merely known, to one that’s liked, trusted, and eventually referred business.
- Public Speaking: If you have the opportunity to speak at an event, do so. Think of it as a chance to showcase your confidence, knowledge, intelligence, and charisma, as well as an excuse to tastefully promote your business. For a handful of minutes, you are the center of attention and authority in that room. Take full advantage of it. Do well and desirables will approach you.
- Publications: Similarly, you should consider getting published. Writer, contributor, editor – it doesn’t particularly matter when you’re starting out. Every bit of publication adds credence to your name and expertise. If you’re new to writing, start small (local papers, journals) and work your way up. Blogs make for good practice as well. Writing is like a muscle, and it too needs its exercise.
- Board Membership: Small, private practices live and breathe by their reputations. Sitting on a community board is an excellent way to give back to your community and grow your brand.
- Coffee Meetings: Don’t underestimate the power of an in-person follow-up. Once all of this networking has begun to take effect, you’ll probably notice an uptick in your number of meeting requests. Though time is precious and rare, a 30-minute meeting over coffee with the right contact may have far-reaching benefits. Remember to treat each meeting as a chance to grow your brand. Marketing is rarely free, but paying with your time now will pay off huge in the long run.
- Buy It: Last but not least, if you’re just starting out, breaking into a new industry, or are one of the lucky few with the extra capital to burn, you can always purchase someone else’s network. When you buy a business, one of the items that comes neatly wrapped up for you is that business’ network: the clients, the referral sources, and the business partners (also known as ‘goodwill’). You, and the seller, will still need to convince those sources of business to remain with the business through the transition, but, unless you royally screw up, Newton’s law of inertia dictates they’re going to stay.