When you’re running a small business, who you know can be just as important as what you do. Your connections in the business community can provide valuable contacts, opportunities for deals, and crucial knowledge about best practices.
Networking is one of the key principals of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and 76% of its graduates are now actively working together to better grow and manage their businesses.
Program participants are taught that networking should always be focused around a key goal, whether that’s increasing sales, expanding into new markets, or raising awareness about your business. Let’s say you’re planning to expand product distribution into a new region. See if you can connect with someone with logistical experience in that area that could help you meet your warehousing and transportation needs or put you in touch with suitable vendors.
While objectives will vary from business to business, a handful of personality types will be useful for your network regardless of your goal. Here are some people who can be helpful:
Someone who’s been long established in their field and knows the ins and outs of an industry can be a huge asset, particularly if your business is relatively young. Knowing someone with years of experience can help you understand the challenges you’ll be facing down the road and how to tackle them.
If you’re looking for ways to stay on the cutting-edge, try to find an early-adopter with tech expertise who can keep you informed about the latest platforms and tools that can improve your operations.
It helps to know an active promoter who will be likely to spread the word about what you’re doing. This advocacy helps build your reputation and increases your chances of making new connections.
Someone who is assertive in bridging gaps and is always looking for ways people can help each other—whether through new contacts or deals—will serve you well.
It helps to know someone outside your industry who can provide a fresh perspective on your business or customer base. If you run a clothing shop, communicating with a graphic designer could provide you with a new understanding of aesthetics and product presentation.
The real-life members of your network probably won’t fall neatly into each of these categories, but might share certain traits from across the spectrum. If you’re wondering how to meet people to build up your network, or how to fill any gaps in your membership, it’s time to increase your outreach.
One of the most direct ways to add new members is by attending an industry conference, forum, or roundtable discussion. Remember to remain open to new ideas when meeting with new contacts and to follow up with them so you stay fresh in their mind. For example, if you had a conversation about ways to reduce overhead costs while attending a conference, send an email to the person you spoke with thanking him or her and adding some more of your own cost-cutting insights to keep the dialogue going.
Taking this approach will greatly boost your chances of creating and sustaining an entrepreneurial network that supports your business through thick and thin. With the holidays approaching you’ll have plenty of events and opportunities to build new contacts and reestablish old connections.
Have you tapped a network of fellow entrepreneurs to help your business? Share your advice and experiences with other HuffPost readers in the comments below, then visit www.goldmansachs.com/10000smallbusinesses for more on how the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program can help you grow your business.