The importance of networking as a small business owner Featured

9:01pm EDT September 30, 2011
The importance of networking as a small business owner

Many people think that the only time networking is important is when job searching, but networking offers many benefits to business owners as well. Networking is the key to finding out who your ideal clients are and positioning yourself in front of them so they know who you are and what products or services you offer. If you don’t have a good network of contacts and connections, growing your business could be that much more difficult.

Networking not only puts you in front of other business leaders in the community, but it also helps you meet potential clients face to face so you can sell yourself and your company to them. Even though networking can be challenging or intimidating at first, it can be beneficial in growing your business. Make sure to stay in touch with the people you meet because your next client might be them or someone they referred to you.

Smart Business spoke to Glenn Lauter and Paul Orsborn of Comerica Bank about why it’s important to network as a small business owner.

Why is it important to meet face to face?

Lauter: Today it’s common to do the majority of our communications over the Internet, but it’s important to meet other business owners and potential clients face to face to establish a personal relationship. Visibility creates recognition and awareness and lets you connect on a more meaningful level. It’s important to be present and explain to people what it is that you do. Oftentimes, clients will hire you when they see you in person and see your professionalism, mannerisms and commitment. It can boil down to the fact that you want to do business with people that you like and you go out of your way to help them.

Where should I network?

Orsborn: There are networking opportunities almost anywhere you look. To start, join a professional business group in your area. Also, volunteer opportunities like becoming a board member for a group you’re interested in can connect you with other professionals as well. Even ordinary places like the gym, golf course, grocery store or a PTA meeting can provide you with networking opportunities. Start out with the classic networking events and then start branching out. Leverage what you are interested in to develop your own unique networking opportunities.

How can I promote my business through networking?

Lauter: During these tough economic times, business owners are cutting costs to save money. Advertising and marketing budgets are usually the first to be scaled back, but obtaining new clients and maintaining steady business does not have to be negatively impacted. Networking is a great way to sell your company and what it is that you do. By networking, you can maintain your company’s revenues and even grow your customer and client base while conserving funds.

What are the benefits of meeting other professionals in my area?

Orsborn: It’s a good idea to have other business leaders in the community know you and your business so they can make the appropriate referrals when the time comes. Make sure these business owners know about what you do, the services you provide and your successful track record.

Establishing a new business in a community can be challenging, but meeting other business owners can lead to word-of-mouth marketing, which can ultimately lead to more clients and higher profits. Building relationships is key to operating and growing a successful business. Exchange business cards and follow up with an e-mail or phone call the next day saying how you enjoyed meeting them.

Should I consider social networking, too?

Lauter: Yes, social networking can help your business establish an online brand identity, which can help you be recognized in the business community. It can also help you reach out to potential customers and new business and connect with them on a personal level. Make sure to provide valuable information to your potential customer or client, whether you decide to blog or join social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. It is important to remember that if people reach out to you through these mediums, like commenting on a post you write, you should respond to them in a timely manner.

GLENN LAUTER and PAUL ORSBORN are senior vice presidents for Comerica’s Texas Business Banking Division. Comerica Bank is the commercial banking subsidiary of Comerica Incorporated (NYSE: CMA), the largest U.S. banking company headquartered in Texas, and strategically aligned by three business segments: The Business Bank, The Retail Bank, and Wealth Management. Comerica focuses on relationships, and helping people and businesses be successful. In addition to Dallas/ Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Kerrville, Texas, Comerica Bank locations can be found in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan, with select businesses operating in several other states, as well as in Canada and Mexico. To receive e-mail alerts of breaking Comerica news, go to www.comerica.com/newsalerts.