Large, well-funded organizations often invest a great deal of money in public relations programs in an effort to establish a strong identity and presence in the community. Small businesses and entrepreneurs usually have no such luxury.
It is rare that a small business or entrepreneur has a big PR budget. Instead, they must rely on low-budget, high-impact strategies to achieve their public relations goals. Networking is one secret weapon available to entrepreneurs and small businesspeople who wish to establish a strong presence in the community.
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you have a vision and passion for your business — or you wouldn’t be in business. You are your own best salesperson. You are the best possible ambassador for your company. Networking is the secret weapon which, if properly targeted and utilized, enables you to build a strong community presence for your organization.
Making Friends Before You Need Them
At Pioneer Strategies, we have a simple definition of networking: making friends before you need them. We believe that networking is all about one thing: building solid, lasting business relationships with key people.
Key Principles of Networking
» Relationship: Networking is not about making a quick sale; it’s about building a trust-based business relationship that will stand the test of time.
» Two-way street: By definition, a lasting business relationship must be a two-way street. You cannot focus solely on what the other person can give you; you must bring something to the table as well. If a business relationship isn’t beneficial for all involved, it won’t stand the test of time. You must add value to the relationship.
» Choose your audiences: As an entrepreneur or small business owner, your time is precious and must be used wisely. That’s why it’s important that you thoughtfully consider your target audiences before you begin networking. For example, if your target audience is comprised mainly of high-tech companies then a retail merchants’ organization would likely not be the best networking venue for you. If your target audience is centered around manufacturing businesses, high-tech companies are not the ideal place to expend your networking energy. Identify your audiences — then go where they are.
» Stay in the Game: Networking is not an overnight cure-all for your sales woes; it is a long-term process that will yield tremendous results over time. Once you choose your audiences and determine where you can best interact with them, be consistently visible. Don’t be a fly-by-night who attends one Chamber function, then drops the whole networking idea out of frustration because you haven’t achieved immediate results. Be patient, stay in the game and give your networking time to bear fruit.
» Be Honest and Be Real: It’s important that you not try to put on a show or pretend to be something that you’re not. Just be yourself, be honest, and get to know people.
» Don’t Wing It: In order to be truly successful, there must be a method to your madness. If you shoot from the hip, more often than not you’ll miss your target. Develop a networking plan and stick to it.
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you are your best salesperson. If you develop a networking plan and invest the time to get out there and build those key relationships, it will pay great dividends over time. Networking is not a quick-fix — it’s a long-term process. Develop your plan, then exercise patience and discipline by giving it time to work.
Frank Williams is president of Pioneer Strategies, a public relations agency he founded in 2001. For more information, visit Pioneer Strategies’ Web site at www.pioneerstrategies.com or the Public Relations Insights Blog at http://www.pioneerstrategies.blogspot.com.