A strong professional network can help you achieve things that you'd never accomplish on your own, from solutions to seemingly impossible problems, to word-of-mouth recommendations that could get your foot in the door with your target market. Through his work with American Express OPEN, Scott Roen has seen firsthand how valuable connections can be for entrepreneurs.
"OPEN Forum is a proprietary community for small businesses, with a strong networking component built into it," said Roen, vice president of digital marketing and innovation at American Express. "Before OPEN Forum launched in 2007, we were only hosting live events with speakers for entrepreneurs to learn from. That content was useful, but we realized that the networking between attendees was even more beneficial to them. We help entrepreneurs succeed by connecting them with one another."
Growing your network can be difficult if you don't know where to start. Roen shared these three networking tips to help you build up a solid base of connections:
Identify the right community. There are millions of small business owners in the United States, and each one is unique in geography, size, revenue and type. By seeking out online communities and networking events created for businesses similar to your own, you'll enable greater tip sharing and more valuable connections.
Attend speed-networking events. As with speed dating, there's something about a natural connection that's hard to quantify, and when you've found one, you just know it's right. Attending a speed-networking event fosters an environment in which you can rapidly go through numerous people to find the connections that are the right fit for your business.
Offer your help first. Many individuals come into a networking event with a problem or challenge they're facing and immediately seek answers from others. When you meet people, ask questions and discover how you can provide value to them first, instead of the other way around. Ask yourself what you can bring to the table, and share tips with others to be helpful. When you give advice, it's much more likely to be reciprocated.
No startup is an island. All successful small business owners know that they were only able to get to where they are now because of the people who helped them along the way. If your group of "people" consists of little more than a few business cards at the bottom of a drawer and a long-abandoned LinkedIn account, then you'd better put on your networking pants and start building those connections.
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