One of the most fertile and valuable marketing resources for any new business owner is personal and professional networks.
Within them are the relationships, connections, advice and leads that are crucial to building your company when financial resources may be limited. The reality about a network is that it takes time and effort to establish. You can't suddenly decide to build one simply because it's a valuable business tool.
Networks require nurturing, relationship building and a healthy amount of giving (as opposed to taking). Not to get all warm and fuzzy but the good things you do often come back as rewards or dividends down the road.
To grow your professional network, the most straightforward thing is to get out and make contact. Look for opportunities to connect with people in the same industry who are also interested in establishing new relationships. They could be suppliers or buyers or simply interested observers: the idea is that most people have something to offer even if it's not financial.
Networks opportunities can also be found at conferences, informal meet-ups, working breakfasts or seminars. Within Toronto's high-tech market, for example, there are opportunities pretty much every day of the week to connect with people at some kind of industry event. All that's needed is a healthy amount of enthusiasm, a willingness to introduce yourself to strangers, and some business cards.
Another good technique for network building is asking someone to go for coffee. It's a great way to connect in a short period of time. For most people, agreeing to meet is a small investment – and they get a cup of coffee for their trouble.
You can also build networks is using online services such as Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook to "meet" new people. I should be clear that digital networking only gets you so far. You can have a great digital relationship with someone but it can quickly be taken to a different level when you meet them in person.
Linkedin, which is designed to connect professionals, is a great way to reach out to people you have met, or would like to meet. In particular, it offers a tool in which you can ask someone in your network to be introduced to someone in their network.
Facebook and Twitter can also be useful as a way to discover people within a particular industry. They can be digitally followed or friend-ed to establish a digital toehold that could lead to an eventual relationship for your network.
Regardless of how you establish them, networks are a key lifeline for any business because they offer a variety of direct and indirect benefits. Every person you meet is an opportunity to expand your network and business in new and different ways.
Special to the Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.