August 3, 2011

Small Business Networking

If you’re part of Generation X (or older), then you’ll remember a time when networking was just that.  It wasn’t considered ‘social’ – it just was.  And it wasn’t done behind a computer.   Networking for small businesses is just as powerful as it ever was and a strong network can help make or break your business. 

Chances are, no matter what your business idea is, there is someone else out there who has faced a similar problem and figured out an answer.   Rather than spending your time trying to come to the same conclusion, your network can provide you with those resources, give you new ideas, and help steer you away from making bad financial decisions.   Personally, my business accountant is a godsend to me and I found her through a recommendation another small food entrepreneur made.  

So how do you develop that network?  It may take some time to build up a strong network, but you have to start somewhere.   Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to other food entrepreneurs you meet and ask vendors you work with if they might be willing to put you in touch with some of their other small food business clients.  You can also see if your local Small Business Administration office has get-togethers or mixers or whether there is an existing Entrepreneur Group in your area.  While not all of those people may be in the food industry, they will likely still be able to provide you with great resources and a sounding board to help you make decisions. 

The good news is that the ‘social’ part of networking can help.  Twitter and Facebook can be great places to ask business questions and see what other entrepreneurs recommend (this of course assumes that you have entrepreneurial “followers”).  Just be forewarned that while 99% of the advice you’ll receive online is likely given in good spirit, if you’ve never met the recommender in person you aren’t completely sure what their motives are so use your judgement when taking their thoughts or comments into account.

Do you have a business network you rely on?  How did you develop those relationships?