You have to think outside of the box when it comes to making new connections

Learning how to network more effectively is one way to generate a continuous stream of warm leads and to build lasting partnerships for your business. This is especially important for small business owners inasmuch as most small businesses do not have consistent marketing budgets or effective lead generation systems.

In networking, it is just as important for business owners to know how to identify potential business alliances and make lasting connections. In fact, making connections with the right people is partly what it takes to put you and your business on the path to success.  Nevertheless, most entrepreneurs approach networking in conventional ways – relying upon some of the more tedious and unproductive marketing channels and techniques.

With that in mind, business owners and other such entrepreneurs should consider a few more creative ways to network and spread the word about the products and services they represent. Effective networking sometimes means that you don’t even mention your company, and it’s this kind of outside the box thinking that may prove most rewarding. Let’s examine some others.

Find a Cause

To a large extent, there’s no better way to network than to give back by becoming more involved in the community around you. Whether you work with a local organization, the school system or on a nonprofit fundraiser, find out what you can to do get involved with your community. Many of these types of organizations may also be looking for sponsors, which is another really good way to get your name out there and capitalize on your involvement.

In particular, serving on local or community committees can allow you to utilize your business acumen and foster relationships with other contributors who share similar passions. You may also want to try volunteering at the local high school’s entrepreneurship program or partnering with a national volunteer organization such as Habitat for Humanity. Being involved in charity and philanthropy is one of the best networking opportunities that small business owners can find.

Take Charge

Networking with a definite aim in mind is one way to connect with other business owners who, very often, are good referral sources. Many of the people whom you encounter at networking events are inundated with networking opportunities from your competitors. Considering that, it’s become crucial to think differently when it comes to approaching and connecting with potential power partners.

Instead of simply attending networking groups for entrepreneurs, determine ways to take the reins and create opportunities for other entrepreneurs to come to you. For instance, create an event for entrepreneurs to attend to become aware of any changes or innovations that might affect their business. Because entrepreneurs too often busy at their craft and need to stay informed, an opportunity to host such an event could be of great interest to many potential connections.

Partnering with a local bank or a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) may be exactly the networking avenue your business needs- an avenue that’s inexpensive as well.    In general, people come to networking events because they want to meet other skilled, talented people. So carry yourself accordingly. Turn your cell phone off and put away that Bluetooth. Be present in what’s going on and look like you are having a good time. People are more likely to interact with you if you appear interesting and are more engaging.

Pay Attention

There may be a wealth of networking opportunities that you’re simply overlooking, some of which are deceptively simple. For instance, when was the last time that you read local newspapers or an industry newsletter to see what personnel moves were happening around you? When people move from one place to another, they are often in need of establishing new contacts as well. When it comes to contacting new local figures, consider sending them a bouquet of flowers to congratulate them on their new move and/or promotion. Your being the first to welcome or greet them in their new office can give you an advantage over other service providers. This is a relatively inexpensive way to show that you’re paying attention to your local market and that you genuinely care about that market.

This tactic certainly applies to business outside of the industry, too. For instance, you may notice an announcement about a new local CEO or a new superintendent in your area’s school district. See if you can offer these people assistance by means of a Realtor referral and, while you’re at it, you can conveniently mention your own services, as well.

Follow Up and Follow Through                                      

When you attend a networking event, whether a conference, seminar or networking-club meeting, your work has just begun. It’s the follow-up after the event that can really pay dividends for you. Following up is such a simple concept, but somehow it is the one thing that gets frequently ignored. If you promise to do something such as call, send an article or make an introduction, do it! This includes following through in trading information that is valuable to each other over e-mail, which ma y very well enhance your opportunity to gain extended connections from a single contact.

As social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter grow in popularity, we tend to forget about that “old-fashioned” approach to networking: face-to-face contact. Sure, it’s a lot easier to sit behind the computer all day and network using the point-and-click method. Nevertheless, networking with people doesn’t necessarily have to be arduous. However it’s done, you need to be present when these potential connections who may very well be in need of your services and products.

Spend some of your search time attending networking events to widen your possibilities. To get the biggest payoff, though, don’t neglect to follow up. It’s what you do after the event that can make or break your chance to make some new and interesting connections.