Research consistently shows that it is the entrepreneurs with the extensive network who are most likely to succeed. Yet many small business founders do little to grow and enhance – or even use – their network. How about you?

A real value of a good network is the connections it allows you to make to ideas, services and support you need to develop your business and succeed. You want people with technical and business expertise that complements yours. Add those with wide-ranging interests and specialists – both help you with the future. Plus friends for support and peers for inside info. Attending professional events, including those the Alexandria SBDC offers, is an easy way to meet new people who may be valuable in your network.

When you need to hire employees, your network can often provide referrals who match your needs far better than an ad or job posting. The trick here is to be specific about what you need, what results you expect from the new hire, and what your company offers and expects. Clearly communicate all that to your network and ask for help. The candidates you receive this way are generally better qualified in terms of the job and a better match in terms of your culture.

The same process is useful when you need outside services, advisors, or referrals to competent attorneys, CPAs, consultants, etc.

Network Effectively

Start by carving out a bit of time daily over two weeks to look the people you know already. Decide how to connect or re-connect. Will you use LinkedIn, another online tool, the phone, or what? Improve your most relevant connections first. What do you want and what will you give in return? Don’t forget your community or personal contacts, they offer a lot more than many think.

Networking is always a two-way street! ‘Feed’ your network before you need it.

Once your existing contacts are firmly in your mind and you have acted to reconnect as necessary, you may want to increase your network. Start by looking at the pile ofbusiness cards you probably have tucked in a desk drawer. Contact those who interest you and suggest a coffee or phone call to exchange information about your businesses. Look at the members of professional organizations you belong to and see who you want to meet. Always go to events with a plan for talking to new people to learn more about them – some will become good contacts. Look into local business groups as a way to grow your business and your network. Ask your current connections for referrals when you have a specific interest or need. This should become just a normal aspect of daily activities, not a special process.

Using Your Network

Pass information around on your network. This can be done easily online with short emails, links to relevant articles, and so on. But do not forget the human connection – pick up the phone or go out for coffee together. Introduce your connections to each other where you think they would be useful to each other. Share your knowledge. Offer your expertise when you can.

Then on a specific issue, like the hiring example above, you can ask individuals for information or assistance on an issue you are facing. Reach out – most folks are likely to help you if you are keeping up the connection already.

Networking does not work well when you only do it in need of something. Human connections need to be a regular part of your daily life. But it also does not need to be a big, time-consuming process. Keep it simple, keep at it – and help yourself and your organization succeed!

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management. Additionally, she generously provides one-to-one HR counseling once a month through Alexandria SBDC.