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Taylor: The beauty of networking

Jack Taylor

The compelling question asked by every small business owner I’ve ever met is simple: “What’s the best way to educate people about my business?” So compelling, in fact, that there are thousands of companies making a good living assisting people with marketing their products and services. If we remember that a critical component of business success is the relationships we develop, both personally and professionally in the marketplace … with manufacturers, suppliers, shippers, customers, investors, bankers, etc., it becomes obvious that we need to spend time creating and nurturing those relationships.

Networking is not new. We’ve had chamber mixers, for example, since the dawn of creation where communities of business people come together to inform their neighbors of products and services they offer in the hope of expanding their customer base. These are usually informal affairs with food and drink where folks mingle to get to know one another and to renew acquaintances with colleagues they haven’t seen in a while. Does this actually impact the bottom line for the company? It can, depending in large part on the effort people are willing to put into the opportunity.

The best sales people I’ve ever met spend a good deal of time asking customers about their interests and concerns before they talk about products and services. Most people are happy to tell you what’s important to them if they think you’re listening. What does this have to do with chamber mixers? If we approach people with the objective of learning about them rather than selling them something, relationships develop that can quickly become the sales leads we’re hoping for.

The best example I can give you is a gentleman I know who approached a stranger at a chamber mixer and they engaged in a conversation about their families. Through this discussion, he learned that the spouse of this individual worked in a federal government procurement office that he was trying to access. He now had an opportunity to learn more about what is needed for effective contract proposals. Had he simply launched into a description of his offerings upon meeting this stranger, that opportunity would likely not have presented itself.

Businesses are increasingly using business social networks online to increase the number of business contacts they have. You don’t need to leave the store or office to access these. Linked-In is probably the best-known of these social networks in the business world, although more businesses are using Twitter as well.

If you are interested in a business social network with a distinct, local flavor, go to http://www.summitbusinessnetwork.net, advertised as “the first and only social media network built by Summit County business owners for Summit County business owners.” This site offers great opportunities to connect with business owners and to see who these business owners are connected with as well. The only requirement to join is that you are a Summit County business. In addition to local chamber mixers, this is an opportunity to connect with neighbors and friends in the local business world.

Creating and maintaining positive relationships is a major factor in creating a successful business. It is vitally important that business owners recognize the importance of this aspect of business management and devote the appropriate amount of time to its development. You make money while making friends … it doesn’t get any better than that!

Jack Taylor is the director of the Small Business Development Center hosted by Colorado Mountain College at the Dillon Campus. Contact him at (970) 468-5989 X2802 or at jmtaylor@coloradomtn.edu.


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