Small business, BIG network / by Annette Tait

What is the value of networking? It’s not easy to put a price tag on networking, as good will, brainstorming, mentoring, lessons learned, and all the too-many-to-name benefits are freely given. (Bean counters hate that — they’re much happier with goods and services that easily translate into numbers on spreadsheets.) So — if not in dollars and cents, how do you determine the value of connecting with others who have similar goals and interests?

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Think about it — it all adds up.

1) Knowledge. You don’t have to sell the same things to learn from someone else. How can you apply their wins to your business? Which of their marketing, salesmanship, point-of-sales tips can you apply to increase your own sales? If you sell online, what can they teach you about photographing and describing your product, improving your commerce page, or promoting through social media? 

2) Connections. No matter how great a selection you offer, at some point someone will ask for something you don’t have. What do you do? 

You make sure you know where they CAN get it, and help them find it — you’ll gain a return customer, even if they don’t buy anything that day. They’ll see you went the extra mile to help, knowing you weren’t going to make a sale, and they’ll remember that.

Connect with others on your block, in your town, or in your area, and know what’s available locally or within a reasonable drive. If whatever it is can’t be found locally that day, know who might be able to help order it or find it online.

3) Support. Operating a small business isn’t a picnic. It’s hard work, often with little or no back-up. Get to know your fellow small business owners, in person and online. Grow your own support group to help you out in a pinch when you need a resource, have a problem to solve, or just need to hear “it’ll get better — you can do it!”

It’s not an exact science, but the benefits are clear. How do you pin a price tag on the tip that increased your sales 8 percent in 4 months? Or when the customer you had to refer to someone else two weeks ago comes in an spends a bundle with you — because you helped them find what they needed, even though you didn’t have it? Or the day a fellow entrepreneur cheers you up with his or her “worst day ever” story to get you through yours?

Reach out, network, and be a part of the give and take. Connections give small business BIG impact.