Diverse business owners can network in ways that suit their background and their goals
Maintaining a strong network is essential to any business owner. When you work for yourself, you likely don’t have managers or colleagues who can sing your praises or introduce you to a room of new people. That means networking is even more important to get you in front of potential partners, advisors, and connections.
“We have realized because of the pandemic that we are so interconnected. To be successful entrepreneurs, we need one another more than we ever imagined before,” says Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “And we’ve learned that our net worth as businesses and business owners is our network.”
Finding the right approach for your business — and yourself
Many people may feel awkward about self-promotion. But networking can be especially challenging for diverse business owners, who may feel uncomfortable in certain spaces.
However, you can overcome these challenges by redefining networking in ways that make sense for your business and your community. Here are four networking strategies beyond mix-and mingle events that can help expand your network in ways that feel more authentic.
1. Participate in community service events
By volunteering with local organizations that you highly regard, you’re likely to meet like-minded individuals who share your values and passions. For example, you could mentor youths from underserved areas, support church outreach events, or volunteer on the board of a nonprofit whose cause matters to you.
The professionals you work with in these circumstances may be more likely to support your business because they know you are connected to a common purpose. There’s also an added benefit on a personal level: You will interact with people in your backyard and potentially inspire community members to entrepreneurship.
2. Rekindle professional relationships
It’s easy to underestimate the connections we already have, but don’t forget to tap into these relationships. You may have past mentors, clients, instructors, or other informal supporters who can help you take your business to the next level. Also consider connections you’ve made at past networking events, but with whom you didn’t get to follow up.
To reconnect, reach out via email, phone, or direct message through platforms such as LinkedIn. These supporters can lead you to new business opportunities, giving you valuable insights and simply providing listening ears when you need support. Get intentional about sustaining these relationships: Set calendar reminders to follow up every month or quarter.
3. Lean into online communities
There are a multitude of interest- and industry-based social media groups where diverse small business owners share resources and advice on how to deal with challenges.
Search for relevant groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as Reddit forums. For example, group discussions may include how owners in your industry are dealing with inflation when purchasing supplies or what they’re doing to combat higher interest rates. These informal online interactions may feel less invasive than traditional in-person networking. Post and answer questions in these groups. If you see someone you want to connect with further, ask to send them a direct message or schedule a virtual lunch.
Use your social media channels to engage with people and companies you admire or want to work with. Following someone on Instagram and engaging with their posts could spark a conversation, while interacting on LinkedIn could result in a one-on-one meeting or a broader discussion.
4. Attend industry or community-specific conferences and events
Consider attending professional conferences, which can foster relationships with industry peers. Building connections with people in your region allows you to connect about the local state of business. Reach out to the local Chamber of Commerce that aligns with you, such as those for the Black, Hispanic, Pan Asian or disabled communities. These groups typically host events and offer specialized opportunities to build relationships.
You might even sign up for online speed networking events where you are randomly matched with other participants. This format puts all participants on a level playing field, which can help reduce awkwardness. Also look for relevant workshops and discussion groups hosted by your alma mater or a nearby college.
Many diverse small business owners have forged their own paths to success. You can do the same by identifying opportunities to build new networks and strengthening previous connections. Prioritize the type of networking that offers access to potential partners and growth opportunities — then get to work.