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How to grow your network — and your business

Anyone who operates a small business knows it’s essential to invest much of their time in day-to-day business operations. But have you thought about investing more time in growing your professional network?

Relationships can help expand your business — often through word-of-mouth marketing. But a strong social capital can also directly help you financially. Take, for example, the 2012 sale of Eloqua, a marketing automation and intelligence platform, to Oracle. The sale was completed for $871 million, more than 200 percent of Eloqua’s estimated public market value.

A big reason? Eloqua co-founder Paul Teshima said it was because he built a strong network with people at Oracle, making the entire process seamless.

It’s clear networking and relationships bring countless benefits, but how and where can you start to expand your own network?

Join organizations with similar interests

Do a little research to find an organization aligning with your business and interests. Joining them can connect you with other like-minded individuals, making relationship-building easy and fun. Trade associations are an obvious place to turn to, and there are many throughout Iowa. For example, if you work in the insurance space, it might benefit you to join the Independent Insurance Agents of Iowa. Or if you operate as an independent real estate agent, consider joining the Iowa Association of Realtors.

NAWBO Iowa is a quality organization for connecting you with other women business owners. And who knows? Members might end up using your product or service.

There are also opportunities within your community, especially if you operate in a small town. Networking in small towns is even more important because of how residents in that community choose businesses — often based on who they know and trust.

Here’s a small list of easy-to-join local organizations:

  • Your local chamber of commerce.
  • Rotary Club International.
  • Your regional SCORE Association branch.


Find community events — both big and small

Events within your community can be a great way to connect with other influencers and leaders. The size of the gatherings can also alter your approach to networking.

The bigger the event, the more of a plan you’ll want to formulate. With hundreds or potentially thousands of people in one space, there’s simply too much to do all in a matter of a few hours. Make sure to research the event: who will be there, the dress code, the itinerary. You can either meet as many people as you can or actively seek out a few key people you have in mind. Either way, it’s important to have a 30-second elevator speech and business cards to quickly explain your business and who you are.

At smaller events, the assumption is it’s much more casual. There are fewer people, meaning more time for conversation. Because smaller events are generally more intimate, it helps to have a previous connection there to move across the space with a friend. 

At the end of an event, follow up with your new connections over the next few days. Whether that be a LinkedIn request, an email or a handwritten letter, the follow-up will help your name and business stick in the minds of others.

Find sponsors

Piggybacking off the previous tip, having a sponsor — a person you know well — can help broaden your network, especially if they have large networks themselves. The sponsor can be your boss at work or another mentor in the community.

The benefit is they can introduce you to new people and encourage you to go to places where you can make connections.

Stay confident!

One of the biggest issues for women business owners is having the necessary confidence when discussing or selling their business. A 2013 study from Montana State University found that women often are afraid of touting their achievements for fear they may sound arrogant. Men don’t typically have this problem.

Remember, when you’re networking, it’s OK to talk about your accomplishments, especially if they are impressive. You don’t want to dominate the conversation, but when you’re asked, don’t be afraid to brag a little bit. You worked hard to achieve what you’ve done, and you’ll stick out.