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9 tips for effective small business networking

Group of small business owners at a networking event

Key takeaways

  • Small business networking can help you get referrals, expand your customer base, and develop skills to drive business growth
  • Use resources like in-person conferences, digital platforms, and business organizations like your local chamber of commerce to build relationships and network with others in your industry
  • Be selective about the events you attend, have your business cards and elevator pitch ready, and foster ongoing conversations with new connections

There are dozens of techniques to build a small business—from crafting marketing plans to drafting business proposals—but connecting with the right people can take your business growth to the next level. By building relationships, business owners can leverage valuable experience and industry insights to connect with new customers and find new ways to provide value on the market.

Whether you’re the founder of a small salon startup offering beauty services, a real estate entrepreneur at a larger firm, or a managing lead at a tree service company, building relationships should be a big priority. Fortunately, there are several ways to connect with other professionals—and it can be easier than you might think.

Discover small business networking resources to expand your reach and gain top networking tips to build connections and drive business success.

The importance of networking for small businesses

Small business networking: businessman using computer for video conference

Many small businesses rely on word of mouth to sell their products and services. Networking with other professionals lets you create new connections and access a wider customer base through referrals and partnerships. You’re not just creating a connection with the person you’re talking to, either. These connections can generate referrals to people within their own network who may be interested in what you have to offer.

Besides business connections, networking is a valuable resource for knowledge sharing. You can run new business ideas past other professionals, get feedback on an existing product or service, and discover fresh perspectives. In many cases, there will be people who have been in your shoes and can offer valuable business insights like new markets to invest in, tips for your business growth plan, and innovative ways to reach new customers.

Networking enables you to find new opportunities, raises your profile, and helps you build confidence. As you connect with more people in your industry, you can establish yourself as a thought leader and increase visibility. You’ll learn valuable communication and negotiation skills to make you a better business leader overall.

4 top places and groups for small business networking

Group of business owners mingling at a business networking event

Despite the clear benefits of small business networking, many business professionals don’t know where to start. Here are four networking groups and platforms to consider when building relationships within your business community.

1. Face-to-face business networking events

In-person events like meetups, trade shows, and conferences are great places to lay the foundation for business growth through relationship building. According to a Bizzabo study, 77% of participants described in-person conferences as the most meaningful type of networking event. Look for events relevant to your industry or that cover topics you want to learn more about, like digital marketing. Follow industry leaders and find out which conferences they attend or sign up for an event where they’re giving a presentation.

Some popular conferences for small business owners include the Small Business Expo—with networking and trade show events in more than 15 cities across the country—and INC. 5000, which offers educational and social activities to build your network.

To get the most out of in-person events, look for those that offer participation programs. Programs with panel discussions, break-out sessions, and learning segments enable you to make personal connections and get hands-on experience.

2. Digital platforms

While many professionals prefer in-person networking, don’t overlook the power of online networking to find both like-minded business owners and new customers. You may even find you enjoy virtual events more than in-person meetups, just like 25% of respondents in the Bizzabo study who said they prefer digital events. You can attend virtual events like webinars or join business groups on social media platforms. LinkedIn groups are especially useful for business owners and can offer valuable insights into industry trends.

Before joining groups online, consider where your target customers spend their time or take a look at how your competitors are networking. These digital events or platforms will be your best bet for connecting with businesses in your niche that can provide valuable networking.

3. Local chamber of commerce

A chamber of commerce is a community group that advocates for existing and new business needs. These organizations offer networking opportunities and partnerships across industries. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers a variety of resources for businesses, and there are also local groups that provide regional, county, and city-wide services.

Many local chambers of commerce host professional networking events, provide training sessions, and offer resources for professional and business development. Some chambers also offer paid mentorship programs that let you work closely with other business professionals to address your business needs.

4. Business networking organizations

Business networking groups are another great resource for small business owners who are looking to build business relationships.

A few notable organizations include:

  • SCORE: Backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), this nonprofit offers mentorship programs, workshops, and events based on your local business ZIP code.
  • Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO): Built by entrepreneurs, this organization has 223 chapters across 78 countries and holds global networking events both in-person and digitally.
  • Business Networking International (BNI): BNI is a referral organization with local chapters and more than 300,000 global members. The organization offers an integrated referral system and training programs to help expand your reach.
  • Chief: For women in business, Chief offers access to a private network of women in senior and executive roles. The network focuses on mentorship and strategic networking opportunities.

5 tips to build your networking skills

Keynote speaker presenting at small business networking event

To build effective relationships, you can’t just attend a conference or event and forget about it. You need to actively foster relationships and build ongoing communication to get the most out of your networking efforts. Here are five tips to ensure your networking gives you the best chance for success.

1. Be selective

It’s okay to be picky when choosing events to attend or organizations to join. Strategically decide where you want to invest your time, whether it’s an in-person conference on business development or a mentorship program.

Consider your priorities and what the purpose of your networking is. Then, decide which events and groups can help you achieve those goals and focus your efforts there.

2. Prepare beforehand

Ensure you’re always prepared to network, even in surprise situations. Always have your business cards ready—and make sure they’re professionally done. Practice your elevator pitch so you can easily explain the benefits of your business in a succinct and impactful way. Consider creative ways to get your business noticed so people will remember it, even if they networked with dozens of people that day.

3. Practice good communication skills

Your networking goal should be to build effective relationships, not to amass a giant list of contacts. To ensure quality instead of quantity, ask open-ended questions that allow the person to express their personality and values. Use active listening skills to repeat some of their main points or segue into related ideas. By showing you care what they have to say, they’ll be more likely to take an interest in your business and ideas as well.

4. Build a reputable online presence

Businesswoman sitting at desk taking a call on her phone while using laptop

Make it easy for people you network with to find your business. An easy way to do that is to add or claim your Yelp Business Page. Fill out your business information fully, including services, years of experience, photos, and contact information.

By simply being on Yelp, you get access to high-intent customers and make it easier for people you’ve networked with to learn more about your business. In fact, a recent survey shows that businesses with a photo, website, phone number, and business hours listed on their Yelp Business Page averaged 7.6x more page views per month than businesses without that content.

To reach more people, you can also consider investing in Yelp Ads. With these online ads, your business page is highlighted in key places on and the Yelp mobile app, such as above or below relevant search results in the “Sponsored Results” sections and on your competitors’ pages.

You can also build your online presence by signing up for social media profiles on platforms that your target audience tends to use. Maintain active profiles on these sites and be conscious that the images you use and the content you share reflect your business values.

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5. Foster ongoing communication

Successful business relationships need to be nurtured. Take notes or jot down key takeaways from conversations with important connections. If you don’t have a notepad with you, write down a few key topics on your phone or the back of their business card. It’s useful to note if they mentioned a specific pain point someone in your network could help them with. Networking is a two-way street, so remember that you might be able to help the other person out as well.

Follow up with a quick email reminding the person who you are and what you talked about. If you asked for support, you can mention again how the person might be able to help you or vice versa. Be sure to add the person as a connection on social media sites like LinkedIn after your initial interaction. This gives you another way to reach out, communicate, and foster a successful relationship.

Take your small business networking to new heights

With small business networking, you can connect with mentors, partner with innovators, and win referrals from other companies. With regular networking, you can increase your authority in the industry, build a bigger brand presence on the market, gain insights to power your business forward, and reach new customers.

Discover more ways to grow your small business, including practical strategies to help you manage that growth. 

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.