Grow your small business via the art of networking

By Mark G. Auerbach

Networking continues to be one of the most effective ways of getting your name and your business in front of people who can become clients, resources, and friends. Much has been written about networking. I’ve contributed two columns to tis publication in recent years.

One was on Your Elevator Pitch: Getting it Right. The other was on Mastering Small Talk: The art of schmooze when networking for your small business.

Networking opportunities have changed in recent years. What used to be a chamber of commerce “meet and greet” or a trade show or conference now includes business-after-hours events, online webinars, and a myriad of other opportunities. Sitting next to someone on a plane, standing in a long line at Starbucks, waiting for some in an hotel lobby can all become networking opportunities.

So, you’re off to a pre-arranged networking event, or perhaps about to participate in an impromptu convergence. You’ve got your elevator speech down. You’ve practiced your firm handshake. You look flawless. You have clean breath. You have business cards, and if you have a name tag, it’s over your heart on the left, so people can see your name when they shake your hand.

I asked three colleagues, now friends, for their advice.

Patrick Berry publisher of The Westfield News Group for almost eight years, a former radio host on 89.5fm/WSKB, and a longtime marketing professional in television: “The point of networking is to meet new people so get out of your comfort zone of speaking with the same people and meet someone new. There’s an old Irish saying, ‘Strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet.’ Who knows, the next new person you meet could make you more successful than you ever imagined. I’m impressed with a person’s ability to maintain a conversation and whether they can keep me engaged with them or not.”

Theresa MacNaughton, Communications and Community Engagement Associate, at Hartford Stage for the last five years, where she  regularly interacts with members of the local and national press, neighboring arts organizations, and the community. Theresa recommends, “I’m most impressed with direct eye contact, a welcoming smile, and a firm handshake. I know this sounds old school, but it tells me that the other person is genuinely interested in starting a conversation and getting to know me better. If someone is receptive to networking – looking forward, friendly smile, body posture – I’m more apt to walk up to this person, introduce myself and start a conversation”

Jon Shrair is a communications and sales leader with an extensive advertising agency background having spent more than 25 years in New York City working for leading agencies like Chiat/Day, before moving back to Western Massachusetts to open SHRINK: “Every handshake is an opportunity, so shake every hand literally and figuratively. What impresses me most when I meet someone new is “engagement”, their ability to be present in the conversation. I like when someone makes eye contact and asks questions so I know they’re engaged in the conversation regardless of how brief or long it is. I appreciate it when someone I meet for the first time commits to having a real conversation, and they remain present for it and play an active role in it”.

Good networking is good. Good follow-up is great.

Theresa says, “I always carry my business cards with me. After I’ve met someone, I make sure to hand out my card and hopefully get one in return. I will often follow up with a thank-you note and/or phone call with an open invitation to chat further over coffee to build a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship”.

Patrick agrees. “If I have their business physical address, a hand written note goes a long way. I also make it a point to seek out that person for a brief exchange at another event.”

Jon says, “it’s a matter of remaining focused in your outreach based on your previous conversation, and strategic in how and when you approach. It’s not too dissimilar to what makes great advertising work. An ad that is relevant to a specific audience and is distinctive in how it’s told will be more effective. Think about Apple 1984 commercial that changed Super Bowl advertising forever.  Remain on their radar by continuing the story that engaged them in the first place and try to do it in interesting ways (e.g., share an anecdote, news item, etc.).”

And, that’s succeeding in small business.


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. He is also the theatre reporter for The Westfield News Group and producer/host of ArtsBeat Radio on 89.5fm/WSKB. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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