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Grow your contacts and your business.

Nearly 75 percent of small business owners say it’s important to have support from other entrepreneurs who understand their concerns, yet only 52 percent have these relationships, according to a survey from the UPS Store®Third Party Link.

A strong network of contacts both inside and outside your industry can provide more than just advice and emotional support ― new and old connections could potentially become investors, advocates and even customers.

If you want to establish more connections, the following 4 steps can help you find networking success:

    1. Connect online: Approximately 90 percent of small business owners now dedicate time to networking online, according to a Manta®Third Party Link survey. And 78 percent said they gained at least a quarter of their new customers this year through social and other online channels. Media experts generally single out LinkedIn®, FacebookTM and Twitter® as the social media sites that are most likely to provide strong brand exposure, customer contacts and potential sales leads, according to The WeekThird Party Link. Here are a few key things to note about each:

      • LinkedInThird Party Link can help you find employees and customers — and raise your profile in your industry. EntrepreneurThird Party Link suggests creating both a personal and company page containing keywords that are relevant to your business, which will help other users find you. Joining and participating on small business-related groups can also help you make contacts and add to your credibility. Check out Business News Daily’sTM 15 LinkedIn Groups Every Entrepreneur Should Belong ToThird Party Link for ideas
      • Facebook posts with pictures receive 39 percent higher interaction rates — and it helps to be brief, since posts with 80 characters or less get a 23 percent higher rate, according to American ExpressThird Party Link.
      • A recent TwitterThird Party Link survey found that 72 percent of users were more likely to make a purchase from a small business they follow on the site — primarily because it makes them feel more connected to the company.

Note that while these sites are free to use, writing and posting regularly can be time consuming. If you need to hire a social media manager to handle the work, expect to pay $46,000 a year, on average, according to PayScale Third Party Link.

Related: Is your small business using social media? Here are 6 tips to get you started

  1. Interact with industry members: Don’t automatically write all industry members off as competition. A strong network of colleagues can provide advice, guidance and, potentially, new customers through referrals:

    • Industry advocacy, sales and other conferences, for example, can help introduce you to professionals who work in your field — or a related one. Look up any speakers and attendees before the event to determine who you want to focus on meeting, according to Inc.Third Party Link
    • Professional associations can provide a wealth of industry contacts through education, networking and other events. Search for one that relates to your industry — or an industry your suppliers or customers work in — on the American Society of Association ExecutivesTM website. Third Party Link
  2. Attend events: General networking events — ones that aren’t industry specific — can potentially put you in touch with new clients:

    • More than 7,000 small business meet-up groups connect through local listing site Meetup®Third Party Link and host in-person events in cities around the world. EventbriteTMThird Party Link also lists networking and other events, some that cost nothing, in various U.S. cities. NetParty®Third Party Link caters to young professionals, with events in 25 U.S. cities, some of which are free to attend.
    • Find your local Chamber of Commerce®Third Party Link to meet other local business owners. Membership ranges from $125 to $5,000 and grants you special rates to Chamber-related networking and policy events.
    • The 11,000 retired and working business owners who are part of nonprofit organization SCORE’sTMThird Party Link network provide mentoring services, at no cost — and can help introduce you to other local entrepreneurs — in more than 300 locations in the U.S.
  3. Meet contacts in unexpected places: Networking doesn’t have to be limited to networking-specific events:

    • The U.S. Small Business Administration sponsors courses in locations across the country that are attended by local entrepreneurs. Find out what’s scheduled in your area on the SBA event calendarThird Party Link.
    • The next person you meet at a social event could become your business’ biggest supporter. Dinner parties, volunteering gigs and shared office space can all serve as a platform for connecting with new contacts, according to Fast CompanyThird Party Link.

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