If you’re a small business owner, you probably don’t have much free time. Still, you need to build some time into each week for networking. You have a great product or service (right?). Local people in your community want to support you. But they can’t support you if they don’t know you’re there!

Think of networking as just another part of running and promoting your business. Networking is critical to gaining a customer base. But it’s more than that. By networking successfully, you can get valuable advice, find mentors, enhance your reputation, and gain new business referrals.

One key to networking is to approach it with a give-and-take mentality, meaning if you give freely of your own experience and advice to others, you are more likely to get something in return. That theme runs through almost any approach to networking you adopt. So how to get started?

1) Conferences. Look for conferences where you can interact with other small business leaders. Thryv Connect20 is a national 2-day entrepreneurs conference Nov. 10-11. The event is totally online, so all you need is a computer (register at thryv.com/connect). A full-access pass costs just $29 (rates go up close to event date), and you can do one-on-one networking and join round tables with attendees and speakers to address your questions and provide introductions.

2) Associations. Industry associations and local service organizations are among the best places to meet other local businesspeople and potential clients. You need to do a little work to find the best fit for you, but connecting with others in your industry or local community will pay off:

  • School and professional alumni groups
  • Your local Chamber of Commerce
  • Rotary Club, Lions Club, Optimist Club, Kiwanis Club, or Civitan Club
  • Your trade associations
  • Business networking groups: LeTip, Business Networking International (BNI), etc.

3) Volunteer. When my three sons were little kids, they each played in multiple basketball leagues. I volunteered to coach all of their teams. I made great memories with my boys and met and built relationships with scores of local parents. Volunteer for something you love – and it may become your best source of new business leads.

4) Community sponsorships. Local organizations such as kids’ sports teams, arts organizations, and community events such as local First Fridays, Restaurant Weeks, or Nights Out, are always in need of financial support. Find one that matches your interest and sponsor them. This is a positive way to get your name out and build connections.

5) Meetups. The website meetup.com is an incredible resource for finding networking groups or mastermind groups. These could be for a hobby you have – you don’t have to talk business to make business connections.

6) Sponsor community events at your space. If your business has a physical location where others could meet, consider offering it as a meeting space. This could cost you nothing and turn into a valuable way to help others and find connections and clients.

7) Use social networks. Facebook and LinkedIn, of course, are two of the most popular networks where you should maintain a page promoting your business and where you can post commentary and pictures of jobs or projects. But check out Alignable, as well. This is a relatively newer social network focused on business-to-business networking.

8) Ask for reviews and referrals. After every interaction with a satisfied customer, you should be asking for online reviews and referrals. If asking seems like a hassle, consider using software like Thryv that enables you to automate this process, making it happen automatically.

9) SCORE and America’s Small Business Development Centers. These national, government-supported organizations exist to help small business owners like you with mentorship and support. Along the way you can meet great people and develop powerful connections.

10) Elevator pitch. Practice your elevator pitch and always carry a few business cards. Don’t bother with extra fancy cards (those can backfire), just get cards that clearly state your name, business name, and address, and show your logo. You never know who you might meet today!

Networking is something you need to work at every day, but eventually it just becomes part of your routine. Good luck and remember – start by helping somebody today, that may just be the beginning of finding the help you need.