Networking, I hate that word. It’s filled with self-serving intent and sends the introvert in me running for the hills.

But as a home business owner, networking is a necessity if I’m to keep my business alive and growing, it’s also a must for my sanity.

So what networking options are available to home business owners who don’t always have the budget to attend industry seminars, events, and soirees? Well, there are many (and I won’t pretend to have taken advantage of all of them), but I know people who do and thrive because of it. So here we go:

Start with a Goal
We all network for different reasons, and those reasons can change from time to time. Perhaps you’ve just moved to a new town and want to establish your business profile, or you’re looking to drum up new business. Your goals will define your approach. So with that in mind below are some options to consider based on common networking objectives.

Build Your Profile by Getting Involved in the Business Community
A good place to start is to join your local chamber of commerce or make a habit of attending the networking events and programs held at your local Small Business Development Center or Women’s Business Center. Local chambers give members opportunities to give presentations (if you’re up for it).

Another option, which mixes civic and business networking, is to get involved or volunteer with local community groups. These include your local HOA, church, PTA, etc. anything that gives you a chance to get out of the house, interact, and build your profile. Some communities operate private and informal business-to-business groups geared towards networking and showcasing local businesses. Find groups in your town through Facebook or neighborhood websites like Nextdoor or even national sites like MeetUp (which has a whole sub-set of home biz groups).

Get New Business through Referrals
One of the most lucrative forms of networking for lead generation is through the power of referrals from existing customers. Just look at these stats:

  • 65% of new business comes from referrals
  • 92% of buyers trust referrals from people they knew
  • People are four times more likely to buy when referred by a friend

Doing a good job for your clients is the first step to building referral business, but don’t be afraid to ask them to pass along your name to others too. An easy way to do this is to let them know that you enjoy your experience working with them and would like to repeat it with customers just like them (sincere flattery goes a long way)!

Get Active and Build Your Influence on Social
Yes, yes, social media networking is the ultimate hideout for the public networking hater. But it works. And I’m not just talking about using LinkedIn to engage with others in your industry or to request a professional endorsement (talking of which, here are some LinkedIn networking do’s and don’ts).

Social media is also great at helping you build and maintain your visibility with both your customers as well as their influencers. Whether you’re sharing your blog or promoting your latest work, don’t ignore the fact that 80% of social network users prefer to connect to brands through Facebook than any other medium (State of Inbound Marketing) and 85% pf customers expect business to be active in social media (Vocus). Social media also makes your business more approachable and accessible.

For more networking tips check out: 6 Tips to Help You Network When You’re Shy.

Caron is a small business owner, writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron has blogged for the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE ,and other organizations on all matters relating to small business management and growth. Connect with Caron on Twitter and at April Marketing.