Step outside the box: creative networking ideas to build connections and create new opportunities readers routinely list networking as the area they most want to improve in. But, time constraints and limited access to contacts make building and nurturing quality connections difficult. Add in working remotely and erring on the side of workaholic, and it’s easy to see why this essential task gets pushed to the side.

Don’t fall into that trap. With a little outside-the-box thinking and some prioritizing, you can develop an enviable list of contacts. From pinpointing networking opportunities in your corner of the world to jumping on internet forums and groups, these ideas will help you build strong, worthwhile business relationships.

Without taking away (too much) time from your to-do list.

Work your current network

Think you don’t have any business connections? You’re probably wrong. Friends, family, former colleagues, the owner of your favorite coffee shop or the parent of your kid’s bestie are all potential contacts. So, talk business with your circle to make sure the people you see and interact with the most actually know what you do. And when an opportunity presents itself, offer help.

Remember: The world is a whole lot smaller than it seems. Aunt Josie might have no need for a website, but her best friend or co-worker’s daughter may be launching a boutique and very interested in working with you.

Get involved in forums and social media groups

Perfect for people with limited time and minimal access to in-person options, industry-specific forums and social media groups are networking gold mines. Start searching through LinkedIn and Facebook for groups related to your work and those geared toward entrepreneurs. Forums and portfolio sites also offer loads of opportunities. Bonus: Branching out, away from social media, expands your pool of potential connections.

Joining loads of groups and forums at once makes it difficult to actively participate in conversations, so start small. Join one group and dedicate a daily coffee break to perusing comments and dipping your toe in conversations. Offer value with every comment, joke around, support other members and watch your list of contacts grow.

Find, or create, a local networking group

Platforms like Meetup aren’t just for finding people to take a cooking class with or enjoy a lazy float down the river on a Sunday afternoon. They’re also perfect for putting together a casual meeting or more in-depth group discussion with other small-business owners and entrepreneurs in your area.

If there aren’t any existing groups nearby that pique your interest, consider starting your own. Chances are there are plenty of people toiling away at home or burning the midnight oil in your area who’d love to have a supportive, mentally stimulating get-together.

Check out co-working spaces and collaboration platforms

Physical co-working spaces and collaboration platforms like Slack give you the opportunity to work alongside people across industries and make valuable connections with like-minded, passionate individuals.

Co-working spaces charge a relatively small daily, weekly or monthly fee to set up your office amongst entrepreneurs and creatives from various backgrounds. Whether you want to settle in to an open workspace, secure a private office or put together a team, the ability to see potential contacts daily makes developing relationships easier. A quick Google search will let you know what’s available near you. Or, check out sites like Coworker or LiquidSpace for options.

Coworking spaces infographic

If there’re aren’t co-working spaces in your area or you’re partial to the quiet of working from home, consider joining a collaboration platform. As you build your network and work with others on projects, use the platform to stay connected during slow times or when you need a fresh set of eyes. Check out this exclusive article for options that fit nearly any budget: 3 amazing collaboration tools: building, and running, a connected digital office space.

Get involved in your community

Even if most of your business is online, you can still find worthwhile people to connect with right in your own town. Make it a point to reach out to and talk with new and established business owners. And, implement some of these ideas for improving visibility in your community.

Interested in something more structured? Join a small business group or your local Chamber of Commerce.

Keys to successful networking

Now that you know where to look for networking opportunities, how do you build lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships? Be supportive, listen closely and prioritize managing the relationships you develop.

Work active networking into your schedule just like you do every other business task. Block off a set amount of time once a week to make friendly check-in calls or send out a catch-up email. And, make sure you respond to messages and calls with a similar level of urgency as you would a client or customer.

Time conversations and events so they coincide with when you’re most energetic and engaged. Avoid scheduling midweek evening meetups if you’re typically exhausted and ready to meld with the couch at that hour. And don’t try to fit phone calls in first thing in the morning if you’re the type who needs a cup (or six) of coffee to form coherent sentences.

**Ask questions, listen intently and provide value. **The back-and-forth opportunities that networking provide are invaluable, especially for self-starters. But remember to open your ears and close your mouth. People will be more apt to help you if they feel heard and encouraged.

**Be yourself, not the business version of yourself. **If you attend a meetup, set up shop in a co-working space or dive into an online community with “always be selling!” in your head, you’ll gain minimal traction. Friendliness earns you more insight, referrals and ideas than playing the role of salesperson.

Ready for even more networking tips? Check out these exclusive articles: is not associated with or endorsing any brand or influencer mentioned or linked to in this post.


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