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Going Beyond Networking Lunches

Many small businesses know to promote their products or services online via social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And this is important, especially these days when companies and brands are expected to be warm, human, relatable, and reachable 24/7 online. But where do you go to network with other businesses and gain insight, funding, or other essential business contacts and services? There are a multitude of online small business networks, and they each offer different resources and serve different industries, business types, or business owners.

Educational & Networking

You don’t have to attend business school classes at a big university to gain practical business knowledge. Websites like Start Up Nation offer free articles, videos, and webinars on starting and growing a business. Current business trends and topics are covered, like if you should accept BitCoin at your business, consumer shopping habits, negotiation techniques, and marketing strategies to stay competitive.

Many of these sites offering educational tools and resources also provide essential networking opportunities to trade insight and experience. The Small Business Bonfire is one of these sites, offering “a social, educational and collaborative community for entrepreneurs that provides actionable tips and tools through a small business blog, a weekly newsletter and a free online community.”

Networking, Referrals, & Recommendations

Networking amongst businesses is valuable in the knowledge shared, but to be the most beneficial it should also build your customer base and your trustworthiness in customers’ eyes. Alignable helps business owners build business relationships that generate referred customers and quality referrals. It’s another channel to develop invaluable word-of-mouth marketing and build a trusted presence by recommendations from other member businesses.

For more guidance on productive and valuable business connections, Opportunity is a business network that uses a matchmaking algorithm to connect professionals in need of each other’s products or services. These connections can lead to employment, sales, business growth, etc.

Business Tips for Creatives by Creatives

Rising Tide Society and Honeybook are a connected, free community empowering the creative economy and promoting collaboration over competition. They strive to generate results—whether cash or cash-generating partnerships—specifically for artists and creatives in the small business and freelance world. This includes a place to advertise paid opportunities to other Rising Tide members. For in-person networking and events, regional Tuesdays Together groups meet one Tuesday a month to discuss business hot topics, network, share insights, and help each other with recommendations for essential business services, like accounting, taxes, or building a website. Many business owners in creative fields find their clients are also in need of other creative services, so they can recommend others in their regional group. For example, an invitation and calligraphy artist may recommend a photographer or stylist to her bridal customers.

Organizations for Minority Business Owners

In addition to industry-specific business-support websites and networks, there are also important groups who support minority business owners. Groups like Black Business Women Online, Asian Women in Business, and the National Latina Business Women Association provide personal and professional development, networking and socializing, educational and uplifting podcasts, local chapters offering mentoring, and startup grants.

Others support minority business owners in specific fields, like Black Founders, whose mission is to “increase the number of successful black entrepreneurs in technology” by developing “global programs that equip entrepreneurs, inspire innovation, and allow us to share resources.”

Funding, Investment, & Trade

Gust and AngelList are leaders when it comes to startup funding and investment. Startups build a profile on these sites to be matched with investors. For prospective investors, these sites offer deal flow management tools and secure platforms to expand their portfolio of early stage startup investments. With AngelList, you can even apply to work at a startup.

If a business owner finds themselves short on cash but with excess inventory, time, or other tradeable commodities, TradeFirst enables trade of products or services for online currency that can be used to purchase other member products or services. This can help a growing company maximize their potential by using barter to offset cash expenses. Each of their over 5,000 member companies receives a TradeFirst swipe card that works like a debit card to convert down time or idle inventory into new revenue through trade with other businesses. TradeFirst facilitates and brokers each trade as well as provides an app for account management, monthly account statements, and member-to-member marketing through digital and print mediums.

With more and more business conducted online, it’s no surprise some of the most valuable networking, marketing, and lead-generating tools are now offered online. Small and growing businesses can easily benefit from shared knowledge and resources with Internet access and the click of a mouse.