We've all heard that networking is important, but it can seem overwhelming and hard to know where to even begin. This is especially true for small business owners. You're so focused on running your business, networking can seem like just another thing on your list that you don't have time to do. But it really can make a big impact--resulting in connections in the community, business knowledge and even new customers.

If you're not sure where to start, I'd recommend attending and participating in conventions and conferences to try it out. You can find events by searching online or reaching out to your local chamber of commerce and small business community to get suggestions. There are events across the country on topics ranging from business and marketing to industry-specific, such as retail, food and more.

How to make the most of your experience:

  1. Show Up. Your very first step is to simply show up. That's it. Going to a convention can force you to step away from your business to stop, slow down and think. It can be a great forum to learn what others are doing and may kick start some new ideas.
  2. Ask Questions. Striking up a conversation with those around you is what networking is all about. Ask other attendees about their business, their favorite part of the convention, what they plan to do next, etc. This can be an especially great opportunity for small business owners that are just getting started to better acquaint themselves with their community or industry. Don't forget to have your business cards on hand to exchange information with your new contacts.  
  3. Build Relationships. Making a face-to-face connection first can make all the difference in establishing a connection that you can continue building into a relationship after the event is over. Digital and social media are great ways to keep in touch with your connections. If you've exchanged information, you can correspond via email or connect on LinkedIn. To make the most of this relationship, treat it like a conversation--there should be ebb and flow, and an exchanging of information that is valuable to you both. 
  4. Exhibit. Take your networking to the next level by actually participating in the event as an exhibitor. You can use conventions as a sales avenue to test out different concepts and learn from your audience in real-time. For more established businesses, speaking at a convention panel or roundtable can help amplify your voice to a broader audience.
  5. Set a Goal. Finally, use your experience attending conventions and networking to set goals for yourself. By setting specific goals, you can leverage what you learn to make improvements to your business. Setting a deadline is also important to hold yourself accountable, and have a specific moment in time to check in on progress and reassess if needed.

I'm a firm believer that it is beneficial for any person in business to attend one or two conventions a year. The knowledge, experience, connections, and the chance to step away from your business can really refresh your perspective for your business to ultimately make positive changes for your business.