Want to be the business everyone in your community is raving about? The stylist everyone books? The accountant everyone recommends? The go-to service people can’t live without?

You can be! And it might be easier than you think to achieve…

Here’s the thing: people love supporting local businesses. According to a survey sponsored by American Express, 9 out of 10 Americans agreed that it was important to support the small businesses in their community, and 73% consciously tried to do just that.

The people around you want you to succeed. They want to book your services. But they can’t do that if they don’t know about you! And that’s where it helps to network in your own community.

Sure, you may be all over Google thanks to your great marketing strategy, and your business may well reach across the globe, but local word-of-mouth is still one of the best ways to get new customers.

10 Tips for Networking Success in Your Community:

1. Be there when your community needs you

Hurricane Harvey left a trail of devastation, but it also showed Houstonians what their community was made of.

When the flood waters rose, Mattress Mack didn’t hesitate: he immediately turned his two furniture stores into temporary shelters for 400 of his neighbors. “They’re sleeping on hundreds of mattresses throughout the store. They’re sleeping on the couches — wherever they can find a place that’s comfortable, and God bless ‘em,” said “Mattress Mack” owner Jim McIngvale. The story quickly became national news.

The lesson? When you see an opportunity to help, do it—you can figure out the details later.

2. Give your neighbors the “secret deal”

Your business may be global, but doesn’t mean you can’t show a little extra love to the folks in your zip code! Why not run a special deal for locals who choose to do business with you?

For example, a hair salon could offer a complimentary birthday blow-dry for local customers or a food truck could serve free dessert to neighborhood kids who do well on report cards.

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3. Join a business-oriented community group

Whether you join a business book club, the local Chamber of Commerce, or the Rotary Club, connecting to other business owners and entrepreneurs is crucial: it exposes you to like-minded people who have the power to amplify your network and generate more referrals. By sharing resources, leads, and insights, you can help each other grow and learn exponentially.

4. Support your staff!

The people who work for you are also part of your community.

Do your employees’ kids participate in local sports teams? Sponsor them, happily. Are their friends looking for internship opportunities? Create one, just for them. Are there community groups or nonprofits they care about? Support them, generously.

Make it a point to champion your employees and the causes they care about—not only in the workplace, but in the greater community.

5. Share what you know

Is there a Meetup or community group around your area of expertise? Do you have a passion you could easily share with others (even if it isn’t related to your business)? Get out there and teach it! Do a talk at your local library, run a free weekend workshop for local entrepreneurs, or offer to mentor fledgling businesses in your neighborhood.

These efforts create both goodwill and brand recognition, and expand your network of supporters. Even if the people you meet don’t need your services, chances are they know others who do—and will happily recommend you!

6. Talk up other local businesses

While being part of a community creates a lot of benefits for small business owners, it also creates an opportunity for you to give back! Just as you depend on the goodwill, referrals, and patronage of those around you, so do the other businesses in your area.

Set the example you want to see in your community by getting to know them and their services, promoting them to others, and sending new leads their way. The spirit of generosity catches quickly, and pretty soon you may find them doing the same for you!

7. Sponsor community events at your space.

Do you have a physical office or storefront that could also double as an event space? (It doesn’t have to be very fancy or even very big.) Think about what you could do with that space during off-hours. Set it up for an after-school mentoring group? Push a few tables and chairs aside and host monthly movie screenings? Run a special workshop? Open it up to other entrepreneurs? Host a holiday party for a local charity?

Get creative with your space: it’s yours, and you can use it for work as well as play. Opening up your space to others is the perfect way to have fun, get to know new people, and bring the community to you!

8. Be prepared for impromptu opportunities

Opportunities to connect come up all the time, whether it’s the person asking to share your table at a packed cafe or that new friend you met at a workshop. “What do you do?” is bound to come up during these conversations, so always be prepared to present your business in the best light!

Have business cards on hand at all times (you can get great ones from Moo), and make sure your LinkedIn profile and website are polished and represent you well, for when people inevitably look you up later.

9. Adopt a local nonprofit

Partnering with a charity or nonprofit is great for business and your community.

Choose an organization that’s doing great work in your community, and make yourself a partner in their success. Whether you offer free professional services or deeply discounted products, regularly volunteer your time and expertise, or host an annual fundraiser in their honor, there are many ways to pitch in and help a great cause.

10. Don’t hide behind your computer!

You may do a lot of work behind the screen, but don’t forget to show your face every now and then.

Whether you offer your office to community groups after hours, sponsor a local team, or show up to grill at the community block party, getting your name out there means you have to actually go out there!

Which of these suggestions do you like best? Pick one and start there. As you implement it, pay attention to how it impacts everything around you. These tips are great for your local exposure, but they’re also fun, make you feel great, and help your community (and you!) thrive.

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