Is networking a component of your marketing plan for your business? If it is not, it should be. Let me first talk to you about why networking is an important way to get more clients and increase your business and then we’ll talk about where to look for your best networking opportunities.
I know I always say, “you can start a business on your own but no one can succeed in business alone”, and I believe that, so let’s begin with how this attitude might help you grow your business.
Word-of-mouth is the most powerful way to persuade someone to purchase from you. If I am told by a trusted friend or colleague about a new business, product, or service and I need what they are offering, chances are I will patronize their business. How many times have you purchased something large, invested in training, or given your hard-earned cash to a business without first knowing if you wanted to do business with them. Probably never. There are places we won’t go to because of a bad experience we have had or someone we know has had and that is certainly not what you want for your business.
So, how do you influence the word-of-mouth (WoM) marketing that is being shared about your business?
1. No WoM
To do business without networking you need to understand these few things.We know that it takes about 7 touches before a potential client will take note of your brand and about 20 before they will purchase from you. With traditional marketing campaigns you will need to make all these touches, in the right place to connect with your potential clients. This is a valuable way to get your brand visually recognizable to your local community and beyond.
It requires no networking time, but a lot of money to create your ads and distribute them.
2. Low Level WoM
Friends like to help friends – your customers will share with others. If they are happy with you then get them to do that. Ask for a testimonial you can put on your website, create a referral program and implement a keep-in-touch program that will allow you to stay in contact with your best clients. Your customer is worth way more than their initial or ongoing purchase.
Create a time when you can network with your clients. A client appreciation day, a VIP day, a third-party networking event you can invite your clients to. Find ways to be around your clients so that they know you on a personal level and will be more compelled to refer you.
3. Full Networking Plan
You will want to reach out to the influencers, the people that will talk about you to others. A networking plan looks at not only connecting with your clients, but with your strategic alliances and others in your community or industry that will be able to refer you.
Where’s the Best Networking for Me?
Online versus Face-to-Face
You can certainly build great relationship online with people you may never meet face-to-face. I can tell you I have purchased from people and companies online with no intention of ever flying to meet them. But I often do my purchasing because someone I do know has recommended the site. As our world gets smaller, the importance of actually knowing people becomes even more crucial.
Referral Focused Networking
Because I am a director with BNI I’m going to be a little biased here, but take the general overtones and apply it to what fits for you and your ROI. There are many different referral networking groups. Their core focus is to create a room full of people that are as eager to help you grow your business as they are to get business for themselves. Join a group, like BNI, that has a program that works, is tested, and is managed. You do not want to spend your networking time building a system or structure to manage the group, you just want to use the system.
Service Clubs or Community Networking
Belonging to a service club or volunteering for a community project can bring you credibility and connections. As you are seen as someone that is reliable and wants to give back to your community, other people’s trust in you will increase. If you happen to mention you have a store or service it is likely they will come to see you when they need your product or service. As they get to know you and see you regularly they will send others as they hear the need for your product or service.
Associations and Industry Specific Events
You can focus on joining an association or go to trade shows and conferences where your clients would be members and attend. This would gain you trust and credibility directly with your potential client. Volunteering at these events or speaking will build up your professional expertise and help them remember you when either they need you or when they hear others in need of your service. For example I belonged to the Trillium Medical Technology Association in Toronto with my first company where my potential clients were members. It helped me to know directly the economic pressures that were affecting their businesses.
You can also go to associations and events where you can meet others that support your clients for their different needs. These are your strategic alliances. As the owner of a technical writing company I went to a conference and trade show for medical device manufacturers and made many connections to translators and CAD software providers because they are often asked to help provide content, which they did not want to do.
Get out there and network with your potential clients, your clients, your competition, your strategic alliances, and others that might see or meet your clients on a regular basis. You will need to network regularly, so set aside time and a budget to do this. You will also need to be connected in more than one place, so find at least two regular groups that fit your needs and your personality.
These are the key benefits on where and why to network. We did not talk about the importance of the relationship you need have to be a great networker. The key to being a great networker is being able to help others. This is the “How” of networking. As the narrator of Hammy Hamster would say, “That’s another story for another day.”