Okay, let’s get honest for a minute about why people buy from the companies they choose. They buy from a specific company for certain reasons, primarily: cost, convenience, quality, or the brand itself, which could relate to the culture. In the world of small businesses, these rules still apply, but it’s also about buying from people we like, know, and trust. But how are potential customers and clients going to know about you if you’re not networking your business? As a small business, this may be one of the most important, cost effective, and easiest ways to market your business.
You Are Your Brand
If you’ve been to this blog before, you know that we work primarily with small businesses, whether those are a one-person-at-the-dining-room-table variety or the home services company with 10–15 trucks on the road. And with 1–20 employees, each person epitomizes the brand. To put it simply, you are your brand. That relates to personal branding and how you conduct yourself on LinkedIn, but it’s also part and parcel of networking your business since, in actuality, you’re also networking yourself.
Because we do business with people we like, know, and trust, if you are out there networking, you need to be likeable. That means a big, happy smile, an outgoing attitude, and a helping mindset. After all, the world is watching.
What Networking Isn’t
As you are going to events and networking your business, it’s important to have some idea of what it is you’re doing and what your expectations should be. First, let’s cover what networking isn’t.
Networking Isn’t…a Sales Call
Wouldn’t it be lovely if every new person you met was poised and ready to buy your products or services? In fact, they may be exactly in the right place to do just that, but they’re going to be very turned off if you go in hot and approach your meeting as a way to sell yourself. Remember: No one wants to be sold, yet everyone wants to buy. People are going to ask what you do and who you are, but they’re not going to ask you to pitch your wares. So don’t do it.
Networking Isn’t…a Way to Solicit Help
Are you looking for a job? Do you need to secure five new deals to make salesperson of the year? Those are great things to need help with, but the person you just met at a networking event isn’t the person to ask. We help people who are already in our network because we’ve established a level of trust and a relationship with them. If you’re out there networking your business to new people, they don’t have that level of familiarity with you. Therefore, they’re not the person you need to tell your sob story to. Save that for your friends and family.
What Networking Is
Networking your business is an art, and it’s an acquired skill. You don’t go in to a networking event to sell, and you shouldn’t be asking everyone you meet for help. So what should you be doing at a networking event?
Networking Is…a Way to Build Relationships
The primary reason you—and everyone else, for that matter—is out networking your business is to create relationships. That should be your focus at every event you attend. Remember, though, that relationships are not built in one meeting. Think of when you were (or are) dating: If you want something to last, you don’t go to bed on the first date. That’s not a relationship. The same rule follows in networking: People aren’t going to buy from you and become raving fans the first time they meet you networking.
Networking Is…a Way to Stay Current with Your Network
Some experienced networkers don’t really even have the goal of meeting new people when they attend an event. Instead, they’re looking to see their current database and deepen those relationships. Sure, you could definitely run into someone you know who is talking to someone you don’t, and that’s a huge bonus. In those cases, the introduction usually comes with a great testimonial: “Kim, meet Joe. Joe is an accomplished financial advisor who helps families secure their financial futures. He actually helped my family to create a sizeable nest egg that is going to fund our retirement and our kids’ education.”
Pure networking gold.
Networking Is…a Place to Focus on Giving
While you do not want to ask the people you meet at networking events to help you in meeting your business goals or buying your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies, you do want to be focused on giving back. BNI has a philosophy that is perfect for this: givers gain. What it means is that, when you give, you get back so much more.
As you’re networking your business, keep asking the people you meet, “How can I help you?” and “Is there anyone here I can introduce you to?” Before you know it, your GAIN will be so much more than your GIVE—and you’ll feel awesome in the process.
Where You Can Be Networking Your Business
Everywhere you look is an opportunity to network, from elevators to sports games to actual networking events. That’s even more reason to know who you are, what you do, how you help people, and what sets you apart. Some places you might want to focus your efforts are formal referral groups, chambers, and industry associations.
Referral and Leads Groups
Referral networking is word-of-mouth marketing on steroids. When you need a certain product or service, there’s nothing better than reaching out to that friend who always “has a guy.” But if you join a referral group, you can be the guy who has a guy! BNI is arguably the best referral networking group, but there is also LeTip as well as a number of local groups, usually started by chambers.
Most leads groups have weekly structured meetings in which you are able to educate the members, or your sales team, to go out and find you referrals. They are limited to one person per profession and work best when referral partners pair up and create a powerhouse working in unison to secure and share leads.
Chambers of Commerce
Every city in America seems to have a chamber of commerce. While many are involved in the local political scene, most also have events. They may have leads groups, but in addition, you’ll find mixers and meetings over meals. Mixers are typically more casual, whereas breakfast and lunch meetings may have a structure that allows attendees to share an elevator pitch.
Chambers are equal opportunity, so if you’re in a popular category, such as a financial advisor or Realtor, you’re going to run into some heavy competition in a chamber. Be sure you know what sets you apart from that competition!
Most professions have association groups, including careers such as facilities managers, Realtors, electricians, and attorneys, to name just a few. You can go to associations for your specific profession if you are looking for educational opportunities and referral relationships, although know that most attendees will do exactly what you do. Another option is to attend industry associations where your target markets hang out. For instance, if you’re a mortgage professional, you may want to check out some Realtor groups.
LinkedIn and Facebook Groups
While this is not an in-person way to go about networking your business, you can still build relationships on social media. LinkedIn is really just an online version of a networking event, and you can most definitely build relationships via LinkedIn. When you have a great game on LinkedIn, you can turn your efforts there into revenue.
Facebook groups are gaining popularity, and many of them provide opportunities to build relationships and generate referrals. Just as with industry associations, join groups where your colleagues hang out as well as ones where you’ll find referral partners.
Need Help Networking Your Business?
Ink & Quill Communications is an outsourced CMO firm that helps businesses get marketing handled. And we truly believe in the benefits of networking your business. We incorporate in-person and online networking with traditional and digital marketing and advertising to ensure our partners have a full-scope way to grow their businesses. We’d love to help you too! Schedule a complimentary consultation now and learn how 10 minutes can make a big difference to your bottom line.