Follow Me on Twitter @Durochervision
Professionals who belong to at least one networking group make on average 20% more than their counterparts who do not.
We are asked constantly what can be done to sustain our business during these challenging economic times. Many people aren’t even thinking about growth but just covering their bills. The good news is that the most effective ways to grow your business are universal at all times and the difference is that right now it is critical to take action. The sure fire way to gain more clients is not through more expensive advertising that is not traceable. Social media is very important but it is through networking and face to face marketing that can really seal a deal. It is low cost and all results can be tracked to see where your efforts are paying off.
From your clients sending in friends and referrals to having each of your staff members belong to at least one networking group is essential for business sustainability. Getting out and more importantly getting up and talking about you and your business is not easy. The best opportunities in life are not easily had and come with a little work and ingenuity. The good news is that you do not have to reinvent the wheel and there are opportunities already developed.
Networking is a reciprocal process based on the exchange of ideas, advice, contacts and referrals. It is an imperative aspect of business building for owners and all the employees of businesses. Since networking is a social activity that most of us do every day as we exchange information with others, it is only natural to parlay daily networking to increase the client base. Networking can be done anywhere with anyone. However, as busy working professionals, it is a must to identify the necessary keys to successfully maximize all the opportunities. Otherwise, it can be a waste of time. To begin a profitable networking program requires a commitment of the entire business team. Begin by explaining to the team the benefits in its most basic form. Place emphasis on the rewards the staff will receive, more business, steady clientele, not how the business will benefit.
Identify the Networking Group
There are many different networking groups empowering and motivating people who want to expand the possibilities for generating business. Identifying the right group takes a bit of time, however it is time well spent. Research the groups that are available in your community. There will be several types available and all have different ground rules for how they are run. It is best to choose a group that only allows one member of a specific profession to join. Another key point is to be realistic about the availability of you and your staff. The ability to attend networking meetings is essential to your success. Encouraging your staff to share a leads group is a great way to maximize opportunities while providing good support and motivation for the team. Networking meetings, even for the most social of people can seem like a daunting task. By sharing a group, the staff member will be able to fully commit to the process, knowing they only have to attend an event every other week and have back up to share the responsibility with. The networking group is only as good as the members it has. Visit the perspective groups in the area and get a feel for the people who are participating. Make sure this is a match with your personality and objectives. While you are observing the group, pay attention to how many qualified referrals are passed. This is the standard to measure the group by. If there are not a lot being passed, this could be a sign of an ineffective group. Remember, you are there to build client relations, not just to socialize. Good groups to check out are Business Networking International (www.bni.com) LeTip (www.letip.com), National Association of Women Business Owners (www.nawbo.org) and of course the chamber of commerce.
When you are out networking, it is best to have a 30 or 60 second ‘commercial’ prepared about who you are and what you do. An extremely effective ‘commercial’ will tell a story. Share examples of experiences clients have had with your business, how you work with your clients, the attention to detail you give with each product or service or what makes you unique. By telling it in a story form, people are much more apt to listen attentively. Also, create a defining statement. A defining statement is a shorter version of the commercial. This is something that can be said quickly and should become your response to the standard ‘what do you do?’ question. A defining statement should include two distinctions about you and your business. Keep in mind people only buy for two reasons. They buy solutions to challenges or they buy into good feelings. A defining statement needs both. There is a greater impact when you respond with a defining statement instead of ‘I am a Physician, Software re-seller or CRM specialist.’
Give to Get
The surest way to get referrals from your networking partners is to give them referrals first. You have to give, to get. Create a folder with the business contact information of all of your networking-partners and be ready to send a VDF card when the opportunity arises. Really listen to the needs of all the people you come into contact with. It is amazing when you are listening in this way how many requests you will get from people who need goods or services in the community. When you make referrals you become a knowledgeable source of information for your clients to turn to. They will think about you beyond the services you provide. Once you are giving a steady stream of business to your networking partners they will feel obligated to do the same. Help people achieve their goals and they will help you to achieve yours. The key to successful networking is to build relationships with each member in your group. This takes time and your best efforts will come from setting up one-on-one meetings with other members. Set up a lunch date or make arrangements to visit someone else’s place of business. Be prepared. Arrive with a mental list of questions you can ask so you can get clear on how you can best support their needs in referring their ideal and best client.
Make the Commitment
Participating fully in all aspects of what the networking group offers is key. Most groups have some form of networking training or mentoring available. Take advantage of this because it will support you in being more effect in other larger group situations. It is also a wonderful opportunity for anyone new to the networking circuit. Very few people are brilliant networkers right from the start. Many groups will walk you through the process of creating a dynamic presentation and how specifically to ask for your ideal and best clients. Do not reinvent the wheel. Learn from the experienced members of your group. Do what other successful individuals have done and you will realize the same results. Also, the more involved you are within the group, the more referrals you will get. Learning to understand the difference between a lead and a referral is also a time saving technique. A referral is where one of your networking partners has found someone who has a need for your service, done some qualifying of the prospect for you, given them your information or business card and told them that you would follow up with a call. When you call, they know who you are and are open to doing business with you. A lead is where someone gives you a name and says I think this could be a good source of clients for your business but has not spoken to a person specifically about you. If the group you are in consistently appears to be turning over leads instead of referrals, consider switching groups. Effective use of your time is essential. Consider diversifying your interests. Belonging to more than one networking group will have distinct advantages. You will be able to reach out to a broader pool of perspective clients.
Building the Relationships
Though Networking vastly enhances your odds of receiving positive responses, building rewarding relationships can take time. Persevere and you will ultimately be successful. It is equally important that you stay committed to the networking process if you meet with success early on. Remember that one great relationship is not enough as circumstances can change quickly. When you first begin actively networking, make a conscious commitment of 6 months to 12 months. Keep in mind, the only way to protect your business against the effects of a naturally diminishing referral base is to keep expanding your network and always follow up with those you meet. The foundation of a strong network is based on trust and establishing a history of mutual assistance. Maintaining communication with professionals with whom you connect with is crucial. Through regular and consistent follow up you can stay updated on their changing needs and goals and remind them of your own.
Networking takes time and will be ever-evolving. You will always have opportunities to meet new people to add to your list of contacts. Once you have established a relationship, identify the people who can help you, stay connected, and keep your network growing. Remember to stay motivated, attend events consistently and keep in touch with all those you meet. Working with those three keys will guarantee continued growth and success for your business.
Remember there is no magic bus of clients coming to your door. Now is the time to go out and get them yourself.