If you are a small business owner networking is the key to opening doors and promoting your business by building relationships. This is where you will realize the benefit of having referrals from your network of contacts. This is important, especially if you are in a service industry such as accounting, financial advising, massage therapy, law, therapy, the arts or any other business that relies on referral based sales. The process of building this type of network takes a lot of time and effort. Here is a strategy to help get you started.
Attend Networking Events
The first and most obvious source of referrals is to attend networking functions, some of which may be social and some may be business related. The important part of networking isn’t passing out your business cards and asking for as much business as you can get, it’s about building the relationships that will get you referrals from these people. Most people who go to networking events are there to promote themselves and their business and are not likely to become your clients; however they know people who could be your clients or other sources of referral.
The secret to good networking is having a purpose in mind when you go to an event. You should be collecting business cards and getting to know the people there on a personal level. Make sure to do more listening then talking and don’t just talk about your respective businesses. Discuss hobbies, talk about your kids, sports, gardening or any other subject that will to help you find common ground. Find out what other networking events or groups they attend and get an invite to go with a person to another event. This is a great way to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of wandering into a group of strangers because you will at least know one person there.
Any social gathering where you meet new people is an opportunity to build new relationships that will help you in your business. If you make an impression on people they will very likely refer you if someone asks them about a professional in your field.
Always Act Professional
It seems like a no brainer but it’s an important when networking to be on your best behavior and act professionally at all times. It may seem like fun to have a drink to take the edge off nerves and have some laughs, but remember why you are there. You are selling your brand and you want to make sure that people will trust you with their referrals, so you need to show you are worthy of that trust.
Treat Your Referred Customers like Gold
If someone refers a client to you, it’s extremely important to treat that referral like gold. The person that referred someone to you is trusting that you will take care of them and failing to do so could cost you more than one persons business. Nothing crushes business like a bad reputation.
Networking ResourcesThere are many sources of networking including national groups such as LIONS, JC,Y'S MENS, ROTARY,CHAMBER and OTHER PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS which also offer an opportunity for training and to become involved in the organizational leadership. The internet is full of resources such as www.orkut.com, www.linkedin.com, www.facebook.com, www.ibibo.com where you can set-up a Web page to create a community of people interested in the same things who then attend weekly or monthly group meetings at a physical location. You can set up your own group or find groups and meetings that have been created by others. Don’t stick to just business groups, if you have a hobby or interest try attending meetings with different groups. Your time is an important resource, so make sure to set boundaries about how much time you will spend doing networking events.
Local business incubators and development programs also have good resources for helping new businesses succeed and offer a lot of free resources including seminars and assistance with applying for government contracts. Better Business Bureaus and Chamber of Commerce groups offer frequent meetings for business networking in different cities. Trade groups provide you with the chance to meet and network with the people in your industry.
One great source of referrals is to offer seminars or training workshops on subjects familiar to you. There are many organizations that have prepared materials which gives you a chance to provide information to people and become an expert in your field. Offering to speak to networking groups on a business or personal topic is another great way to get exposure for yourself.
Create your own networking group. You could put together a women's luncheon group or an iron sharpens iron group for sales techniques or anything else that interests you. Offer a brief topic and keep it informal for a few people or make it big and structure the time so everyone can participate. If you are able to do so, consider putting on an event with speakers such as a women's health event or a mind, body and spirit seminar. Sell tables to the participants to pay for advertising and make sure you organize the event well. Pretty soon people will come to see you as a business leader and this will be great for your business.
Networking is like anything else, the more you do it the better you get at it. When you have the right goal in mind it will be easier to conquer any fears you may have. You may not be an outgoing person and it could be difficult for you to be put in group settings where you don’t know people, but remember that networking is a tool. You are building sources of professional support that will aide you in getting referrals. It’s not just about glad handing and passing out your business cards, it’s about building lasting relationships that will continue to offer paybacks year after year.