25 August 2008, by A. Cedilla
It’s impossible to be in any sort of business today –virtual or otherwise– without having heard the term ‘networking’. Seen as the heart of business (after all, you can’t conduct a business all by your lonesome), it’s said that you either know how to network or you don’t. And if you don’t know how, you shouldn’t even try attempt it.
Firstly, networking is essential to any business – whether on-line or off-line. The business you get from personal referrals can be some of the best business you ever do — with excellent work you get satisfied customers that can act as walking, talking billboards for you, promoting your service to their friends and acquaintances, who then would probably be convinced to hire you before they even get to know you personally.
And it’s not just for, say, lawyers and accountants; for example – when you find a leaky pipe in the basement, how do you pick a plumber to come in and fix it? Will it be someone you had heard good things about before? Maybe you don”t know anyone, so you call a friend and ask if they know anyone who does good work and charges fair prices? Bam! Joe Plumber just got the business of fixing your pipes through networking.
A better way to see it is not as ‘networking’ but as ‘word-of-mouth marketing’, because it is part of your marketing strategy. How do you promote your business? With an ad in the local paper or a sound bite on the radio? What about PR? What about promotions? Freebies? Free trial periods (if applicable) ? BOGO (buy one, get one) offers? This is great stuff, applied carefully and with strategic scheduling. Got a website? Is it optimized for the search engines? Good.
As an entrepreneur or business owner you should allocate a substantial part of your time and focus on generating referrals and getting more people to mention your business, service or product to other people.
Every year, a revenue stream of millions of dollars flow from referrals and recommendations. If you’re not getting a bigger piece of that stream, you really need to re-think long and hard about what’s stopping you from doing so.
So, how do you go about networking?
- Build trust – this takes time and consistent action. You can’t rush trust, or force it.
- Build relationships, based on that trust.
- Think about what you can do for the other person before you think about what you might get.
- Be a ‘people person”; be genuinely interested in the people you meet at events. In today”s world, everybody”s got their BS-detector set on high, any hint of faking or one false move can taint the whole interaction.
Great networkers want to help as well as get help — out of a sincere desire to help others, not just because it might get them some business in the future.
Networking is about building a relationship that eventually leads to business being done, either between you and your new contact, between you and someone they recommend, or between them and someone you recommend. Don’t discount that last one – they have to get something out of your relationship as well, otherwise it isn’t a relationship. If you help them get more business, they will do the same for you – in fact they’ll feel obliged to.
Where can you network?
The short answer is anywhere! Remember Joe Plumber, the guy who fixed your pipes? You don’t find many plumbers at networking events, but they still get referrals.
Networking happens when you talk to your colleagues at work, when you go hang out with your friends, it happens when you overhear a conversation in the line of people waiting for the bus.
Networking is about the impression you leave people with, and you make impressions all day, every day.
Of course you will make more effective contacts for referrals at specialized networking events, but remember there are several different kinds of events you can go to. Breakfast meetings, which usually start around 7.00am and finish around 9.00am, are usually held weekly and the mode is very focused and regimented.
For those who like this kind of meeting, there’s a lot of business to be done, but it is an acquired taste. Try it out, but keep in mind if you can keep up with the regular early mornings and very formal structure.
Also, most breakfast meetings are restricted to one person from each business sector, so you’re not as likely to meet people you can form alliances and joint ventures with, which is a very important, and often overlooked part of networking.
There are also several different kinds of event organized by groups like golf days, company outings and others. These can be a lot of fun, but are very often filled with people who are there for the golf or free food rather than to do business, and you may have to make lots of initial contact before you find someone you can really work with.
Networking events are really a matter of preference and perspective, and you should go to as many interesting events as you can reasonably attend at first, and then stick with the ones that work for you.
In summary, there is a simple and effective way to network that anyone can do:
1. Get to know people as people, not prospects.
2. Everything happens after a meeting, not during. Always, always follow up.
3. Give referrals as well as expect to receive them.
4. Keep in touch on a regular basis.
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