Relationship Marketing for Small Business Owners
in Small Business Marketing on October 16, 2019
Leveraging Your Networking Efforts into Sales
It’s all about who you know. In today’s increasingly fragmented and impersonal business landscape, here’s a universal truth: People want to do business with people they know. Online reviews definitely help, as prospects are more likely to choose a vendor that has some positive buzz and at least four stars. But, there’s nothing quite like being able to pick up the phone and call a person who knows your name. When you’re first starting out marketing your small business, you may be unsure how to find the ones who might eventually become your customers. In this post, we cover some networking rules of thumb that can help you get your relationship marketing off the ground.
Where to network
All networking opportunities are not created equal, so don’t feel like you have to work every room you’re invited to spend time in. As a small business owner, your free time is limited enough already—a few nights a week spent collecting massive numbers of business cards may not be the highest and best use of your time. So, do your research to figure out which groups have the best potential of yielding fruit for your business, and concentrate your efforts there. These are a few types of networking opportunities to consider:
- Area chambers. Chambers of Commerce are a great place for new business owners to start their networking journeys. The members are typically quite friendly and are there for the same reason you are—to meet people and get leads. Membership dues are generally pretty reasonable for small businesses; you can expect to pay between $200 and $300 per year, depending on where you live.
- Trade associations. Trade associations are a great way to develop potentially lucrative relationships with your peers because they provide a collaborative environment for getting to know your competitors. Networking within your trade may actually present the opportunity to grow your business. For example, you might team up with other businesses in your industry to expand your reach into other territories. And you may even end up with referrals from a competitor when they can’t fulfill customers’ needs.
- Closed networking groups. These types of groups require a membership fee, although you’re typically invited for one or two free meetings to see if it’s a good fit for you. If your cash flow is tight, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of this investment. Business Network International (BNI) is an example of this type of networking group. They meet weekly and generally limit their membership to one person or business from every industry and everyone agrees they will refer to that person anytime they have an opportunity. While that might sound like a dream come true for new business owners, make sure you are comfortable with the group’s requirements. Some of them are strict about how many referrals you contribute to other members, and you might feel like you’re spending more time trying to refer others in your group than working on your own networking and marketing plan.
- Social media networking. Virtual networking strategies on LinkedIn and other platforms can work if you have a strong professional online network, particularly if you’ve just taken the plunge into entrepreneurship or switched gears professionally. However, don’t simply “friend” a bunch of people you don’t know based on where they work or their job description and ask them for work. You’ll alienate more people than you attract. Use social media networking for posting articles that tell people what you do and how you can solve their problems. And if new connections and leads come your way as a result, that’s gravy.
How to network
In order to get the maximum return on your networking efforts, you need to be strategic. You also need to remember that networking is a two-way street. Here are some tips to consider:
- Have a plan. Study the membership roster of the organization and figure out in advance who you’d like to meet. Arrive early and check out the name tag table to see if any of your targets are there. Keep an eye out as people arrive and try to catch your folks as they’re arriving. Introduce yourself and offer to get them a drink.
- Be generous. Don’t approach networking with a “what’s in it for me” attitude. Instead, do the reverse. If you know a few people in the room, and you’re chatting with them, keep your eyes open for “lone wolves” in the crowd and welcome them into your group. Ask questions about people’s lives and businesses, and LISTEN to their replies. Think of ways you can help them solve their problems (and not just by selling them your product or service). Make any introductions you can, and be a friend. In other words, be in it for the long game.
- Follow up is EVERYTHING. There’s absolutely no point in spending your evening at a networking event if you’re just going to come back to your desk and dump all the cards you collected on it. Be disciplined about scanning your collected cards into whatever type of database you’re using, whether it’s a sophisticated CRM or an email program like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact. Take the time to connect with each person you met on LinkedIn, and send a quick follow-up email.
The network effect
Given that people want to do business with people they know, it stands to reason that the more people you know, the more business you’ll have. So, do a little research, find the community you want to be a part of, and go all in. The more you give, the more you get.
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