WHAT IS EFFECTIVE NETWORKING?
Effective networking is strategically building relationships to grow your business and expand your knowledge of other like-minded businesses & services. If I were honest with myself, emotions aside, that's how I would define it but here enters the classic networking pitfall.
Networking feels good. Sometimes networking doesn't feel like work at all.
Often times networking replaces working entirely. That's the danger zone.
When my husband and I started our first business together back in 2011, which is still in business today, we had NO MONEY. Like most entrepreneurs, we didn't know the proper process to follow to get started and we were extremely low on capital. We covered necessary expenses like payroll and equipment but when it came to marketing there wasn't any cash left to invest in it. So we scrounged for the funds to purchase memberships to a few chambers of commerce and networking groups and went to town trying to grow our business. We probably met over 1,000 people throughout the Lynchburg Region when it was all said and done but very few jobs were received as a direct result of these conversations. So much time and money spent on fostering relationships but I wasn't seeing much of a benefit. When I finally slowed down to evaluate the situation I realized that I wasn't being effective with my efforts. I changed a few key things and immediately I saw a drastic increase in sales and fruitful connections. Here's what I changed.
Strategically build relationships
Just like anything else in business, failing to plan is planning to fail. Develop a system of benchmark goals for your networking efforts and be willing to phase them out if they don't meet their goals. For example, if you join a networking group that meets for an hour each week that encourages people to connect outside of the meeting you're probably investing at least 4 hours a week in the group. 4 hours to drive to and from the meeting, meet, drive to and from a coffee date and have the actual coffee date itself. How much is 4 hours of your time worth? For me, $400. So even if the group costs $100/year or $8.34/month, I need to make $408.34 off referrals before I even break even. That's almost $5,000/year before you even make a dime. If you're making that kind of money from a group, hands down stay involved but if not, move on. The longer you stay, the more money you bleed.
Grow your business
A common pitfall to networking is people over emphasis paying it forward. They send work to other people in hopes of their connections reciprocating and it never happens.
No one will care about your business more than you. Sometimes the best thing you can do to grow sales is mind your own business.
Even though helping others is a valid way to deepen connections, you have to make sure your business doesn't suffer because you're preoccupied trying to help everyone else. Focus on networking to grow your business and if an opportunity arises to send work to someone else happily make the connection.
Like minded businesses
The easier you make it for people to refer you, the more referrals you'll receive. Realtors, mortgage lenders and insurance agents pass referrals all the time because they interact with the same customer and they need each other to get their job done. When you connect with complimentary businesses, you make it a lot easier to stay top of mind. The last piece of advice is make sure they are like minded. If you take pride in being punctual, reliable, trustworthy and committed to excellence, those are the types of people you should refer. Think of referrals as a recommendation. You'll be putting yourself out on the line by vouching for another product or service. Take those referrals seriously.