In the last few years many businesses have considered the ability to tread water and maintain a constant flow of revenue as a success. Now, they are focusing on growth. With this in mind over a series of seven articles we will be looking at the best ways of attracting new clients; be it through networking, communication, pricing and positioning. The first in our series looks at networking. It can fill even the most confident entrepreneur with dread but whether you are a newly formed business or an established SME, networking is a tried and tested method of growing your business.
So what is networking really about?
Networking is about making connections and growing your circle of influence. A savvy networker understands that if they put the time and effort into creating an enviable little black book of contacts it will deliver the desired result; clients. Think of it like a tree, where from seed it branches out, expanding and growing. Do a great job for one client and they may tell four or five people. If your network of influence contains one hundred businesses or individuals and they each tell one person about your services or products, just imagine how much your business could grow.
So what do you need to do to create an effective network that only too happily tells the right type of people about you and your business?
Creating your plan
It has been suggested that 80% of business owners do not have a networking plan, yet the business owners who do generate approximately 90% of their business from it. So how do they do it? Firstly, they spend some time writing a plan. This may only be a page or two in length but it clearly states the objectives of the networking activity over the next 12 months. The plan identifies from which tier of their network they want to get future business, how much time they are willing to invest and how they are going to grow their future pipeline of desirable contacts. You also have to think about a budget. As a small business owner you will probably belong to a number of networking clubs, attend breakfast meetings and follow up with coffee. All of this can take a hit on your bank balance. By building the cost into your business plan – and consequently your networking plan – it won’t come as a surprise when you are balancing the books at the end of the year.
Who is in who is out?
The first question to ask yourself is what do you want your network to do for you?
- Brainstorm all the people you know. At this stage don’t let your judgement enter the equation. Use your address book, your mobile phone, social networks like Linkedin and Twitter along with your memory.
- Once you have your list leave it for a couple of days: You will find that your brain will be on constant boil and names will pop into your head. Jot them down on a pad or straight into a document on your phone so you can keep track, even when you’re on the move.
- You then need to start to categorise people into groups. Kathy McAfee in her book Networking Ahead calls this the Value Chain;
- Contacts you know well who could invest in your services or buy your products. Add into this category family and friends as well as those who have worked with you like ex-colleagues and suppliers.
- Contacts you know well, will speak well of you and can connect you to other people but do not want to purchase your services.
- Contacts you have met once or a few times but at this stage you unable to decide if they are someone who can and wants to purchase your services/products.
- Contacts you would like to have in your network but you do not know.
- Now that you have your lists strip out the duds. The duds are the contacts that cannot help you to further your networking objectives at this stage in your relationship. This doesn’t mean you are going to completely ignore them but you are going to spend minimal time trying to progress your networking goals through them.
Where to spend your time
Spend your time with the people that are going to help you advance your business. Primarily the people you know well, can buy your services and you want to work with. It’s important to get face-to-face meetings with them in order to move the relationship forward. One thing that’s vital is to leave them with a sense of confidence in you and your ability. It sounds so simple but often we remember individuals by the feelings or the impressions they left us with. A negative impression, we probably won’t work with them. Positive and assured, we’re more likely to call them back. Be that person whose calls they return.
While the to-do list above has you thinking about existing connections it’s time to start planning for tomorrow.
How can you meet your future network?
- Try to connect with the people you are not sure about to decide which category they fall into. If you met them at a networking event find out if they are going to attend the next one so you can further your understanding, or drop them a carefully worded email if you have their contact details. Alternatively, ask another member in your network about them to establish the type of investment you should make.
- Look at the companies you would like to get into and see who from your network can help either to broker a meeting with the appropriate person or give you a name you could approach for a coffee. The latter is always much harder as it’s more of a cold call but if you can use the name of the person who has given you the contact details your cold lead warms up just a bit.
- The next group to focus on is those you haven’t yet discovered. Many years ago I worked with one of the best business coaches in the industry; she made over a million pounds a year. The key to her success was she attended two networking meetings a week. Her goal for each meeting was to get two business cards from ‘quality’ people and without fail she would follow-up within 48 hours. If you want to reap the rewards from your network you have to be persistent and put in the effort.
What will make you a great networker?
In my experience there are five common traits all great networkers have. If you want to become one try these for size:
- Build rapport and good relationships. To do that you need to be seen and heard so show up for each event and be present and engaging.
- Be authentic when you meet people.
- Know your elevator pitch so that when you meet your target client you will be ready to go and can get across easily who you are, what you do and how they can’t work without you.
- Get greater mileage from your network by being a great connector. People remember the contact who introduced them to their next big client. A fruitful relationship is one that benefits both sides.
- Always follow-up and honour your commitments.
If you follow the above you will start to design your own networking roadmap and become one of those strategic entrepreneurs that get in front of the right people. You never know you might just become one of the 80% that generates 90% of their revenue from their network. Now that’s an easy way to grow a business.
Keep an eye out next Thursday for the 2nd step in this great series of 7 articles by Carole Bozkurt.