After thirty years in business I decided I would try “networking”. I use the term “networking” in the context of a meeting of often 15-25 people that purports to help you make the connections you need to grow your business. The theme in these groups is “relationships”. One pays a fee, attends weekly meetings, buys a meal one might not want and then gets 30 seconds to introduce oneself. Does this work and more importantly is the return on one’s investment worth the cost in time and money?
Before I comment further, I want to relate what worked for me for over 30 years and led to annual net income of two hundred fifty thousand dollars. We started delivering a communications training program to the second largest forestry company in our part of the world – British Columbia. Shortly after delivering six workshops and having booked another dozen the client asked if they could refer us to others in industry and government. With a referral from a key influencer, the next client didn’t even ask us the cost. They just hired us. For thirty years we never had to advertise or show up at a networking meeting.
Yet clearly we were networking. But the networking wasn’t about building nurturing, lasting relationships. It was about being professional and providing a valued service to clients; a service with which they were proud to be associated. They provided referrals as a way of thanking us for our commitment to their success.
Fast forward to four years ago. I started “networking” and spent eighteen months meeting every Wednesday at lunch. I was restricted in my networking activities to those who belonged to my limited group. They were nice people but the question was: “Were they influential in how their business associates make purchasing decisions? Were they key influencers?” Rarely!
So what have I learned about networking over thirty-five years?
- If you are good at what you do, you will succeed.
It doesn’t make any difference if people know, like and trust you if you are not offering a high quality product that people want. You can build positive relationships in a week or less if a key influencer recommends you. Anyone who says it takes six months or a year is just picking your pocket.
- Your customers are your key influencers, ask for direct referrals.
Not sure how to ask,? Here is an example:
“I am pleased you like our work. I think you know Jane Jones at Pixel Ltd. Would they benefit from our workshop? Yes, great. Would it be possible for you to let her know I will be calling her? Perhaps she could join you and I for lunch. Thanks.”
If they were satisfied with your work they will be pleased to refer you. This is the absolute best type of networking as they actually know the people with whom you want to do business.
- Go Big or Go Home
Participate in networking groups that increase your range of potential contacts and that do not restrict your marketing activities. A group of five hundred is a better bet than a group of twenty-five. And it costs the same! If you are considering a group that allows only one representative per industry – Run! Away! Fast! You think you are protecting your referrals but what you are telling yourself is that you can’t really compete. That is not a positive approach to business.
This approach to networking is twentieth century not twenty-first century. People are doing business on the web! Find a networking organization that supports you doing business on the web and face-to-face. And look for a network that provides you with a broader range of marketing choices than a meeting once a week. Look for a network that provides regular training opportunities, that provides social media opportunities such as a twitter feed, or that lets you participate in networking your way – no limitations.
Does networking work? Only you can answer the question but you might want to consider establishing your own network of alliances that will actually bring you business.