Possibly the most important marketing strategy one can have in the early formative days of a business is networking. Networking affords one the opportunity to take their solution to the public and gather feedback about its viability. At the same time, you're developing brand awareness, personalizing the business, identifying competition, creating advocates, obtaining advice on improvements and identifying strategic partnerships. Most important of all, you're forming relationships that can accelerate your effectiveness in the market.
The old adage of, "people do business with people they know, like, and trust" is the reason why networking is number one. Through networking, you steadily increase the number of people who know, like, and trust you and, by extension, your business. Through consistent exposure to you and others in your organization relationships, strengthen and people will become comfortable that your claims are true, your product or service is of high quality and, maybe most important, that by referring you, they won't risk damaging their reputation with the person they refer you to.
So how do you build a network? Get out of your office and seek out groups of people! Ideally, you can find groups of people who will not only appreciate your product or service, you'll also find people who have a large network they're willing to leverage on your behalf. Great business-to-business groups include your local Chamber of Commerce, industry specific associations like the Builders Association, Bar Association, medical associations, and one of my favorites, Business Networks International (BNI).
These groups expose you to people who are there for the same reason you are. They want to build their network and help you build yours. They understand the benefit of building relationships and they're usually very helpful in making introductions and giving great advice to help you get where you're going faster. In the case of BNI, you have a group of people who have all been trained in networking and have made a commitment to help their entire group grow and improve together.
BNI is rather structured as well so you have to show up weekly, you have to pass referrals and agree to respond to referrals you receive in a timely manner, you have to make time to meet with the other members individually, and you agree to a small amount of self-development so you hone your networking skills. All this makes BNI an amazing resource for people to improve their networking skills, grow their network and grow their business at the same time.
Schedule regular chunks of time in your week for networking. Get on LinkedIn and find groups in your area. Search for your regional BNI website. Look up all the Chambers of Commerce and the Better Business Bureaus in your area. Look at organization’s schedules for open events and plug them into your schedule. Pick three organizations to target and go jump into them. The hardest meetings are the first few while you get to know some people and get them to start introducing you around.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get out and meet new people. Read books, listen to audio books, and listen to podcasts about networking. Ask questions of others like, “have you been to many of these?”, “Are you a member here?”, “What kind of work do you do?”, “How did you get into that?” People love to talk about themselves so the best way to build rapport is to let them. Smile, be an active listener, take a genuine interest in what they’re telling you, look at them and don’t be searching around the room for the next interrogation. Make friends and be gracious in your conversation. Look for ways to help others by providing referrals or advice if you can. Give first and the rest will come back to you in good time.
Finally, this only works if you do it. We tend to avoid things that are scary, painful, or uncomfortable. If you want to succeed, you have to do the things necessary to ensure your success. Networking is one of them. It gets easier over time. You may even find you like it and you’re certain to meet new interesting people who make your new life incredibly easier. Take the first step. Go build that network!
Dave Lakin is a nationally recognized Speaker, Trainer, and Coach based out of Huntsville, Alabama. Dave has a solid reputation for quick results and an innovative approach to problem solving. After a lifetime in the military, he is passionate about leadership and helping people find and engage their leader within. He helps teams to truly communicate, take charge of their environment, and work together to achieve common goals.
Dave often describes himself as an organizational troubleshooter. He works with executives and their teams to fine tune their business and help make it produce most efficiently, effectively and profitably. He helps you not only reach for higher goals but to achieve them as well.