Seven Networking Tips to Create the Perfect Referral System
by Steve Smith
Face to face marketing traditionally known as networking has always been an integral part of a successful small business marketing strategy. But, with the increase of people starting businesses as an alternative to going back into the job market, networking events have taken on more of a ‘swap meet’ atmosphere as business owners and entrepreneurs attempt to find buyers and collect business cards to use for future email campaigns.
If networking is done right, it can fuel a continuous stream of quality referrals. If it’s carried out with an ‘I’m going to make a sale today’ mindset, it can lead to disappointment and be the source of a huge missed opportunity.
Good, productive networking is as much an art and it is science. And while your results will improve the more you practice it, you can achieve great results very quickly if you develop the right strategy and incorporate a few relationship building techniques along the way.
Networking is about building relationships
The main concept to embrace is the primary reason for networking in the first place. Networking is about developing relationships as a means of building a solid referral network. It’s like getting other business people with similar goals to spread the word about you and help connect you with potential customers you don’t know yet. Before people will be willing to do this, they have to know who you are, what you do, why you do it and why their contacts would want to speak with you. Only then, will other business owners feel comfortable that referring you to their colleagues and clients will not turn into their worst PR nightmare! As a small business advisor, I work with many business owners who haven’t taken the time to ask and answer these questions.
Unfortunately, many new owners or owners new to networking are tempted to put on their ‘selling’ hat too early in the game and instead of creating quality relationships, they end up in any number of very short conversations with people who need to apologize for having to take an important phone call. No one likes to be sold something before they’ve even had a chance to exchange pleasantries! Having a business growth mindset means setting the stage for maximum results. Why try to sell this one person when you could cultivate a relationship that could connect you to every one they know!
Successful networking requires a strategy
If you want to get a fast start on building a network of people who will help you market your business, you need to create a strategy that enables you to accomplish specific goals for each networking event you attend. Here are a several strategies to increase your success rate:
1. Know exactly who your ideal customers are. If someone wants to know more about how they can help and you tell them, ‘anyone’ or ‘everyone’ could be customer of yours, you will not get the help you want. First, it’s rarely true that everyone can be a customer of any business and second, people can and will remember specifics where they will forget about generalities. The more specific you are about who you want to connect with, the easier you make it for someone else to help you.
2. Figure out who would be a good referral business for you. If you have a catering business, what other businesses are trying to target the same customers with different products or services. As a caterer; wedding planners or event facility managers would be excellent contacts to have. Focus your networking efforts on finding these types of people at networking events instead of embarking on a quest to meet as many random people as possible.
3. Don’t confuse your elevator pitch with your sales pitch. People don’t want to be sold right off the bat. They want to get to know you. Your goal is to be as interesting as possible to encourage them to ask for more information about you. Of course, one of the best techniques for ‘being interesting’ is to ‘be interested’ in the other person. This is why it’s really important to know who you want to engage first.
4. Instill confidence in the people you meet. Everyone wants to be connected with a winner. So, look the part and dress appropriately for your business. It doesn’t mean you have to be dressed to the ‘9s’ but being well groomed, having well matched, pressed clothes on and having shoes that are shined or free of scuff marks tells a great deal about whom you are. For many, this translates into how well you run your business.
5. Bring your smart phone and be willing to help connect others to people you know. The best way to cement a good relationship is to offer assistant to someone before you ask for help in return. This creates an atmosphere of goodwill and a feeling of reciprocity for the other individual. Either way, what you want is for that person to be impressed enough to be thinking about you when they run into your ideal client at a later date.
6. Keep your attitude in check. Nothing drives away a potential business contact more than for you to ‘unload’ when they ask about you or your business. These ‘head purges’ oftentimes get delivered with heightened emotions which means you’re talking load enough for people 10 feet away to hear you. Once others realize what they are in for when you approach them, you’ll think you’ve become Moses parting the red sea. No one wants to hear about your problems. Don’t try to give them to someone else.
7. Less is more. Even if you have a positive attitude, conversations can get carried away very easily for some folks. Remember that you are there to make contacts with people who can become great referral partners for you. If you find you have a lot in common with an individual, arrange to get together at a later date. If you initiate this, you’ll be showing a great deal of interest in the other person and respect for their time. A good way to break off a conversation that’s going too long is to ask the person if they ran into someone in one of your target business categories. If they have, they can point them out and you can move on. If they haven’t, you can excuse yourself because you need to find the wedding planner you’ve been looking for.
Effective networking is all about having a specific game plan for the event you are thinking of and making the people you come in contact with, glad to have met you. If you want to build a strong referral base and a personal brand that people will be all too happy to assist you with; follow these suggestions and practice, practice, practice. Of course, if you are having trouble developing any of the elements of this plan and you want to move that learning curve quickly, find a small business marketing consultant or professional business coach to help you.
About the Author:
Steve Smith is an experienced business & executive coach and President of GrowthSource Coaching based in Orange County, CA. Steve works individually with business professionals who want to achieve top tier effectiveness in the organizations they run. Steve graduated from Frostburg State University with a degree in business management. In his spare time, Steve writes articles from a variety of business publications, travels with his wife on his motorcycle and cares for his adopted greyhound.
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