Most networking tips for small business owners
focus on networking events
However, you might not realise that you are already at the head of a great network.
One of our clients, a law firm, has an employee whose job description is solely to make the company’s clients feel loved. I think this is a great idea. Now you might think this is all well for a big company, but SMEs can’t afford it. I would like to turn the idea on its head: might it be because they don’t devote time, money and resources to making their existing clients feel loved, that they are not bigger yet?
Many SMEs and sole traders “network themselves into the ground”, forever looking for new contacts and networking tips for small business owners. Of course while this has its benefits, you should be very strategic about it. The hours you spend networking are not billable – whereas if you nurture your existing client base, you might be able to drastically increase the number of hours that you can bill.
“Customer appreciation day” is every day
There is that oft-quoted statistic that says it’s four times easier to sell to an existing client, rather than try to sell to a cold lead. And when you’re out networking, all those new acquaintances will go from cold to barely lukewarm. It makes for a rather long sales cycle.
We have focused on retention in our company with the result that a very high proportion of our business is with existing customers. It wasn’t always the case.
I remember when I was just starting out, feeling exhausted on a Friday morning after a week spent criss-crossing the country, going from networking event to networking event. I was driving out to yet another (and don’t take me wrong, they were great and I made many worthwhile contacts), when I had to pull over to answer the phone. The caller, somebody I had helped a few months earlier, asked whether I could come out to them again – basically he was handing me repeat business on a silver plate.
This led me to realise what is now a most obvious point in hindsight: instead of forever chasing cold leads, why didn’t I just call back all those people with whom working had been a pleasure and who had truly benefited from my help to see if they needed more?
So how do you network within your network?
Organise a launch or other event
First, consider events: you might be spending a lot of your time attending business breakfasts and evenings dedicated to a specific topic, but might you consider organising your own event?
I had a book launch in Dublin and Cork for The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom. I have many contacts in both cities: getting an invitation to a celebratory party is always nice and it was a great way to do something for my network.
But if you don’t have anything to launch at the moment, you can simply cross networks with somebody else. With one of my contacts in London, we recently organized a business breakfast; she hosted, and I gave a presentation. Each of us invited ten of our contacts. It was a lovely way to mingle and a win all-round: she got to meet my network, I got to meet hers, and our contacts got to meet one another at a relevant, value-adding event!
Ask somebody to be your “plus one”
If you are investing time and energy going to an event, could you bring one of your own contacts? Perhaps they wouldn’t have got an invitation without you, and organizers are always happy if you bring someone along: the more, the merrier (and the better connected). Even if you can’t go – especially if you can’t go, this is a golden opportunity to do somebody a favour and invite them to attend in your stead.
Say you have an expensive membership to a certain business group, but it so happens that you can’t go to an event. Why not pass on the invitation (with the permission of the organisers)? You get to do something of very high value for somebody in your network, as you are in effect saving them the cost of the membership for that particular occasion; you get to follow up with them and ask them how it went; and you get to be in two places at the same time as they “represent” you! This is ultimate productivity!
Say it with a gift
Speaking of which… Do you give gifts to your clients? Do you write them thank-you notes? I believe it’s important because without them you wouldn’t be in business. So go ahead and just say it – “thank you!” is a great way to remind people that you’re still alive and still very much in business. I can’t count the number of times when thanking a client resulted in them saying “Oh I meant to call you but never had the time! If you have your diary with you, might you be available to speak at….”
If you’re in the area, pop in and say hello !
Take advantage of geography: in our hyper-connected age, when you can run a business from your living-room at the touch of a button, you’d think you could save yourself the hassle of going out to a client – and haven’t I just been saying going to too many networking events is not the best use of your time? Still, managing your location as well as your time is the secret of productivity: calling up a client with “I happen to be/will be in your area, is there anything I can do for you and would you like to meet?” is a perfect, very relevant way of following up.
Make introductions and share
valuable information through social media
Of course that hyper-connectedness can be harnessed as email and social media are great to make introductions. In your network, who could benefit from or would really like an introduction to somebody else? Twitter makes it extremely easy to add value: think about the information that you have access to, and who would benefit from it if you were to retweet it? The original tweeter will appreciate the retweet and, if you’re doing things well, your followers will find very useful information they would have missed otherwise.
Feature a client in your newsletter
Lastly, do you have a newsletter, an ezine, or a blog that you regularly need content for? Why not feature a client? Either as a case study of the work you did together, or because they need to broadcast information about a job opening, a product launch, etc. When you profile them you do them a favour by introducing them to a new audience and you also show your readers that your clients appreciate you!
Your past clients are your best sales team, since they’ve trusted you enough to buy from you and, hopefully, were happy with the exchange. What do you think has more power? You recommending yourself, or your clients doing so?
This column was first published in the print edition of the Irish Post.
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