Networking as Cost Effective Marketing
The first time I was invited to attend a business networking event was some 8 years ago by a printer. He said it would be good for my business, and that they had a slot for my business category. I had no idea what on earth he was on about, so he then explained that all I needed to do was turn up at 6:30am with a one minute presentation prepared for my business. I would then have the perfect opportunity to stand up in front of about 30 business owners and present my business to them.
That was it; I near as hell had a heart attack and made my excuses. I was busy, family issue, sorry thanks for the offer but I won’t be able to make it. The very thought of walking into a room of other business owners and standing up in front of them scared the hell out of me.
I now realise that I had already been networking since I was about 5 years old. When you start school you go into a room of other people all in the same boat as you, and you start to make friends with them, getting to know them all one by one. Business networking is no different really, and it does help to realise that everyone feels the same as you no matter how confident you think they look or sound. They were all first time networkers once and were all just as nervous as you the first time they attended a networking event, or their first day at school.
So how can networking improve your profit?
Well first of, and more importantly than anything else, networking is not about the instant win. If you expect to walk into a networking event and come away with a signed order you are likely to be sadly let down. Networking is all about building relationships; it is called “Farming” in many networking circles. You also have to take it seriously, there is no point attending a networking venue once and never going back again as no-one will ever remember you. You need to attend these events on a regular basis. It is about getting to know those other people in the room, gaining their trust and respect, and then if that goes well they introducing you to other people they know who could use your services. This is referral marketing, and it only costs the price of a full English breakfast! What’s more, these people you meet will happily refer your business to everyone suitable that they meet forever more.
Networking is also a great way to meet new suppliers, new friends and also a great way to build a great support network. Before I started networking I was as nervous as hell standing up in front of people presenting my business. I now happily enjoy standing up in front of crowds of hundred or more people and giving a presentation on anything from networking to my own business. Networking has helped boost my confidence and improve my presentation skills, and it’s all included in the price of a breakfast.
Networking doesn’t have to just be face-2-face; there are online networking communities you can take part in also. There is obviously my old website at www.ukbusinessforums.co.uk, and on that website you can network with a community of over 17,000 other business owners. There is also www.ecademy.com, a hard core networking website which is broken down into what they refer to as “Clubs”. The same principles apply to online networking as do to personal networking. It all boils down to relationships and trust, not the instant sale which so many people fail to grasp. These are the same people that say “Networking doesn’t work for me or my business”, and they wonder why.
Can you imagine how laughable it would be if some crazed lunatic ran into a hall of 80+ business people, threw his business cards up in the air shouting “Buy my great widgets off my website, they are great” and then ran back out of the room never to be seen again. Everyone would laugh at how ridiculous he was and then forget about him by the next day. No-one would look at his website, and no-one would trust him or his products. This principle is even more important with online networking. Those who visit online networking forums, post a message online saying look at my website, and then are never seen again just have their messages deleted and no-one takes any interest in what they have to offer. Now those that contribute on the forums and become part of the online networking community become trusted and known as experts in their field. They are the ones that benefit from networking.
There are hundreds of different networking organisations and events in every area around the world. I’ve pre-booked myself into every single Chamber of Commerce and FSB networking event in my area from now until the end of the year. There are professional networking organisations such as BNI, BRE and others which I’d also recommend giving a try. There are even fun networking clubs, and next week I’m going to a Networking Curry Club and tomorrow I’m playing Golf at a professional golfing networking event. I’ve even been known to try my hand at Speed Networking, which was an experience!
If you want to try your hand at networking, and I strongly suggest you do, then the following are a few good places where you can find out what is happening in your area;
- Contact your local Chamber of Commerce and ask their Events Team what networking events that have coming up.
- Contact your local FSB representative and find out when their monthly breakfast is on and where.
- By a copy of your local newspaper on that day that comes with the business supplement, they usually contain a list of up coming networking events.
- There is most likely to a business advertorial paper in your area, subscribe to receive that on a regular basis as it is likely to also contain details on local networking events.
- Look on the BNI and BRE websites for your area and contact their Chapter Directors’ saying you would like to come along as a visitor.
- Finally, don’t forget to ask everyone you meet at every networking event if they know of any other networking events in the area that you could attend.
Another couple of tips to take into account when you do start networking first don’t waste the back of your business card. Make sure your business card contains all your contact information as well as information on what your company does. I see hundreds of business cards that look really pretty, they do honestly, but I haven’t got a clue what the company does. Secondly, there is almost nothing more embarrassing than going to a networking event and not having any business cards to hand out. I’d recommend taking no less than 50 business cards out with you when you go networking, but ideally take a hundred. The last thing you want to happen is to be talking to someone who says “Ah you’re just what a friend of mine was looking for, can I take one of your cards to pass to him?” and you reply with “Oops, sorry, I don’t have any”. Always make sure you have plenty of stock of your business cards and carry plenty around with you.
Why do I network? Well in year 2004 I spent just under £100,000 on PR and Marketing in my business and did no networking, in 2005 I spent just under £80,000 in PR & Marketing and just started networking in the summer of 2005. This year I might reach £20,000 in my PR & Marketing budget and I heavily network. My turnover for those 3 years remained fairly constant so where do you think that spare £80,000 I was spending on PR & Marketing has gone?
That, my friends, is why Networking is a Cost-Effective Marketing Strategy.
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