- Do you feel like the best-kept secret in the business world sometimes?
- Are you having trouble building word of mouth about your products or services?
- Would you like to be more connected to your community's immediate needs and trends?
Most of us Expertpreneurs® experience surges and lulls in our business. Those ups and downs can turn into “dark nights of the soul,” especially for those whose businesses are still young enough to sustain a fatal blow from a downturn that doesn't right itself in time.
That's when you wonder if there's something you can do to create a more stable influx of clients and jobs — some magical tool that can stabilize your business long enough for it to begin growing steadily and predictably. Well, you may just find that solution in the time-tested art of networking.
But wait, what about all that social media and other online interaction you pursue? Don't all those LinkedIn group discussions, Twitter correspondences, Google+ comments and other social network interactions count as networking?
In a way, they do. Every time you share your insights and expertise with others online, you're promoting yourself. You may even land some lucrative introductions to future clients and business partners. But I'm talking about is the good old kind of networking where you actually shake hands with people, tell them about yourself, ask them about what they do, and initiate person-to-person relationships.
Referrals: The Key to Growing Your Business
The most powerful thing about networking is its potential for sending qualified referrals your way. If you've ever felt that one more cold call might put you over the edge, you'll really appreciate having people call you for a change — especially when those people are saying, “John Doe recommended you to me and said I really needed to talk to you.” That's a slam dunk, and one that can happen over and over again once you've developed a strong referral pipeline.
Networking makes referrals happen by providing you with a virtual “sales team” of reputable Expertpreneurs like yourself who are out there beating the bushes for you as they encounter people in their daily work. They are able and willing to do this for two reasons:
You and your networking partner have taken the time to learn the major talking points of each other's business well enough to pitch it to strangers quickly and effectively.
You've already started the ball rolling by actively promoting and referring your networking partner.
Networking is a two-way street. The easiest way to get someone psyched up to help you out by helping them out first. If you see it as just a way of using others to get what you want, networking won't work for you.
The Many Forms of Networking
Where are you supposed to network? You may have already created your own little private networks over the years, but to expand your horizons, you must look outward toward structured networking environments.
These environments generally take one of three forms:
Strong networking groups – These organizations are all about business networking. They're often highly exclusive, allowing only one member of each profession (to prevent tension and conflict between similar businesses). They may also charge significant annual fees. But this serious attitude toward networking helps guarantee that the members are putting serious effort into finding the best possible referrals for each other.
Casual networking opportunities – These include semi-regular meetings in the form of industry mixers and happy hours, or large-scale organizations such as your local chamber of commerce. You can develop some great networking partnerships here, but don't expect much help from whoever's running the show — it’s pretty much up to you to get some quality networking accomplished.
Service organizations – Organizations such as the Lions Club aren't really meant for networking per se, but you can still meet like-minded, altruistic business leaders there. Serving in such organizations also helps you stay attuned to current community issues and concerns
There's a right way and a wrong way to network, and too many people make a beeline for the wrong way when they first start doing it, simply because they don't know any better. Here are a few ground rules to ensure that you get the most out of your networking experience:
- Listen more than you talk. The nicest thing you can give someone at a networking event is your undivided attention.
- Keep moving. Don't attach yourself to a single person at a networking event. You’re making it harder for both of you to make numerous connections.
- Go easy on the cards. Business cards are a great tool, but not when you're slapping them into people's hands without any discretion. Have the conversation, then pass the card — after asking for the other person's card first.
- Networking done right is one of the powerful ways to keep the money coming in, even as you're returning the favor for other Expertpreneurs®. Try it and see for yourself!