As a business owner, especially a relatively new business owner, you need to build a small group of people who have confidence in both you and the product or service you provide. From that small start, they can tell their contacts how your reputation and your client base could grow in a compound way. Each layer of contacts could reach out to more & more people. But let’s not get carried away with ourselves, there are rarely overnight successes in business.
One of the best ways to start that small group of people is by joining a networking group. These are a great way to start, because you will be among a group of businesspeople, frequently with a positive frame of mind, and more importantly, can remember what it was like when they first stood up at a networking group to speak about the product or service they do. Networking groups can also be the source of formal and informal training (by way of friendly advice & tips) to improve your technique.
Networking is more than standing up and giving a presentation. Remember how I began this piece – the need to build a small group of people? This means being at the networking meeting in plenty of time beforehand, and staying around afterwards to chat with people. The important concept to remember is that at this stage, you are not selling to them, you are working on building relationships. This means you should be keener to learn about their experiences of networking, their hobbies, and interests outside of work for possible links to yours.
This is playing the long game, but it is one which if you are patient will be more successful and profitable for you. You will probably not get a lot of business in the first three to six months of joining, but that should not be your game plan. You begin by building that core group of people – many networking groups have smaller groups of allied trades within them.
Suddenly, you may find that some people from your do give you work, often for themselves rather than their friends. At the same time, of course, you may well do the same thing, giving work to others in the networking group. This is an important stage, because once you have made them a happy customer, they may, if you are lucky, give you a testimonial within the group. Bingo! You have the beginnings of one of the greatest marketing tools – word of mouth.
Word of mouth is, and I had better add, the cautionary statement, hopefully, telling others how good you are at what you do. This gives you a vital boost within the networking group, because it gives you credibility. That credibility means the person you provided the work for has the confidence to recommend you to their contact group. Others within the group can happily recommend you, because “I heard of the work done for Joe Bloggs, and he was full of praise”.
Now in your presentations, you can use this to make them more “selling orientated”, because you have to look to build to the second, third and maybe fourth stages. You can say I provided this for Joe Bloggs, and not only was he delighted, but it was something I enjoyed doing and would love some more like that to do, if you know anyone?
The more presentations you do, the more your experience grows within the Networking group, the more your confidence grows about giving them, less standing there like a deer caught in the headlights, more like a star caught in the spotlight! Do not let this new-found confidence go to waste, perhaps seek opportunities to attend other networking events, or other groups within the same networking organisation.
Always remember, with each new group you attend, you must build their confidence in what you do, though if you are lucky, your reputation may have preceded you. Who is to say, one of that group may have needed your services and been recommended by a mutual friend within your networking group. Word of mouth is a powerful and effective form of promotion, because it is a recommendation based on someone’s experience of your work either directly or second-hand.
In conclusion, I hope you can see that networking is a great tool for someone building a business. It can give you a forum in which you can build business relationships and friendships, which can indeed lead to someone becoming a friend outside the networking group. It can help increase your confidence (if you need it increasing) in speaking both informally among one or two others, or more formally to twenty, thirty, forty. Who knows how many you could eventually feel happy to stand and present to?
Finally, networking can lead to “word of mouth”, one of the most effective and free forms of advertising for your company. “word of mouth” is a recommendation built on the solid ground of real experience, and therefore a brilliant way to grow your customer base. You may not be an overnight success, but those recommendations can prove effective for many years to come. Which I think you will agree is far better?