By Sandy Lomas
Many people don’t seem to understand what business networking is and how to use it as an effective marketing tool. I know this because I was one of those people when I started networking to promote my own business years ago.
I’m embarrassed to say it, but I had no idea people did this sort of thing. I used to work in the corporate world and sat at my cubicle every day with my head down just typing away. I tested software for an employer and had no idea what it was like to own a business and market it on a daily basis.
Networking is a process
Over the years, I have also watched many people try to find their way at networking events. And this is the problem…most people treat networking like a single event. I often see people randomly passing out business cards to everyone in sight when they’ve never even spoken to them. And I always hear someone make a hard sales pitch when they introduce themselves.
Networking is not an event…it is a process. It’s not about how many business cards you give out or collect or how many friends or followers you have. For me, the definition of business networking is the process of building mutually beneficial relationships to boost referrals for everyone involved. It’s about the quality of the connections you make, your follow up with those connections and the value you provide.
Networking is a symbiotic relationship
Let’s say you’re a business coach, and you’ve specifically defined your target market. By the way, you should take the time to create a target market profile (and it’s not everyone!) no matter what your profession, but that is another blog post for another day. Let’s also say your target market is solopreneurs (solo entrepreneurs with no employees) who provide a professional service, e.g. a professional organizer. You may attend events where your target market will be so you can introduce yourself and possibly find new clients. And this is fine. In this case, you might attend a meeting of NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers.
But I’m asking you to go even further and look beyond the next client, beyond the next sale. The real power in networking lies in creating strategic business referral partners. The professional organizer you meet may be more than just a client. She may be a regular referral source. She most likely will have clients of her own that also match your target market profile. If you’ve built a relationship, guess who she will think of first when her clients express the need for a business coach? And it becomes mutually beneficial because as a business coach, you will, no doubt, have clients who could use a professional organizer, and you will be a referral source for her.
Networking for consistent referrals
No matter what your business, you can still take this same approach to networking. Seek out others who complement rather than compete with your business. Build relationships with those who have similar target makets, become consistent referral partners and enjoy the rewards!
Sandy Lomas helps Atlanta entrepreneurs who are overwhelmed and struggling to effectively navigate their daily business challenges by guiding them to the trusted resources they need to successfully market, manage and learn what they need to know to grow their small businesses.