Networking requires a plan, make sure you have built a solid foundation before you start networking!
Referrals, leads, word of mouth, buzz marketing, viral marketing, networking, seven second introductions, elevator speeches, referral groups, business networking and social networking. It all blends, causing confusion, misunderstanding and a muddied mess in the business world.
You see it everyday, one networking event after another, business cards being passed, people shaking hands, and those ever so famous seven-second introductions being pitched. It is the same people at every event, giving out the same cards, same pitch hoping for a different outcome.
We hear about networking as a way to grow our businesses, and everyone calls themselves networking experts. If you put the words business and networking into Google, you will get 186,000,000 hits. So called experts teach classes and workshops on how to do better seven second pitches, how to hand out their cards, what to do after the event, plus how to give more, and do more.
Recently I asked a young man how he got most of his business, and he said 90% was by referral. When I asked what kind of system he had to generate and track that level of referrals his answer was; I have a great yellow page ad that generates a lot of referrals for us. While having a Yellow Page ad will create a lot of visibility for you it is not generating referrals.
What’s missing here? What is the plan? Where is the system? People who are networking have no idea where their business is coming from, who their referral sources are, what target market they are connecting with, or even if they are networking in the right place. When asked what their ROI is on all of their networking activities they will say things like, great or I have made a lot of business contacts and friends while networking. Rarely if ever do they really know the ROI.
If business professionals are going to build their business by referral, there has to be a plan that goes beyond, what most networking gurus are teaching. Word of mouth does not mean business by referral, and Networking does not mean you will get referrals.
If you really want to build your business by referral, you have to develop a plan, a system. Much the same way as you developed a Marketing Plan.
Who are your customers, where do they live, what do they do, are they other businesses or are they consumers? Companies spend thousands of dollars every year identifying their target market, their customers. How much time have you spent, is your customer anybody who needs or wants your product or services:? What do you offer to your customers, and why do they come to you? Have you asked them? Who are your Referral Sources and what system do you have for motivating and training them?
Networking is very valuable, but learning how to develop a system is more important. Once the system is in place, and you know whom you want to connect with and whom your referral sources are you will then be able to choose the right places to network.
If you are going to build a house you need to take some time and do your preparation, lay out the design, build the foundation, then build the building. Every step must be followed in the proper order. The same holds true when you are building your business by referral. Where is your plan, how is the foundation, or did you forget all of that and just start networking, hoping for best.
Here are 5 Tips for building a foundation before you start networking:
- Narrow your focus, having a clear Target Market is one of the most important aspects to building a business by referral. Anybody, everybody, and small business does not constitute a target market.
- Who are your potential referral sources? If your target market is any small business that needs health insurance, you will find that all you are able to generate will be random unpredictable leads from the people that you network with.
On the other hand, if your target market is; family owned businesses, with 3-50 employees, in the manufacturing industry you will have a better chance of building strategic referral partnerships with others working in the same target market.
- Know where you want to spend your time and efforts. Building a business by referral takes time. You only have time and money to spend, you can make more money but you cannot make more time, spend it wisely. When you are networking look for those people who would make great referral partners and begin the relationship process with them. You do not need 2500 people in your database if you have 10-trained referral partners helping you connect with their clients and contacts.
- Clean up your database. Are there people in there you don’t even know? When was the last time you contacted them? Are clients, contacts, prospects, clearly identified? Do you have other ways of sorting, like support, information, and referrals?
- Create a system for tracking your networking activities. How many calls did you make? How many notes did you send? How many hours did you spend out networking? What events did you participate in? Who did you give referrals or leads to? What gets measured gets done, tracking is one of the most important things you can do, but often the most neglected.
Don’t get caught up in the Networking madness until you have a plan. Do some work first, build your foundation, identify who you want to network with and where you want to network, then get started.