A proven key to business success is networking – simply put, it’s just meeting other people and developing relationships with them. They may be potential leads or prospects. They may be possible vendors or providers of services. They may become friends who know someone who knows someone.
The Advantages of Networking
You may go see a movie or buy a book because a friend recommended it. These people know you – your likes and dislikes – and because they’re friends, you value their opinions.
The same dynamic is at work in the commercial world. If your company needs a special service or a one-of-a-kind product, chances are, you pick up the phone and start talking to friends and acquaintances in your business sphere to get referrals from trusted, respected sources. This is the best marketing a business has – word of mouth (WOM) marketing, as one reliable source spreads your company name to a new client or customer.
Another advantage to networking? Business reputation management. A business with a good reputation in the community demonstrates corporate citizenship and a customer-centered approach to the conduct of business. There’s less likelihood that negative word of mouth can hurt a small business because the business network can provide an accurate picture of your company.
Networking can open the door to sharing, bartering, improved business terms, new prospects and leads, an expanding client base – in other words, networking may provide the ingredients for business success in the long term.
Smart Networking is Smart Business
Focus networking activity on people and organizations that are somehow associated with your company’s activity. It doesn't make good business sense to network at an aerospace manufacturing convention if you own a boutique store on Main Street.
Start locally and join organizations like the Better Business Bureau® and the local chamber of commerce. Most chambers meet monthly for a luncheon and a guest speaker. Not only might you learn something useful from the speaker, you get a chance to meet local business leaders – the men and women you want to know in order to grow your business.
Join industry-specific groups. If you’re a medical services provider, for example, join the regional, state and national organizations that represent your area of practice. Subscribe to the newsletter or journal, attend meetings and become a part of the industry community to which your company (or practice) belongs.
Volunteer. Volunteer within the groups where you hold membership and volunteer in your community. What can your company do to help out down the street, or around the world? This not only improves a company’s image, it demonstrates values – your values.
There are lots of things you can do to show others what your business is about. Sponsor a sports team. Organize a job fair. Offer free seminars or free consultations. Mentor younger business owners. Teach an adult education class. The list is limited only by your imagination.
The Internet has simplified the process of connecting with like-minded individuals with chat rooms, industry blogs and other opportunities to meet others and exchange helpful, targeted information.
For example, LinkedIn® supports hundreds of sector-specific groups, by industry, location, function – even objectives. Sign up for business groups within your sector and your region, and start networking by posting useful information to the groups’ discussion boards. Conduct an Internet search of your industry and become a member of relevant groups that welcome your contributions and share information.
Local connections are often made through business owners with whom your company has an existing relationship. Take advantage of these connections. Arrange a lunch. Play a round of golf. These new business acquaintances may quickly become friends.
Resources at Your Bank
Another excellent networking resource is your local bank manager, business center manager, or relationship manager. These professionals are plugged in to the local and regional business community. They work with the successful businesses in your service area. They may recognize symbiotic relationships between your company and other bank clients.
Make an appointment to meet with your bank representative and ask for introductions and recommendations for groups you can join to enhance your business “self” and your business. The information is free and highly targeted.
Make a good impression when meeting new contacts. Don’t launch in to a lengthy sales pitch before the meal arrives. Get to know new acquaintances on a personal level. Chances are, there’ll be plenty of time to talk business down the road. Take the time to listen. You’ll learn a lot more about an individual and their business by listening. On first meeting, you might consider jotting down a few notes – points to consider at another time.
Follow up. Make a phone call a few days after your introduction. Send a thank-you letter on company stationery that includes some key discussion points brought up at the initial meeting (memory refreshers). But avoid seeming too eager with lots of emails or phone calls. Cultivate good business relationships based on sincerity, respect and mutual benefit to both businesses, or business and new customer.
The more people learn about your company, the more people may call or visit to learn more about you. When you own or manage a business, you can never have too many friends.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.