It doesn’t matter what field of business you’re in, no business is an island. We all need to network — but maybe not in the sense you think I mean.
It may be alien to many people, but networking can be one of the best ways to improve your bottom line. I hate clichés, but people do actually buy from people.
That’s why anyone in business will agree when I say that your best customers are the ones with whom you have established rapport.
When you click with each other, you click — and the best way to get those relationships is to network. How you network is your choice.
Face to Face Networking Events
In my experience, these are great for local clients, but if you are chasing big contracts, it’s important to widen your horizons and be prepared for travel.
The important thing to remember is that costs can mount up and it’s not a good idea to travel to event after event if you don’t see any return.
The best advice I can give is to hone your skills on local events where your expenses are minimal and that way you naturally become more confident in semi-formal encounters without breaking the bank.
As a rule, the two people I always target at a networking event are the host and the person booking everyone in and handing out the badges.
This is because they both have access to details about everyone at the meet and a casual conversation with them will give you the chance to ask who’s who and identify the people that you need to target.
This saves you lots of time usually wasted in small talk with people who will never benefit your business.
Avoid the Blinkered Approach
Despite my tip above, don’t be fooled into thinking that people you can’t sell to are of no use. I’ve had just as many people refer customers to me as I have found customers myself at networking events.
That’s why it’s called networking and not contacting.
It’s great if you can point a few people in the right direction too, because this is ingratiating and you soon find people returning the favor.
The biggest mistake people make when networking online is finding out where their customers are networking.
If I want to find a new client, I don’t swap comments in LinkedIn groups with fellow writers and SEO pros.
I get involved in the discussions with people in my target market. I chat about business issues with business owners and managers and I build my reputation and win their confidence.
After all, I may be a professional who works from more or less alone with a little outsourcing to suppliers here and there, but I run a business too.
If your business is laying drainage pipes, do you want to talk to pipe fitters or do you want to talk to town planners and people in the construction industry?
Just don’t constantly pitch your product or service because online networking is about being part of a community and you’ll soon be the one nobody wants to see coming!
That advice is the same for LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook because it’s the same principle on every social network.
Not All Customers Network
You and I may understand the power of networking, but others don’t. It’s not all about meeting people on social networks or at your local chambers of commerce functions.
Sometimes, you need to be more direct and target your customer’s websites. It’s a hit and miss process that has much better results when you know your target.
If you are selling to small businesses with a single office and you are confident the person managing their blog is in contact with or is possibly the person in charge of procurement, then it’s worth dropping a few comments on their blog and sharing their content for others to see.
Again, this can be ingratiating and it will help you build rapport.
Whether your target really believes you have an interest in their business or can see right through your plan is often the difference between you getting an order or not.
My advice is don’t waste more than five minutes every day tweeting and commenting on website content and always make sure you do it using your business profile.
If you have a large number of potential clients, outsource this to someone for a bargain basement price with a report on responses and save yourself from constantly checking to see if you have any bites.
Originally published 7/6/13; updated 10/29/20 to add infographic and update content.