Photo by Fire Horse Leo
First of all, let’s square away a few facts.
- Do you own a small business?
- Are you an up-and-coming entrepreneur?
- Are you a freelancer?
- Are you a blogger?
- Do you work from home?
If you’re any of these, then you “should” know just how important building a viable business network can be. In fact, it can be the one thing that can make or break your solo-entrepreneurial gig and drive you back to the pack of hungry and discontent nine-to-fiver’s.
And personally, if I were in your shoes I would definitely be shuddering at the idea of having to return to that cramped and impersonal office space downtown you used to inhabit and trade what you’ve got now, just because you weren’t able to cut it in the crazy world of small-time entrepreneurs, bloggers, freelancers, and business owners.
I don’t know about you, but as stands right now…
- I have freedom of movement and decisions.
- I handle my own finances.
- I set my own work hours.
- Best of all, I get to enjoy all my profits firsthand without having to cater to the whims of a cranky boss. Doesn’t that sound like a heavenly way to live?
And frankly… the idea of tucking tail and giving up so I can go back to my old life (cleaning filthy toilets in vacay homes) is totally repugnant.
That said, while networking skills are important for just about anybody… they are most significant for entrepreneurs because we’re the sort of people who rely on positive word-of-mouth to build our business and attract both new customers and keep the old customers feeling all warm and fuzzy.
Networking = Advertising.
The big companies and conglomerates have millions and millions of dollars tagged for advertising purposes, but if you’re not a conglomerate and what you have is a small business… you might not even have an advertising budget to begin with!
And unfortunately advertising is still exactly what you need to do. After all, how will people know that your business even exists if you don’t make some noise?
Pop quiz: And how can you feasibly “make some noise” if you don’t have a massive advertising budget? (You’ll never guess!)
The Answer? Network Baby!
(Alright, so maybe you guessed right.)
Seriously though, you don’t have to have a PR agency or a hire group of advertisers to spread the word about your product or service in order to grab the attention of (coining a phrase from my new friend Abby) your “right” people.
All start-up businesses rely on word-of-mouth to get off the ground.
It’s common sense really… other people referring you is literally the BEST kind of advertising out there. And the more people who know about your product or service, the bigger your clientele list will grow and the more profitable your business will become. C’mon people, just do some math here.
It won’t happen overnight, of course. (If only!)
It also won’t happen if you don’t nudge the process along a bit. And there are only seven wee little letters that you need to know to help you get started… N-E-T-W-O-R-K.
I know, you totally didn’t see that one coming did you?
We all have our own little networks anyway… it’s just that we’re not always aware we have one. Nor do we always know how to use it to our entrepreneurial advantage.
Your church, your neighbourhood home owner’s association, your carpool, your former officemates and even your child’s parent-teacher association at school are just some of the day-to-day networks that you maintain.
Likely without even realizing you’re doing it!
And guess what folks… sales can most definitely be generated by keeping good relationships with the people around you!
And not only does networking allow you to expand the list of people you interact with… it also allows you to learn more about their particular interests, likes, and dislikes… which in turn allows you to market to them way more effectively than if you were going in blind.
Now how smart is that?
And you’d be surprised, but some entrepreneurs don’t even think about networking as a way to help them expand their businesses… instead they brush it aside and say that they don’t have time for socializing.
Remember that the less people you know the less people that know you. And that means the lower your chances of becoming that entrepreneurial rock star that everyone knows, likes and trusts.
And yes, I’m pretty sure that right now you’re thinking your PTA membership card can’t pave the way to your business success, but who knows? Every person you meet has the potential of becoming one of your “right” people. Those parents at your child’s grade school very well could become your most loyal and supportive customers!
Either way, the bottom line is this…
If you don’t get out there, your customers-to-be will definitely NOT seek you out. They have plenty to choose from in the marketplace, and it’s a really a rare jewel of a consumer who will go out of his way to check out alternatives to his trusted product brands and services.
So start making it a point to put yourself in front of that rare jewel of a consumer yourself, and you may very well be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Things You Need to Know When Networking
- Always leave a good impression!
Every person you come across is potential supplier/buyer/supporter. Or if they’re not any of those, then mayhap they end up becoming your number one antagonist in the realm of business.
Number one antagonist…AKA… that crazy guy that can’t stand you because you said that filthy ::gasp:: curse word that one time.
At band camp. (OK not really at band camp, but I had an American Pie moment.)
Seriously though, that crazy guy who can’t stand you (depending upon his own networking skills) can spread crappy rumors about you and your business and totally ruin your reputation when you’re only just beginning to build it.
Sad but true.
(However, please note I’m not suggesting you become an ass kisser. Just because someone may be bigger or badder than you, doesn’t mean you have to brown nose until they love you.)
Some people will like you, some people won’t. That’s just the way of the world, and nothing you do will change it. Get it? Got it? Good.
- Schmooze like a pro! (Or something like that.)
Really, excellent interpersonal skills are key to making people comfortable around you, like you, and want to get to know you. Going around pitching everyone like a bad production of ‘Salesmen Gone Wild’ will likely not net you the results you were hoping for.
In fact, most folks get twitchy the moment they catch a whiff of ‘sales speak’.
So smile, take it easy, and talk naturally. Schmooze if you will.
- Break out the entrepreneur card!
Tell them you’re an entrepreneur and they’ll most likely to ask you what your business is all about. It’s kind of a good opener if I do say so myself… you’d be surprised how foreign the word ‘entrepreneur’ is when you get out and about and start socializing.
Most folks are still all tied up in their J.O.B.’s and have a ‘working for the man’ mentality.
And when they do ask what your biz is all about, it’s as good an invitation as any for you to fill them in on what you have to offer. In your best non-pitchy voice of course.
Careful though what kind of vibes you give off as you chit chat with new folks.
Entrepreneurs can be sort of snobbish or elitist because they think they’re “above” the nine-to-fivers, who are still stuck in their cubicles doing jobs that they hate. This is simply a massive wrong turn in your perspective. Snobs don’t win people over.
Seriously, you can’t be on your high horse if you’re an entrepreneur—you need all the positive feedback you can get and as many people singing your praises as you can find… that’s what helps bring in new biz.
- Kick it old school!
So I know it’s a bit “old school” in this high tech day and age… but don’t forget to bring along your trusty business cards so you can leave your newfound friends with something to remember you by when you’re out stirring up your networking mojo.
You can of course, compliment this “old-fashioned” keepsake by building your contacts online as well and using technology to the hilt. (Ain’t nothing wrong with doing a bit of straddling of both worlds, now is there?)
And as a final word of caution…
Put up or shut up. Really, you can network all you want, (till the cows come home if that suits your fancy) but if you don’t back up what you offer… your “right” folks will eventually wise up and take their patronage elsewhere. Just sayin’.
So how about you? Have your own thoughts on networking and how to do it? Is it something you struggle with? (I know I do, especially face to face.) Is there something I can do to help you out a bit? Drop your thoughts in the comments below and let’s see what we can do.