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By Marc Ford, Coach, Author and Editor

Money is tight. Everything in a small business marketing budget, (if you have one) is straining at the seams. Where should you spend money to get not only a great return on investment, but as and added bonus, make some brilliant connections that can help you build your business in an uncertain future?

Well let’s look at one of the cheapest ways to boost your business status and marketing with networking.

Networking meetings and groups can be good…they can be also be bad. (I should know…I’ve attended more than a few in my time.) If we look at the bad there are some networking organisations and groups that not only make you feel like you’ve gone back to school, but have people within them that have ego’s the size of an unknown planet, love to consistently talk about themselves and treat the management of groups like a badly run school PTA. That aside, if you attend enough networking meetings and learn which ones to avoid like the plague, then you’ll be able to benefit from one of the most rewarding and satisfying streams of marketing you could ever wish for as a small business.

Networking is not a dirty word. Networking has in recent years, become one of those ‘buzz words’, (and I do hate ‘buzz words’), that we all hear all of the time. “I’m going networking…”; “I’ve just been networking with…”, “I want to be part of your network…”, and as such has become for many business owners, something that evokes powerful images of standing around a room with a lot of people you don’t know, feeling awkward and unsure. In reality, networking can be just an excellent way to build a business, work with like minded people and interact with some amazing human beings, (and after 2020, we all need some of that). It can be cheap, it’s instant and it doesn’t require a lot of exceptional skills.


Networking is about communication

Feeling awkward when meeting new people can be challenging but there are many simple techniques to make it easier. I learned a lot of my communication skills from a book I read at least once a year, ’How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie. Another great book to read would be ‘Top Dog: Impress and Influence Everyone You Meet’ by Andy Bounds and Richard Ruttle. The titles sound a bit manipulative but they really aren’t. They are books about communicating and the lessons learnt from those pages can be used time and time again, every day of the week, in many situations, not just business. The end result will be that you will become a better communicator and you will find networking and therefore building your small business, much easier.

Have a goal

The next part of the process is to go to a networking function with a clear goal. Be specific. Who do want to talk to? What do you want to talk about? How can you help people in the room? What problems can you solve for the connections of the people in the room? What problems do you solve for your customers and clients? Your aim here is to meet people who might be potential customers or who might be able to refer business to you.

So there is a lot to think about when setting yourself a goal, but you also don’t want to come across as a knob head who gets their stuff out to sell all the time or asks for introductions to other peoples clients and customers and offers no value to the people that could help you grow your business. There’s a balance. Yes it’s business and time is money, but being a double glazing salesman and beating people over the head with ‘buy my stuff’ is not a way to build relationships. Networking is very much about “Know, Like and Trust”.

Consider a few things ahead of time

Think about how you will introduce yourself and what you want to sell.

If you meet someone who could become a customer or business associate how will you arrange to follow up?

How will you end the conversation so that you can move on and meet other people without offending the person you are talking to?

I know some entrepreneurial types who sit down and write a networking plan before they go to these functions, and they get excellent results. It is a business opportunity, not only a social event, and they treat it as such. Networking, even in the ‘golden’ technology age we are in…is here to stay. I think most if not all of us are ‘Zoomed’ out, but online networking is probably a greta ‘training’ ground for getting better at it. The better you are at it the more business you can attract.  Go into any networking situation with an open mind and with a few plans of attack.

How can I maximise my time and monetary investment into a real return on investment?

There are two things: the first is to buy copies of How to Win Friends and Influence People and Top Dog: Impress and Influence Everyone You Meet. They will give you some excellent ideas on dealing with people and if you apply them your networking will become much easier.

The next thing you can do right now is to plan your next networking opportunity, whether it’s online or actually seeing and meeting, and being in the same space as real human beings. Think about how you will introduce yourself, what questions you will ask the people you meet, and how you will excuse yourself when it is time to move on and meet someone else. By simply being prepared you will find that networking can change from a chore to an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

So, let’s talk about the 90 Days of Networking – Let’s Fast Track Your Results. Networking with other business owners will forever be your most cost-effective option for attracting new leads. There is little outlay and the return can be significant.

Every move in making a connection with a prospect has one purpose – to compel them to take the next step. Whether that step is to supply your organisation with ongoing referrals, add them to a newsletter database or purchase a product is not important – the individual must act.

To truly fast-track your results book yourself into attending as many networking events as you possibly can for a 90 day period.

This achieves several results;

Consistently puts you in front of potential prospects

Builds your database (remember to offer them your ‘SAMPLE’)

Creates much-needed exposure and credibility

Builds critical mass for your business to launch itself from

Makes you a better communicator

Inconsistent marketing campaigns fail to generate much-needed results as the business is seen as an ‘inconsistent distraction’ in your marketplace. By continually getting out in front of your ideal customers and clients by networking at key events that you know they will attend, you not only force your way to the front of their mind but you also plant the seed for them to purchase from you in the future. Granted, it may seem a longer-term small business building strategy, but you may be surprised at a number of quick wins you attract by just turning up and networking properly.

What can you do today to fast track your networking and get the small business you deserve?

I want you to schedule in at least 10 events for you to attend within the next 90 days. Once listed, add this to your overall marketing schedule that should be part of your business plan that you are following. (You have got one haven’t you?)

Now….before to going on ‘90 DAYS OF NETWORKING’ follow the steps below to ensure you have all of your bases covered first and the potential for results are maximised.

Fundamental No.1: Purpose

You must identify your purpose for networking, with the ultimate goal of going from connections to monetisation. (i.e. someone actually buying from you).

The biggest challenge businesses face is that networking isn’t taken as seriously as marketing. Networking is marketing, too, and must be outlined to keep individuals on task and focused.

When attending events, offer your ‘SAMPLE’ as a way to put people into your lead stream.

Be sure to add those of whom have consented to be in your database, onto it the very next day. Strike while the irons hot or it will burn you later.

Fundamental No.2: Message

You must clearly define the message you are taking to market to ensure it aligns with your customers’ values and, most importantly, that your team’s messages match and represent the larger organisation.

Miscommunication can destroy even the most earnest effort to make an influential first impression. If the message wavers and is unclear, potential customers and clients will be unaware of your team’s role in the bigger picture. Get good at it, hone it and practice, practice, practice so you don’t miss a beat.

This is the message you will repeat consistently. Like I said, practice, practice AND…..then…practice some more.

Fundamental No. 3: Presence

Your business and your team must be memorable, and the only way to achieve this is through presence, which builds credibility, trust and connection with prospects and existing clients.

The identity of “self” is a basic facet of effective networking. A small business and it’s owner that lacks self-confidence and presence will feel the pain in sales results time after time. By discovering your identity, when you approach a networking situation you will have an innate confidence that connects and produces larger-scale positive outcomes. The more you are there, the easier it is to remember you…and when you’re not and you’re missed…you’ve achieved a great presence to build on!

Now go out and network, network, network!

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