You plan to build the most successful startup or small business. But it takes many people to make the dream a reality. Building your professional network is a way to achieving the dream. It is challenging, fun and ultimately a profitable endeavor.
As you build your network and get referrals, it is important to strive for quality and quantity. The goal is to have a well-rounded, deep network.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” ~ Dale Carnegie
Why you Should Build a Network to Get Referrals
A network creates referrals. Referrals are the hallmark of a growing business, and why not? Referred customers and clients are easier to close, they already see you in a favorable light, and trust your recommendations. Referrals are a huge growth contributor to incredibly successful young companies such as Uber and Airbnb.
A strong network also builds word of mouth. Word of mouth remains one of the most powerful tools of growth. Turning your customers into advocates for your brand is a proven long-term strategy for acquiring new consumers at a low cost.
How to Build Your Network
The word “work” is part of networking, and it is not easy work, because it involves going outside your comfort zone.
If networking is not something that comes naturally to you or you just despise the process, begin with individuals that you know well. Let things unfold naturally, and above all, be yourself. Be genuine and authentic, and present yourself and your business in the most accurate light possible.
First Step – Make a Great First Impression
Preparation is key. The most important thing to do in order to give a good impression is to set your intention. This is especially important before big events where you would be meeting a lot of people — i.e. conferences, summits, trade shows, or networking events. As you prepare for the event, think about what kind of people you want to meet and what kind of interactions you want to have.
Be Conscious of Your Body Language and Clothing
Body language is a crucial part of first impressions. Everything from your posture to how you carry yourself to the way you’re angling your body. Often, simply being aware of your body language can result in immediate improvements.
Make sure that our outfit and how you do your hair or make-up says what you want it to say to the people you are meeting for the first time.
Be a good listener
The most successful networking people I know are the ones who do more listening than talking.
When you are meeting people for the first time approach with a genuine interest in who they are. This is often contagious and you will have better conversations and lasting connections. The best and most effective communicators are always good listeners. If you are able to master the art of listening, you are probably headed toward networking success.
Remember their name and use it often in your conversation.
People who smile often are more likeable. Smiling is one sure way to make a good first impression. It will allow the other person to put their guards down, be more inviting, and also help the person to be more receptive.
Become Known for Helping
The easiest way to network? Become a resource.
Whatever you have that you can offer to others, start with that. Be of value. Offering to help others is a great way to make friends.
And when you need help, ask for it. So often we talk ourselves out of asking for help when the person would actually be delighted to help us.
- Become known for what you give away (information, introductions, expertise, support, resources, etc.).
- Focus on helping others solve their problems and they’ll want you around. Give before you ask and be generous.
The most important part of attending and networking at a conferences, conventions or tradeshows happens after the event. The follow up. This is where you start to strengthen the relationship.
Follow up is crucial to the process of turning some of your new contacts into prospects and some of those prospects into a sale, new investor, a new hire or new job.
Regardless of the type of networking, the key is quickly turning those new contacts into active connections in your network. Do this by practicing 24-hour follow-up. Reach out to new contacts (via e-mail is easiest) within a day of first meeting them. Mention the specifics of your conversation and the next steps you discussed.
A network lives and thrives only when it is used. A good way to begin is to make a simple request or take the initiative to connect two people who would benefit from meeting each other.
Where to Network
- Conventions, conferences, summits, tradeshows and networking events are a perfect place to build a network
- Join professional organizations: Spend time with people who already operate in the circles you want to enter. Professional organizations will give you access to people who can give advice, make introductions, or supply other valuable opportunities that help you get through the inevitable challenges you’ll face as you scale your business.
- Stay in touch with your local community. You might be surprised to learn how many other small-business owners live in your area. Building and then strengthening relationships and partnerships with other small-business owners in your local community can only help drive business for you and the rest of your peers.
- Be active in online forums. Your online presence is immensely important, this is where many of your customers are searching for products and services, and it’s also where small-business owners turn for information. Other business owners in the group will start to notice your activities and this alone is incredibly valuable and promotes online word-of-mouth about your business among potential customers and partners alike.
- Join social networking sites. You can also build your referral network and online presence through social networking sites. Join networks for your business where you can help other small-business owners and they can help you in return.
- Participate in forums. As a startup or small business owner, you wish you had someone you could bounce tough questions off for authentic answers. Answers from executives who been-there, done that and can help increase your odds of success.
For those of us that do not have a personal mentor, how do we go about finding the answers? Answers preferably from executives that have experienced the same challenges? I have used LinkedIn groups for such purposes. They provide a great networking opportunity with like minded executives. Here is a list of several LinkedIn groups for small business owners and entrepreneurs
Other suggestions include;
- Volunteering for local boards and charities.
- Join your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club.
- Donate products or service at local events.
How to Get Referrals
Time to capitalize on all your hard work building your network. You are the driving force behind your own success. Do good work, provide great products or services, and your clients will be more than happy to refer you to other potential customers. The secret. People make referrals, not because they are asked, but because they want to be help.
Here are three types of referrals to get:
1. Traditional word-of-mouth referrals
3. Online recommendations and reviews
The best time to ask for a referral? When your client is saying nice things about you!
By investing time, effort, and engagement into building your network, you will be able to reap the benefits of one of the lowest cost-per-acquisition sales methods available to you ~ referrals.
Here’s to your successful networking and building a stronger company.
Good Luck from the Sozial Monster Team. We are experienced enough to solve your problem, small enough for you to know you will be a valued client.
Oh, if there’s anything I’m missing in this article, tell me! I’ll be happy to add it in.
We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on this article in the comments section.
Want more strategic insights? Get the latest startup and small business tips and advice for FREE and delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The Revenue Tribe Newsletter.