If you’re a small business owner or manager, you’ve probably been focused on new customer acquisition for the last year or so, just trying to survive. You’ve probably tried and tested numerous methods of “getting the word out” in your local business community, using supposedly “tried and true” methods, like publication advertising, fliers in public places, trade shows, maybe e-mail campaigns, social media promotions, maybe some direct mail, coupon packs, maybe even radio or other types of mass media. If you’re like most we’ve worked with in this situation, the results from these efforts were mixed at best.
What most of these types of promotions lack is brand recognition in the local community, and lack of focus, both geographically or psychographically, being off message or appearing in the wrong place to the wrong audience.
Even in this day and age of technology and social networking, the most effective method we’ve found to initiate and foster working, professional relationships is fact-to-face networking. More information about you and your business, your integrity, your honestly, your competence and capability can be transmitted in a fifteen minute conversation at a business mixer than in a YouTube video, a Facebook profile, a LinkedIn resume, a brochure or direct mailer.
Professional business networking is a conversation with a point. I’m not talking about those business card pass out fests, where you’re only goal is to gab and grab as many cards as you can and get out. I’m talking about educational, informative, honest conversations in a low-pressure, conducive environment, where real professionals can find out about each others’ businesses, get a sense of their goals, approach and vision, where you can gauge their position in the professional landscape, maybe meet some of their colleagues, watch how the interact with others.
It’s an art form, and resembles dating in many ways. You’re looking for common ground, common experiences, common approaches or beliefs, that you can use to base an ongoing relationship upon. You’re looking for people to whom you’d trust your business, one you’ve worked hard to build, and you want to be careful with that particular property.
Of course, there are limitations – you can only be in so many places at once, and you can only meet so many people in a given hour. But it’s not quantity you’re focused on here, it’s quality. There are some numbers involved, but they are less daunting than you might believe. For example, if you go to four events a month, one a week on average, you can probably meet 15-20 people a month. Of those, maybe 50% are worth keeping in touch with or fostering, for various reasons (competitor, never any need for your business, not senior enough to be decision maker yet, etc.). That’s 120 new people a year, each of whom represents a business, a circle of friends, associates, colleagues, family, neighbors and other relatives, who probably total approximately 50. That’s 6000 connections a year, every year, who now have access to you, if you’ve made the right impression on each of the initial contacts – meaning you haven’t talked their ear off, wasted their time, have expressed a sincere interest in their business, asked meaningful questions, haven’t said anything offensive, etc.
If half of those connections actually investigate further, and elect to do business with you, that’s 3000 new customers a year. With an average order of $50, that’s $150,000 a year off single-transaction new business alone, let alone referrals, repeat business, upsell, and a host of other interactions. All for having a drink and a chat once a week. Not too shabby.
Face-to-face interactions allow you to be you, and represent your business in a way that no other media or method allows. Making the connections is only half the battle, following up and nurturing those relationships, keeping them fresh and active is another story altogether.
Go forth and network, and you don’t even need an Internet connection! Don’t forget to pick up your copy of “The Marketing Doctor’s Survival Notes”