Article #48, August, 2006
Is Your Networking Working?
Small business owners attend networking events to get clients. Much of the time, it doesn't work the way they anticipated, and they often give up before really determining why it didn't work. They move to a different group and are destined to repeat the same mistakes.
First of all, let's talk about networking basics. In order to get the maximum bang for your networking buck, join a group where your target market gathers and keep showing up. That means to go to every event you can possibly attend over and over so you can build relationships with the other members and they grow to trust you. You are not just looking to get clients directly from the group though; you want them to refer others to you, so that relationship is very important. Also, you need to stick with it for at least several months (depending on the frequency of the meetings), bringing the same consistent message.
There are several basic reasons why networking might not work for someone and here they are:
- You're networking with the wrong people
- You're doing it wrong
- It's just not a good group for you
Determining what the problem is, is the first step.
Here is the biggest clue that it is not you - if you are networking at more than one place regularly and getting clients at the ABC group, but not at the 123 group, it's probably not you. If you have been regularly attending 123 for at least 4-6 months, take an objective look at why it might not be working for you.
If the other members of this group are not in your target market, and they also do not share your target market, that could be the problem. You could be the best dentist on the planet, but if you're marketing to the "Proud False Teeth Wearers Society", it isn't going to work for you! Cut your losses and leave!
Occasionally, it's just not the right place. Maybe the members' occupations or hobbies are not remarkably different than the ABC group, but you're just not getting any business. It could be that they are very cliquey or disorganized. Maybe there is already someone there with the same business as yours who is getting all the referrals already. Don't swim upstream all the way - just find another group.
An important message to get from this is - it's not personal. Nobody in the group is out to get you; they don't even know you. Don't beat yourself up over it - it's not you.
But what if it really IS you? What if networking doesn't work for you no matter where you do it? Maybe you just aren't doing it right. Here are the most common mistakes I see over and over:
- No clear target market - there is a woman in one of the groups where I network who sells a skin care line. When she introduces herself and her product line, she closes with "...and my best client is anyone with skin!" That does not help me figure out whom to refer to her. Does she really want me to refer every living being I've ever encountered? Clearly communicating your target market - as though you are painting a picture with your words - is the best way to get referrals. The reaction you're going for is this: "Oh my gosh! That's me/my sister she's talking about!" Would that happen with a target market of 'anyone with skin'? Never. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to get a referral.
- Unprofessional - people, dress up. There are a few business owners who really don't have to wear a suit or other professional attire, but not many. For example, fitness instructors, contractors, artists, etc. - it is expected that they will not be in a suit. For everyone else, dress up. In fact, it is ok to over-dress - err on the side of caution. I know a woman who owns a wig shop. She always wears a pretty dress and full makeup, like I would wear to have cocktails with a friend. During her 30-second intro, she changes her hair once or twice! It makes quite an impression. For most people, wear a little makeup and comb your hair. I suggest you actually have a hair style! You will be judged - dress appropriately.
- Too many hats - no, this is not another style issue - I'm talking about people who are promoting more than one thing. MLMs (multi-level marketers or network marketers) are the most frequent offenders as they are not only trying to sell their product, but also promoting the business opportunity. Just pick one thing and stick with that consistently. If you mention both every time, the other members don't know what to do for you - don't make people try to figure stuff out or think too much because they just won't.
Conduct a return on investment analysis periodically - once a month at least. Look at the time and money you're putting into your networking and ask yourself if you're getting a positive return on your investment. If not, you need to figure out why before you quit, but you may need to quit. Many people don't want to stop going to the meetings because they paid a big annual fee, but if they continue going they are only continuing to waste more time and money. Make it work, or get out.
Let me know if I can answer any questions about this!