Contents: What is Networking | Looking after your Network | Case Study: The Benefits of Networking
An important way to develop a Micro/Home Based Business is by networking. This is important because you need to have a network of:
- Potential customers
Remember, networking is not about making sales. Networking is about making contacts. You use the same tools to look after your customers as you do to look after your larger network. If you only go to functions attended by people you know, you are not networking — you are socialising. To network you have to meet new people.
You can ‘grow’ your business by building your network, but you must approach networking as a long-term investment, and plan your strategies accordingly. Results from networking do not occur over night. Often it is the contacts of your initial network contact that offers the greatest reward via referrals.
It is important to think about your philosophy and approach to business. For years now, we have been told that we must consider business in terms of ‘What’s In It For Me’ (called WIIFM). This is wrong! A better approach is ‘What Can I Do For You’ (WCIDFY), with the outcome of this being WIIFM!!
A business card is a great way to promote your business and is your main networking tool. If you were a builder, would you go to work without your tools? Yet many businesses go to networking functions without their only tool — their business card!
(See also: Networking Case Study)
Networking is a long-term investment. Results from networking do not occur over night. You should have a networking plan to chart out the following:
- What do you want to achieve from your networking eg, new contacts and eventually sales
- How many networking groups do you want to belong to, eg, church groups, women’s groups
- The type of acquaintances you need to make for your future business development - not only customers but also people who can offer you advice and assistance eg small marketing consultant
- How many networking functions you wish to attend within specified time frames eg, 2 x business, 2 x seminars and 2 x women’s groups in three months
- How many actual acquaintances you expect to make within a specified time frame eg, meet 3 new contacts at each function (18 in total)
- What specific contacts (as opposed to accidental general contacts) do you want to make
- The types of things you can do for those you network, eg, you could refer work to them or introduce them to other contacts, etc.
- Be helpful. Always try to think of something that can be useful or of assistance to your new contacts
Looking after your network
Some of the things you can do to make your network feel special might include:
- Sending a hand written note saying how glad you were to make their acquaintance. Ask them to send you information about their business. In return, most will ask you to reciprocate. You have now begun a business relationship, in an atmosphere of trust.
- Inviting your contact as a guest to a function that may be of interest to them
- Sending a newspaper or magazine clipping with a personalised note added to it, to bring something of interest to their attention
- Sending a congratulatory note or card if they have achieved a milestone
- When referring someone to a contact, also let your contact know who you are referring and why
- Contacts like to be asked for advice. By taking them into your confidence and demonstrating that you consider them and their advice to be valuable, you ensure a positive outcome. Often it is the network of your contact that is the most valuable, as you will be referred to others.
- Don’t ever overuse or abuse your network contacts. Networking has a domino effect. You network with one individual who in turn may network you with three or four contacts, who in turn... etc. etc. You only want good things said of you to these domino contacts!
- Remember not to speak badly of anyone - always be diplomatic if asked an opinion about a competitor or business acquaintance. As your network grows, you just never know if the person you are communicating with knows (or indeed, is a friend of) the third person.
Building a networking relationship
Never try to make a sale when networking. Remember you are simply trying to make contact. You could say, "I would love to make a time to see you next week, is it OK if I ring and make an appointment?"
The surest way to turn contacts away is by trying to push your product or services onto them. Remember the simplest way to build trust is by approaching your network with the thought in your mind, ‘what can I do for you’.
Asking for favours from your network
- Feel free to ask a favour from your network contact. You have earned that right by already having offered to assist them. Always leave a comfortable "out" when asking the favour eg "Can you do such and such for me? If you can’t manage that at the moment, perhaps you could suggest someone else I could ask?" Not only do you leave a way out, you make them feel valuable by being given the opportunity to network you on to another contact.
- Don’t make the favour a monetary one, eg, don’t ask them to place an order with you. Rather ask for a contact or introduction, or perhaps to assist with a negotiation or to give advice.
- If the person is in direct competition, don’t ask for information that they may consider gives them a competitive advantage. Not only won’t they give you the information, but they could be quite rude about it!
- The reason you have to work so hard at being a ‘nice guy/gal’ is to develop a relationship with your network contacts. It is this warm, friendly, caring relationship you develop, which will ensure that you are referred on, by your initial contact.
- Don’t think ‘I’ll do this so that I can ask them to do something for me’ - in other words you do it because you actually believe in the philosophy of ‘what can I do for you’ - the returns will be nothing short of amazing.
- Be proactive by networking different contacts together that you feel may be appropriate. You have to have a good memory, and make use of your database to ensure that this approach will work.
- Be conscious all the time of ‘What Can I Do For You’
- If you do this well and often enough, you will soon have a number of people asking you for assistance. Every time you assist a contact, it allows you to ask for a favour in return.
Case Study: The Benefits of Networking
Lewis Epstein from Bengid came to Australia from South America. He intended setting up a business in Australia as a product broker. He hadn’t been here for long when an Australian friend asked him ‘How are you going to commence your Network?’ Lewis replied "As soon as the container arrives on the ship and I can unload it, I’ll have my computers and all the equipment I require to start the network".
The friend quickly explained to Lewis that networking didn’t refer to computers but rather how to acquire contacts to enable you to grow your business. As soon as Lewis understood this concept he became a great advocate of networking. Lewis has a remarkable memory and as he was introduced to a new contact he would immediately try to recall another contact that he thought may benefit from meeting the new one. He constantly was proactive in introducing contacts to contacts making the domino effect a valuable part of his networking plan.
Lewis also uses email to send thoughtful, bright and cheery messages to his contacts. Not only could these messages lighten the day but also they keep the name of Lewis in their minds. There is no question that much of Lewis’ business has been built on the fact that contacts introduce him to their contacts and so forth until a business arrangement takes place.
Lewis has been so exceptional in developing his network that after only two years he is sought as a key speaker for business groups on the topic of the ‘Power of Networking’.