Get more out of your networking

While satisfied customers may be your best sales force, they are not the only sales force. There are lots of other people out there who can send business your way if you make the effort to network with them and make it worth their while.

The concept of networking and word-of-mouth marketing is a very hot topic in business today for one simple reason: lots of people are starting small businesses that need to find other businesses they can work with for mutual benefit.

Your networking time needs to be marketing time. This means putting yourself in front of customers or people who will send customers your way. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you to get more out of your networking:

Competitors can be a networking opportunity
Just because you go head to head with other businesses does not mean that you can’t work together sometimes (for mutual gain). Airlines have an agreement whereby they book business for each other in return for a fee. You may find it useful to work out such an agreement with some of your competitors. On the other hand, you may have an informal agreement whereby you refer one of your competitors to customers for no fee in the hope that they might reciprocate.

Businesses that complement yours
If you put an accountant, a surveyor and a lawyer in the same room – you may have people who can refer clients to each other. When a customer buys from you, what other products and services is he/she likely to want or need? These businesses are the ones that you should consider networking with in order to build reciprocal referral links.

Prepare in advance
Before going to any networking function, make sure that you are prepared. Have business cards, prepare your elevator pitch and read through the attendee list before you go. Try to identify at least 3 people on the list that you want to network with. After the event, make sure to follow up with your new contacts.

Ask for referrals
That is why you are there. After describing your business to someone, ask, “who do you know who might need my services?” Take the time to describe your typical customer. Follow-up on leads as quickly as you can. Where possible, send business to your referrers. Reciprocity is the basis for all good relationships and it is especially true in business. When someone sends a customer to you, acknowledge it with at least a thank you. Keep in touch with your contacts and where possible, send them a referral.