Throughout the many years since I first became a business owner in 1990, I have noticed the incredible value of having strong relationships with contacts. Networking with these contacts, or approaching someone new for networking purposes, is an important aspect of any marketing plan.
Personally, I’ve run a household management service company, helped manage a drum teaching and repair business, was a radio host, blogger and a writer in several fields (reviewing, blogging, freelance, published author). Many of the strong relationships we built in each of these industries over these 30 years are still valued contacts today.
Understanding what networking involves is vital, you need to know about and be prepared for the hidden behind-the-scenes activities that make it all happen. Before starting out on a campaign, reflect on how your communications need to reflect your company’s image. This can include color scheme, design, logos, links and other intricacies that reflect your branding. Consider also the visual effect of your communications: whether it appears clean, concise, appealing and uncluttered. Clean, crisp and simple is the best way to go.
Networking means you need to have something to offer. Will you include their name in your ad? Can you feature some aspect of their business activities, policies or community projects on your customer e-bulletin? Are you able to partner with them for a special sale, or get your staff together for a volunteer activity? Can you offer them great resources, for no other reason than to just help them out? Will you refer customers to them? Perhaps you can be a mentor, provide advice, offer services, discounts to their staff, coupon exchanges. Networking campaigns will vary over the years and you may find that you have to come up with reasons to reach out and re-connect with those contacts (at least annually).
It is equally important to have a plan in place so that when someone reaches out and does something nice you can express your gratitude quickly and efficiently.
Keep a brief record of communications you have had with your networking group. It is easy to use a simple program like Excel to create a brief worksheet where you can enter names, contact and latest campaign project. Colour-code the worksheet so you can see at a glance who needs to be followed up with. Each time you reach out, be sure to offer something – a helpful link, a contest they might be interested in, a discounted product, a gift of some kind, a networking idea they may want to join in, or check to see if they need more content for their blog.
Finding new networking contacts is rarely an issue. Start with your current pile of business cards, your suppliers, employees, and customer lists. Don’t forget your personal phone book where you have a list of people you already know. Drop each of them a quick note letting them know how much you appreciate them, what it is that you appreciate about them, and how you hope to work together in some way, or maybe you are reaching out just to let them know how you are doing and what you are up to.
Drop into local employment centres to learn about businesses in the area that compliment or compete with yours. Small business advice groups, workshops and events can be found through the local library and government offices. Don’t forget to network with the staff while you are there – at least introduce yourself, invite them to reach out and give them your card. If you go to any events, have a ton of business cards on hand. Write on the back of your card (or theirs) a note about the conversation and what you promised to do, i.e. you may have said “I’ll reach out to you tomorrow to let you know who my son’s baseball coach is.” and you’ve made a note of it on the card he gave you too. After the event, it is easy to glance through the collected cards remembering everyone you met and reach out, referring to the conversation and fulfilling your promise.
Watch for articles and interviews with people who specialize in a similar field as you – learn about steps they’ve taken, successes and mistakes they’ve experienced, resources they might recommend. Visit their websites and try to figure out why they chose that layout, the design, the images, etc. Reach out to them to let them know they have influenced you, that you liked their article or interview, or that you’d love to connect with them on social media. Search like-minded websites for resources, helpful links and articles. Check out their media pages to see where they’ve gotten exposure; perhaps the media listed there would be interested in you too.