There are local businesses and local organizations (Chambers of Commerce, industry and trade groups, etc.) that can be leveraged to expand your personal and business contacts to bring you a regular supply of new business. After all, that’s what networking is all about. Allow me to share some of the things I have learned over the years about networking, and the importance of improving one’s networking skills, to keep a steady flow of business coming, especially in these difficult economic times.
Networking Groups and Education. One of the ways to improve networking skills, is by joining a business networking group, which not only provides valuable business contacts, but, in some instances, their procedures also preclude members’ competitors from being part of the same group. If you are on Linked In, many of these groups can be found in that social medium as they often post information on Linked In to attract new members. The same is true with regard to Facebook. Some of these groups, in addition to having “meet and greet” networking events, also provide “networking education” seminars. I have also purchased and read the book The 29% Solution1, co-authored by Dr. Ivan R. Misner and Michelle R. Donovan. It is the source of much of the information I am about to share with you. I recommend it to anyone who is looking to improve his or her networking skills, and wishes to expand his or her network. The book dispels the urban myth that there are only six degrees of separation between you and anyone else that you would like to meet. I will leave it to you to read the book to find out why and how that ties into the title. For our purposes right now, suffice it to say that those who rely on the “six degrees of separation” myth as part of their networking efforts, leaving the expansion of their business and personal network to chance, do so at their professional peril.
Have a Plan. Have you ever heard the adage, it’s not necessarily what you know, but who you know? When it comes to networking, the appropriate adage is “it’s not just who you know, but how well you know them.” All too often, we attend as many social or business events as we can possibly fit into our schedule, without much consideration about who the attendees (and business prospects) will be, do a lot of handshaking and exchange a lot of business cards with other attendees, and leave it at that, hoping that by sheer numbers of people met, the laws of probability will result in some business randomly being sent our way. This is not a networking plan. No relationships have been established and the networking efforts are not necessarily focused on reaching your ideal client. Think about who your ideal client would be. What type or types of client do you enjoy working with the most, and who provides you with your most profitable business? Obviously, the social and business networking events where those types of clients are likely to be are the ones where you want to concentrate your efforts.
But there’s more to it than that. You should also network with other professionals who target the same type of client you do. Now, that last tip may sound counterintuitive. Why would one network with other professionals who target the same type of clients you do? Let me expand on that. Network with other professionals who target the same type of client you do, but who do so for different reasons than you. For example, do you know any CPA’s, especially CPA’s whose clients are small or medium sized businesses? These CPA’s are regularly reviewing the financial information of their clients, and know about any problems they have with accounts receivable. Whether you are a collection attorney or a collection agency, a relationship with a CPA such that he or she immediately thinks of you or your business when it comes to accounts receivable collection can be of great value to you. The same could be true of a commercial loan officer at your local bank. They review financial statements of business loan applicants on a regular basis. How important would it be to you if your name came to this person’s mind when it came to recovery of that loan applicant’s accounts receivable? Participating in organizations and/or networking events in which CPA’s or bank representatives are involved, or other professionals who target the same clients you do, for different reasons, can open other “pipelines” of business for creditors’ rights and collection professionals.
Successful Relationships – Mutually Beneficial. However, as with any relationship, there must be value provided by both partners. This is probably the key point in networking and establishing relationships. Any successful relationship, whether business or personal, has to be a “two way street.” Although you are looking for the networking relationships you establish to bring you a continuing supply of business, you have to show that you are in a position to reciprocate, and demonstrate a willingness and ability to do so. It is important to keep in mind, that at networking events, the other attendees are looking for business contacts, trying to expand their network to try to keep a steady flow of business coming their way, particularly in these tight economic times. Don’t just promote and market yourself while you are networking. Ask your new contacts about their business. Find out what their ideal client or customer would be, and ask them what a good business referral would be for them, and how you can help them. My experience has been that when you do that, your new contacts will remember you, and if you get business referrals for them, they will reciprocate.
You can’t do it alone. The key to networking is establishing business and personal relationships; so that the ultimate effect is that the parties involved in the networking process build a marketing team, where each member of that team promotes the others by word of mouth. It’s about planning and focusing your networking efforts toward meeting contacts with whom you can establish a level of trust and respect such that you each feel comfortable and confident referring clients and customers to each other. That’s how the relationships we have developed with other industry professionals have proven so valuable – – that level of mutual trust, respect and confidence has developed over the years. Everyone needs to get out there and find the business, but none of us can do it alone. We all need to work on building a networking team, and keep that mindset 24/7.
1. The 29% Solution, by Ivan R. Misner, Ph.D. and Michelle R. Donovan (Greenleaf Book Group Press).