We live in a world where it is getting harder to make our business stand out from the crowd and the clutter. In the future it will be even harder as more advertising mediums appear, as customers habits change and become harder to understand and as competition increases.
As consumers we are becoming more driven by word of mouth recommendations simply because we trust what a friend tells us much more than we trust what an advertisement says. Because of this it is vital for any business owner to have the biggest possible network of friends, associates, fans, followers and fanatics.
I live in a relatively small city. If my business is a bit slow, all I have to do is go for a walk to the post office and I will bump into someone who needs some marketing done. It happens all the time and over the years I have built a big network both in my hometown and around the country. This network provides referrals, it provides advice, it gives me opportunities and it is a kind of insurance policy against tough times.
I often hear people say that they hate networking, it feels false, and it is awkward and embarrassing. Well it can be. I don’t like going to cocktail parties and standing around looking and feeling like a sore thumb. But there are many ways to network and build up a client base. Let me share one example.
For several years I had courier that used to make deliveries to my office several times a day. His name was John and I knew him enough to say a friendly hello, but nothing more. John has literally been to my business thousands of times and I realised one day that I knew nothing about him. So the next time he came in I asked him if he had a couple of minutes for coffee, because I felt awkward that he was such a familiar part of my business yet I knew nothing about him.
So we wandered down to the local coffee shop and had a short but very enjoyable chat. He had moved to Cairns from Sydney, where he had a big operational job that was slowly killing him. Now John started early and finished early and he had lots of time to spend with his kids. We really connected and I was really glad that I took the initiative to call our meeting.
Over the next couple of weeks we got incredibly busy so I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about John. But the work started piling in and something strange was happening. I asked my consultants where the work was coming from and they told me it was all referrals from John the Courier.
He spent all day going from business to business, chatting to people. They would say that they needed to do some marketing so John would tell them that they had to use my business. Then he would give advice to firms that looked a bit run down or that were doing it tough that they needed professional advice from a company like mine. John became our very own personal sales rep and he was amazing. I couldn’t tell you how much work he directed our way but it was a lot – all because I had a cup of tea with him.
Today most of my work comes from word of mouth referral. I am very proud of this fact because it must mean that I do a pretty good job if people refer me to others.
Likewise my collective group of people who I have met in the course of my business life are sounding boards. They offer advice if I need it. They help me to see through complex situations when I am too involved.
To BULLETPROOF your business, you have to build a network of people who protect, promote and provide information. To build this network you have meet people, honour the relationship by being honest and ethical in your dealings and make it a two way street. If they support you, you must support them, however you can.
Building a network takes time and it should certainly not be written off as a waste of time. I don’t go to a lot of networking functions, but I make a point of introducing myself to people, getting my existing network to introduce me to their contacts and so on. In other words you can make networking suit your personality. If you are a one on one person, make an appointment and go and see a person. If you like the social scene, go to networking functions and meet people, don’t just stand in the corner talking to the same person you talk to at every event.
From my observations and my own personal experience a network of good people will help to make any business BULLETPROOF.