Networking Your BusinessTomChilders
Long before Facebook, LinkedIn and other Internet based social networks, there were in person business networks.
These were groups of business people that would get together every so often and share information, leads, insights, contacts, and more as a way to help each other out. A personal experience with one was back in 1986. This particular group only allowed one person per occupation and we would meet every so often. You had to have three or so leads for others in the group and your name had to be able to be used if it was a sales lead. This enabled someone to follow up with a warm call as opposed to a cold call. The group had all the mainstream local business types such as a builder, landscaper, printer, stockbroker, dentist, accountant, doctor, etc. By and large, the group was successful.
Roll forward to circa 2005 through today. There is an out of state Christmas tree grower that uses a local parent at the our high school football games to simply meet and greet people as they come in to the football game. After some small talk, and we all know him now by name now, he solicits you for your Christmas tree order (and yes the football team gets a cut). On pickup day, the trees are lined up long and wide! This is networking at it’s finest. The grower is leveraging the local parent’s contacts and relationships to help sell trees. Multiply this times ten (10) schools and you will sell out a Christmas tree farm.
As for the landscape industry, networking is not only a natural fit but perhaps a hidden gold mine. After all, networking is all about leveraging others’ contacts and isn’t that really what a referral is? Someone tells a friend, colleague, or associate that they have heard good things about you or your company, or even better, used your services and were happy with you. This still seems to be the most effective marketing method in the industry.
According to Hindsite’s 2014 Green Industry Report, green industry buyers still rely on friends and referrals as their number one source for green industry providers; and in Hindsite’s 2015 Green Industry Benchmark report, word of mouth is identified as the primary source of new leads for green industry providers. (Referrals and asking for them are such a big opportunity we have a section dedicated to it under Advertising.)
The point is to network and get involved in areas where you can leverage contacts and word of mouth. This might include local chambers, rotaries, local school associations and groups, or perhaps you and a few others can start a network. The list goes on and your creativity is the only limit.
If you decide to commit to networking, think strategically. Where is the best place to network with your target market? If you do a lot of existing residential work, get involved in community and local groups, such as chambers, rotaries and associations; but if you are after builders, a great place to start might be an associate membership with local homebuilders chapter.
Think it through.
Prepare an elevator speech that summarizes your business and value proposition in an interesting and compelling manner without sounding too sales pitchy. Always remember networking is about mutual benefit and the best way demonstrate that is by talking less and listening more. Once you commit, be persistent and consistent.
For a more tips on networking check out the blog The Power of Face to Face Networking on the U.S. Small Business Administration site.