Posted by: Daryl & Wendy Ashby | July 9, 2011

Are You Networking?

Networking” has become one of businesses most popular buzz words, and the professional’s greatest nemesis.  What is it? How do I do it? Will it bring results or does it just mean more cocktail receptions on my calendar?

I won’t profess to be an expert in this field, but I am all to aware of my need to do more networking so that Neat Freaks Cleaning can move into the next dimension of service.

The reality is that networking can be whatever you make it.  It looks different, and varies in success based on your business, personality, approach and most of all – follow through.  No professional is an exception. Working purely as a self-employed individual means your time is more precious and you need to track where your time is spent in contrast to your money earned.

Knowing the needs of the professionals with whom you are networking makes you more effective in how you approach and deal with them.  With technology today, more educated clients and greater competition, the priority for the majority of our clients is trust.  They want someone representing them that they can trust. 

Did you hear that?  Your friends and colleagues are trying to increase their trust-factor and if they are successful, they will earn more money.  In 2010 and 2011 your primary networking objective must be showing how you can provide an added value service to clients that ups their trust-factor. 

In a recent survey, the number one consideration in choosing a Mortgage Broker for whom to refer clients was their experience and reputation, with personal rapport being a close second in priority.  In contrast, Realtors® felt their clients’ first priority was lowest rates, with experience and reputation second and expediency of approvals as a near third place.

Experience and Reputation

Regardless of your profession, as a Professional, looking to build your business, you need to partner with a more seasoned colleague if you are young or new to the business, in order to add credibility as business ramps up. 

Building your experience and reputation means telling people about yourself and why you are great at what you do, why you can provide them with better results than others, why you can move through the process of interest, acquisition and delivery faster and with more satisfaction, and why you can be trusted to get the job completed while providing great service to each of your other clients. 

Networking can also be achieved through social media; writing articles for local newspapers or trade magazines, offering to write articles for the personalized newsletters for those in your spere of networking, offering free seminars to prospective clientele to educate them on your profession and show them how much you know. 

It also means attending those cocktail parties, breakfast meetings, and community events armed with business cards or even brochures and in your own unique way, speaking about your choice of profession like you are the expert. 

Don’t underestimate your social sphere – the easiest topic to chat about is the one that puts the bread and butter on your table and how it is affected by the economy – people are eager to hear and know more. 

Even if you’ve had a long day and wish you could talk about ANYTHING but work, remember, if Sally and Jim leave the party thinking you REALLY know your stuff, your phone may ring next week when Jim’s little sister decides to throw a party and her house is a disaster needing my services to make it right. 

Of course you are going to recommend Neat Freaks Cleaning, because that is the outwards evidence of networking.

Personal Rapport

Personal rapport with other professionals in your professional sphere of influence makes a big difference.  Drop by their booth at community events and make small talk, stop in at their office mid-week and bring a couple of coffees and ask for an update on what their take is on the market these days.  Buy tickets and attend functions for that they may be promoting, or sponsored someone who is part of their immediate circle.  Suggest a foursome at the next golf tournament.  Build up relationships based on mutual professional respect, but also on shared attitudes, hobbies or passions. 

If you are passionate about animals – start getting involved at the local Humane Society fundraiser and connect with the other people on the committee.  There will almost always be a need for someone like you on any committee – so if you share a passion, you are on your way to personal rapport – now you just need to let them know of your experience and reputation.

Follow Up

Presenting well in the moment when you are networking is critical, but it is not the entire picture.  Follow up is where the business comes from.  Always get a business card, and always follow-up. 

In today’s culture, sending an email follow-up is great, but a hand written note causes someone to really pause and remember you.  It shows an extra level of effort rarely experienced in today’s business or personal climate.

Avoid adding everyone you meet to your monthly e-newsletter – then you just become another online annoyance – especially since many of us receive emails on the handheld device.  When you take their card, or after a second or third connection point, ask if it would be of value to their business or personal interest to have you send them a monthly update on your profession.  If the answer is yes – add them.  If the answer is no – absolutely do not!  Violating personal space is the fastest way to lose relationships.

As a rule of thumb, active contacts and prospective referral sources should receive a touch point from you monthly to keep you top of mind.  Less active contacts should still hear from you at a minimum two times per year to ensure they do not forget about you altogether.  After each connection with the less active contacts, reassess whether to move them back up to the active contact category.

Examples of follow-up are limitless, but here are a few to launch a brainstorm session:

–          Monthly newsletters or e-newsletters

–          Phone calls to see how business is going

–          Personal notes

–          Invitation to an event as your guest

–          Coffee/lunch/breakfast one-on-one

–          Invitation to a free seminar you are hosting

–          Drop off a token gift – pens, calculator, notepad, calendar etc.

–          Birthday/anniversary/seasonal cards

–          Professional update email

–          Sending a referral

–          Update on shared client file

–          Thank you note for referral

–          Add them to your social media contacts – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

–          Spontaneous “run-ins” at community events or local shopping/park venues

Ask for Referrals

Let’s assume you’ve done everything right – you’ve your client base about your experience and reputation, you have built personal rapport and you are following up regularly.  Are you done? NO. 

The last step is crucial – A-S-K ask.  If you fail to keep asking for the referrals you will fail to receive them.  Canadians are some of the politest people in the world, and if you can imagine, we can be so polite we don’t want to disturb other successful individuals with our desire to service their contact list.

If you’ve sold your professional contact on your abilities, you then need to let them know you are looking for their partnership to bring you additional business that will result in the trust-factor of their clients increasing. 

Asking may also require education about the types of clients you can service – are you specializing in elderly clients, single professionals, blue-collar workers? Do you have a dollar amount you are willing to service with each transaction? Do you only deal with those who have perfect credit? Do you have any international experience? Are you comfortable with servicing all communities no matter how removed they are from the City core? 

These may seem like obvious questions to you, but your colleague needs to be educated.

Client Communication Loop

Confidentiality is always paramount, however, when you receive a referral from a colleague they likely will never hear from their client about your service or level of care unless there is a problem. 

Instead of relying on your colleague to ask how you did after the fact, stay in touch with them during the process.  First, obtain permission from your mutual client to keep their  informed, which likely will be easy since the trusted colleague was the one who recommended you in the first place. 

If your colleague has a part in the service you provide, send them an email at the same time you send it to your new client alerting them to the completion of your first transaction, this will motivate them to make the next move, and in turn that will build both of your businesses. 

You will also have now found yet another reason year over year to stay in touch!

Over Deliver on Your Promises

Before you begin on this journey of networking, pause and consider what you have to offer, and what quality of service you truly provide.  Consider the promises you are about to make to these referral sources and be certain you can over-deliver, even if business gets busy. 

The quickest way to lose an ongoing referral source is to allow them to trust you, and have you let them down in front of their client.  Referrals are an enormous responsibility and if stewarded well become a priceless opportunity.

Happy Networking!

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