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What would be the worst possible outcome of starting a new business? You have done a lot of work, have gone outside of your comfort zone and invested a lot of money. Can your business survive months and months without solid and realisable leads? For majority of small businesses, that means closing down.
Every strategy needs to be carefully measured and assessed. Sometimes you just have to make your own mistakes, record the data, measure the results and assess the situation. Implementing changes, then repeat the process over and over again.
Can you afford to make a ton of mistakes?
If not, then it is easy to learn from the experience of others. Many people would argue that this is the wisest thing to do, even if you can afford to make a lot of mistakes.
I have been in Business to Business Networking (b2b) for over six years now. I have made numerous, costly mistakes, collected lots of data across 5 groups of different types, carefully tracked all the referral types and revenue.
It all came down to this simple combination: you get what you pay for in Fees and Effort (time).
The Rule Of Networking
Your goal is to train fellow networkers to be better salesmen of your products and services.
To put it bluntly: your role is to sell to your fellow networkers’ clients.
If you are going to be a pushy salesman to your fellow networkers, then you are going to burn a lot of good connections. If inadvertently a networking buddy wants to buy your services, don’t reject it.
Help your fellow networkers to:
- Identify pain points that your product or services can address
- Identify ideal clients for your business
- Make introductory process as clear and as easy as possible for them
Types Of Networking
Rose Gibbens from NRG has her own classification of networking or networking layers:
- Informal Networking - Business Meetups
- Industry groups, Community Clubs (Rotary and Lions) and Chambers of Commerce - various frequency
- Referral Groups - weekly
Is referral networking ideal for you?
In the small business world, networking is the main key marketing method. It requires a large investment of time and a constant influx of funds.
No doubt, if you are in a small b2b business, you have to network.
Mix of b2c and b2b, may get away with it sometimes. Can you afford to avoid networking?
Referral networking groups, creates a referral inducing environment designed to generate regular high quality referrals between its members.
Businesses that generate recurring income, tend to do really well at referral networking groups (e.g. property management services, accountants, mortgage brokers, web developers, research marketers and insurance brokers just to name a few).
Nowadays almost any business can become subscription based. I even saw a Pest Control guy offering regular house treatment by subscription. What is stopping you? It would be lovely if you could reply in the comment section below. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Don’t get me wrong, other business types can perform in the networking environment as well. For example high ticket value businesses that can afford to invest a lot of time in nurturing a few sales a month and get amazing results (e.g. Builders and Real Estate Agents).
Quality of people and businesses
So, you have made the decision to network. Choosing the right networking environment and strategy is the key.
Different networking businesses have different rules, training, support and fees. At the end of the day, the quality of people and businesses behind them, is what you would be looking at.
People attract People. Consequently, if you want results, you need the group that attracts the right people.
It comes as no surprise that cheap fees or no fees networking attract businesses that have more time than money.
Time is the largest investment in business networking, so you need to make sure you invest it in the right people.
Again, don’t get me wrong, we should never assume who a person knows or is connected to, by where their business is at the moment. I have seen incredible referrals coming from even the smallest micro businesses. However, statistically, you have a much greater chance of getting good and regular referrals from larger and busier businesses.
“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it”!
MLM and WooWoo
Try to find a networking group that is not allowing multi-level marketing (e.g. Amway, Herbalife) and woowoo type businesses (e.g. Tarot Card Readers, Crystal Healing, Aromatic Oil Healers). Or at least try to avoid them in your networking group that you join.
Again, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy an occasional meditation after a difficult project; I do also like to add a few drops of essential oils to the office diffuser to set a productive mood for the day. However, this is not what business networking is about. Business owners are usually put off by this type of businesses.
Imagine getting a referral from a fortune teller, that told your future client: “I see in my crystal ball, you will be rich and successful if you will hire Firm’s X services”. No pressure!
So, let’s focus on business and professionalism.
I hear you asking: “so what is the problem with MLM? Multi-level marketing carries the nature of networking in its veins, doesn’t it?”.
Again, don’t get me wrong, I have yself been caught on more than one occasion sculling down a lunchtime ‘Isagenix protein shake’.
However, networking becomes destructive and counter productive when one party is on a secret mission to convince you that really your business is shit and there are other opportunities for your career growth within their multi-level marketing system.
I am yet to have a five minute conversation about MLM products that would not start with hinting at “other opportunities”. Seriously people, let’s focus on business networking.
Another aspect that I would examine really carefully is the ability and consistency of rules enforcement in the networking group that you are closely looking at joining.
The 5 Key Pillars of any business networking system:
- Coffee Meetings
- Inviting Guests
- Closed Business
Are people in the group actually committed and showing up every time or sending substitutes? If the groups’ management is weak and too scared to enforce the rules of regular attendance, then the group will become flimsy and quickly fall apart.
You are probably thinking: why would they not have the courage to enforce such an important rule?
The answer is simple: like any other business, they might be afraid to lose a paying client.
If you see any of these as a solid symptom, stop wasting your time with the group:
- Members are not warned in writing, when they bend the rules,
- Coffee meetings are not consistently encouraged and recorded,
- Closed business is not reported by members every week,
- Referrals are not actively passed amongst members during the meeting every week.
IMPORTANT: There is one exception. Forcing a particular number of referrals to be passed by a member of the group, usually leads to low quality, cold leads that would waste your time. We have learned it the hard way, through spending hundreds of hour on poorly qualified referrals, just because people wanted to bring their stats up.
Referrals need to flow naturally, without pushing them.
Friendly reminder, networking is just one part of your bigger marketing strategy.
Never put all your eggs in one basket. Always remember, you don’t own your network.
What would happen if you would be clocked out from a group for whatever unfair or fair reason? Or you would have to leave due to some other circumstances?
If all your leads were coming from networking, your new business will dry up really quickly. Moreover, in a lot of cases, networking clients will choose to switch to whoever will take your place at the networking group.
Keep networking a big part of your marketing, but never make it the only part.
Enhance your marketing by integrating all elements of the funnel together and multiply the effectiveness of your networking efforts.
And now a few true ninja tricks:
Always follow up a coffee meeting with an email. Occasionally link the person to some interesting information on your blog.
Connect on LinkedIn with everyone that you meet in real life.
After a good job is done, always ask for a review on Google Maps, Facebook or any other lead generating platform.
Ditch the sales pitch - just teach people to better understand your product and services.
Leave positive five star reviews to fellow networkers you have done business together with. You will be surprised by the results and the goodwill that this simple thing will generate.
Social Media Networking
Social networking seems to be dominating all parts of business networking these days. It is easy to make a false assumption that you can network online only.
Networking is about real people and real life meetings and true connections. Efficiency is very important and a 30 minute coffee meeting can build more trust than a year of online chatting does.
Multiple Facebook small business groups are full with the question: “Can you recommend a good bookkeeper?”
Dozens of people are rushing to recommend their own bookkeeper or a bookkeeper in their network. Some business owners, like seagulls are jumping onto this, blowing their own enormous trumpet. It is actually quite funny to watch
People go to Facebook for other than business and work needs. They communicate with their family. In my experience, direct leads generated through Facebook Forums over the last 5 years were small jobs and customers were very difficult to deal with (with very few exceptions).
It is a Facebook job, to give businesses as less exposure on the network as possible, unless you pay them for advertising. And Facebook Advertising is a different dimension, we will probably talk about this in another article, later.
By all means, encourage your networking buddies and clients to recommend you on Facebook groups. And recommend them honestly and actively. It is awesome exposure to your brand and you really need it and can never have enough of it. Don’t hold your breath for a direct stream of reliable hot leads though.
If you want to network online, this is the place to be. Get your house in order, tune up your profile. Get as many connections here as possible. Develop a good strategy or pay a specialist to develop your unique networking strategy on LinkedIn. This is the marketing and networking opportunity that you do not want to miss.
Again, your job is to get them to meet you in person, always.
There are multiple ways of attracting new clients to your business. Business networking is one of the best strategies to do that, especially if you don’t have a massive marketing budget.
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