In my line of work I talk to a lot of small business owners across a diverse range of industries. A far too common challenge for businesses of all shapes and sizes is to maintain new business growth. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beauty salon owner, landscape gardener, tradie, retailer, fitness coach, manufacturer or business services professional, you need to know where your next job is coming from.
Of course, the best new business is always referred business. Referrals come from people who know you, or have a connection with your business, whether through experience in buying your products or services, working with you or having a personal business relationship with you. And your existing (happy) customers are the ideal primary source.
But looking beyond your existing customers, most small business owners now understand it’s critical to have a web presence, use search marketing and leverage online social networking tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to drive prospects, leads and referrals.
At the same time, I think it’s equally important for businesses to get active in traditional face-to-face business networking as well.
For most small business owners, investing time in a business networking club will be well rewarded with quality referrals and quality new business.
Whether evening or breakfast meets once a month, fortnight or even weekly, in most clubs, members are obliged to consistently refer business to each other. So if you join a club with 20 other members, you’ll have the benefit of your business being promoted and recommended by a factor of 20. It’s true word-of-mouth on steroids.
If you haven’t done business networking before, there’s nothing to be afraid of. While different clubs offer unique benefits, you should expect a friendly environment, great atmosphere and like-minded business people. Generally speaking, the cost to join is minimal, but you do need to invest your time. Members are invited to bring a business guest with them and sessions are usually structured so that, at each meet, you’ll have time to give your 60 second elevator pitch. Every so often, you’ll also be given the opportunity to facilitate the session and deliver a comprehensive business presentation to the group in attendance.
Of course, at the heart of business networking is simply who you know and who they know. You build up strong business relationships with professional people based on trust. Regular attendance is a must for the relationships to grow. And you’re more likely to gain referrals if you start referring business to others.
These days, it’s not a case of online social networking OR face-to-face networking. You’ve got to do both. And while it’s critical to invest in your online presence, you need to ensure that you develop face-to-face relationships to underpin your referral strategy.
Ashleigh Swayn is CEO of Countplus mbt, a leading chartered accountancy practice offering accounting, financial planning and finance expertise.