Someone I know in the contract cleaning industry wanted to expand his business. He gave up on cold calling, as it just was not working and he did not enjoy it, and was looking for a new track. Based on his research, he decided the best approach was to increase his online savvy. He spent a small fortune on a new website, immersed himself in social media, began blogging on his own site and others, paid instructors for guidance on how to use LinkedIn as a marketing tool—at a rate of US$300 per hour—,and read every book available on how to market effectively in the 21st Century.
The result? Zilch. Nada. Nothing.
However, this is not the end of the story. He was able to grow his business. Now he has as much business as he can handle; it just didn’t happen the way he expected. So what turned things around? Instead of relying on 21st-Century marketing techniques, he used one of the oldest tools in the business handbook: face-to-face networking.
What is Networking?
Networking is defined as interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career. Some cleaning contractors think there is a secret to successful networking but, in reality, there is no secret; you just have to do it.
I’ll admit we all may feel some apprehension going up to strangers at a business event and starting a conversation. But what often happens is, once you give it a try, you may actually start enjoying it. And when you can enjoy it, that’s when the results really start to add up.
While there is no secret to successful networking, I teach my contract cleaning clients a formula that has proven very effective, which includes the following:
- Network with a purpose. Make sure you know why you are attending the networking event. Is this a gathering for people in an industry you want to get more involved with?
- Get strategic.Find out as much as you can about the gathering beforehand. Who is the guest speaker? Who is hosting the event? Who will be at the event? Are they decision-makers, building owners, orproperty managers?
- Dress for the event.Attorneys typically dress in suits and ties at business events, so when attending one of their events, do so as well. Architects and designers, on the other hand, often dress more casually. If attending one of their events, follow suit.
- Be careful with business cards.Before offering someone your business card, take the time to get to know them. If they are a potential client, someone who could help your business or you, or someone you would like to see again, go ahead and exchange business cards.
- Listen.Nervous or ineffective networkers think their job at a networking event is to talk, talk, talk. While you should talk about yourself and your business, start by asking questions of your new acquaintance. Learn about the person you are speaking with, what they do, what their position is, and so on, to build rapport. Genuine interactions lead to more meaningful business connections.
- Have a conversation starter. If wearing a little something unusual but professional, such as a remarkable tie or brooch, helps break the ice and draws people to you, wear it. This can be a very effective conversation starter.
We can’t forget to mention a new form of networking that is also showing great promise. While Facebook and Twitter have been a bit disappointing in their application to the business-to-business world, LinkedIn is proving to have some real potential. It’s networking, but electronic, and if successful, it gets the same result: meeting someone with the possibility of helping them and doing business with that person and their company.
But before jumping into the ring with LinkedIn, do your homework. There are marketing experts that specialize on ways market yourself and build relationships using LinkedIn. Read some of their articles and get some of their books. This will help you build a knowledge base and foundation, so you can make this new medium work best for you.