We have all heard the expression: “it is not what you know, but who you know” that counts! Well, image what happens when we multiply that with “it is not who you know, but who they know” that counts! You would have a really big group of people in your database files. These people are all potential advisors to your business. They could provide information, news, updates, new customers, other contacts, etc. which can be invaluable to your business.
After twenty years in business, I am happy to report that I never advertise for my business. New clients and new opportunities for projects and ventures come to me through referrals and getting to know new people. That might sound pretty cool to you, but did you know that I have spent countless hours networking to meet as many people as I possibly could? Mind you that this was especially true in the early years when I started my business. While I didn’t know much about the term “networking” I knew that I had to tell everyone I had ever met in my entire life about my new business. So I devised a plan to call 3 people each day. I didn’t always get to speak to them directly, but I left a message or if I was in their area, I parked the car, walked to their building and dropped in to say hello. They weren’t always in, so I left a card and a smile with the receptionist.
One other big thing that I did was to read the newspaper every day; specifically, the Business and the Local Community sections. I learned all kinds of interesting things. If a business just opened, I send them a good luck note with my card in it. If a business just closed, I found out if they were moving down the street or across the nation – if it was close by, I sent them a good luck note with my card in it. I discovered the Chamber of Commerce and that was a true find! I met a whole bunch of people at one event; so the next day I was really busy sending out follow up notes. Of course today, sending e-mails is a whole lot easier but don’t discard that personal touch either.
WHAT IS NETWORKING?
Networking is utilizing all your resources. Resources can be found anywhere and everywhere. Everyone you meet in life has the potential to be a good resource for you. The most fascinating aspect of this is that you never know where your next lead comes from. People are connected through a web of friendships, sports, schools, religion, hobbies, business, neighborhoods, etc.
I was once consulting with a Janitorial Supply company. One day, an elderly man came in to buy supplies, he asked me what I was doing there and once I explained my purpose there, he asked for my card. A few days later I got a call from a woman who needed to organize her busy household of four young boys as well as start a home-based business. Naturally I hurried right over. After we agreed to my consulting with her, I asked how she heard about me. And she told me about the elderly man who polished her floors; he told her about my business and so she called. I was with her for eight years! And all it cost me was a friendly chat with a sweet older man.
Here is the definition I got out of the dictionary:
the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions;
specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
I like that word: cultivation. It implies that you have to work at it, that you have to nourish it and encourage it to grow and produce a result that is beneficial to you and your business. In the classes I teach, locally in Southern California, I often get a student who states that they joined the “XYZ Networking Group” but it didn’t generate any business for them. So I ask them if they joined a committee or two, did they go to the mixers and the breakfasts and lunches and other events they offer, did they ask for the membership labels that are available to them so they can do a mailer…..and of course, they didn’t. It is not enough just to join a group, you must work at it. You must participate and be active in it so people can meet you and get to know you and remember you. People, as a rule, prefer to hire someone that is recommended rather than some unknown listed in directory. The more people who are out there recommending you the bigger the chances are that you will get more customers.
Years ago when I joined the Chamber of Commerce, I soon realized that many people worked out of their home. So, I created the Home-Based Business Committee with these individuals. We had our own meetings and our own Business Showcase where we presented our businesses to the entire chamber membership and interested guests. We made them pay attention to us; we wanted their business and we were willing to work for it.
One of the byproducts of having a good network is that it saves you time and money. If you are looking for a good computer programmer or a bookkeeper, it is so much easier to ask a network contact that to put an ad in the paper, wait for responses, review them and determine who is right for you; sometimes there are no applicants and sometimes none of the applicants fit! What a waste of energy…far better to put the word out and let the right person come to you.
YOUR NETWORKING CAMPAIGN
The key to any endeavor is to have an organized approach, so it is important to create a campaign for your networking efforts. Some key points are listed here:
1. Do your Homework
There a million networking groups out there. You can’t possibly be a member in all of them; no one can. Do some research and learn about the ones that appeal to you and are right for your business. Keep within the parameters of your business. My initial business was local. There was no point in building relationships with people who worked in another state or in another city for that matter; but, as my business grew and I was able to provide products and services for people across the nation, so did my networking. It is true though, that even if you only have local clientele, a website gives you credibility and marketing ability…so proceed as you need to as you grow your business.
You can find local networking groups online of course, but also check the local papers. Typically they have a Business Section. In this section, there should be a Calendar or an Agenda which will list all the Networking events in your area. They will give you name of group, location of meeting, time, cost and topic for the evening. Pick the one (s) that seems right and go! And don’t forget your business cards!
2. Educate Yourself
Now that you have narrowed down the networking groups you want to go to, it is important to understand how each one of them work and what they have to offer. It takes a bit of aptitude to comprehend these new terms on the Internet. Much to my chagrin, I discovered this myself when I first tried to list my business in Social Networking Sites! I was “warned” that I could not promote my business…duh, what was I doing wrong??? Then I got the full explanation of those particular sites and realized that I was in the wrong place!
This is true with some local business networking groups as well. Some are stronger than others – meaning that they have a bigger membership base and offer more community events to encourage more business exchange. Some are for women only or men only…which is okay if your product or service caters to one or the other. But, what if it is a product or service that I woman uses but a man can buy for her? Don’t limit yourself. Look for the networking groups that provide the right outlet for your product or service with people who have a genuine interest it.
3. Pace Yourself
Okay, make a list of which groups you are going to be a member of. This should be a balance between Internet Sites and Local Networking Groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce. Make sure you have included the cost of memberships and the schedule of meetings and events. You don’t want to be a member of two groups that both meet on the 1st Tuesday of the month.
If you find yourself making excuses not to go to these events, you are doing too much. It is better to pick 1 or 2 at the most and work them effectively than joining 8 groups and driving yourself crazy. It could also be cost prohibitive to join and attend all the groups in your town. So be smart…control your time, effort and money by selecting the best for you and then create your own rhythm for meetings, events and following up with potential leads. Networking has to be a positive experience. If it annoys you to get yourself motivated to go, don’t bother. Others will pick up on your attitude and this will do more harm than good. Go at another time when you are upbeat and open to meeting people.
4. It’s A Balancing Act
You are going to meet lots of people. But let’s face it you are not going to hit it off with everyone. Sometimes you will realize this up front and sometimes it will take you a while to figure it out. It never ceases to amaze me when I spend a lot of time with someone, talking, laughing, sharing information, exchanging business cards, etc. And then, when I call them, they don’t return my call! Even after all these years, I get disheartened. I wonder what when wrong; I replay the conversation and think that I could have done something differently. Until I realize that it just wasn’t meant to be and move on. The emphasis is on: moving on. You and I don’t want to be in business with people like this anyway!
5. Don’t spend your life Networking
There is a time for networking and a time to do business. You can’t spend all your precious time hunting for customers; you’ve got to pay attention to the customers you have. I got so into networking in my early business days. Going to meetings and events and then following up took its toll. I couldn’t keep up with the demands of my existing customers. They noticed the difference and said so. This was a rude awaking but awake I did and got back to taking care of business.
Helene K. Liatsos
Home Office Management Experts
Raised in New York City and moved to Los Angeles 25 years ago.
Graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, NJ with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Fine Arts - Theater/Communications. Pursued an MBA at Fordham University, New York, NY.
Her early Travel and Meeting Planner career begin with positions Trans World Airlines, The Sheraton Corporation and Redkin Laboratories.
Helene went on to conceptualize and create Home Office Management Experts, or H.O.M.E., a consulting firm for Small and/or Home-Based-Businesses. H.O.M.E. quickly became known as the "Home-Based-Business Expert", whose services are in great demand by entrepreneurial minded people who want to own and operate their own Home-Based-Business. Business Start-ups are her specialty and she has helped hundreds of people launch their business.
A big advocate of the Home-Based Business movement, Helene has supported and aided the legalization of home-based businesses in the City of Los Angeles.
Helene has recently produced a DVD on “How to Start and Operate Your Own Home-Based Business”. A step-by-step practical guide to exploring the home-based business arena and how this realistic, hands-on DVD can change your life!
Helene Liatsos is a well-known instructor and speaker in the areas on “How to Start & Operate Your Own Home-Based Business”, Franchising, Entrepreneurship and Motivation. She has been featured as a Speaker at the Entrepreneur Magazine’s Small Business Expo, The Los Angeles Urban League, The Women’s Conference at College of the Canyon and was the Chair for the Home-Based Business Committee at the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce – which she established and managed.
A National On-Line Course on “How to Start and Operate a Home-Based Business” is available throughout the USA and Canada.
In 2004, H.O.M.E. was awarded the “Home Based Business Advocate of the Year” by The Small Business Administration of Los Angeles.
She works at home most of the time, especially when it rains.