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Frequently Asked Questions
How do I use the filters?
The core of the Compfight experience is the filters and options: they help you satisfy your appetite for discovering and locating the images you need, in the most efficient way possible. Here is what each of the filters will do:
- Tags only will locate images using JUST tags (keywords).
- All text will locate images using ALL the text you input into the search field.
- Any licence will locate images that have any license.
- Creative commons will locate images that have been licensed through the Creative Commons including images available for commercial use.
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- Only originals will locate ONLY images that have originals.
- Safe search will hide 99% of innapropriate content.
- Unsafe search will will show everything. Do not select unsafe unless you’re of legal age, in a legal country, promise not to tell your mom, etc.
In my quest to find non-biased, easy to understand, tutorials for learning the basics of social media, I came across an outstanding guide to social media developed by a group of students in the UK, that does a fantastic job of explaining the basics of online marketing concepts such as:
- How to develop an online presence?
- How to begin blogging?
- Why should I blog?
- What is a hashtag?
- What is a RSS feed?
- What are the Concepts behind Twitter and YouTube?
It’s a great place to learn the basic concepts of social media and why they should be important to you and your small business.
Check it out here Student guide to social media.
When you want to modify a theme or a template, or any html web page, you can easily do so by changing the CSS of the design.
The , or , is a way to style and present HTML. Whereas the HTML is the or , the style sheet is the of that document.
It is typically a seperate document that is included (or can be added as a seperate file) to modify things like the color of the fonts, size and style of the fonts, create backgrounds or borders for photos, etc…
There is a great tutorial at HTML Dog, that walks you through the basics of css and shows what elements are available to change.
I would recommend viewing the beginner CSS tutorial just to get a feel for the concept of what is CSS and how to modify CSS of your website.
Although it is not a difficult concept for a person who works with websites regularly, it can be confusing to a person not comfortable with technology.
Hopefully these CSS concept tutorials will help demystify the question “What is CSS?” so that you can become more familiar with the concept when talking with your web designer.
See our other tutorial links on our tutorials page and other blogging basics concepts on our blogging tips page.
- Automated Tests
- site tracking
The idea of networking makes many people uncomfortable … or confused.
It’s easy to see why.
When most people think about networking it seems insincere at best — and selfish at worst. This, of course, is the complete opposite of what networking is supposed to be — friendly, useful, and genuine.
It’s easy for most of us to be friendly and useful with people we know. However, because networking is a “business activity” it’s easy to think that we need to act in a different way.
Unfortunately, most networking strategies come across as pushy, needy, or self-serving — even though the people using them rarely act that way in day-to-day life.
Don’t worry, there are definitely genuine ways to selp-promote. So, in the spirit of helping everyone become a better networker, here are 24 networking tips, which from my experience, actually work.
The real goal of networking
1. The goal of networking should be to help other people. Yes, it would be nice if they helped you out as well, but networking is a two–way street. And your side of the street is all about helping others, not asking them to help you. Asking for favors should only become a possibility once you have learned more about the person and provided some value to them.
2. It’s far more important to understand their needs before you tell them about your needs. Your goals should not be on the forefront of your mind. You’re trying to develop a relationship with someone, which means you should be thinking about them. It’s your job to understand the people in your network, where they are coming from, and what’s important to them.
3. You don’t need to know the most people, just the right people. There is no need to shotgun your business cards across the industry or to pepper everyone with emails. Instead, focus on finding people that are relevant to you. As time goes on, you can decide if the interests that you share with someone are worth pursuing further. It’s better to have 5 people willing to help you out than it is to have 500 that simply know your name.
4. Don’t expect anything. The fact that you reached out and made contact with someone does not put them in your debt. No one is required to “pay you back.” Instead of approaching networking with the goal of gaining favors, try reaching out with curiosity. Contact interesting and relevant people and see what happens. Some of them will respond and some of the won’t. Learn about the people that follow up. Find out what makes them interesting and how you can help them — and don’t expect anything in return.
5. Don’t leave networking to chance. Take some time and define what you are looking for in your network. Every once and awhile you’ll stumble across someone amazing on accident, but it’s a lot easier to find who you’re looking for if you know who they are in the first place. Be proactive and create a list of people that you want to contact on purpose.
6. Go beyond your industry. Connect with people on a variety of levels from a wide range of areas. By growing your network outside of the usual areas you will be more valuable to people that are in your immediate industry. The people you work with have personalities and multiple interests, right? With a broad network you can be the person that connects people across industries.
7. Don’t dismiss anyone as irrelevant. Maybe you don’t think a local blogger would be a good contact because you work at a medical practice. However, when you open a new branch and you want to let people know about it, you’ll be glad you reached out to someone with an audience.
How to reach out to someone new
8. Quantify how much time you’re going to take. People are busy and when someone new starts talking to them, the first thing that comes to their mind is “How long is this person going to talk to me?” or “How much time is this going to take?”
Address those concerns from the start by saying something like, “Hi. I have one item that I’d like to briefly discuss with you. It should only take two minutes. Do you have time now?” Asking questions like this not only shows that you respect their time, it also gives you the option of speaking with them later if they are too busy now.
9. Start by offering praise, not requesting help. Unless you have a mutual contact that is putting you in touch for a specific reason, it’s best to avoid asking for anything when you meet for the first time. Don’t ask for favors, for promotion, for advice, or even to meet up for lunch or coffee. Simply start by offering a short compliment. After they respond to this initial contact, you can begin moving things towards a more lengthy meeting.
10. Keep your emails short. If your first contact is via email, then split the message into smaller segments. Instead of reaching out to someone new with a long-winded, five paragraph explanation of why you are contacting them, use that first email to focus on a small bit of praise. You can send further details to them after they reply. Keep that first message friendly and short.
11. If you must ask for a favor, then ask for permission to continue. There are some situations where you need to ask for something, but don’t have the luxury of time to get to know them. Most situations don’t fall under this category, but if you must ask for something, then weave in requests for permission before you make an offer. I’ll give a real example.
I was recently talking to the director of an organization about offering a new course to his clients. I started by asking for permission to continue. “I’ve run successful courses on X before. Would you like to know more?”
He was interested and we ended up having a great conversation.
An additional benefit of this strategy is that you are getting the other party to say, “Yes,” to you. As a general rule, if you can get someone say yes to you three times, then the odds of your offer being accepted by them drastically increase. You don’t need to ask permission for everything, but if you’re opening a conversation where you will need to make an offer, then it can work wonders.
How to build the relationship
12. Try to provide as much value as you possibly can. The more value you create, the more it will come back to you many times over. Focus all of your networking efforts on helping the people you contact.
13. Start by focusing on being friendly and helpful. This is the number one tactic you can use to build your network. Simply spread information in a friendly and helpful way. Did you read a book that someone in your network will enjoy? Tell them about it or send them a copy. Are you using something that would help a friend with a project they are working on? Email it to them. Hear a new music album that a someone might enjoy? Send it their way. Building your network is the same as building friends. Be interested in what they are doing and offer friendly suggestions when you can.
14. Develop the habit of introducing people. Connecting like-minded people is a powerful to enhance your network. The idea of doing this seems foreign to many people, but it is actually quite easy. Do you know two people who enjoy reading the same type of books? Or like the same sports teams? Or love reading about history? Or work in the same industry? You get the point. Don’t make it hard, just introduce the two of them by sharing their common interest. They can decide if they want to pursue the relationship further.
15. Ask if people want to be connected. If you’re apprehensive about connecting two people, then ask one of them if they want to be connected. “I know another person that’s doing Y. Would you like for me to introduce you sometime?” Even if they aren’t interested, they will appreciate the offer.
16. Nurture your current network. Most people think of networking as reaching out to new people, but don’t forget about the network that you already have. (Hint: You probably call them your friends and co-workers.) There is no need to wait to meet new people to start connecting others or sharing useful information. Network within the groups that are already close by.
Making networking a habit
17. Try to contact one person per day. If you reach out to 5 new people every week, that would be about 250 per year. Sending an email or making a quick call will only take about 5 minutes of your day. Not everyone is going to get back to you, but if you contact that many new people, then you’re bound to make significant progress.
18. Don’t take “No,” personally. Everyone is busy. For most people, it’s simply a matter of timing. If you catch them on a good day, then they will happily talk or meet with you. If they’re swamped, however, then a simple “No” might be all that you get. Don’t take it to heart. In most cases, it’s not a reflection of you or what you said.
19. Make it a point to follow up. One or two days after meeting someone for the first time, follow up with a brief email or note. This is an opportunity to develop the relationship by bringing up a topic that you discussed before or making a comment on an interesting topic. Following up with relevant conversation helps to anchor your previous interaction in their mind and displays more personality than just sending a message that says, “Thanks for talking!”
20. Did you fail? Try reaching out in a different way. You don’t want to pester anyone, but if you give them a few weeks and don’t hear a response, then there is nothing wrong with being persistent. For example, dropping in to talk face to face has resulted in great conversations with people that previously ignored my emails. Sometimes switching it up is all you need to do.
Things to remember
21. Network with the intention of helping other people, not yourself. People enjoy doing business with those that they trust and like. The only way to build that trust is to engage with others in a helpful way. Yes, trust takes a long time to build, but insincerity takes even longer to overcome. Once you’ve developed a relationship and created a bond, then you can move on to negotiating for favors and asking for help.
22. Networking is more about listening to what people say than saying the right things. Take the time to listen to people’s stories. You can only provide something of value to them if you listen to who they are and what they do.
23. Sometimes the best networking opportunities involve real work. Volunteer for events, committees, or projects that will have interesting people at them — or better — working for them. Working on a project or task with someone is one of the best ways to develop a relationship. For example, volunteering for a non–profit can be a great way to get to know their influential board members.
24. Email is easy to send … and ignore. Yes, email is quick, simple, and can be sent to anyone, anywhere. It’s also very easy to be filtered out and ignored. If you really want to meet someone, then don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, propose a video chat, or arrange a face-to-face meeting. These communication channels are usually less crowded and more personal, which means that your message will be more memorable. Email can be a great tool, but don’t be afraid to mix it up.
5 Simple steps to getting more referrals
You cannot receive a better lead than one that has been sent your way with a strong referral.
Five Steps to Generating Better Business Referrals
“I know someone who can help you with this.”
The challenge is: How do you get your satisfied customers to actively promote you to their social and professional networks?
The answer: You have to train them to do it, remind them constantly, and make it head-slappingly easy.
Here are the five basic steps to more and better referrals that all businesspeople should embed in their marketing plan:
1. Constantly ask for referrals
Too many businesspeople forget to ask. The best time to do so? In the midst of delivering excellent service, and regularly thereafter. When working with real estate and mortgage agents, we discovered the best time to ask for a referral was before the loan or home purchase closed, while the agent was still actively involved with the client and had their full trust and attention.
Don’t be shy, either. I had a client that thought it would threaten his client relationships if he “cravenly asked for referrals.” He thought that doing so would make him appear desperate, and diminish him in his clients’ eyes. That is the wrong mindset: You deliver great value to your customers, and want more people to benefit from your talents. You should be proud to ask “whom else do you know that I could help?” It took me months to get that client to try asking proactively for referrals. When he actually tried it systematically, he quickly landed a new $15,000 consulting contract. He still hesitates, but is solving that by developing an “ask method” that fits with his professional demeanor, and has set specific 2012 referral goals to keep himself motivated.
Always assume your clients would be happy to refer you. Let them tell you if they are uncomfortable doing so. (Explore why, too: There may be some lingering dissatisfaction that they are keeping from you.)
2. Teach your customers how to refer you
This is the biggest improvement you can make in your referral campaigning. Many clients would be happy to refer you, but don’t know how to succinctly present you and your service to others. Solve that by giving them:
Cheat sheets with your core value proposition and a handful of client results. These could be your brochure, or simply buckslips that answer two questions: ”What do I do?” and “Why me?”
A permanent box in your printed and e-mailed newsletters that answers the same questions (and entices the reader to your site to get the full answer.)
Instructions on how to go on Yelp and other review sites to give you a review
A request for referrals on the back of your business card
3. Remind them to refer you
Talk to all current and past customers regularly, and always include a request for referrals. My long-time real estate agent hasn’t contracted business with me in ten years, but I get a letter from him monthly in the mail that reminds me that he appreciates my support and would love my referrals. (He freely admits in each letter that referrals are the lifeblood of his business. This is a real motivator for me because I want to help!)
4. Make it really easy
Add links to your website pages (in multiple places that make sense) for all the review sites on which you appear (Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.).
Put links to review sites in all your communications: In every e-mail, repeated posted on your Facebook company page, in direct mail (with instructions, in that case)
Post the answers to “What do I do?” and “Why me?” in downloadable pdfs on your website. Share that link through all your communication channels
Help them figure out how to describe their experience. Many people are afraid of looking silly in print or while taking to peers, so you can send them other reviews people have done as models. (Never write the reviews for them. People can spot fakes on review sites because they are written too well! It has to be real words describing real experiences. The rougher the text, the more reliable to the reader.)
5. Say “thank you,” and do it often
Reward the referrer with continual gestures of thanks and recognition. In many businesses, this is limited by law to a verbal “thank you” and a handshake. In others you can confer financial rewards, but try not to go too far down that road. Buying them a nice dinner is as far as I have ever gone. Keep it simple, inexpensive and relevant to the size and number of referrals.
Remember, most referrers are motivated to help you because you helped them, and don’t seek a lot of reward for themselves. Plus, keep their effort in perspective. All they do is make the connection, which takes a few minutes of their time, and you do the rest of the work, so it doesn’t need to be a big reward. The best reward would be a referral back to them, if appropriate for their line of work.
The reason business networking groups like Le Tip and BNI work is that members educate each other on the details of their business, and remind each other weekly to generate referrals. This embeds the “referral mindset” effectively. You have to bring the same rigor and structure into your own network.
Generating referrals is not rocket science. It takes a bit of work, but it should be cemented as a personal mindset into every touchpoint that you have with your customer base. Asking for referrals must be second nature, like breathing.
Referrals and Word of Mouth Advertising Techniques
If your hair stylist gave you $10 every time you sent one of your friends her way, you might be more tempted to tell all of your buddies what a fabulous stylist she was–or you might even try to make new friends to refer.
Word-of-mouth marketing known as a referral program. While such programs have been used for decades, similar customer referral programs have also become increasingly popular with companies in a wide range of industries, from financial services and automobiles to newspapers and hotels.
Christophe Van den Bulte, a professor of marketing at Wharton, describes customer referral programs as an effective way to attract higher quality customers. “They are an old idea that’s getting more traction these days,” he notes, “and we now have solid evidence of their financial benefits.”
According to a new study titled “Referral Programs and Customer Value” (to be published in the January 2011 issue of the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing), customer referral programs are indeed a financially attractive way for firms to acquire new customers. The study–authored by Van den Bulte, Bernd Skiera and Philipp Schmitt, a professor and doctoral student, respectively, at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany–was conducted over a period of three years and followed the customer referral program of a leading German bank (which remained anonymous) that paid customers 25 euros for each new customer they brought in.
The objective of the study was two-fold, Van den Bulte states. “There’s a lot of talk about word-of-mouth-marketing, and about making money out of social connections. Our first objective was to see if customer referral programs can indeed turn social capital into economic capital. Second, we wanted to come up with a methodology to assess the effectiveness of customer referral programs that was easy to implement with data and tools available to many managers.”
- Do referred customers have higher margins than other customers?
- Do referred customers stay longer with the firm than other customers?
- Do referred customers have a higher customer lifetime value, the net present value of all the profits a customer generates over his or her entire association with the firm?
The answers, according to the study, are all positive.
Sharing a Bond
The second key finding was about customer retention. Referred customers were about 18% more likely to stay with the bank than other customers, and that gap did not fade over time. This pattern, Van den Bulte suggests, is consistent with another mechanism documented in previous studies on employee referral programs. People tend to have a stronger attachment to an organization if their friends or acquaintances share a bond to the same establishment.
The researchers also concluded that the difference in margin combined with the difference in customer retention amounted to a disparity in long-term customer value of 16% to 25%. “That’s not only a sizable chunk of money,” Van den Bulte says, “it also amounts to a 60% ROI over six years on the 25 euros that the bank paid for every referral.”
Many practitioners, including managers of the bank who made the data available, fear that referral programs suffer from “moral hazard,” where opportunistic customers bring in “deadbeats and other unprofitable new customers just to earn a referral fee,” Van den Bulte states. However, the study shows that the benefits of a customer referral program can outweigh such negatives, making the programs pay off financially.
According to Van den Bulte, this is the first study ever published on the financial evaluation of customer referral programs. “We actually have hard financial numbers, not vague feel-good stories or abstract statistical coefficients. Our findings and methodology are something that financial managers can actually understand and apply immediately,” he says.
It helps that the techniques used to conduct the study were simple and straightforward, he adds. “You can basically [calculate the value using] Excel. You don’t need a master’s degree in statistics; a smart intern or decent marketing consultant can do it. We hope our study will actually motivate and help companies to assess how effective their referral programs are.” The margin, customer retention and customer value numbers, he notes, will vary across industries and customer segments, but the procedures used in the study can be put into practice at any company with customer profitability data.
Van den Bulte says that referral programs featuring a financial pay-out are likely to remain a business-to-consumer practice, “because paying referral fees to B2B [business-to-business] customers’ employees could be conceived as a bribe. Pharmaceutical and medical companies sometimes get in hot water with the FDA for remunerating opinion leaders to educate fellow physicians about the benefits of new products, so I expect that paying someone money just to bring in a new B2B customer or lead will be frowned upon. Of course, the absence of financial pay-outs does not mean that customer referrals are any less important in B2B markets. Companies just have to be more creative in finding proper incentives enabling them to capitalize on their existing customers’ networks.”
Why does a study on the financial benefits of customer referral programs make sense now? The recent trend toward viral, or social, marketing is one reason, but Van den Bulte notes that there is also a general belief that the ROI on traditional marketing has been decreasing. Consequently, companies feel that something must be done to “get a bigger bang for our marketing dollars.” This in turn has put marketers under pressure to quantify the return on their expenditures. “Marketing accountability is a major trend nowadays. One of the appeals of using a customer referral program is that you know exactly how much you put into it and, as our study shows, you can also calculate how much you’re getting out of it.”
Although the study compared the financial value of customers acquired through referral programs vs. traditional channels, Van den Bulte and his colleagues now plan to compare the behavior of pairs of referring and referred customers, asking such questions as, “If one stops being a customer of the bank, does the other have a higher chance of leaving as well?” and “Do high-value referrers tend to bring in high-value referrals?” The answers, Van den Bulte says, are important to identify the best customers toward which referral programs should be targeted. The team has already begun analyzing the data and hopes to have new insights ready within a year.
Referral Marketing Benefits
The business of referrals makes sense for most companies for the following reasons:
- Referral marketing reduces your sales expenses and sales cycle. With less time calling cold prospects, your small business can focus on customers and their circle of influence.
- Referrals can build your level of satisfied customers. The cycle self-perpetuates with more satisfied customers referring others to your company.
- Referrals increase your sales revenue. According to world-renowned sales trainer, Tom Hopkins, in “Sales Prospecting for Dummies”; your closing ratio for non-qualified leads is 10 percent versus a 60 percent close ratio with referred leads.
- If the prospect of building the referral end of your business is so enticing, why do so few businesses do it? Because they use the wrong approach in building referrals and have limited success. To ensure your business is on track to building referrals, follow these 7 tips:
7 Sure-Fire Ways to Build Your Referral Business
- 1. Set A Target: In business, measure the results to improve performance. Set a clear goal with a time line. Example, 10% increase in referral business over the next 10 weeks.
- 2. Timing: Conventional sales wisdom claims the best time to ask for the referral is immediately after the close. This tactic is far too aggressive. Give your clients time to experience your service or product before asking for a referral. Ask for the referral at close only if your client is already delighted with your business.
- 3. Top 20: Not all customers are referral candidates. Find the top 20% that are ecstatic about your business and ask them for referrals. Make sure their network is the type of client you want.
- 4. Give and You’ll Receive: Give your clients extra service and follow-up support before asking for referrals. When you give willingly to your customers, they will return the favor.
- 5. Type of Customer: Inform your referring clients of the type of customers you can help. Provide a clear picture of the customer demographics will help your referral marketing.
- 6. Rewards Program: Provide special rewards to your referring customers on a regular basis. If a customer provides you with 5 sales, offer them something special, e.g. discounts.
- 7. Thank-You: Lisa A. Maini, President of my Marketing Manager, recommends businesses need to establish trust to build referrals. Lisa says, “Create a basic thank you letter that can be personalized and sent to each referral you receive. Treat your referral sources with the utmost of care and you will not only build a foundation of trust but keep hot prospects coming to your door.”
Change Your Thinking
Imagine your business as an infinite web of relationships. Every one of your business contacts has the potential to connect you to dozens of other contacts. The relationships are out there, but they’ll likely remain out of reach unless you actively pursue them. It may never occur to your current contacts to broker an introduction. It’s up to you to put the idea in their heads.
Don’t feel sheepish about asking for referrals; there’s nothing pushy or smarmy about it. People won’t give you referrals unless you deserve them. In fact, getting a referral is the highest compliment you can receive. Let your customers know you prize referrals, which you’ll earn by providing excellent quality products and services.
Make It a Habit
I know one entrepreneur who built a successful business almost solely on referrals. How’d he get so good at it? When he was an eager young sales apprentice, his manager trained him well. Every time he glanced at his watch, which he did often in his zeal to stay on schedule, it meant it was time to ask for a referral. Eventually, it became second nature.
Here are more easy ways to start developing good referral-building habits:
- When you begin working with a new customer, make referrals part of your initial agreement. “If I do a great job for you–and I will–you agree to give me X number of referrals.” Chances are your customer will be impressed by your dedication and drive.
- Whenever a customer compliments you, respond with a thank you, quickly followed by a referral request. For example, “I’m so pleased you’re happy with my work. Do you know anyone else who can benefit from my services?”
- Use every client meeting as an opportunity to collect referrals. To keep yourself on track, jot a reminder down in your meeting preparation notes. Make it one of your standard talking points.
- Set a weekly goal for yourself. Keep track of the number of referrals you ask for each day. You don’t need to limit your requests to clients; you can also ask business associates, acquaintances and prospects.
- Make the most of every networking opportunity. Step out of your comfort zone at networking events and set a goal to talk to at least three new people. Plan in advance what you might say. We’re all drawn to interesting, enthusiastic people.
- Always be specific when asking for a referral. Looking for high net worth individuals? Say so. Interested in midsize companies? Let them know. If you don’t tell your contacts who your target customer is, you’ll waste time pursuing leads you can’t use.
Give and You Shall Receive
One of the most powerful ways to elicit referrals is to give them generously yourself. Whenever you have the opportunity to refer an associate or bring two contacts together, do so. And when you’re attending the aforementioned networking event, make a point of introducing people to one another. Most people will appreciate the referral, and it may inspire them to respond in kind.
One last thought: Always thank someone who has given you a referral. Send them a note, keep them informed of your progress and maybe even treat them to lunch.
What’s the close ratio on referral business, compared to other prospecting methods? I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but I’ve seen estimates that range from 50 to 500 percent more. Those are big numbers. Whatever that number is for you, you can bet it’s a whole lot higher than cold calling, advertising, web marketing or virtually any other sales technique you might employ.
The referral is the number-one tool in your tool kit. Get in the habit of reaching for it often–say, as often as you might glance at your watch.
If you’re like most busy small business owners, you’re always looking for fast and easy ways to market your business and get new customers. One of the fastest and easiest is right under your nose: Your existing, satisfied customers can be a great source of referrals to new business—provided you handle the referral process right.
“Process” is the key word here, because getting referrals haphazardly and contacting them without having a specific plan in mind can be just as bad as not getting them at all. Yes, it will take a little work on the front end to set up a referral process, but it will ultimately pay off in a continuous pipeline of qualified new business. Isn’t that every business owner’s dream?
Here’s a 6-step system for getting and maximizing referrals:
1. Ask for them. You won’t get if you don’t ask, so develop a system where you gather referrals at a set point in the sales process. Typically, you’ll want to do this after the sale is complete and you know the customer is satisfied. For a retailer, this might be at the point of purchase, or you might send a follow-up email asking for a referral. For a B2B company, the natural point would be during a follow-up call to make sure the service or product is working out OK. Build this into your sales process so that asking for referrals becomes as automatic to your employees, clerks and salespeople as, say, putting a receipt in the bag.
2. Get digital. Email and social media make it easier than ever to ask for a referral. You can put requests for referrals on your social media sites, ask for referrals as part of your email outreach, or create a contest for the customer who refers the most people or the referral that generates the most business.
3. Offer a reward. Speaking of contests, we’re all more motivated to do something if there’s a reward involved. When developing rewards for referrals, take into account the value of the referral. If you’re asking a shopper on your ecommerce cosmetics site to share a friend’s information as part of the checkout process, that’s pretty low-value. If, on the other hand, one of your top B2B clients has discussed your product or service with a business colleague, knows that he or she is interested in learning more (and controls a $100,000 budget), and provides you with that person’s name and email—well, that’s pretty high-value. Appropriate rewards could range from a dollar-off discount code, to a free product or service, to a percentage off the next invoice. (Rewards can escalate in value depending on whether the referred client actually makes a purchase.)
4. Keep it simple. People want to help you out, but not if it’s a huge hassle. Make referrals as easy as possible with tools like prepaid referral postcards customers can drop in the mail, referral forms enclosed with your invoice so they can mail it back with their payments, a form they can fill out while paying the bill at your restaurant or a simple form on your website they can fill out with a few keystrokes.
5. Follow up in a timely fashion. Once you get a hot referral, follow up before it has time to cool off. Two weeks should be the maximum time you wait to get in touch. Build the time frame into your referral system, and use tools like CRM software to set reminders of when referrals should be contacted. When you follow up, don’t assume you’ve “got it made.” Introduce yourself by referencing the person who made the referral, then follow up by educating the person about what your company can offer them, rather than doing a hard sell. Consider sending some free information, a sample or a discount on a first purchase.
6. Deliver on your promises. Make sure your interactions with the referred customer are professional and that, if he or she buys from you, you provide outstanding service. Otherwise, you could end up embarrassing the person who provided the referral, and not only will you fail to land the new customer, but you might just lose the old one.
Using consumer referrals to promote your small business
By Dr Billy M.
Many small businesses operate with limited budgets and can hardly afford to spend cash on extensive marketing. This in turn affects their capacity to compete against more established players. The good news is that there are several affordable–even free–marketing options that can enhance your advertising strategy. One of the free options is making use of customer loyalty to your products or services for consumer referrals. On many occasions, consumers use word of mouth and referrals in making decisions about what to purchase. Instead of squeezing your limited budget for major advertisements, you should spend time developing a strategy to promote referrals. Here are some guidelines on how you can leverage customer loyalty as a strategy to promote your small business via referrals.
Create a referral generation plan
On many occasions, referrals just happen without your input. If customers find your products or services unique and satisfying, they will naturally be inclined to inform their friends and relatives about your business. For a small business owner, providing a great product or extraordinary customer service is likely to trigger most referrals. However, if you go a step further and create a referral-generation plan, then you can increase your bottom line.
A referral generation plan basically outlines when and how to ask your customers to inform their friends and family about your business. Normally it is wiser to ask for a referral after the customer has made the purchase and is about to leave the premises. You can also ask for a referral when the product or service is being packaged or delivered. Some businesses are strategically advantaged to make use of their customers’ loyalty, such as a vehicle-repair service or hair salon.
A word of caution: the one thing you must avoid is asking for a referral when you are presenting the bill to the customer or when the customer is at the cash register. It really does not sit well with the client. Try to communicate the details of your referral program in the best way you can. You might want to use blogs, emails, or other customer service options. You should always thank your customers when they make referrals.
Generally, all employees who come in direct contact with customers should be trained on how to ask for referrals. Here are some tips on how to make referral programs work with your business:
1. Make the customer feel special
Customers will be more willing to refer other people to you when you make them feel special. A memento or other small gesture is enough for your clients to feel special. You can offer them a business card and ask them to call in case they want to know more about the product or service. You can also reinforce the referral by providing a brochure or newsletter. This will definitely strengthen your relationship with your customer and thereby increase the chances of getting a referral.
2. Provide incentives when possible
Giving incentives can boost your chances of getting a referral. However, incentives can be tricky. They can be quite expensive and will depend on the type of business you operate. Incentives can be offered in the form of a discount, a free item, or a service credit that will likely encourage your clients to get you more referrals. You should test different types of incentives to come up with the one that works best with your clients. Incentives are likely to pay off, but you should implement them carefully, particularly considering the fact that your business is operating with a limited budget.
3. Prudently involve referrers for new clients
There are some businesses that work on a few mega-projects and, therefore, each of their clients is valuable. You might be running a construction company or an interior-design business that has only just started operations. In this situation you will be working with few clients, and getting a referral will be a major boost. Clients might provide you with the name and contact information of people they think may be interested in your services. Although you may follow up with the potential client, meet, and clinch a deal, it is advantageous to involve your referrer for an expedited process.
4. Focus on influential customers
If you have limited resources, it makes business sense to dedicate your marketing dollars in promoting referrals among customers whose opinions carry weight. Depending on the nature of your business, giving more time to such customers might work better than trying to work with every customer. Building relationships will be a vital step in gaining the full trust of your clients and therefore, increase the likelihood of getting valuable referrals.
Don’t just network with people like yourself; strive for diversity. Learn to tailor your networking approach for different occasions. Your most interesting and productive referrals can come from the most unexpected sources.
To be successful, know the personality types you’re dealing with and their behavioral preferences. You’ve got behavioral preferences of your own, of course, but since you’re the person who’s seeking referrals and asking for a sale, you’re the one who needs to adapt. In corporate sales, teams of mixed personality types are often used for larger clients, to cover all the bases and ensure a closer match with the prospect’s temperament.
If the idea of reshaping your personality sounds intimidating to you, think of yourself as being in a “partnership” with your referral source. If you and your source have different temperaments, you’re more likely to succeed if the partner whose personality type more closely matches the prospect’s needs takes the lead. If face-to-face selling isn’t your strong point and you’re better at follow-up, go to the first meeting with your referral partner, who’s (hopefully) a better salesperson.
In any case, one of the best things you can do for yourself is learn about your prospect prior to the appointment. Most of this information comes from carefully listening to your referral source. If you go blindly into your first face-to-face meeting with a prospect, you may misunderstand or misconstrue the prospect’s needs, responses and intentions.
There are several questions you can ask or research that will help you form a profile of your prospect:
- Is your prospect a “family person?”
- Does he have any hobbies? Like to travel? Is he a sports buff? A patron of the arts?
- Is she a morning person, or is it best to close a deal with her later in the day?
The tools and strategies you use will vary over time as well. Developing your approach, growing a referral relationship and maintaining a mature business relationship requires different skill sets. This also applies to the age and maturity of your growing business as well as where you and your contacts are in the business cycle.
Even with a full book of business, expect to replace one or more obsolete, low-quality client relationships with new, higher-potential ones each year. Selecting new clients should be part of your networking strategy, and that strategy depends on the timing for yourself, your referral source and each prospect. Furthermore as you being developing a relationship with a new client, learn to adapt your style to make that person comfortable and more likely to use you again (and again).
The secret of successful referral sales is to acquire, develop and use all the tools you can. Match sales with the situation and the personality you’re dealing with. In referral marketing, the tools include not only your personal and professional skills, but also the venues you use.
Referral masters will urge you to get involved in at least three different kinds of organizations. These usually include a strong-contact network such as BNI, a casual-contact network such as a chamber of commerce, and a charitable or service organization like your local Kiwanis or Rotary club. While most of your referral relationships will likely develop from your strong-contact network meetings, there are opportunities to meet wonderful sources of referrals (and revenue) at the other meetings as well. Each of these organizations will also require a slightly different skill set to harness what they have to offer.
If you’re networking effectively, you’ll likely use most, or all, of these tools.
business networking tips and techniques for networking events and networking websites
Business networking is an effective low-cost marketing method for developing sales opportunities and contacts, based on referrals and introductions – either face-to-face at meetings and gatherings, or by other contact methods such as phone, email, and increasingly social and business networking websites.
The shortened term ‘networking’ can be confused with computer networking/networks, which is different terminology, relating to connection and accessibility of multiple computer systems.
A business network of contacts is both a route to market for you, and a marketing method. Business networking offers a way to reach decision-makers which might otherwise be very difficult to engage with using conventional advertising methods.
In addition, business networking brings with it the added advantage of recommendation and personal introduction, which are always very helpful for developing business opportunities.
Business networking is a way for you to make the maxim, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know..” work for you.
The principles and techniques of business networking are mostly common sense. Many of the behavioural principles apply also to business and relationships generally, and specifically to selling, managing, coaching, facilitating, etc.
(Please note that some spellings in UK-English and US-English may vary, for example words like organisation/organization, behaviour/behavior. When using these materials please change the spellings to suit your local situation.)
The word network is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (2005 revised edition) as: “Network (noun) 1 An arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines… 2 A group or system of interconnected people or things… (verb) 1 Connect or operate with a network… 2 (often as noun networking) Interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
Interestingly, the first definition above referring to a more general sense of a network, as might be used for a network of railways or a canal system, reminds that a network consists of connecting lines which run in different directions. Crucially a network – especially a business network – ceases to be a network if there are no connecting lines. Creating and maintaining good lines of communications, in all directions, is as important as developing contacts. We could say instead that there is really no point developing contacts unless good lines of communications are established and maintained.
The OED defines a networker as “…1 A person who operates from home or an external office via a computer network… 2 A person who uses a network of professional or social contacts to further their career.”
The first networker definition here originally referred to the use of a computer network, whereas nowadays the notion of working from home or elsewhere remotely has merged significantly with the more modern meaning of networking, in the sense of contacts and communications. The point is that while a computer is probably significant in most forms of home or remote working, what matters most these days is the networking itself (communications and relationships), rather than there being a specific dependence on a computer network.
The 1922 OED explains that network entered the English language by 1560, simply from the words ‘net work’, which referred to the act or process of fabricating a net from threads or wires.
These separated root words, ‘net work’, are very apt today. ‘Net Work’ remind us of the vital aspects of modern successful networking, by which ideally:
- we work (apply thought, commitment, effort)
- to create, grow, use, assist and enable
- our own net (network) of contacts.
A good network is created, and networking succeeds, by the application of hard work.
A network without the work produces nothing worthwhile.
Further useful points can be drawn from, and are explained in the more detailed origins and definitions of network and networking, which appear below in the summary of this article.
business networking – quick tips summary
Here are ten of the most important principles for effective business networking. More details are linked from each tip to bigger explanations below.
Consider that all sorts of professional people outside of the business community can also be very helpful networking contacts – for example, scientists, lecturers, educators, councillors, etc. When developing your networking plans, think beyond the people you’d typically see at other business networking events. Some of the most important connections are not business people, and consequently you need to be creative in reaching them. The examples of networking situations/methods below provides help with this later.
These tips apply broadly to any sort of business networking – face-to-face, organized events, business social networking websites, etc:
ten essential principles
|1. Elevator speech.||Describe yourself concisely and impressively.|
|2. Be different.||Differentiate yourself. Aim high. Be best at something.|
|3. Help others.||Help others and you will be helped.|
|4. Personal integrity.||Integrity, trust and reputation are vital for networking.|
|5. Relevant targeting.||Groups and contacts relevant to your aims and capabilities.|
|6. Plans and aims.||Plan your networking – and know what you want.|
|7. Follow up.||Following up meetings and referrals makes things happen.|
|8. Be positive.||Be a positive influence on everyone and everything.|
|9. Sustained focused effort.||Be focused – and ever-ready.|
|10. Life balance.||Being balanced and grounded builds assurance.|
Use these principles also in text-based descriptions for the web and printed materials, etc.
This is commonly called an ‘elevator speech’ or ‘elevator pitch’ – as if you were to meet a potentially important contact for the first time in an elevator at a conference and he/she asks you: “What do you do?” You have no more than 20 seconds – perhaps just 10-15 seconds – between floors to explain, and to make such an impressive impact that the person asks for your contact details.
If you talk (or write) too much, the listener (or reader) will become bored, or think you are rude or too self-centred.
Be concise. You will demonstrate consideration and expertise by conveying your most relevant points in as short a time as possible.
Here are the main points for creating your elevator speech:
|1. your name||“My name is…” Look the other person in the eye. Smile. Shoulders back. Speak with confidence. Sincerity and passion are crucial in making a strong early impression.|
|2. your business name||“I work for…” or “My business is …” Loud clear proud again. Do not ask “Have you heard of us..?” or wait for recognition.|
|3. based and covering where||“I am based…” and “I cover…” Adapt the town, city, geography for the situation. There is little value in mentioning a tiny village if you are at a global gathering, or your global coverage if you are at a local town gathering. Make this relevant to the situation.|
|4. your personal specialism and/or offering, and your aims||Be different and special and better in some way from your competitors. Be meaningful for the event or situation or group, and as far as you can guess, be meaningful for the contact. Express what you offer in terms of positive outcomes for those you help or supply, rather than focusing on technical details from your own viewpoint. Load your statements here with special benefits or qualities. Be positive, proud and ambitious in your thinking and expression of what you do. Include in this statement what your aims are, to show you have ambition and that you know what you are seeking from network contacts.|
Depending on the situation, aim to complete your explanation in less than 20 seconds.
Less is more: lots of powerful points in very few words make a much bigger impact than a lengthy statement.
It is a sign of a good mind if you can convey a lot of relevant impressive information in a very short time.
Conversely, a long rambling statement shows a lack of preparation, professionalism and experience.
N.B. In some situations your speech may flow smoother by inverting points 3 and 4, or combining them. If your organizational structure is complex do not attempt to explain it. The other person is not interested in this level of detail now – they just need to know where you operate, and an indication of scale.
While you are speaking look the other person in the eyes, and be aware of his/her body language to gauge for interest and reaction to you personally, and to help your assessment of the other person’s character and mood.
After your ‘elevator speech’ end in a firm, positive, constructive way.
Ending with a question enables more to happen than letting the discussion tail off nowhere or into polite small-talk.
Depending on the situation and visible reaction (again see body language for clues of interest) you can end in various ways, for example:
“What’s your interest here/at this event?”
“What are you most wanting to get out of this event/your visit here?”, or obviously if you’ve not already asked:
“What do you do?”
If you already know the other person’s interests and motives, for example ask:
“How would you like to improve/change/grow… (various options, for example – your own network, your own business activities, this sort of event, etc)?”
After giving your elevator speech avoid the temptation to force your business card onto the other person (unless this is the tone and expectation of the event), and certainly do not launch a full-blooded sales pitch.
Instead try to develop the discussion around what the other person wants to do, achieve, change, grow, etc.
And be on your guard for interruptions and sudden opportunities:
Many highly competent business people have a habit of interrupting and cutting short discussions when they see an opportunity.
This means you may not always finish your elevator speech, in which case allow the discussion to progress, rather than try to complete what you planned to say.
Be prepared at any time to respond effectively to an interruption like, “Okay, I get the picture – now what exactly do you need?..”
The sales training and marketing sections contain lots of guidance about developing or refining your offering so that it is strongly differentiated from what is already available in the market-place, whatever your market-place is.
If there is no special difference between you and other providers, then people have no reason whatsoever to choose to work with you.
Look again at how you describe your business offering (or yourself as a person) – what’s different or special about it (or you) compared with all the others?
If there is no difference, you must find a way to create one.
Sometimes this is merely a matter of redefining or placing different emphasis on what you already are and already do.
This difference must be something that plenty of people will find appealing; ideally irresistible. If you are struggling to find a difference or market advantage, look at your competitors and talk to your customers, and discover what’s missing and what can be dramatically improved out there. There is always at least one thing, usually more – perhaps you can bundle two or three powerful market advantages together.
This difference needs to shine out in your elevator speech, and be echoed in your subsequent discussions whenever initial interest develops towards supplying something, or putting a collaborative project together.
Aim high and big when thinking about and expressing yourself and your aims. Be realistic of course, but aim to be the best and to lead in some way, in whatever specialisms and market-place you operate.
Your aims should also suggest what you are seeking from business networking – otherwise, there’s no reason for you to be networking.
Business networking is not simply finding customers in one-to-one meetings and connections; it’s building a strong network, helpful for your aims. Accordingly project yourself as a great networker, as well as being a great supplier or specialist.
Business networkers want to work with other networkers who aim high, who have great ambitions; people who see what can be, not merely what is; and who strive for change and improvement.
These attitudes make things happen.
When you meet like-minded networkers with these attitudes, your network will grow because they’ll see you can make things happen too.
Always prioritise helping and giving to others ahead of taking and receiving for yourself.
You must give in order to receive. Be helpful to others and you will be helped in return.
Networks of people are highly complex – often it is not possible to see exactly how and why they are working for you, so you must trust that goodness is rewarded, even if the process is hidden and the effect takes a while.
Use the principle of ‘what goes around comes around’.
You could think of this as Karma in business.
A possible explanation of how Karma (or whatever you call it) produces positive outcomes is found in the rule of ’cause and effect’, or the scientific law (loosely speaking) that ‘every action has an equal reaction’.
Good deeds and helpfulness tend to produce positive effects. They are usually remembered and often repaid. The giver builds reputation and trust. Referrals tend to result.
Imagine yourself having lots of personal connections like this. You become known as a helpful person. Word about you spreads, and your reputation grows.
People who give are seen to have strength to give. Followers gravitate to strong giving people.
Helping others extends far beyond your personal specialism or line of work. Networking is about working within a system (of people) enabling relevant high quality introductions and cooperations, which get great results for the participants. These enabling capabilities transcend personal specialisms.
Cybernetics provides one interesting and useful way to understand how best to approach this. In adapting cybernetics for business networking, the technique is two-pronged:
- interpret (especially what people need and what will help them)
- respond (in a way which those involved will find helpful)
At a simpler level, always try to ask helpful questions. These typically begin with ‘what’ and ‘how’, and address an area of interest to the other person, not you.
Open questions (who, what, how, when, etc – also “Tell me about…”) give the other person opportunity to speak and express their views and feelings:
“How can I help you?”
“What can I do for you?”
Closed questions (requiring a yes or no answer, or another single response, for example “Is this your first time here?”) do not offer the other person much opportunity to talk, although at certain times a good relevant closed question can be vital for clarifying things:
“Do you mean X or Y?”
“Do you want to do X or would you prefer that I do it?”
Sharon Drew Morgen’s Facilitative Methodology, while primarily developed for selling, is strongly based on working with systems (of people especially) and includes many excellent ideas and techniques which can be used in business networking and helping others.
Be creative and constructive in how you regard others and how you might help them. Being defensive and making assumptions tends to limit options and growth.
For example try to see your competitors as potential allies. There is a fine dividing line between the two behaviours, and positioning too many people/companies in the competitor camp can make life unnecessarily difficult. When you talk to your competitors you will often surprise yourselves at the opportunities to work together, in areas (service, territory, sector, application, etc) where you do not compete, and even possibly in areas where you do compete. This is particularly so for small businesses who can form strategic alliances with like-minded competitors to take a joint-offering to a market and compete for bigger contracts.
Always keep your integrity.
Sometimes a situation arises which tempts us to do the wrong thing, causing harm or upset that could have been avoided.
Making such a mistake can damage personal integrity.
We are all human; mistakes happen. If you do make a mistake or wrong decision – whether it significantly undermines your integrity or not – always admit it and apologise.
Failing to apologise for wrong-doing often damages a person’s integrity and reputation far more than the original misjudgment itself.
We only need to think of how we view people in high and public authority, notably politicians, when they fail to take responsibility and admit their mistakes. Some integrity is lost. Do it a few times and all integrity is lost.
People of low integrity sooner or later find that the only friends they have left are other people of low integrity.
Significantly, integrity is vital for trust to develop. Trust is simply not possible without integrity.
Building trust is essential for growing a strong business network.
Lack of trust prevents successful business networking.
Certain connections are absolutely impossible to make until a very high level of trust is established.
Empathy and effective listening greatly assist the process of building trust.
These qualities require you to be genuinely interested in others; to listen properly, and to reflect back meaningfully and helpfully.
Following up (covered below) is also a vital feature of building trust and reputation.
You will probably know a few very solid people who always keep their commitments, and who never make a commitment which they cannot keep. Aim to be like this.
Reliability and dependability are highly valued qualities in relationships, especially relationships involving referrals and recommendations, because someone’s reputation is at stake.
The words ‘reliable’ and ‘dependable’ do not mean that you are always available to everyone. These words mean simply that when you say you will do something you will do it.
Identify and target groups and connections which are relevant to your aims and capabilities.
Relevance can be according to several different things, for example:
- Social grouping (e.g., ethnic, gender, age, seniority, etc)
- Political or religious grouping
- Trade or society grouping
- Academic or technical grouping
- Specifically organized networking/referrals groups
- Other common interest (e.g., social enterprise, environmental, Fair Trade, etc)
The more relevant your targeting of groups and contacts, then more useful your meetings and referrals will be.
Other professional people can be important networking contacts. Direct your targeting beyond obvious business people and obvious networking groups, but be mindful of the nature of the group, and conduct yourself appropriately.
Consider how different groups and networks operate, online and elsewhere.
Some networking commentators/writers refer to ‘hard contact’ and ‘soft contact’ networking groups (and to ‘hard contacts’ and ‘soft contacts’). See the definitions below in networking situations. Essentially these ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ terms differentiate between groups where there is:
- clear agreement and purpose to produce business referrals for each other, and
- where a group has no significant aim or expectation of referring business.
Be aware of the group’s needs, expectations, rules (official and unoffical), and membership composition (formal or entirely random), and adapt your style and methods accordingly.
Certain non-business professional people can be hugely influential in networks, and greatly trusted because of their neutrality and professional standing – educators and scientists, for example. Journalists, surgeons, and magistrates, also. There are many others. It is not easy to make connections with these people through conventional business networking, but remember that a network is not only made of business-people, and be awake to these non-commercial connections when the chance comes.
If you find that your networking is producing very low opportunities for follow up and referral, try to improve your targeting. Find different groups and methods, in other words.
A true business network is a connected system of people within which referrals and opportunities can be passed through several connections, or circulated to all those connected. Networking thus can extend far beyond simply having lots of random one-to-one meetings.
A given number of people who are connected for a reason will generally be more productive than the same number of random connections.
So don’t go aimlessly after every networking opportunity which comes your way; instead try to find networks which already function well or have the potential to do so; and consider and decide which sort of groups and contacts will be most helpful for your aims and capabilities – ideally remembering that you need to be able to help them, as well as they should be able to help you.
Within most networks people tend to have a few close and trusted connections. Choose these, your most trusted and closest associates, very carefully.
Reputations are built according to your chosen contacts, in addition to how you yourself behave.
The old expression is generally true: “You can tell a man by the company he keeps…” (Or woman of course.)
So focus your efforts on groups and connections of integrity, as well as relevance.
You can identify your target group criteria in your networking strategy or plan, explained next.
All projects need managing. Business networking is a project, and so it needs managing. You can use various tools to manage your networking.
You must manage your networking, or it will manage you.
Some people plan with shapes and connections on a big sheet of paper. Others prefer a spreadsheet. Use whatever you find comfortable.
Be able to plan and monitor your networking activities.
It is important to know exactly what you want, because you will be asked – very directly by powerful potential contacts – and you will need to give a clear answer.
An activity which has no clear planned outcomes is liable to be pulled in all sorts of unwanted directions.
As with any project, you will only move towards your aim when you keep focused on that aim.
If you don’t know what to plan, then probably some research is necessary:
In terms of evaluating and choosing a potential networking group – especially a big online community – investigate the tactics that successful members are using. Ask a leading member for pointers. This will help you assess the group’s relevance to your needs and strengths.
You will save yourself from attending time-wasting events, and registering with time-wasting websites, if you do some research before committing valuable time to deeper involvement.
A plan is vital because business networking can be a very time-consuming activity.
Have some targets and measurables, and monitor results.
A structured approach can be especially important for very sociable networkers.
Business networking can be a very enjoyable activity, and for some people can seem a lot more productive than it actually is, so stay mindful of business results and cost-effectiveness.
Here is a simple example for planning and monitoring networking, which extends the elevator speech template above.
Just use the headings as a guide if you prefer to work more intuitively, or if you favour a certain type of planning method.
networking planner example
|group 1||group 2||group 3|
|what is my aim?|
|ideal connections (people) – describing words|
|group name and type|
|group profile/sector/interests (relevance to me)|
|tactical group notes/tips – what works well?|
|my elevator speech (for this group)|
|what I can do for these people|
|what do I want from these people?|
|diary dates/scheduled tasks|
|compare with my other marketing activities|
Obviously alter the box sizes to allow for whatever content you want to insert.
The framework can be extended to manage specific follow-ups.
The example above doesn’t necessarily suggest you begin with three groups, or limit your business networking activities to three groups.
A sensible start might be to pick one business networking website, and one face-to-face business networking group or event, and see how you do before increasing the activity.
As you will see from the sustained focused effort point, business networking works best when it is attacked in a concentrated way. If you take on too many groups and websites at the same time you will be spread too thinly, and find it difficult to make an impact in any of them.
There are two main reasons for the importance of following up:
- Networking only produces good results when it is followed up.
- Following up with contacts builds trust, reputation, and relationships.
Put negatively, to emphasise the points:
- Networkers who meet people and never follow up are wasting their time.
- Networkers who never follow up will eventually become known as time-wasters.
Follow up is a matter of relevance and commitment: If a contact or referral is not relevant, then say so, which avoids any expectation of follow up.
If there is relevance, follow it up, in whatever way is appropriate for the situation.
If you find that you are not wanting to follow up meetings and referrals because of lack of relevance then you can re-examine your group targeting strategy. You might be chasing the wrong groups and connections, and could need to redefine these issues.
Be positive. Use positive language. Smile. See the good in people.
Be known as a really positive person. It rubs off on others and people will warm to you for being so.
Keep your emotional criticisms of others and personal hang-ups to yourself.
Speak ill of no-one.
Be passionate and enthusiastic, but not emotional or subjective.
Avoid personalising situations. Remain objective.
Seek feedback and criticism about yourself and your ideas from others. It is the most valuable market research you can obtain – and it’s totally free.
Be tolerant. Be patient. Be calm and serene – especially when others become agitated.
Followers gather around people who remain positive and calm under pressure, and who resist the herding tendencies of weaker souls.
At many networking events and situations you will have the opportunity to give a presentation to the assembled group. This is a wonderful chance for you to demonstrate your expertise in your specialist area, your positive confident character, and also to pass on some useful information.
When giving presentations in these circumstances, avoid giving a hard-selling pitch, unless you are sure that such a style is appropriate. Usually it is not. Aim to inform and educate rather than to sell. In many networking situations a strong selling presentation is regarded as insulting by those present. This is especially so if you are a guest of a group that you would not normally meet regularly.
You will sell yourself best by giving helpful information in a professional and entertaining credible manner.
Be confident, positive and enthusiastic, but do not let this develop into pressure on the audience, or a sense of your trying too hard.
Try to find and present within your specialism the most helpful information for the group concerned. Your aim at the end of the presentation is for the audience to have learnt something useful about your area as it applies to them, and to have been impressed with your professionalism and command of your subject.
Business networking is a form of marketing.
All forms of marketing benefit from strongly focused activity, which is necessary first:
- to create awareness, and then
- to build relationships to the point when a sale can be made.
A given amount of effort will produce much greater results when applied consistently in a strongly focused way, than the same amount of effort spread over several wider activities, especially if spread over time too.
This especially applies to business networking websites, where occasional light involvement has little impact, but focused continuous efforts can achieve a visible profile and build very many connections.
The same principle applies to local networking clubs, where occasional participation rarely penetrates the usual inner core of members, but regular enthusiastic involvement inevitably gains attention.
You should also be continuously open to unplanned networking opportunities, which can arise at any time. Business people are mostly normal human beings just like you. They have social lives, they travel, go to shops, sports events, restaurants, pubs, concerts, etc., and do lots of other things that you do too, quite outside of work. Paths can cross in the most unexpected places. You will find and develop connections in these unplanned situations if you:
- make eye-contact with people and smile
- take the initiative
- start conversations
- generally adopt an open friendly approach to everyone
- and always carry a pen and some business cards
Thereafter in all cases – planned and unplanned – much depends on what you offer to your connections – again see help others.
Business networking clubs and websites are full of people with many connections but little of value to offer, and they achieve poor results. Good results come instead from being friendly and open, from taking the initiative, from working hard at sustaining genuinely helpful contributions wherever you meet people.
In face-to-face networking clubs there is often a ‘clique culture’, in which members are defensive or sometimes seemingly arrogant. This often indicates a requirement to become known and trusted, which takes time and effort. (That said, if there is genuine arrogance, you would be sensible to find a different group.)
Business networking, like any other business activity, requires concentrated effort to produce results.
If you treat networking like an occasional or purely social club it will not produce good business results.
Business networking requires sustained effort to make things happen.
Sustained focused effort does not mean delivering a full-blown sales pitch to every person you meet, and plastering your brochures all around the hotel lobby.
Sustained focused effort means working hard to become a regular active helpful presence in the group.
Build relationships first, your reputation next, and referrals and introductions will follow.
A healthy balance in your life – of work, pleasure, business, social, etc – promotes and gives off a feeling of well-being, which is helpful for networking in many ways:
- you will be at ease and relaxed, and this transfers to others
- you will be able to engage and respond in lots of ways with lots of people
- your life balance will project confidence, which fosters confidence in others
- you will demonstrate that you are in control of yourself and your business
- people will buy or refer you as a person – not just your business specialism
This particularly applies to referrals and introductions, in which your character reflects directly on the person referring or introducing you.
Being a balanced person enables low stress and a feeling of assurance, which are very useful characteristics in business networking situations, and particularly so if you have aspirations to become a leading member of any of the networks you aim to work with.
Measuring or defining life balance is not easy, but we know it when we see it in others, and we respond to it.
Having good life balance contributes directly to the level of faith people have in you.
And crucially, life balance gives you the strength to absorb problems, to care for others, and maintain vital qualities like integrity, dependability, compassion and humanity.
Conversely when our life slips out of balance for any reason, we have less to give. We have lower reserves of enthusiasm, energy, tolerance, understanding and consideration for others – all essential for growing and maintaining a successful business network.
This prompts an incidental ‘lifestyle’ tip – for business networking events where alcohol might be available: drink in moderation and keep a reasonably clear head. This is not to say that you should reject all local customs where drinking is involved. In many social business events, including many foreign situations, drinking and eating are a very significant part of relationship-building. Use your judgment. Alcohol to a degree certainly helps many social processes, but taken to extremes tends to be counter-productive.
- What goes around comes around.. humankind can’t yet explain this scientifically, but it does seem to work. Give to receive. Counter-intuitive to many people, nevertheless it’s the fundamental ethos of business networking. Help others.
- Use a helpful approach especially on business networking websites. Think: “What can I contribute to this community which people will find truly helpful?” And then work hard to extend that help – whatever it is – to as many relevant people as possible.
- Always keep your integrity. Nothing destroys networking like lack of trust. Trust is based on knowing that the other person has integrity.
- Ask people: “How can I help you?” and “What can I do for you?”
- Understand and use facilitative questioning. See Buying Facilitation. The techniques use careful questions to help people clarify their choices and decisions easier. It’s a powerful ethos – applicable widely beyond selling.
- Develop a concise and impressive description of who you are and what you do. Aim high. Think Big.
- Develop a description of yourself and what you do as a written statement, and as a verbal statement (an ‘elevator speech‘ or ‘elevator pitch’ – so called because it makes a successful impact in the time you share an elevator with someone who asks: “What do you do?”).
- Develop slightly different descriptions of yourself for different situations – so that you are as relevant as possible. As you work with these descriptions or ‘elevator speeches’, you will find that a series of mix-and-match phrases take shape. Continue to refine and adapt these statements. Get feedback from people, and notice what works best, for different situations.
- Be different to everyone else – especially your competitors.
- Try to see all your competitors as potential allies. There is often not much difference – just a frame of mind. This can be very significant if you are spending a lot of time looking over your shoulder at what your competitors are doing, and not concentrating on building your own business.
- Direct all your efforts to growing your own positive activities, and resist losing valuable energy and time and resources combating or worrying about the apparent successes or advantages of others.
- Be positive. Use positive language. Smile. See the good in people. Be known as a really positive person. It rubs off on others and people will warm to you for being so.
- Keep your emotional criticisms and personal hang-ups about others to yourself. If you hear someone being negative about another person, you will often wonder, “I wonder if he/she says that sort of thing about me too?..”
- Some say it’s bad Karma to speak ill of another. True or not, why risk it? Saying negative things at the expense of another person brings everyone down. This is the opposite of what business networking requires to succeed.
- Be passionate and enthusiastic, but not emotional and subjective. Avoid personalising situations. Remain objective.
- Seek feedback and criticism about yourself and your ideas from others. It is the most valuable market research you can obtain – and it’s totally free.
- Be tolerant, patient, and calm. Particularly when others are agitated. Followers gather around calm people.
- Always carry a pen. Always carry a diary. Always carry your business cards. (Or modern electronic equivalents of all three..)
- Drink less alcohol than everyone else around you, and if you cannot trust yourself to do this, do not drink alcohol at all.
- Keep fit, or get fit, and then keep fit. Success and followers tend to gravitate towards people who take care of their bodies, as well as their thoughts and actions.
- As soon as you can, create or have built a clean and clear website for yourself or your business. It is the ultimate universal calling card, brochure, and CV, all rolled into one, and perpetually available.
- Only promise or offer what you can fully deliver and follow up. Always aim to under-promise, and then over-deliver.
- Take great care with quick electronic messages (texts, messages, emails, etc) – you will be amazed at how many misunderstandings and breakdowns in relationships occur because a message is wrongly interpreted. Check and read twice everything you send.
- Always follow up everything that you say you will do, however small the suggestion.
- If you accept a referral or introduction to someone always follow it through.
- Say “Thank you” to people whenever the opportunity arises – especially to people who get taken for granted a lot.
- Be interested in all people. Invest your time, attention and genuine understanding in them.
- Understand what empathy really means, and practice it. Look people in the eyes. Listen with your eyes. This is about communicating at a deeper empathic level than business folk normally employ. Very many business discussions are superficial – like a game or a set of dance steps; instead make a determined effort to concentrate and care about the other person. Listen properly.
- Find reasons to give positive feedback to people – give and mean it.
- Stand up for what’s right and protect less strong people from wrong, especially where you see bullying, cruelty, discrimination, meanness, etc. You will hear it everywhere when you step back and out of the crowd.
- Networking is about building a wide and relevant network of meaningful contacts – not just having lots of one-to-one meetings. Big strongly connected networks inevitably capture more opportunities than networks with lots of holes and weak connections.
- Choose your most trusted and closest associates very carefully – reputations are built according to the company you keep, beyond how you yourself behave.
- Target groups and connections that are relevant – which fit your purposes, and you fit theirs.
- Don’t waste your time on groups and connections that lack integrity or relevance.
- Recommendations reflect powerfully on the recommender, therefore: Recommend only those people you are confident will reflect well on you, and always ensure you reflect brilliantly and memorably on anyone who recommends you.
- Seek and take opportunities to make a positive difference towards a positive aim (of anyone’s) wherever you can – even if some of these opportunities are unpaid and unrewarded in conventional terms. You will learn a lot, create new opportunities for yourself, and develop a reputation for producing good results out of nothing. This is a powerful personal characteristic which people find completely irresistible.
- Be clear and realistic about what you want when you are asked. Have a plan.
- Research the customs and expectations of foreign cultures before networking with foreign business-people. What is considered normal in your own part of the world could be quite inappropriate in another.
As explained in the introductory definitions of network and ‘net work’ above, definitions can be very helpful in understanding concepts.
This is definitely so in the words network and networker.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a (business) network is:
“A group or system of interconnected things or people.”
This is significant when we consider networking in its fullest sense – beyond one-to-one meetings or contacts.
The word network first appeared in English around 1560. It meant, not surprisingly, ‘a netlike structure’, and actually originally referred to the process of making a net of some sort.
The meaning of ‘a complex collection or system’ is first recorded in 1839.
These terms derive originally from the net used by a fisherman.
The bigger and stronger the net, the more fish would be caught.
The same with business networks. (The fish represents your aims, for example sales achieved, or new clients.)
Networking goes beyond one-to-one meetings.
Effective networking involves building a strong well-connected network.
If you only take (or sell), your network will be weak. If you mainly help and give, your network will be strong.
To many this is counter-intuitive, but it works.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a (business) networker is:
“A person who uses a network of professional or social contacts to further their career.”
The word ‘career’ in the OED definition is somewhat limiting.
In fact networking has for centuries been used in various ways to grow business as well as personal careers, and to make all sorts of projects happen, regardless of the terminology.
The purpose to which the networking efforts are directed can be anything.
The principle of networking is finding and building helpful relationships and connections with other people.
Mutual benefit (or mutual gain) is a common feature in successful networking – and this is a powerful underpinning principle to remember when building and using your own networking methods. It is human nature, and certainly a big factor in successful networking, for an action to produce an equal and opposite reaction. Effort and reward are closely linked.
The expression – “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours..” is another way to appreciate the principle of mutual benefit.
So is, to an extent, the notion that “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know..”
The point there is to ask yourself:
“Why would somebody want to know me?”
People may do something for nothing for someone once or twice, but sooner or later some sort of return is expected, even if not openly stated.
This is the principle of reciprocity.
Reciprocity applies very strongly where recommendation and referrals are involved.
“Why would someone refer or recommend me?”
This introduces the vital aspects of trust and credibility and integrity.
Would you refer someone you did not trust, to a valued contact of yours?
Other people tend not to either.
Return or reward does not necessarily have to equate precisely to the initial gesture. Importantly, reward is whatever makes sense to the recipient. To some a simple ‘Thank you’ is adequate. To others something more concrete is required. It depends on the situation, the value of the exchange, and the individuals and relationship history.
Business networking is practised by all sorts of people in work and business, especially through organized networking events and online services.
People who use networking can be employees, self-employed, owner-managers – any role, any level, and any specialism.
Networkers can be buyers and/or sellers, not least because most people are potentially both: most of us want to ‘sell’ or promote our own interests, and mostly we are all capable of ‘buying’ or otherwise enabling the interests of others.
Particularly beneficial results can arise from networking when people’s interests coincide to produce an effect greater than the separate parts. Networking can be a very helpful way to find such cooperative and collaborative partnerships – based on mutual interest.
A way of understanding this aspect is through the term synergy.
Synergy is a combined effect that is greater than the sum of the two (or more) individual parts.
Synergy between two providers (even competitors) can produce exciting new service propositions, enabling providers to work as associates or through more formal partnership.
Synergistic connections can therefore be a good way for smaller providers to compete effectively with much larger suppliers.
Networking connections which produce this effect are valuable and desirable, so look out for them, and try to build a network which contains these sorts of connections, especially where it strengthens your market offering.
There are many types of networking situations and methods. Far more than you might imagine.
Most people tend to think only of the best known business networking clubs and websites, but business networking can be done virtually anywhere that you find business-people relevant to your aims and capabilities.
This is important when you remember that other professional people outside of the business community can also be very helpful in networking (for example, scientists, lecturers, educators, councillors, etc.)
Understand the nature of different groups and how they operate – online and physical ‘real world’ – their purposes, rules (official and unofficial) and compositions (the types of people in the groups and their aims, needs, expectations, etc).
Some commentators/writers refer to ‘hard contact’ and ‘soft contact’ networking groups, and to the ‘hard contacts’, and ‘soft contacts’ within such groups. In the context of networking these ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ contact meanings are broadly as follows (but note the warning below the definitions):
- ‘hard contacts’ (or a ‘hard contact’ group/network) – refers to a networking group specifically designed to produce referrals among group members, who may be (according to certain definitions) the only representatives of their particular service/offering in the group. This is usually a group of business people who meet regularly for the purposes of presenting their offerings to the group and who undertake to refer sales prospects to each other. Often such groups are organized under the rules/structure/franchise of an over-arching ‘business networking’ body or corporation. Aside from this quite specific description, ‘hard contact’ terminology may be used more generally in referring to a group/network/person with whom a specific business referral expectation/relationship exists, i.e., the main or substantial reason for the relationship is the mutual referral of potential business opportunities/prospects.
- ‘soft contacts’ (or a ‘soft contact’ group/network) – refers to any group or network of people offering possibilities for business networking, sales referrals, introductions, job openings, business opportunities, etc. This can be physical groupings which meet face-to-face (for example, trade associations, interest groups, family and friends, professional institutes, societies and clubs, etc) or virtual groups which are organized via the internet (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc). In this context, ‘soft contacts’, and ‘soft contact networks’ may be organized in extremely varied ways, with little or no expectation/need of business referral activity, and consequently the sales/business person is responsible for assessing and defining how best to approach and develop networking opportunities within each group according to the situation.
- N.B. Be wary of ambiguous terminology like the above. People may use it in different ways. Clarify meaning accordingly. Such terms are for guidance, not blind adherence/application. Life and business are more complex than simplistic headings. So be open to the possibility of variation, adaptation and other options, outside of brief descriptive structures.
Here are some of the main examples of situations and methods suitable for business networking, including specially organized business networking events, meetings, activities and systems.
Many of these are not organized networking activities. Many of these networking situations are simply opportunities to meet people relevant to your aims, when your initiative and creativity can turn vague potential into worthwhile networking.
For all networking opportunities, your success is dependent on the relevance of the situation and the quality and energy of your involvement.
Brief pointers and tips are shown alongside each networking opportunity.
|Conferences||Conferences are full of people with common interests. Coffee breaks are an ideal time to make introductions.|
|Exhibitions||Exhibitions are obviously full of business people with a common interest. Most exhibitions rightly do not like visitors to canvass the exhibitors, but there are plenty of other situations to meet people and network.|
|Seminars||Seminars attract business people of all sorts. Again there are usually coffee breaks which are ideal for making introductions and getting to know people.|
|Training courses||Open training courses are excellent for meeting other business people. Many will encourage informal networking among delegates because this adds value to the quality of the event; certain types of training bring people together in work teams, making it extremely easy to get to know all attendees very well.|
|Chambers of Trade or Commerce||All towns have at least one ‘chamber of commerce’, specifically to bring local business-people together. Many run networking events and/or other meetings and activities which are ideal for networking.|
|Breakfast networking clubs||Several companies run regular breakfast networking clubs as their primary business. Other companies will run one-off events to connect with the local business community. These purpose-designed events obviously provide a good opportunity to engage with other business people.|
|Business networking websites||Since the development of interactive website technology in the late 1990s there are increasing numbers of online business networking organizations. Each has its own culture and systems. Some are vast, covering all types of business imaginable, for example linkedin.com. Others are industry or trade specific, and some are geographically focused. All can be found quickly and easily by searching the web.|
|Website forums||Website forums exist for every subject you can think of. Each offers a networking opportunity for the subject matter concerned.|
|Website user groups||User groups are a further variation of groups found online. User groups are typically within the websites of major internet corporations such as Google and Yahoo. Many user groups are highly specialised, and by implication, internet networking is second-nature to most of these people.|
|Professional body websites||Every profession and trade is represented and connected by at least one official body, which tends to act on behalf of its members, and also offers various opportunities for outsiders to get involved and make helpful connections.|
|Interactive special interest websites||Networking has been made much easier with the advent of interactive membership websites. When you have identified your target groups, there will be a specialist membership website somewhere which represents and brings them together.|
|Community social websites||Facebook is the obvious example. There are many others. Culture and demographic profile are different in each. Some of these websites and memberships are vast. Bigger than countries. This is because of the social aspect, which might initially be appealing, but making a business impact can be very challenging due to the scale of these operations.|
|Online/mobile communications applications||Twitter is the obvious example. New internet platforms like these can grow from nothing to be hugely popular social connection systems in just a few months. Business people can use them to good effect if approached in a very dedicated and technically informed way. Otherwise they can become big time-wasters, so beware.|
|Local networking events||Anyone can set up a networking event, so you can find isolated or more permanent networking operations cropping up at a town near you.|
|Speed networking events||Speed networking is a highly structured type of networking event, in which an organizer (there are several, of varying type and quality) coordinates quick introductions among a group of typically between 20-40 people. The concept is similar, and probably modelled on speed-dating formats.|
|Societies and associations|
How to find people relocating to your area.
One great source to find people relocating to your area is in forums like city-data
As you answer questions on forums and other public Q&A sites, you gain exposure to yourself and backlinks to your “web footprint” Remember, the goal is to develop and grow your web presence with as many quality backlinks to your web profiles (website, facebook, twitter, linked in, etc….)
This is a great source to monitor for people with questions about subjects you could offer assistance about your business or one of the businesses in your networking group.
The goal is to help get the word out about yourself or the others in your local networking group by offering suggestions to those seeking answers. It is very important not to spam these forums or take advantage of any pubic forum. This can do serious harm to your reputation. It is best to offer helpful advice if there is an opportunity to make a recommendation of a local business or service that you have had a good experience or know would help the user.
Referrals are the most important opportunity we have for growing our business.
For other articles on how to use referrals to market your business, be sure to visit the referrals group in the ALN members area.
Welcome to the advertability network.
We’re excited about the opportunity to join with like minded folks who are interested in the exchange of information to help each other grow our businesses.
Stay tuned for exciting announcements that hopefully all of our members can benefit from in their quest to become better small business owners, and more importantly, better people.