Are you worried that the time spent networking is really not worth it?
I get that. We’ve all been there.
It’s really important that the time you are spending networking is valuable and it’s working for you. Otherwise, it ends up just being work.
If you’re new a new business owner, networking is a really important part of your strategy to get your name out there and grow your business, but if done wrong, it’s just a time suck and not going to add any value to your business and just grind you down.
It doesn’t matter if you are a social butterfly and you love everything about going out and networking or you are more like me and you’re an introvert and it’s a bit of a build-up that you have to put into yourself to go out in the world and meet new people in a high energy environment like networking.
If you are of the latter, more like me, this is going to be really helpful to you because it’s going to help you know where you are going to spend that social energy and how it’s going to be worth it for your business.
If you’re on the other side of it, maybe it’ll help you really want to spend more time in networking events that are really valuable to your business.
I want to talk about;
- How to identify good networking opportunities for you.
- What you want to do at a networking event.
- The difference between paid and free networking opportunities.
So how to evaluate a networking opportunity for you. What you should be asking yourself are these two questions. Is it full of my ideal client? Or is it full of my ideal referral partners?
There’s a couple of ways to look at this one.
Is It Full Of My Ideal Clients?
If you’ve done your work and you know who your ideal client is, where do they hang out?
If you are a B2B service provider, meaning business to business, your service is for other businesses. Networking events are great.
If you are a B2C, business to consumer, you’re providing a service to a person, not a business. Networking events are also great for referral partners, but not excellent unless your ideal client is also a business owner.
When we’re looking at our ideal clients. Where are they spending time?
With a bunch of moms. Are they a mom? So are they in moms’ groups?
Are they a faith-based community?
Are they all dog people? So are they at dog parks?
Identify where they’re spending their time and energy and go be there.
You’re going to find that you’re going to have a lot more opportunities to create really great connections when you’re laser-focused on spending time networking in places that are full of your ideal client.
If you have evidence that the networking event is full of one of those two things. (Ideal client or your ideal referral partner.) And you can look at the membership list, at the attendees or who has marked RSVP to going.
You can also ask the organizer by saying, “ I just would like to get a sense of what types of folks are coming. These are the types of folks that I would like to network with. Does this sound like your group?” And your organizer should be able to give you that information.
Otherwise use word of mouth, talk to the group, ask them, what do you think? I’m looking for networking groups like this, full of these people. And use your current network, your friends, your family, anybody that you have in your current network to help you identify those other opportunities.
Is It Full Of My Ideal Referral Partners?
When it comes to referral partners there are upstream referral partners and there are downstream referral partners.
I’m going to use the example of buying a house because it’s obvious but just think about this for your business.
If you are a realtor, your upstream referral partner is somebody who helps that buyer before they get to buying a home.
A lender is a really great referral partner because they’re the one preparing the finances for that family to buy a house. Once those finances are ready, they go to the realtor. The realtor helps them make the purchase at the home. And then they move on downstream.
So what other types of home services do people need when they buy a home?
That might be a cleaning service. Or insurance. Or floors and carpet and paint.
Those are the downstream referral partners that you want to get connected to so that you are taking care of all your clients through their lifecycle of needs around your service.
That’s going to create a really great experience for them and they’re going to remember it. And then they become a referral source for you as well.
So think about it. Are they full of my ideal referral partners in both upstream and downstream?
There’s a third version of referral partners that you may want to think about, and that is somebody in the same industry, but not direct competition with you.
So for example, another coach would be a great referral partner for me. Someone that doesn’t work with early-stage business owners. Instead, they want to work with businesses that are getting ready to sell or exit the business. That’s not what I do.
And so they’re a great referral partner for me because when somebody comes to me and says, “Oh, I’m doing really good. I just need a business coach. I want to sell it.”
I go, “Oh, that’s not perfect for me, but I’ve got a great person that you could work with. Let me send you over to Jane DOE and Jane will take care of you.”
And likewise for Jane, “Oh, you’re a little bit early stage than my expertise, but I do have an expert that works just with early-stage businesses. Let me send you over to Megan and she should be able to take care of you.”
So when you’re identifying networking opportunities to match yourself with referral partners, think about that upstream, downstream, non-competing, and same industry professionals as well.
There’s another set of networking and that’s paid networking.
I’m not talking like the 10 bucks to show up. I’m talking several hundred to several thousand dollars a year networking.
These are your professional networking groups like BNI or LeTip. There are several out there. And people are more invested in these groups because like my dear friend, Megan Anderson says, “when you pay, you pay attention” and she’s exactly right.
The people that have paid to be a part of this referral group usually pay more attention, but there are still pitfalls here. We still need to have a strategy. Just because it’s a paid referral group does not mean that’s going to be a good fit for you or for your business.
So we need to evaluate that before you join. Most of these will give you a few visits to be able to determine a fit. And they’re usually pretty open about membership and letting you talk to the members because they want you to join too. So, evaluate it the same way.
Don’t think about these paid referral groups as selling to. You want to think about it as selling through them to their networks. So upstream, downstream, and similar industry or same industry, but a different focus. I like to think of it as non-competitive.
If you go in to just sell to that group, you’re going to be out of people to sell to in a hurry. But if you use their network. You’ve got a huge, vast opportunity to sell through their network.
You also want to evaluate and make sure that they do business in a way that you really like and it aligns with your values.
The other thing is your commitment. You have to put a lot of energy into creating these relationships with these referral partners. Make sure that it’s a good fit for you in your ability to show up and be all in.
There’s nothing worse than being in a referral group. When you have somebody that’s just dead weight, that’s not holding up their end of the bargain and not really trying too hard, but they’re really just there to get referrals.
Make sure that you are going to reciprocate your efforts of sending referrals, especially those key referral partnerships in those paid networking groups.
So the time commitment, the energy commitment, and also the right fit.
Are they the right businesses that are upstream or downstream from mine? And do they do good business that I value? And I think that would be a benefit to my clients if I referred to them or family members or friends.
And lastly, is this a good general fit for me? Do I like the way the organization runs? Do the meetings work? Can I be totally committed and applying the amount of effort that is really necessary for me to be successful here?
Get Out There And Get Networking!
So that’s the low down on networking when you’re new and figuring out if you want to just chase after a bunch of free ones that might be good or do I want to evaluate a paid networking group and see if that’s a good fit?
Either way, whatever you do get out there and get networking. It’s a really great way for you to learn how to talk about your business and get immediate feedback on how you’re talking about your business. If it’s making sense, if it’s landing and if people like what you’re saying.
It’s a really good and powerful way to get better at sales and marketing for your business.
Good luck out there. I hope you have super productive networking opportunities coming at you in the very near future.