Five Tips for Using Local Networking Groups to Grow Your Business

In today’s digital world, the hot topics in the small business marketing industry tend to be things like SEO, responsive web design, pay-per-click advertising, and of course whatever the latest fad in social media happens to be in any particular week. Of course all of these things are important and have a role to play in successfully marketing a small business, but while all of these constantly changing and evolving areas have been dominating the conversation, one time-tested marketing tactic has continued to quietly provide good results for those relatively few small business owners who have truly mastered it.

I’m talking about good, old-fashioned networking, which—especially at the local level—is still one of the most cost effective marketing methods available to a small business. Unfortunately, it’s also something that very few people are good at. Just visit any chamber of commerce luncheon and in no time you’ll quickly see numerous examples of bad networking. I’m talking about the guy who passes out business cards to everyone in the room and yet couldn’t tell you the name of a single person he talked to an hour later…or the woman who is clearly more interested in the desert tray than in any meaningful business-related conversation. It’s no wonder many people concentrate on other marketing tactics when their “networking” experiences involve examples like these.

Just to be perfectly clear, this superficial type of networking is not what I’m recommending as a way to grow your business. What I am recommending is developing long-term, meaningful relationships with quality business professionals who are ready and willing to help you accomplish your business goals. If that last sentence sounded familiar to you, it might be because it’s taken from the mission statement of the world’s largest small business networking and referral organization, BNI (Business Network International). By participating in local business networking groups like BNI, business owners can not only improve their networking skills, they can also meet strategic partners and get referrals—lots of referrals. In a second, I’ll give you five specific ways that local networking groups can help grow a small business, but first I want to define exactly what kind of groups I’m talking about.

Local business networking groups defined

When I use the term “local business networking groups”, the first thing that might come to mind might be the chamber of commerce, Rotary Club, or Lion’s Club. These are all fine organizations that serve a useful purpose, but they are not what I am referring to. For the purpose of this article, when I say “local business networking group” I am referring to a group that meets the following criteria:

  • The group only allows one representative from each profession to join a chapter.
  • New members must go through an application and screening process to join the group (i.e., they don’t simply allow anybody who can pay the membership fee to join).
  • The primary purpose of the group is to facilitate the exchange of business referrals between members.
  • The group meets in person on a regular basis (weekly or bi-weekly).
  • Meetings have a structured format so that members get equal consideration and do not have to fight for attention.
  • Members are expected to adhere to a code of ethics and/or meet quality standards.

Of course, BNI is by far the largest and most well-known example of this type of organization, but there are many other similar groups, such as LeTip and Biz to Biz. Within any of these groups you’ll find chapters that are healthy and very effective, and chapters that are run very poorly and are not effective at all. For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to a healthy, well-run chapter of a local networking group meeting the above criteria.

Now that we’ve got that straightened out, let’s get to those five specific tips for getting the most out of these groups once you are a member.

Tip #1: Be specific when you request referrals

One common characteristic of the type of networking group I described is that members will have the opportunity to ask for referrals. In fact, members are expected to refer business to each other, but that doesn’t mean that those referrals will turn into customers. In order to get the most out of your membership in local networking groups, be as specific as possible when you ask for referrals.

For example, here’s a specific referral request that an attorney in a local networking group might make of his fellow members:

“I’m looking for an introduction to Mr. John Smith from John Smith’s Lawn Care Service. I know Mr. Smith has his business organized as a sole proprietorship right now, and I don’t think he realizes that he is putting his personal assets at risk by doing that. If someone could introduce me to Mr. Smith so that I could educate him about the benefits of organizing his business as a limited liability company, I’d greatly appreciate it.”

This will be much, much more effective than a generic request such as “I’d like to meet small business owners who have sole proprietorships.” Vague referral requests like that will get you lots of bad referrals—if they get you any referrals at all.

Tip #2: Don’t forget about strategic partners

The only thing better than getting a personal introduction to a new customer is getting a personal introduction to someone who can send you lots of new customers—i.e., a strategic partner. Unfortunately, all too often people in local networking groups tend to focus only on asking for referrals to new customers. This is probably because referrals to strategic partners take more time and energy before they result in cash flow. Don’t miss out on this potential gold mine for new customers. Ask members of your local networking group for referrals to strategic partners, or better yet, join a chapter that already has a few potential strategic partners in it.

Tip #3: Use your group to help promote your content

Sometimes, it might be hard for other members of a group to refer business to you, but they might be able to help you out in other ways. For example, let’s say you have a blog that you post an educational article to at least once or twice a month (which you should). Why not ask your fellow members to share it on their personal Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, or LinkedIn profiles? Typical chapters of local networking groups have between 20-30 people. If each of those people has a few hundred “friends” on Facebook, and even half of them share your article with their followers, you’ll get tons of free exposure, at least a few clicks to your website, and—with a little bit of luck—maybe even a new customer or two.

Tip #4: Have members of your group write you a review (and vice versa)

Positive online reviews for a local business on sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook are very important, but getting them from customers can be a challenge. Once you have gotten to know members of your local networking group fairly well, ask if they’d be willing to write you a review or LinkedIn recommendation from the perspective of a business associate. In some cases, this can be even more powerful than a review from a customer, because it’s coming from someone who has a long-term relationship with you. Of course, when you make this request you should offer to do the same for them in return.

Tip #5: Use your networking group to help your customers

This last tip will apply more to B2B businesses than B2C businesses. For those of you who have clients who are small business owners, think about who in your local networking group might be a potential customer for them. Then, invite them to attend a meeting with you as your guest and introduce them to that member. It may or may not lead to a new customer for them, but even if it doesn’t, they’ll probably appreciate the fact that you are thinking about them and trying to help them out. Who knows—if they’re impressed by your group, they may even become a member and turn into a source of referrals for you and the other members!

Now that you know how to get the most out of local business networking groups, it’s time to take action. Make a commitment to find a group in your area and pay them a visit sometime within the next month. Don’t be shy about reaching out—these groups LOVE visitors and treat them like royalty, because they know that every visitor is either a potential customer or referral source for them. Just contact the chapter president and let them know you’d like to visit the group, and they’ll let you know what to do.

If you’re already a member of a local networking group and aren’t using all of the above ideas, then start! Just don’t be surprised if other members of your group start copying you once they see what great results you’re getting.

About Kevin Jordan

kevin JordanKevin Jordan is a small business marketing consultant and member of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network. He’s also the president of the newly chartered Bridge to Success BNI Chapter in Farmville, VA. You’re invited to visit his chapter the next time you happen to be in central Virginia on a Thursday morning at 8 am.

Building Trust for Online Referral Marketing Campaigns

Building Trust for Online Referral Marketing Campaigns - Duct Tape Marketing

photo credit:”Pixabay

Running an online business can be difficult and expensive; you have to worry about managing ad campaigns and monitoring your budget. If this is not done properly, your business could fail. Having a referral marketing program is a great way to reduce marketing costs and increase the profitability of your business. Referral marketing involves your customers telling their friends and family how much they enjoyed your service. Not only does this gain exposure for your business, but it also inspires trust, which increases the likelihood of generating more sales. This article will teach you how to do referral marketing.

Why Referrals?

When a potential customer visits your website for the first time, they likely have no idea who you are or how dependable your business is. This lack of trust makes them hesitant to buy from you. But people trust the opinions of those they respect, such as friends and family members. When a customer refers their friends to you, the referral is going to trust you more than if they had found your website on their own. But nobody will refer their friends to you unless you inspire trust and respect.

Professional Website

Your website is the first impression potential clients have of you and your business. If your customers don’t think you put much effort into it, they will likely believe you handle all areas of your business carelessly. Having a professional website inspires trust and credibility, which will increase your sales and referrals. You must have a clean design and quickly fix any broken links. Sometimes, setting up a professional website requires training and experience; it is also time-consuming. If you don’t know how to do it yourself, it’s vital to have a professional web designer; this ensures your website is professional and inviting.

Managing Bad Reviews

It does not matter how great your product or service is, every company gets bad reviews on occasion. Bad reviews don’t matter as much as how you handle them. Many companies make the mistake of trying to hide their negative reviews, which is a mistake. Trying to cover up negative comments makes it seem you have something to hide; this is damaging to your reputation and will result in losing the trust of potential customers.

Instead, use bad reviews to improve your reputation and inspire trust and credibility. Respond to each negative review with complete openness and honesty. If you made a mistake, be honest and admit it. But vow to do better in the future. Being open about your flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings will show your customers that you have nothing to hide, thus inspiring trust.

Branding

If you want to be truly successful, you need to be more than remembered; you need to become a household name, which is accomplished with a successful branding strategy. This means your company, product, and mission statement become one in the mind of your customers. If you want to successfully brand your product or service, it is vital you provide quality service and live up to a powerful mission statement. Don’t expect branding to be done overnight; it is a long-term process. But when done properly, it gives you a major competitive advantage over others in your industry.

Building Trust for Online Referral Marketing Campaigns - Duct Tape Marketing

photo credit:”Pixabay

Offer Gifts

Many companies make the mistake of only considering how they can get their customers to hand over their money, which is a critical mistake. Internet users are bombarded with advertisements every day, and if you only come at them with more ads, they will tune you out. You will lose their trust, business, and referrals. If you want to avoid this, offer your loyal customers small, unannounced gifts. This is not charity; it’s an investment. Receiving gifts will make your customers like and trust you, and the gifts don’t have to be expensive. In fact, you can simply offer gift cards or store credit. If you want to give more valuable gifts away, you can do a monthly drawing. By offering gifts to your customers, they will feel appreciated and valued.

Relationship building

Relationship building is another way to build and inspire trust. Some companies make the mistake of selling to each customer once and letting them walk away, but doing this is leaving money on the table. A customer who buys from you is demonstrating they are interested in your product or service, which means they will likely buy from you again. However, you can’t sit around and hope they will come to your website again. You need to actively remarket to them. This can be achieved by emailing them special offers and promotions. Now, it’s important to never come across too strong in your emails. You want to frame the conversation as you doing them a favor, which can be done by offering discount and loyalty rewards.

Trust Building Overtime

You must know how to build trust, which is not all or nothing; it’s a process that grows over time. But it is also fragile, and while it can take some time to build, it can be destroyed in a second. Therefore, it is vital to be open and transparent in all communications with your customers; never lie or be dishonest. Always be truthful whenever answering questions, and never lie or exaggerate the benefits of a product to get a sale. While doing so can work for a short time, people will eventually catch on, and your trust will be forever damaged.

Final Thoughts

While there are many important factors to the success of your business, none are as important as earning the trust of your customers, without which you lose referrals and the potential to grow and expand. When you lose trust, your business will likely fail. But trust can be built and maintained with a proper plan. Always be open, honest, and transparent in all your interactions; make it a part of your mission statement. Build relationships with your customers, and do everything you can to make them happy and feel valued. While this might seem difficult and overwhelming, it can be simplified by remembering to treat your customers as you would want a business to treat you.

Sarah SmithSarah Smith is a blogger is currently learning about marketing, using the internet. Aside from working on her own business, she likes to use social media and read travel books. Find her at Twitter.

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