|Barbara Markoff (center) with two networking business friends at a San Diego business publication event.
Networking contacts can be a great source of new business, referring you to potential customers and getting the word around town about your services.
Recently I received an email invitation to be linked to one of my networking friends through LinkedIn, an online business site for professionals. I accepted and emailed her back saying “In 2009 we will all need to stick together and help each other out with business.” I realize more and more that you cannot have enough business friends, and the importance of approaching business with friends on your side has come to have a greater impact on the way I conduct my growing corporate art sales.
Now more than ever, effective networking and referrals through contacts with other business people will play a crucial role in keeping your business momentum going. To have a steady stream of business in the pipeline, art and framing business owners need to understand that conventional market and advertising, such as ads in Yellow Pages or direct mailings, may not be what actually works in this down economy.
Networking and receiving referrals from successful and influential members of the local business community is a proven path to business success. This method of doing business is based on business friendships that are maintained and nurtured in a way very similar to personal friendships. Business friends help each other out by providing information, leads, referrals, sources, and problem solving. By positioning yourself as a networking individual constantly meeting new people in the business community, you are building a network of influential individuals who will not only use your business but will also refer their business friends to you.
I admit being skeptical of business networking groups in the past. However, this changed when I became a member of a San Diego-based networking group called Entransa in 2002. The members were sales representatives motivated and willing to share information about businesses moving, expanding, and remodeling. Information discussed in the monthly meetings revolved around what companies to call on and who the decision makers were on large projects. As information was exchanged and members helped each other, business friendships were established.
From these business relationships two things happened that had a tremendous benefit to my business. I was receiving referrals from friends at two levels. Referrals were coming from networking friends from the group, and referrals were coming from decision makers that were extremely happy with the quality of my work. It then became apparent to me that networking and referrals were hugely important to growing my business. I learned that I could grow my business exponentially by making more business friends.
My next step was to join other networking groups. Now I am an active networking member of three groups in San Diego, where I have the exclusive spot in the category of art and framing. In addition to these three groups, I belong to the American Society of Interior Designers.
The concept sounds simple. Make business friends and be helpful. It is simple, but the key is to make the effort to be a giver and stay involved. Showing up to business networking meeting and events takes discipline. Exchanging timely business information also takes time and effort.
There are many ways to be helpful, which include giving leads, sending newspaper clippings about their companies or colleagues, discussing common business concerns, and sending business their way. By presenting yourself as a helpful person interested in advancing other people’s sales, you will receive a constant flow of referrals in return. Bob Burg says it best in his book, Endless Referrals. “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.”
Each business friend you make comes with a network of contacts potentially providing extreme value to you. As you grow these friendship-based business relationships based on trust, mutual admiration, and respect, your access to new networks unfolds. Most business people have at least 200 people in their networks. Not that all of these people need your services, but by adding new business friends constantly you are leveraging yourself into being on the receiving end of referrals.
Think of it this way. If a decision maker needs an art and framing company to do a job and they know someone who knows you but not your competitor, then who has the advantage? You do. Your influence is being spread through many business networks. The more business networking you do the better your odds of someone referring business to you. The more business you refer to people you know, the more they refer business to you.
Again, it sounds like a simple concept, but I have found few of my colleagues approaching business in this way. I show up at networking events open to all kinds of businesses in San Diego. And while I meet furniture sales reps, lawyers, architects, plant vendors, graphic designers, etc., I do not see art consultants, picture framers, or art gallery owners.
To understand how this approach can help grow your business, you need to have a certain mindset. Being on the giving side with no expectations of getting anything takes focusing. Listening to contacts talk about their business (without interrupting) is a learned response. Naturally you want people to know what you do. By listening to people talk about their businesses, you are showing interest and moving the relationship along. In all situations, if your attitude is helping others then the benefits will outweigh your efforts. After all of the help you give, the human response is to give back and spread the word about you and your business. People want to feel good about giving back. And once you are a business friend, the referrals will keep coming your way. Whether you are a picture framer, art consultant, gallery owner, or a sales representative for plant company, this formula will work.
It is never too late to join a networking group and begin attending business functions. I was in business for more than 20 years before I discovered the benefits of networking and referrals. Reading books on the subjects of networking, referrals, and how to sell will energize you and help you do it the right way. In addition, business e-zines give you tips and reaffirm your methods. In 2009 it will take extra effort to find and maintain business. It should be your year to jumpstart your business by networking and making many new business friends. Remember, you can never have enough business friends. That being said, go out and make more business friends. It will be worth it.