Building your business the old fashioned way, through word of mouth, foot on pavement, networking and building lifelong business relationships has always been and will always be the best way.
When I get an engagement the first questions I ask: where does your time go? and where do your clients/customers come from?
In collecting the data for the second I noticed that all my clients get 50% or more of the business from their organic warm network, i.e. friends, family, business contacts, prior customers/clients, referral partners, etc. This is what they brought with them when they started the business and then systematically grew through networking and building relationships.
The rest of their leads come from all the “other stuff” like marketing, social media, email, SEO, print media, etc. Sure, these are great processes to implement for business growth, however, face-to-face still counts- BIG time!
Think about it: if your warm network produces 50% of the leads and you increase that by 10%, that’s now 55% of leads from the warm network. However, do a similar increase of 10% on just one of the “other stuff” areas, say SEO, which may only produces 7% of leads, then you're only getting a 0.7% increase.
Given this example, it's clear the greatest thing you can do for your business is more networking. Sure, marketing is marketing in whatever form but as Polaroid founder Edwin H. Land said “Marketing is what you do when your product is no good”. The point is it’s not the be all and end all of business, and as a small business owner you only have one real product, YOU! So you have to learn to sell yourself, and the best way to do that is to get out there and continue building relationships and networking your business.
A word of warning, from the data I have collected, many of my clients have strong warm networks but are choosing to communicate with them only through social media as opposed to face to face interaction, because it’s easier and trendy. This is misguided because social media is somewhat superficial and can be unsustainable. What is needed is a balance, you need to do both and not neglect either.
Here are some things to start doing to strengthen your warm network.
- Join a network referral group in your area, like a BNI or a LeTip.
- Get involved with your industry organizations, see what events are being offered and how you can get opportunities to mingle.
- Got to ad-hoc mixers that happen in your town or city.
- Join a country club or city club like the University Club.
- Use Meetup to find groups that have business influences or align with your industry.
- Contact old business associates and clients, to see what’s new.
Whatever you do, fight the urge to bury yourself so deep in your business that you never come out to see the light of day. Get used to being a social butterfly and not a silent wall flower. Go out, mingle, chat, introduce yourself and your business to strangers, make new friends and build deep everlasting relationships. All these things create opportunity and that’s what every business needs to create and capture. Go forth and prosper!