Recently we have been trying to increase our networking presence. In the past this was a matter of hitting Meetup.com and finding business networkers in the metroplex which looked like they were active enough to spend the time and effort investigating. It was a crap shoot to say the least. Some groups were excellent, but were not convenient to meet with because of location or timing. Other groups were just what i like to call "timeshare dinners" where it was ostensibly a networking group, but actually turned out to be a long sales pitch, kinda like the free dinners the timeshare sales folks do. If you do much face to face networking at all, then you know what i am talking about.
How do you network more effectively?
So we rethought the way we have been approaching it. We decided to take a laser gun approach rather than a shotgun style. I remembered that networking doesnt have to be about meeting random strangers and trying to build relationships with them. Instead it can be targeted to networking with specific folks who have specific resources to work with. I always thought of this as recruiting referral agents. The problem i always had with it was i was looking for referral agents in the wrong places. I always thought they should be companies who dovetail with webdesign, however the more i thought about it the more i realized that, while those are important, they are very limited. Better than that would be to work with agents who are advisers to small business owners.
Step 1: Figure out who advises your specific demographic
We figure that every small business needs certain services and service providers. We all need a bank and a good banker, most need a good CPA to make sense of the tax code, many need insurance and lawyers, and the good ones need business coaches. So we have just started focusing on building relationships and incentivising those small business influencers. Specifically lawyers and CPA's. What we have found, initially at least, is that these guys need good incentives and follow up before they start moving and sending referrals.
Step 2: Figure out what they need/want, and give it to them.
I shouldnt give you our specific solution... our "secret sauce" so to speak, mainly because it is not tested yet. Also because i dont want every other web design firm out there doing the same thing, yknow? Lets just say that if you can figure out a way to provide them something that they need or want, then give it to them... even if it costs some money. If that is the case then write it off as an advertising expense, because that's what it is if you think about it. The big difference is that this is not throwing something against the wall to see if it works like most advertising is... this is specifically targeted with quantifiable results that you can revisit and refine until it gets you where you want to be.
Step 3: Refine your offering to make it more potent and effective.
Go forward finding referral agents and give them whatever you come up with to motivate them for a few weeks or months. That is where we are at the moment... trying to recruit using the offerings we determined in the previous step. Very soon we plan to look at what was spent and what was gained from it to get a specific ROI. Once we know the return on investment, we will be able to figure out if we should expand the program to bankers, insurance agents, and business coaches. We will also know if we need to tweak the offer to make it less expensive or more attractive.
Step 4: Share with us your experiences in building up a referral agent network.
Okay, so this isnt really a step to the process, but it would be pretty cool to pool resources with you guys out there to learn from each others mistakes, right? So in the comments below tell us what you have done or are doing that is getting you results. We dont need your secret sauce, but if we all network together on this stuff, we can all benefit without giving away the farm. In that vein, i would like to introduce a new resource for small business owners in the DFW Metroplex (and beyond too). When you need business help, wouldn't it be great if you could go to a website and get some business help? Now you can... just go to GetSomeBusinessHelp.com and ask your question. We have gathered some of the best experts on various small business topics from marketing to business law to startups and financing into one place. Membership is free and so is the advice so give it a click right now... more to come on this project later.