One of the toughest challenges of being a small business owner is getting everything done. The time involved in finding, landing and serving your customers can be all-consuming.
This is why so many business owners defer, delay or all-out ignore building their network.
Sometimes, you can temporarily get away with it. You may have a large, predictable group of customers that provide the bulk of your revenue. When these people go away, you suddenly realize:
- I have no one to ask for referrals.
- I have no idea who the big connectors are in my community.
- I have not sent any kind of communication in months (or years?) to let people know what I am up to.
Building your network is the single most effective prevention of business loss. Here are the key things you need to know to build it right away:
Step 1: Know who you are looking to meet
Every business owner should have a clear description of their ideal customer avatar (also called “persona” in marketing circles). Audience expert Susan Baier defines your audience by “the problem or challenge they face,” not the demographic descriptors that define them.
If you are a bookkeeper, instead of saying “My ideal customer is a woman between the age of 40–55 who makes $100,000 a year,” you could say “My ideal customer is a busy business owner who is overwhelmed with boxes of receipts and is looking for a simple, effective way to organize their bookkeeping.” With this definition, you will be much more discerning with the types of events you attend.
Step 2: Use technology
You can create groups on Twitter (of clients, of friends, of favorite thinkers) so you can have a small and focused window into key segments of your network. If you scan the stream of these special groups, you can respond, retweet and encourage in an organized manner. You can also set reminders in your calendar at different times of the month to email current clients, or to stop by the LinkedIn profile of your favorite connectors. Knowing you have a block of time to check up on key networks will stop you from feeling pressured to do so every day.
Step 3: Have a rock-solid follow-up plan
Every time you come back from an event, have a clearly defined way to solidify new connections. For in-person events, take 10 minutes to send a LinkedIn connection request to those who gave you their business cards. Note any promised actions in your to-do list. If you had any conversations with good prospects, add a follow up meeting request to your calendar.
Step 4: Implement the power 15
Networking lunches and dinners can take a big chunk out of your day and get expensive. If you meet new interesting people, invite them to a 15 minute chat on Skype. Speaker Phil Gerbyshak suggests “Figure out your networking buckets and a list of questions ahead of time, and know that each person should fit into one of those buckets—including a bucket for random connections. Use a tool like TextExpander for these questions—and customize them to the individual.”
Step 5: Start a newsletter!
One of the best ways to stay top of mind for the people in your network is to start a newsletter. You can write a short, useful article once a month, and this will be a great way to keep folks updated on what is going on in your business, and a reminder of how you create value and solve their problems.
You cannot build a network in a day, but you can build small daily practices that will lead to a vibrant, supportive community. Don’t put it off, your business depends on it!