Networking is simply the working together of several businesses to help each other’s business grow through referrals. Relationship-building is the key to successful networking regardless of the type of event you are participating in. I’ve found that networking groups are a successful means of marketing my nail salon. I’d even go so far as to say they’re the best return for money spent when compared to other marketing and advertising campaigns. But you do have to find the groups that are the best fit for your business. Once you find the right groups, you need to know how to get the most out of it so it doesn’t turn into just another social hour with no real benefit to your nail business.
LOCATE THE RIGHT GROUP
To locate the right group for you, fi rst determine how much time you can commit to networking. Most groups meet weekly. Figure out what sort of budget youcan bear to start with as each group will have different membership fees (ranging from no cost on up). Some offer payment plans while others do not. Then, figure out what time of day is best for you as well as the days of the week you can get away from the salon. One key to networking is your attendance. You can’t build a relationship with other members if you don’t commit to attending the meetings regularly —not to mention that most groups have attendance policies.
Once you have established these parameters, you can start the search for networking groups by checking with your local Chamber of Commerce, where networking groups are frequently members. Also try an online search for “business networking” in your city or surrounding areas. You can also look into national organizations such as BNI and Woman Owned. There are groups that target specific audiences such as stay-at-home moms, women entrepreneurs, bridal service providers, etc.
Regardless of what type of group you are looking to join, make sure to ask for a copy of each group’s rules and regulations to be sure you can comply with them. Look at things such as attendance policy, membership fees, referral requirements, exclusivity in industry, visitor policy, etc.
PREPARE FOR YOUR FIRST MEETING
Once you have found a few groups you are interested in, contact each group organizer to ask if it is OK to visit. Then prepare for your fi rst meeting. You can prepare by creating the perfect “elevator speech.” This is a 30- or 60-second introduction. You want to get your name, the name of your business, and other key points into this introduction. Practice to perfect it. On the day of your visit, wear your most professional outfi t and arrive a few minutes early so you have time for pre-meeting mingling. Have a stack of business cards ready to hand out to everyone you meet.
Wear your name tag proudly. Be sure to give yourself time to mingle after the meeting as well. Remember, you want to build relationships, so put yourself out there and get to know the members before and after the meetings.
You will want to visit several meetings a couple of times to be sure it’s the perfect fi t for your business. Every group has its own dynamic so it’s crucial you are sure you and your business will fi t in with the existing members.
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR MEMBERSHIP
Once you have selected a group or two and have joined, it’s important to get the most out of these memberships. And you can’t do that if you aren’t attending. But it’s much more than just taking up a chair. Below are some key points:
- Meet new people. At each meeting be sure to sit next to someone you haven’t met before.
- Stay in touch. Keep in touch with those you meet between meetings by scheduling one-on-one meetings with them, visiting their businesses, or inviting them to try your services, etc.
- Make promotional materials available. Always have materials on hand at every single meeting you attend. And be sure all of your contact information is on every piece.
- Listen. Learn to listen to the person you are having a conversation with. Slow down, stop talking, and just listen.
- Be attentive. Nothing is more annoying at a meeting than someone who is messing around with her cell phone, digging in her purse, or doing something else other than listening to those who are speaking. Take notes if you have to. This will allow you to that day. know before the end of the meeting who you have to hook up with before you leave
- Follow through with leads. If someone at a meeting is gracious enough to offer you a referral or lead, be sure to follow up in a timely manner. And be sure to let the referral know who referred her to you. And by all means, make sure you follow up with the referrer to thank her and to let her know you have followed through.
- Stay focused and positive. Nothing is more of a downer than to be in a meeting when those around you have absolutely nothing positive to say about anything. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be able to discuss the obstacles we face within our businesses as someone in the group may have a possible solution. But it is one thing to bring up a topic to discuss and another thing entirely to allow the room to be fi lled with negativity. Remember to stay focused on fi nding a solution.
- Be encouraging. This can simply be done by pointing out the use of another’s services. Or even praise on how a fellow member took care of a referral you sent them. It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, but rather just a few words of praise.
- Use member services. Keep a list of contacts from your networking groups so you always have them handy. And when you need a product or service, be sure to utilize those in your group before looking outside the group. This shows support for your fellow members and encourages them to use your business too.
Networking really does work to grow a business. But it takes some effort on your part. It requires participation. It requires a willingness to build relationships within the business community where your salon is located. Other businesses can be the best referral partners you could possibly have. These other businesses are going to be more willing to refer to you when they have built a relationship with you and know you and your business practices personally.
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