I have become convinced that referral marketing is the way to build a small business. It certainly works for me. That’s why this post will stray from ideas about writing to ideas about networking, with the goal of helping readers build their business success.
If you haven’t already done so, you will want to join your local chamber of commerce as well as a more structured networking group like Business Networking International (BNI). These organizations can be worth every penny of your membership dues—but not if you don’t show up and don’t follow up.
Don’t Show Up
With more structured networking organizations like BNI, a minimum attendance is required. However, even though I have helped publicize mixers held by my local chamber, I am embarrassed to admit that occasionally I forgot to show up at the actual mixer. Keep in mind that if a chamber holds only one mixer per month, each is one-twelfth of the networking opportunities for which you have paid.
To avoid forgetting, write down all those monthly chamber mixers as soon as you start using your 2011 calendar, or program them into your handheld device. Even if the locations have not yet been selected, the dates are usually chosen far in advance. (For example, the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce almost always holds mixers on the second Wednesday of the month.) As the date comes closer, check the chamber’s website for location and other details.
Sometimes you may feel tired from a busy day and just not feel like networking. Remember: it’s one-twelfth of your networking investment. Make the effort. You will be glad you did.
Don’t Follow Up
If you don’t follow up with those cards you collect at a chamber mixer or other networking event, they become just so many small pieces of waste paper.
How should you follow up? I was fortunate recently to be able to ask this question to Ivan Misner, founder of BNI and the guru of network marketing, as part of a conference call scheduled by the Referral Institute. Misner’s suggestions were to find out how you can help your new business acquaintance and then use your connections to do so, or to make an appointment for a quiet one-to-one at a later time.
Following up as Misner suggests creates a bond between you and your new acquaintance. BNI is based on the motto “Givers Gain.” Referral marketing is based on the idea that people want to do business with those they know, like, and trust. That’s why following up with those business cards works to grow your business.