As every entrepreneur knows, referrals are the lifeblood of small business. Events hosted by professional associations, college alumni groups and your local chamber of commerce are the perfect opportunity to expand your network of professional contacts. Networking leads to a direct increase in the number of referrals you receive for new customers, earning you new business. Yet as a business coach, I've learned that small business owners rarely take the time to attend networking functions.
There are three key reasons that networking for referrals makes good business sense-especially for entrepreneurs:
- Referrals come to you pre-sold.
When a network contact sends you a referral, they've already done a good part of the selling for you. This is a fantastic concept if you don't enjoy prospecting for new business. With every networking event you attend, have a goal of meeting new people whose business contacts complement yours. With a robust network, you've got your own pro-bono sales force enthusiastically working for you seven days a week. You couldn't build a better sales team than that!
- Trust is built faster with a referred client.
A key buying motivation with every consumer is reducing risk. No one wants to feel they've made a poor buying decision. A prospect who has been referred to you sees you as a friend of a friend, so you are instantly viewed as trustworthy. A referred customer feels more comfortable during the buying process and tends to purchase more.
The social aspect of networking events is designed to build trust and friendships among business contacts. When attending functions look for ways to assist others in their business-growth objectives, and you'll find yourself surrounded by professionals eager to send business your way as well.
- Referrals clone more referrals
For long-term revenue growth, nothing beats the multiplying effect of referrals bringing new business directly to you. Your reputation for quality and integrity grows with each new "generation" of referred business. The loyalty factor helps protect you against the fads and gimmicks of your competitors.
Remember that each new referred client has their own circle of influence that represents a whole new door of networking opportunities for you. Find out what professional or social groups your new clients are involved in and offer to provide a short seminar, presentation, or article content for its newsletter. Your valuable insight will win you the enviable reputation of "expert in your field" within that group. And when they need assistance, you'll be the one they call.
The time you spend building relationships within your professional network pays off better in long-term revenue growth than any other marketing strategy. Instead of thinking of networking events as a chore, think of them as a chance to put more money in your pocket. The old adage, "Work smarter, not harder," certainly applies when it comes to networking.
To find great networking opportunities, keep an eye on the schedules published by your local professional association, chamber of commerce and business newspapers. Once you are at an event talk to as many people as possible about your business; it may surprise you how often they need your services or know someone else who does. Dedicate time each week to meet with others in networking activities, and you'll see your referral business grow in ways you never thought possible.