Being successful in business is less about having all the answers yourself than knowing where you can access expertise. Since you can't know everyone, you often rely on your friends or trusted colleagues for referrals, which is where your professional network comes in handy.
After all, a basic truth of business is that people do business with people they know, like and trust. Happily, this model works both ways. The more people who know you or about you, the more business will come your way.
Creating an extensive professional network is not nearly as time-consuming or intimidating as you might think, but it does take conscious effort. I call my network my "Team 100" but of course, you can call yours whatever you like. I learned of the Team 100 concept from Thomas Leonard, who was the founder of CoachVille, and widely hailed as the father of the professional coaching industry.
What Is A Team 100?
A Team 100 is a group of one hundred people with whom you have a professional relationship, either as a colleague, vendor, or client, and who have expertise in various areas. The relationship is reciprocal, in that members of your team get as much value from the relationship as you expect to get.
A Team 100 can fill several functions in building your business: It can help you develop a strong professional network, tap into expertise and knowledge, help you resolve problems or at least point toward someone who might help you, and of course, provide referrals to you. You provide the same services to your contacts (your Team 100 members).
Setting Up the Meeting
To get started, think about what type of expertise and contacts you wish you had, and then start making phone calls. When I started putting mine together, I set up a series of lunches with people I admired to meet and get to know them, share information, and so on. These meetings were NOT sales opportunities. I explained to each person that I was developing my "dream network" for my Team 100 of professional contacts, and I wanted to get to know them to add them to my Team 100. (I had heard that most people are flattered and pleased to be invited, and so it was in my experience.)
If you're not up to cold calling people with whom you have no previous connection, you can leverage those networking relationships that you already have, such as approaching the membership of the networking groups to which you belong. Call a certain number of members (say one or two per week), and set up individual meetings for coffee with them. Explain that in order to refer business to him or her (which is the purpose of networking, right?), you need to know more about what that person does, and you would like to set up a time to find out.
You may find that setting a time limit to these networking meetings will help allay any fears the other person might have about wasting time. I usually set mine for 30 minutes, because most people can spare that much time for a one-time meeting, and also because they know they'll get to talk about their business.
What To Talk About During the Meeting
There are three questions you want to ask to gather the type of information you need to be able to refer business appropriately:
1. Who is your ideal client? Ask for both demographic and psychographic info here. If the person just says something general, gently press for more specifics, or ask for a description of the perfect client for his or her business. If this question doesn't get much of a response, ask a hypothetical question, such as: If you could clone just one of your clients, who would it be, and why? What is it that makes this particular client so good for your business?
2. How will I recognize that client? Is there a situation, such as divorce, inheritance, or opening a new business that is present in your ideal clients' lives? Or is there a certain phrase that your clients often use, such as being overwhelmed or needing help with something specific, that I should listen for?
3. What would you like me to tell any referrals about you when I give them your contact information? This could be anything, such as results, like you've never lost a case or your clients usually get a 100% return on their investment within 30 days; or about you personally, like you're a classically trained pianist in addition to being a jazz composer, or that you come from a spiritual base. This is your opportunity to include some significant information about yourself or your practice that will resonate with your ideal client.
How The Meeting Flows
It has been my experience (although yours may be different) that these meetings generally follow a pattern. The first five to ten minutes are spent getting coffee and in general chit chat; the next 15-20 minutes are spent on the other person, and the last five minutes are spent on you.
It is important that the other person get plenty of time to share, not only so that s/he sees that you are not trying to sell anything at this meeting, but so s/he feels understood and valued (VERY important in relationship building). This means you must be prepared to respond to the same questions quickly, concisely, and completely. Of course, since you already know the questions, you can come to the meeting prepared to do just that!
The outcome is that the other person will (usually) have warm, kindly feelings toward you, and is flattered to be included in your professional network. If the opportunity arises, this person will likely refer business to you.
Dealing With Temptation
Of course, there is always the possibly that this person recognizes him- or herself in your ideal client description and will want to talk to you in more detail. Although it will be very tempting to extend this meeting and turn it to your advantage this way, DON'T do it. If the other person really is a prospect, you can set up another time to chat so that your meeting will have a different agenda than networking. If you don't do this, you will be remembered as someone who "baited and switched" that person into a meeting. Bad karma, I'm telling you!
Ending The Meeting
Part of maintaining your professional network is staying in touch, which you can do through notes, calls, invitations and such, but the easiest way is probably through your newsletter. But how can you offer to do that without sounding like you're selling something (which is not how you want to end this meeting)?
After The Meeting
Following a networking meeting, I send a note of thanks, add that person to my mailing list, and then make a point of personally touching base every quarter or even every six months, depending on my schedule. Result: Another resource for my professional network (I LOVE to refer people!), plus another person who knows, likes and trusts me, and equally important, another person in my network who is now in the position to refer business (my ideal clients!) to me.
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This article was written by Veronika (Ronnie) Noize, the Marketing Coach. Ronnie's web site is a comprehensive marketing resource for small office/home office business professionals. For free marketing resources including articles and valuable marketing tools, visit her web site at http://www.veronikanoize.com/, or email her at Ronnie@VeronikaNoize.com.
Build Your Business with Networking Copyright © 2003 Veronika Noize. All rights reserved.