Many years ago, when I was starting out in business, I thought networking was just a waste of time. Boy, did I find out otherwise— and I probably lost a number of potential customers before I woke up. Networking, which is similar to word-of-mouth publicity, is a powerful marketing tool. It’s also marketing that you can do in a financial crisis, because the cost is minimal or free. You’ll meet many business professionals at Chamber of Commerce meetings, Toastmasters clubs, and events for the BBB or other organizations, and it’s usually free to attend the first couple meetings.
People go to these events to network and exchange new and old ideas about their business. Always dress and act professionally when attending and limit alcoholic drinks to one or none. When you’re there, you are your business.
People you meet won’t know you’re having financial problems unless you tell them. And if you do tell them or they have heard it elsewhere, explain that you’re looking for ideas to turn your business around. Most people will respect your tenacity and really try to help. Listen carefully, because that’s why you’re there. Make short notes on the backs of business cards from new people you meet. Ask questions and then keep quiet and learn from their responses.
When you find organizations that you feel are beneficial to you and your business, take the next step. Join and participate in their meetings and activities. Run for an officer position or volunteer at a fundraising function. You will also realize that there are things you know or have experienced in business from which other members and guests could profit.
The best way to share those ideas and look like an expert is to offer to speak at one of the meetings. Usually, each meeting will have about 20 to 25 minutes for informative speakers. Get on the schedule for a future month and start writing an outline of your main points. Never read a speech word for word, but use your outline to remind you of the main points you want to cover. Practice your speech two or three times before the meeting and be sure it fits in the allotted time.
When you’re not offering to speak to peers and other interested people, why not write about your knowledge? It costs you nothing but your time, and it could make your name known in your industry. Offer your articles for free to trade publications in your field and let them know you are available for any paid assignments. Find related trade magazines, newspapers, websites, and newsletters in directories in your local library’s reference department. Always save copies of your published articles and show them to prospective customers and clients. You can even show them to banks when you are applying for credit lines or loans. They also come in handy when you’re looking for a publisher for a book you’ve written. It might be the little extra edge that gets you new business or the finances you need. Customers and clients trust
people who they feel are experts, and published articles help create that trust.
You can network anywhere and everywhere, 24/7/365, so be ready and available. I’ve met possible customers in line at a supermarket, at a play, at a sporting event, or while waiting to make a deposit at our bank. Just smile, make a general comment about something current, and see whether they want to have a short conversation. Your smile usually will put people at ease for the few minutes you have available. Always offer a business card and ask for theirs if it’s relevant. You may be surprised by what can happen from this short encounter. You may find your next new customer who is looking for a new place to buy from. And by the way, did I mention that all this networking is free, which is exactly what you
need if you’re trying to survive a financial crisis?