I’ve been networking in my community for nearly 20 years, building what I call the “community buzz” in clubs, networking groups and chamber events. Throughout the relationship building process, I have been influenced by people that have a heart for helping people in our communities. Networking, when done well, establishes growth. First, it helps connect you to people and businesses who are like-minded. Second, it provides you with the advantage of Top of Mind Awareness, which leads customers to your door instead of your competitor’s door. Networking is a strategy that will require a significant investment in time and money. It is not the fastest marketing method. However, I believe it results in the strongest long-term growth in business.
As with computers, networking can be done on any scale. You can start small, with little time and little financial investment, or you can go as big as you can imagine. Whatever level you choose, you will need the following:
- Cell Phone with unlimited voice and data
- A minimum of 30 minutes a day
- Business cards with your name, cell number, and email address
- Social Media accounts – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any others that are relevant to your business. Remember, you don't have to be on every social media platform. Choose the ones that fit your field, skills and interests the best.
Think strategically about where to spend your time, and which groups to join. There isn't anything wrong with spending your volunteer hours with a group that will provide you with new customers, new ideas and new relationships. Choosing causes that build your community while building your business allows you to have greater impact. Some things to consider:
- Know your community – This is the starting point. What groups are in your area? Who are the leaders in your City? Find that bridge between your pocket book and your passion.
- Be Friendly –Smile, laugh, and have a firm handshake. If you're uncomfortable in crowds, practice your skills in smaller groups then scale up as your confidence increases.
- Be useful – Help out at events and socials. People notice the worker bees, and will often make it a point to talk to them. Plus, being involved at the volunteer level often leads to greater knowledge.
- Have quality interactions. You don’t need to meet everyone in the room, but you do need to have a genuine conversation with everyone you do meet. Try to spend 3 minutes with each person- 2 minutes listening and 1 minute talking. People love to talk about themselves. One good tip I’ve learned is to try to follow the F.O.R.M. when I talk to people. Ask in order about Family, Occupation, Recreation, and then leave a message for future follow-up.
- Remember: It is not who you know but who knows YOU.
- Be giving – Donate to causes that are important to you and support your community events with attendance, auction/raffle donations and other things as needed.
- Be a leader – Don’t be afraid to be a leader in your group. A leader is an officer or the chair of the group. People will get a chance to see you at work. They will also get a chance to see what you’re passionate about.
- Award others – Why is this important? Bringing recognition to peers doing great work in their business and community shows that you care, and that you are appreciative of other people's contributions. I have nominated 3 people for awards in the last 3 years (I try to nominate one person a year). One person I nominated invited a few of his friends to the ceremony, including the past mayor of Tacoma, President of the community college and a CFO of another company. People will always remember that you thought enough of them and took the time to nominate them. People remember the high points in their lives.
- Be awarded – People want to be around winners. They want to introduce their friends to winners. A friend of mine had a saying, “scratch with the chickens or fly with the eagles.” I have been fortunate enough to win a few awards and great things have always followed. I made the cover of our local community college catalog, I believe, because I was a rising star in the community.
Your best customers can be your most effective salespeople. Building strong relationships creates a de facto sales force for your business. Those who know you and your abilities will become spokesmen for your skills, abilities and integrity. What would happen if you had 100 sales people working for you? You will have increased sales volume, more profitable deals, more referrals than you know what to do with-and happier clients. When you build your business based on community relationships and helping others, everyone wins.
The best clients are ones that you have a real rapport with. You know you have a great relationship when they tell you to order whatever you think they need as a company. I have spent the last 19 years working on real relationships with members of my community. The outcome has been increased referrals, great customers and profitable sales. In 2014, I had about $120,000 of sales generated from groups and organizations that I belong to, with an overall year-over-year sales increase of 67%. I believe that to be the direct result of nearly two decades of local investment. I am proud that my success has been part of a win-win solution for my business partners and the community we share.
The story of 1 + 1 = 6
I joined our local Chamber in 2003 and became involved in a few committees. Because of my involvement at meetings, lunches, and social events I received a phone call from an international hotel chain in our area about 7 years ago. They were very active in community events and the Chamber of Commerce. The general manager personally called me and asked if we would be interested in taking over the technology part of their business because they were unhappy with their current technology partner. He said, “I feel better supporting a company that gives back to their community.” Today, my company supports six different hotels and part of their corporate staff. We have sold workstations, laptops, and lots of labor to support their growing company. They will need new servers and more workstations in the coming year.
One person with passion + one person with vision = 6 corporate accounts. Be a networking fool…
Curtis M. Thiel, President and CEO, Hard@Work Computers is a fourth generation business owner, and past president of five local community service and trade organizations. He has been the recipient of multiple community leadership awards and is a frequent speaker on community and technology issues. In 2007, he co-authored a book, titled Peer Power, Powerful Ideas for Partners from Peers 2007. He has also served as an instructor for local technical school. Outside the workplace Curtis is a passionate Rotarian and is the incoming assistant governor for district 5020.