I hate networking! At least I hate the kind of networking where you put a big group of unconnected people in a room and people meander around like jellyfish trying to find a company or individual that will become a new client. Unfocused trade shows, networking groups and after hours all have the same problem: a bunch of people who are there to “network.”
At the end of this kind of event, I tend to end up with a bunch of “pre-paid legal,” “network marketing,” and “Amway-type” pitches. I meet few of the kind of people that fit my business needs or model—either as a potential customer or supplier. It gets old quickly, and truth be told, I find that I have spent an evening wasting my time. I stopped doing these things years ago.
My favorite ways to build strong, lasting, and profitable business connections include:
- Working hard to deliver excellent products and services. Nothing builds a business like consistently delivering for clients. All the items that follow are doomed to fail if you can’t keep your new and existing customers happy.
- Doing business fairly and ethically. This, of course, is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. People respect honesty and integrity, and if you are known as a reliable and fair business, your customers will be more loyal and less price-focused.
- Volunteering. Kona, Hawaii, where I live, is a small community. Giving your time to help with community projects will send a very positive message to others that you care about the community, and you are willing to lend a hand. Rotary is where I have found a good fit.
- Joining groups of like-minded people. We like to do business with people who are like us. This means that we are more likely to work with those who share our same religious, volunteer, sports, political and other beliefs.
- Showing appreciation. A thank-you note, a small year-end gift, a restaurant gift certificate and a lot of “thank you for your business” are great ways to show your customers and clients that you value them. At Kona Impact, we started giving engraved handmade Koa wood pens to customers as a way of saying thanks. Our clients have loved them so much that they are now asking us to make them for their clients!
- Using my clients’ businesses. I now seldom eat at restaurants that are not Kona Impact clients. Given the choice between two like businesses, I always choose my clients’ businesses. It shows mutual respect and support. We always tell local businesses that they cannot expect others to buy locally if they do not buy locally themselves.
- Refer. Refer. Refer. Kona Impact has a very big Rolodex of customers. When someone asks where they can find a good bakery, plumber, building contractor, sushi restaurant, etc. we always refer them to one of our clients. If we have a client that could benefit from meeting another client, we’ll try to put them in touch. This goes back to #6, supporting those who support you.
- Give positive reviews on Yelp!, Google+ and TripAdvisor. If I eat at a client’s restaurant or even fill up at a client’s gas station, AND the experience is positive, I try to write a positive review online. I never exaggerate or create false reviews, but when things are good, I want others to know.
- Keeping connected. Send a monthly newsletter or just a “how ‘ya doing?” email once in a while. Social media sites can help keep connections, but just because everyone is publishing doesn’t mean everyone is reading! Keep the signal to noise ratio in mind when updating your profile with every meal you eat, pithy saying you like and photos of your cat. People will tune our really quickly.
- Always having a business card! A lot of young entrepreneurs don’t seem to carry business cards. Get a set. Keep them in your wallet, bag, glove compartment of your car and on your desk. It’s simple. It’s inexpensive. There are no excuses for this one.
I started this blog by saying that I hate networking. This is true. What I do love is connecting with people in a deep and meaningful way. I love working side-by-side on a volunteer project. I love seeing them at the farmers market. I love “talking story.” I do not go for quantity; quality is really what matters.