Networking is an effective way of growing your business. Colin Kennedy highlights two businesses that have doubled their size through network referrals.
Its not the business you do, its how you do the business and how interested you are in other people, that will determine how successful your referral marketing efforts will be.
Business networking has its knockers. Objections vary from: It only works for certain kinds of businesses to its so false just strangers with flashy smiles and flashy suits handing out business cards like sweets.
However, for two business owners (one in Auckland and the other in Christchurch) with two very different types of businesses (both initially with low market and brand recognition), the outcomes from business networking have been very different.
Both doubled the size of their businesses when they started actively networking. Both joined local chapters of Business Network International (BNI) and/or their local Chamber of Commerce. This is how they did it.
Managing director of Diamond Fusion in Auckland, Richard Simmons, first got involved with business networking when he was a director and part-owner Matrix Security, more than six years ago.
Since then he has sold up his share in Matrix Security and established Diamond Fusion marketing a glass treatment for keeping showers and other glass places spotless a business he has taken from zero to half a million dollars turnover in less than two years.
I got sick of being yelled at to clean the showers. It didnt help that we had three of them, and scrubbing the lime scale and soap stains from all three was very hard work. I decided to search for a product that solved this problem and I found a couple. I researched them and recognised that they also presented a business opportunity thats how Diamond Fusion was born, says Simmons.
However, my challenge was trying to sell a product, and even an industry, that was completely unknown in New Zealand. After leaving BNI for three months because I had sold-up my shares in Matrix I applied to go back to the Parnell Chapter of BNI, and I havent looked back since.
Today Diamond Fusion has two sub-agents in Auckland and agents in Hamilton, Bay of Plenty and Wellington. All are either members of BNI or in the process of joining.
Networking, particularly in the BNI context, can be great motivation, great fun and a good way to start the day with a group of like-minded people. It puts you in contact with other people you can generally rely on to do a great job because word of mouth works both ways if you do a good job you get more referrals, if you dont, word quickly gets out, says Simmons. Ive personally referred about $600,000 worth of business to BNI members and picked up through BNI, both on the security side and with Diamond Fusion, about $250,000 worth of sales over the past six years.
He contends that networking is ideally suited to New Zealand, describing it as a very small place where business can come from the most unexpected sources.
People you wouldnt possibly think have connections in your market are often the most connected. The more precise you are in communicating what you are looking for, the better the quality of the business referrals you get.
The more you take the time to learn about the businesses of other people in your network, the more business you will find for them, and they will find for you. Business is friendships, business is relationships; and I cant think of a better vehicle than networking, he says.
Successful networking is definitely about givers gain. BNI is a self regulating group, so all members are vetted before they join. We can trust them to do a great job. When I run into other BNI members, there is already that implied level of trust, says Simmons.
Referrals mean businessTrust is a critical element in Grahame Jones business, Christchurch-based MSS Records Management, which specialises in offsite management, storage and confidential destruction for records, documents, archives, files and data backups.
Immediate credibility is very important. There is a huge element of trust and security in our business and clients have to be very, very confident that they can entrust me with their confidential information.
Referrals, in my case from BNI and the Christchurch Chamber of Commerce, and my letters of recommendation from existing clients are keys to my getting new business, says Jones.
A sale in our business isnt easy, it can take years, and the industry is very competitive. A referral is invaluable because I come along already qualified to somebody who is expecting my call and who has confidence in the person that referred me to them.
A member of Advocates Chapter of BNI and the Christchurch Chamber of Commerce, Jones has found networking very successful because he bases it on a few simple practices.
The ability to communicate and ask questions, but not in a pushy way, is important. I am genuinely interested in what other people are doing in their businesses.
When I first joined BNI my business had reached a frustrating plateau. Soon after joining I was given a referral to a corporate organisation, which is now my largest client. Since that time I have received quite a few well-qualified referrals which have doubled my business size within the last two and a half years.
The key is to be very active within your group. It is important to regularly visit other members and during our meetings to focus on what everybody is saying in their 60 second presentations. Ask for the business you want, and be specific.
In the BNI context I have met people I would not ordinarily have met; I get to understand totally different sorts of business, and visitors to the networking group create strong opportunities. Having to do presentations has boosted my public speaking confidence and has helped me to focus on my business and where I want to take it.
A good networking group is not an old boys club, its a business meeting. I have30 people out there looking for opportunities for me, and at the same time I am doing it for them. Those that give the most referrals tend to receive the most as well, says Jones. NZB