Networking: It’s A Mistake For Small Businesses To Overlook This Marketing Tool

It’s been said, “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” This phrase applies especially to those who want to master the art of brown-nosing as they climb up the corporate ladder in a large, multi-billion dollar company.

But this article isn’t for those people. This article is for the entrepreneurs and small business owners out there who are wondering:

a.) “How can I get the word out about my company?”

b) “Where can I get more leads and sales?”

c.) “Where can I meet other like-minded business owners and employees to learn and exchange ideas?

There are many ways to market a business. The obvious one is direct marketing such as newspaper ads, flyers, brochures, TV commercials, and radio spots. All of these are great when done correctly. But first, you have to decide which medium is right for you, and then you have to design or pay someone to develop your message. Once that’s done, you sit and wait for a response. Direct marketing works, but it has to be done correctly to get a good return on investment. You probably won’t get it right on the first try and fine-tuning your strategy is the only way to go about get profitable results.

Networking as a Marketing Tool

There is another way to market your business with a lot of extra benefits that you just can’t get with direct marketing. It’s called Networking. Most small business owners and new business owners either don’t do it, or don’t do it enough. Those who are doing it know that it works. There are many ways to network and this article will go into detail on many of them. And no, we’re not talking about “networking” with the stranger at the gas station and telling him all about your business.

My business, a graphic and web design studio, was only a few months old when I realized it was time to start meeting new leads face to face. Yes, I was initially keeping busy as I exhausted the “friends, family and their referrals” resource, but I knew that my business needed something else if I was going to be in it for the long haul. I started with one networking event which I dreaded going to because I did not like meeting new people. I’m great around people when I know them, but I had a hard time talking to complete strangers, especially business professionals.

The first event was a Chamber of Commerce lunch. From then on, my desire to meet other business owners hit the ceiling. I was shy at first, but you just have to throw yourself in with the sharks, so to speak. I quickly got over my fear of talking to new people as well as my fear of public speaking. If you love talking to new people, than you can just skip the whole “getting used to it” step. Some small business owners are very good at running their business, but contact with other people may not be their strong point. That is why you either have to force yourself to network, or have another, more gregarious person in the business do it for you.
Networking is great because there are a lot of things happening at once. You are meeting driven people like yourself. You are talking about your business and learning about other small businesses. You are exchanging ideas that will benefit everybody in the group. Eventually, once people know and trust you, you will start getting leads and sales.

You have to put in the work and time to get results from networking. Networking is about developing relationships and that doesn’t always happen on the first try. There is a lot of commerce going on in our capitalistic society, so when you are producing a high ticket item like a custom website, home remodeling or financial services, people will be much more inclined to buy from you if they trust you. The same principal applies to pretty much anything you are selling. Once people learn that you are a legitimate business owner, then they will have no problem buying from you or referring someone who will.

OK, enough about networking in theory. Let’s explore some groups, organizations, and other ways to actually network.

Open Networking Groups

Chamber of Commerce – Almost every city has one. Some are invaluable while others can be a complete bummer. It really depends on where you are and who is running the organization. Our local chamber of commerce has been great for kick starting my networking bug. Although I met other people in my industry that may be competition, I have actually formed alliances and a referral system for exchanging business with them. In addition, you’re meeting a ton of people in other industries that you can learn from. There are some common factors that apply to all businesses, so its beneficial for you to learn how other people are running their business so you can borrow or innovate upon their ideas.

Just search Google for “Your city: chamber of commerce.”

Small Business Alliances – I know my town has one and it’s incredibly beneficial because they focus on the growth side of running a business. They help with all the questions a small business owner could have like: What do I need to know about my lease, do I want a 401K plan for employees, or who can help me find a good insurance? Anything in regards to the growing pains of a small business! Try this site and see if there’s a local chapter http://amiba.net/. Keep in mind, there are a bunch of other small business alliances that don’t have to do with American Independent Business Alliance. My SBA is actually a local one that is not associated with the AMIBA.

Meetup.com – Yes, there’s actually a site out there that networks people and brings them together in real life. I have yet to go Meetup.com event, but that’s only because I found out about the site a few weeks ago. It looks very promising. The “Meet-ups” are usually free, and if they cost money then it is usually going to pay for food, drinks, and the space.

Meetup.com has every kind of group imaginable, from single mother meet-ups to Dungeons & Dragons meet-ups. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the golden nuggets that relate directly to small businesses, entrepreneurs, or even your industry. The good thing about Meetup.com is that you can start your own group if they don’t have what you’re looking for!

Rotary Clubs – We are not part of a Rotary club yet, but it is a well established business networking organization that helps out the community. Being part of a Rotary can add extra credibility to your business. From their site: “Rotary is the world’s oldest service club organization. It’s made up of more than 32,000 Rotary clubs in nearly 170 countries. The members of these autonomous clubs are called Rotarians, and they form a global network of 1.2 million business and professional leaders, all volunteering their time and talents to serve their communities and the world. Individual Rotary clubs, in turn, belong to the global association Rotary International”

Leads Groups – These groups have one goal in mind: networking. Some are national and others have one chapter. Some are open and others are closed. You have to look hard to find these groups, but they can be some of the best resources out there.

Search Google for “Leads Groups: Your City”

Closed Groups
LeTip – This is a networking group that only allows one company from each industry, hence the closed group title. The exclusivity of closed groups is great if you can get in with a good group that has every intention of getting bigger. That means you will have all of the members acting as your salespeople, which is far more cost-effective than hiring a sales team of 20+ individuals.

This group has a greater sense of trust among the members than say a “Chamber of Commerce,” because you are with them every week and you get to know each member and their business individually. There are a ton of chapters throughout the US so check it out at http://www.letip.com

BNI – Very similar to LeTip. One company per industry. Both BNI and LeTip have training programs that help you learn how to market yourself to other people quickly and effectively. The one catch is that closed groups usually do not let you be a part of other closed groups, so you have to pick one you like and stick with it. Loyalty is important. If you have more than one person in your company, divide yourselves among the different closed groups. Visit http://www.bni.com for more information.

Networking is essential for small business growth.

I’m sure I missed a lot of groups in the list because I don’t know what they all are. Some heavy searching on the internet or communication with other business owners can yield some great results for your area.

I’m fairly new to the networking game. I can’t imagine what it will be like a year or two down the road but I promise you it will be exciting. There is no other way to grow a business like small business networking because you’re going to be face to face with like-minded people. They are either going to be your clients, allies, or in some cases both.

One thing is for sure though: if you stick with these like-minded individuals in the groups and organizations mentioned above, your business will grow faster than you could have imagined. If you’re sick of spending money on direct marketing or if you just sit around on your butt wondering why your business is not growing, get out there and meet new people. The worst case scenario is that you’ll make a friend and get a free meal.

7 Things Successful Small Business Owners Do

If you’re stuck wondering how to be a successful small business owner, know this: running a small business often simply means making good use of successful small business ideas. Successful small business owners face many ups and downs throughout their work. They know that small business ideas cannot turn out successful unless they use the proper approach and strategies.

If you want to be one of the few successful small business owners, remember that having a good strategy is crucial. Without the right strategy and a proper approach, you are not likely to achieve your goal.

Some small business owners manage to overcome their everyday challenges, while others seem to give up after a while. So, let’s find out what successful small business owners do differently from the unsuccessful ones. Let’s turn their experience into your success through your small business ideas.

1. MAKE ANNUAL REVISIONS OF YOUR BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGET

Every business goes through changes every now and then, including your small business. For this reason, your business plan and budget should be somewhat flexible to bear such changes along with your business goals. Without revising your business plan and budget, you shouldn’t expect your business to flourish and expand.

The flexibility of your business plan will help you avoid and overcome the eventual unpleasant surprises on the market. Also, such flexibility will give you some time to adjust to certain changes you may experience on your way.

Every business experiences both success and failure points each year. In order to detect and estimate these points, you should revise your budget and business plan every year. While revising, you should check if you are still going in the right direction. If not, you may need to make some changes and adjustments to achieve better results in the upcoming period.

Successful small business owners don’t hesitate to reallocate funds, if that is what it takes to achieve success. In order to increase profits, after they conduct a business revision, smart business owners define and implement the necessary changes immediately.

2. UPDATE YOUR OFFER AND ADD VALUE TO IT

People change, as do their needs and habits. As soon as you notice that you aren’t selling as much as you used to sell before, it is time to make changes. If people aren’t purchasing what you currently have to offer, that’s a clear hint that something needs to be done.

A simple price cut may be the first thing that comes to your mind. As much as lower prices may seem more appealing to your customers, they also point to a devaluation of what you offer. Devaluation of your products or services is never a good thing, so try doing just the opposite – add value to your offers.

The best way to update and add value to your products and services is by developing new offers. If possible, try to offer something completely new to your customers. You could offer product bundles, training programs and workshops, and so on.

3. DARE TO BE DIFFERENT

Most successful small business owners believe in daring to be different. They know their target consumers. Trying to target everyone and anyone as a consumer will get you nowhere fast. Instead of trying to make products for the masses, focus on a clearly targeted community and grow with it. Once you target your consumers, it is easy to understand their needs.

Understanding your consumers is the secret to a successful business. When you know their needs, you can modify your products and services in order to satisfy them. Satisfied consumers will not only become your regulars, but they will also spread the word about what you offer. This may become the best marketing strategy for your business.

Spreading the word about your products or services is called a referral marketing strategy. It’s been proven that most of the faster growing small businesses turn to this kind of marketing rather than relying on traditional advertising.

4. KNOW YOUR COMPETITION

Successful small business owners know their competition. They know that keeping an eye on the competitors and understanding their policy and pricing is crucial to the business. It is wise to consider your direct competitors in your area, as well as indirect competitors.

A direct competitor offers the same primary services to the same target group as you, and they are easy to follow on the market. However, an indirect competitor company offers the same or similar products as a segment of a wider product or service offering.

In some cases, the indirect competitor may offer a product that is an applicable substitute for the original product. Successful small business owners know how to position their company against the indirect competitors. They take both types of competing companies seriously and they account for them in their annual business plan.

5. HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Even though hiring the right people for your business sounds obvious, it can be a really tough job for small business owners. Also, not hiring the right people could be a huge downfall for a small company. People who don’t share the concept of your business approach and goals are not the type of people you want to engage in your business.

Candidates who don’t have the right temperament, skills, or talent for the job position that you offer can be too pricey for your company. Having the right people in the right job positions can make your company outstanding. Exceptional companies recruit exceptional people.

6. ACCEPT TECHNOLOGY CHANGES

Technology changes on a regular basis nowadays. Successful business owners are very well aware of that, so they change accordingly. Doing things the way they were done years ago will not provide the same success nowadays.

Accepting technological improvements can help your company become more effective and efficient. Keep yourself informed about the latest in new technology, and the improved solutions it brings. Choose the most appropriate ones for your business and adopt them. Your customers will be grateful and you’ll experience great benefits.

7. TRUST YOUR INTUITION

If you believe your intuition has been serving you well so far, listen to your inner voice carefully. Your instincts can lead you a long way. If you still feel strongly about something, regardless of the lack of facts or data – act on it. What seems right for other businesses doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you as well.

Relying on intuition is often the first step out of your comfort zone, and the first step towards becoming a leading company on the market. While you watch your business grow and spread, remember that having faith in yourself and the business you are running is crucial. Being aware of your inner voice can lead you to making business decisions with more confidence and a greater success rate.

4 Reasons Why Twitter Is a Waste of Time for Small Business Owners

We’ve all heard the hype: “you NEED to be Facebooking, Twittering, blogging and YouTubing if your business is going to survive in the next five years.”

But spare a thought for the humble small business owner, generally a one or two person operation, maybe up to five… time poor, money poor (GFC?) and with little computer education let alone a working knowledge of the internet and social media.

But with all the so-called ‘Social Media Gurus’ out there whose advice do you follow (even if you do have the time to invest in learning)…?

For many small business owners Social Media is the bane of their existence, a necessary evil they HAVE TO DO… just because everyone else is doing it. Yet, if they’re going to take time out of their busy schedule to ‘do’ Social Media how on earth are they going to make money from it, how are they going to get a return on their investment?

Social Media is full of wishy-washy slogans like ‘enter the conversation’, ‘meet customers on their terms’ and ‘let customers tell you what they want from your business’. How is a small business owner to make sense of any of this, let alone make money for their business?

Twitter is a much talked about Social Media website yet it could be the undoing of many small business owners that dare to spend their days ‘tweeting’, re-tweeting, following and hash tagging.

Here are 4 reasons why Twitter is a waste of time for small businesses owners:

1. Time – tweeting takes time, and what small business owner do you know that isn’t time poor? If you had a few hours spare each week to tweet, there are better ways to spend it.

2. Money – we’re all in business to make money, yet when it comes to social media a select few seem to know how to do it. We hear how Dell Computers made $4million on Twitter last year. Is Dell a small business? No. They have a huge team whose sole responsibility is to perfect their social media. But how is a time-poor small business owner going to make money from Twitter? They could hire someone but at what hourly cost? They have to make that back and more to make it even worthwhile.

3. Lead Generation Strategy – for a small business to run smoothly they must have one or more lead generation strategies. And when it comes to Social Media the same SHOULD hold true. Yet the majority of small business owners use social media randomly – a tweet here, a post there – but where’s the system? To make it work you need a strategy. Twitter is a place for you to build you ‘expert’ status. Credibility which leads to expert status takes time and what small business owner has unmetered time?

4. Customisation – Twitter allows you 140 characters per ‘tweet’. Sure, you can customise the picture on your profile, but who cares? Twitter allows zero customisation to give your business profile an edge, nor does it offer opportunity to capture business leads.

For small business owners who want a return on their Social Media investment they need a tool that can help them do that. They need a system in place to get the results they’re looking for and it needs to run on auto-pilot the majority of the time. If Twitter can’t offer this, what Social Media Site can?

The answer is Facebook. Facebook ticks all the boxes that Twitter doesn’t. With Facebook, Small Business owners can:

– invest little time, but with the RIGHT knowledge, can gain a financial return on the time they invest

– Invest little money aside from an upfront setup cost (assuming they hire an expert to set it up for them)

– Systemise a lead capture procedure that brings in qualified leads right to their email inbox

– Customise – as of March 10, 2011 Facebook offers customisation for anyone to insert a ‘mini-website’ within their Facebook Page which gives them full control over the content they place on their Facebook Page.

For Small Business, Marketing Or Lead Generation – Which is Better?

THERE BOTH THE SAME I HEAR YOU SAY!

Making the mistake of thinking they are the same thing can be a costly experience. Let’s break it down to the two separate areas and lets see if we can find some differences.

1. Marketing: Usually something you have to pay for that is never guaranteed to get a return on your money.

2. Lead generation: Free or cheap methods to promote your business that may take nothing more than your time and the willingness to think out side the square!

I’m surprised at the amount of small business owners I have met who pay for marketing purely for marketing sake. What I mean is, they know they have to put the word out there about their business so they take a regular spot in the local newspaper or tv guide, come up with new sales pitches week after week and then sit back and pray that customers will come flocking in.

Don’t get me wrong this can be a very effective method as a way to brand yourself, keep your business name in people’s heads until they are ready to buy and occasionally stimulate new business, but the main problem I find is that when you ask the small business owner how much return are they getting on their marketing expenses, and they usually wouldn’t have a clue! They are spending money on marketing that they really don’t know if it is working or not!

Lets look at marketing types. Flyers, business cards, websites, newspaper ads, tv ads etc. These and any other marketing types ONLY become lead generators if someone is compelled to pick up the phone and call you, email you, or hop in their car and drive to your business to purchase your product or service!

Until this occurs then it is purely marketing! If it is not driving customers to purchase or enter your follow on marketing system (you do have a follow on marketing system dont you?) then it is “money generating” for someone else but not lead generating for you.

Business cards are a great example of a marketing tool that usually isn’t a lead generation tool. Someone asks you what you do you hand them your business card that has you pretty logo on it, your name with six different titles under it to look impressive and your contact details. They may be impressed with your logo or how many titles you have to your name and look you up, but in most cases the card will go in their back pocket, probably through the wash later that day never to be seen again!

You need to point out to the potential new customer that if they or someone they know, are interested in your product or service then on the back of the card are the details of how they can get something “special” if they call, email etc. You have to drive that customer to take action and generate that lead! In most small businesses the greatest lead generator is a satisfied customer that is more than happy to tell anyone and everyone about their experience with your business.

Most small businesses have sales systems, external marketing strategies, but very few have referral systems or strategies. Spending a little money on a referral program or reward system for customers that refer business is money much better spent. The customer takes ownership of your business if they are getting something in return, and the business they refer comes pre-sold on your products or services, much easier to get the sale!

The point is make sure no matter what form of marketing, advertising or lead generation campaigns you do, you have to come up with some way of getting the potential customer to take action. Every person that calls, emails or drops in to your business. Ask them how they heard about you so you can at least measure if your marketing budget is going to good use. It may surprise you to see the results!