Marketing, networking and evolution

A dozen or so years ago when I set up my own businesses, they were local. I joined various networking groups and met a lot of people. I belonged to on-line business networking sites and went to off-line meetings facilitated by those sites and their owners. In those days, I gained business from doing this, in return for doing my bit in referral networking. I recommended those businesses and their owners whom I felt could help my clients and contacts. That was the way it worked, and possibly still works for some.

Recent local networking has really not brought me any business. Of course I have had referrals from happy local clients, but I cannot remember the last local network referral I have had, and that is despite having referred many of my contacts to other people.

It does not matter in the sense that I get business from all over the world through marketing on-line, and advertising still works for me locally. I just wonder if local breakfast and lunch groups have had their day except maybe for start-ups. What do you think?

The meaning of influence in networking

Photo by LordNikon

Photo by Lord Nikon

These days in business marketing, and especially on-line, we hear a huge amount about influence. How much influence does a marketer or networker have?

In social media, some measure influence in terms of their Klout or PeerIndex score. Actually they are very crude tools, especially Klout. What they really measure is how much we Tweet or post on Facebook. PeerIndex does index blogging, but all these tools really measure is how much noise we make on-line.

It is the same with off-line networking. We may put out our message to the room and we may do so in a very loud voice. We might go to every networking meeting there is in our area and eat breakfast out every day of the week. However it does not mean we will get loads of business.

The confusion is between, on the one hand, being seen everywhere trilling our message on Twitter or over our scrambled eggs, and on the other, our networks actually listening to us and taking notice because they believe we have something to offer. It is easy to shout the loudest and most often, but more difficult to get over our message that we are people to be trusted with business.

We do not want our Tweet or a fried breakfast message being taken with more than a pinch of salt. We need to be genuine, sincere and ourselves to get that trust, don’t we/

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The Smart Aleck networker

iStock_000007991360XSmall cross businesswomanDo you know that person at your networking meeting? The one with the loud voice, saying “Hey, look at me”? The one who is always telling everyone how great their business is as opposed to the competition? In fact, the person who always disses everyone else as being inferior?

We try to avoid those “networkers”, don’t we? We try to get as far as possible from them as we can. We can do without those boorish opinions, and we know they will never connect us or refer us because they are too busy thinking about themselves.

It is the same in the world of social media. There are people who claim superior knowledge not just in their line of business but in every aspect of of the world. They rubbish other users of Twitter, they give their opinion of those who hold a different view within their expertise, they show their political prejudices by rubbishing certain politicians, and they have those Smart Aleck comments about any and everyone who doesn’t agree with their bigoted views.

We avoid that sort of person when eating our bacon roll at the local breakfast meet, and thank goodness we can un-follow them on Twitter and un-friend them on Facebook once we see the cut of their jib.

I don’t reckon the Alecks and Alecksandras get much business from their networking, but they are too arrogant to understand why.

Don’t you avoid them like the plague?

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The trouble with breakfast networking

An English breakfast

An English breakfast (Photo credit: Riggwelter via Wikipedia). Hold the beans, please!

Sleepy time

A few days ago I went to breakfast networking meeting. It is several months since I last went to one and I wondered how I used to get up every week at such an unearthly hour to get to my breakfast networking group. I now seem to have a job staying awake if I have to get up at crack of dawn or even before.

Just the same I have a long history of breakfast networking. Nearly a decade ago when I first started out with my own business I joined BNI. There were very few breakfast networking groups then.

Halcyon days

I enjoyed BNI and although in my sort of business I didn’t get dozens of referrals unlike the florist who benefited from the “desperation referrals”, I did pick up some useful business, and most importantly one great referral which kept my wife and me out of the poor house.

BNI was good for me. Most of the members were fairly new business owners, but one of the important rules was that we were supposed to refer a particular type of business to a member of BNI rather than a business owner we knew elsewhere. We were not supposed to belong to any “rival” group. There was also some quality control via the membership committee in that they followed up on referrals and made sure that if we got business we delivered the best service we could. I am sure we did in the group, being mindful of our own reputations.

Being a member of BNI was not cheap in terms of upfront outlay. With joining fees, annual membership and the meeting costs including breakfasts we paid out about £1,400 (S2,200 in today’s money) or so in our first year and £1,000 annually thereafter. It was worth it though in terms of business.

Falling from grace

I enjoyed BNI while it lasted for me. However even an easy-going chap like me ultimately fell out with the franchise owner. Never mind.

In more recent years I enjoyed other breakfast groups. I have been a serial (not cereal) breakfast networker. I even ran a group for a while, but nowadays there are so many groups meeting at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning. Unlike the group I ran, most are not run on the BNI principle of exclusivity where there is only one of each type of business in the same group.

There are also many “free” groups which do not even have formal membership. This means that people tend to belong to a number of groups and are torn between members of different ones when it comes to referrals. Maybe they are so confused they never give any and forget the important tenet of networking, which is helping others.

In my most recent breakfast networking I did not find it very profitable. I met some nice people, but because of the sheer number of groups and divided loyalties, I think the age of profitable breakfast networking is over. Except maybe for those who swallow hard and stump up for BNI.

I would love to know what your experience is as a current or former breakfast networker? Does it still work for you?

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Networking and participation

I have been involved with referral networking groups over a number of years. Generally they have been the breakfast meeting organizations which only one member for each category of business is permitted to join. Mostly they work well and a good number of referrals is passed,

Occasionally we get grumbling both from members and from visitors who are reluctant to join.

Often the visitors will say “It just seems to be the same people there every week”. Well, of course it is. That’s the whole point; to have a close-knit group of people working together to find business for each other. Also, if you do have that relationship with other business people it can survive in friendship long after other factors have meant that you or they have moved on.

If people don’t get that it is about working they probably don’t get networking.  If they cannot be recruited and educated it is no use worrying about them.

I was rather surprised once when talking to a member whose attendance had fallen off dramatically. When I asked him why he wasn’t coming he said he was bored with the “same old”. Well, a referral group is about working together, not having a meeting served on a plate with breakfast. What had he given? How many referrals had he passed? If he thought the group was stale, why hadn’t he invited any new blood along?

The leadership of a referral networking group or any networking meeting is not there to provide entertainment. Of course it is useful to sometimes have a speaker who can educate about networking or about their business so that members can better refer them. Networking groups are about business and while they ought to be a lot of fun, that comes from members’ participation

It is up to the members to make the group successful; to work together fro the common good. It is their responsibility to make a success of their opportunity having been able to join. It is for them to contribute and to give their enthusiasm as well as their referrals. The business will come to them when they are committed to contribute. Don’t you agree?

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