I nearly panicked recently! Well, maybe a slight exaggeration but here was a situation I had not been in for some time. The freezer had broken down and the dilemma I faced was ? a speedy solution was necessary BUT I did not know anybody who repairs freezers. For the first time in some years I nearly reached for the Yellow Pages ? a pristine copy that never sees the light of day ? but sense prevailed and I consulted my wife. She rang her friend who works in a local hospital. They have an internal communication system for the employees to ask questions or post messages and within 30 minutes we had the choice of three prospective service engineers and one name had been suggested by three separate people. The choice was simple and ? yes Mr Freezerman turned up and was superb!
The point is that we prefer to buy from traders who have been recommended and preferably from people we know and trust. Business networking is all about trying to address this situation by ensuring that business owners meet each other frequently and build relationships and trust first, long before any deals are struck. Networking is fast becoming the primary way of sourcing new business, but and this is a big BUT ? you have to go about networking with the right attitude or it will not work for you.
I have been a member of BNI (Business Networking International) for nearly three years and know first hand that it can work for you as I have had many thousands of pounds worth of business as a direct result of being a member. And yet I did not get one meaningful referral for the first few months and was about to give it up as a bad job. I have also seen many new members give up in the early days saying it wasn't for them. The thing is that we were all making the same fundamental mistake ? we were too concerned with what was in it for us ? and not thinking how can we help our fellow members.
The strapline of BNI is 'givers gain' and the moment I adopted that as my focus everything changed. If I give business to you will want to give me business to me is the message, but the emphasis is on the giving. Referrals are the currency and actively seeking help and support for fellow members becomes second nature after a time. It's simple - it works.
Now, BNI is not for everyone and I can understand some of the reasons. The procedures are quite rigid and attendance and time keeping are essential. How many times have I heard new members say it is like being back at school. The vast majority though accept and understand why this disciplined approach works.
A newer breed of virtual networking is emerging on the Internet and although there are quite a few large networks, Ecademy is emerging as one of the best business to business websites. It is even more important that the right attitude and approach is adopted if you want to achieve anything for your business through using Ecademy.
Ecademy members are encouraged to put 50 keywords describing themselves, write a profile and to submit a photo. The mistake many make when they first join is to use their keywords and profile simply as an advert for their business. The successful networkers have interesting profiles about themselves, their interests, travels, family and amusing anecdotes. Are they missing out by not pushing their business interests? Not a bit of it as there is a link to their website ? what is the point of another sales pitch. People buy from people they like and trust and the social side of the Ecademy is the important additional ingredient on offer.
Within Ecademy there are hundreds of special interest clubs and regionally based groups that give the opportunity for physical meetings to be arranged. It is incredible to be able to go to a meeting with people that you already know a great deal about before you actually meet them. It all leads to a much more honest and open relationship from the off.
I can't see how the Yellow Pages can survive in the long run. Give me referred, trusted traders any day. Networking rules ? and works.
Keith Watson has been designing websites for nearly 11 years and is the founder of Creative Eye - http://www.creativeeye.co.uk