I’ll be honest. For years, the idea of networking made me cringe. I always felt as if a ‘network’ was something other people had. You know, the ones who wanted to climb to the top of the corporate tree. I used to go to professional networking events and end up talking to my own colleagues. . I’m fairly sure that wasn’t the idea. The main problem was the fact that ‘open networking’ always meant ‘milling around drinking’. Whilst I’m certain there are people who can march up to a total stranger and introduce themselves, I’m not one of them.
Of course, building a network is incredibly important to me now. It’s a source of support, knowledge and, increasingly, work. Thankfully I learned that there are different ways to network. Networking in person can involve sitting down for a delicious lunch rather than lurking in a corner with a cold cup of coffee. If the idea of meeting face to face is really too daunting, you can head for social media. Some of my first clients were online contacts that I met on LinkedIn or via Facebook groups.
What business are you in? Do you sell something relatively inexpensive that your customers might take gamble on? Or does doing business with you involve more of a leap of faith? Whatever you do, there’s no escaping the fact that trust makes business work.
Do your customers need to trust you?
When I speak to a potential new customer, I know that there’s a lot riding on it for them. If I’m writing new content for their website or an update that’s going out to clients, that’s creating an impression. They need to trust that I’m going to do it properly without them having to spend too much time going back and forth editing things. The time cost is just as important as the price.
Your product might require a substantial outlay for your customers. Builders, kitchen companies and travel agents all come under this heading. They need to know that you’re not going to take their money, do a botch job and run. When you’re arranging the only holiday a family might get that year, there’s a personal investment too.
Trust is essential if you offer professional advice. People have become wary of ‘experts’. Even if your client is looking for someone to pursue an injury claim for them, they might still suspect that you’re an ambulance chaser.
These days, it’s a given that everyone is on social media. Except my mum. The real question is, what are they doing there? My Facebook friends range from networking contacts, to my friend’s children to – wait for it – actual friends! You know, the ones that I occasionally see in real life.
I love the fact that social media enables me to keep up with the lives of people that I don’t see all the time. Some of them live far away. With others it’s just that the demands of life with small children means that we can’t meet up like we used to. I can send new baby congratulations to Canada and catch up with other school mums when the kids are in bed. A dear friend once told me that Facebook had saved her from interminable evenings looking at people’s holiday photos. I couldn’t possibly comment…
I know that Corporate Social Responsibility is a bit of a buzzword. You’d be forgiven for putting your hands over your ears and waiting for it to go away.
If you were to do that, I suspect you’d be making a mistake. In the current climate, demonstrating a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility could be the difference between you and the competition.
Increase your local profile
Even if your business is global, you’re part of a local community. Multinationals can attract impressive national press coverage, SMEs less so. Positive coverage in the local press will bring you the right kind of attention when it comes to working with local businesses.
What’s your marketing plan for 2017? Have you planned out the whole year, a few months or only as far as next week?
You might be reading this thinking that you haven’t got a marketing plan. Maybe you’re struggling to find something that works. You might even be starting to feel that the same techniques aren’t working any more.
The good news is that the New Year gives you a whole new start. You can rethink things and start afresh.