Colleen's note: Today's guest blogger, Donna Gordon, is a contact I made via the social networking, specifically the Ask Liz Ryan group (covering the nexus between work & life) on Yahoo. Donna is a shining example of how to use social media well—i.e. be brilliant and helpful, and people will come to you. Her take on networking etiquette was so terrific, I asked if she'd agree to elaborate on best practices here at The Marketing Mix. I think you'll love the very useful stuff she has to share…
Okay. So you're a solopreneur, or a small business with lots to do and you're supposed to NETWORK on top of everything else. As a solopreneur with the gift of gab, I loved the idea of getting out, meeting new people, and building my network.. But while my calendar filled up, my bank balance was shrinking. Hey wait I'm networking, right? Where is all this new business the networking gurus promised?
Turns out not all networking is created equal. As I struggled to make sense of it all, a book called Business by Referral by Ivan Misner and Robert Davis somehow landed on my desk, and helped me trim the fat from my overly bloated networking calendar. The book argues that you should have a goal for your network; that your contacts should belong to one of 3 categories: information, support or referrals.
- Information contacts are those you can call on the fly when you need to know the answer to 'who should I contact if I need an HR perspective on my problem?' Information is the lifeblood of any business, especially for a research business like mine, so keeping in touch with those whose expertise complements your business is worth your time.
- Support contacts are those who you can grouse to, cry to, or ask for honest feedback on that new website. As a small business you can't keep a staff on retainer to vet your ideas, so an informal group of trusted advisors is critical to keep you on the right path. And remember this cuts two ways-don't be too stingy with your time or you might find it comes back to bite you.
- Referral networks are the holy grail for those who are looking to land that next big client or project. While there are marketing experts who claim that a contact that does not produce a referral should be dropped and given voice mail, I don't think it's that simple. If you list someone as a referral contact, make sure they have the willingness, the tools and the incentive to send business your way, and don't just assume that they will think of you when the right situation pops up. Keep these contacts in the loop, and make sure they understand how much you value them.
Having a goal for your contacts means taking a good long look at how you spend your time. For example, the roundtable group of small business owners that filtered in and out with no stability was taking several hours of my could have been billable time but not producing any tangible benefit. Instead I joined a 'masterminds' group – 6 of us, all small business owners or solopreneurs who meet monthly to discuss our businesses and seek each other's advice. We've been meeting for over four years now, and the group is much more valuable than a packed Chamber event with dozens of people like myself, looking to commiserate but not really do each other any good.
For you, your results may vary. While having information, support and referral contacts are all important, your mix is determined by the work you do and your target market.
- Where do your customers hang out?
- Who do they turn to for advice?
- Where have your previous clients come from?
- What do all of your clients have in common?
If you can answer these questions, you've taken the first step to clarifying how you should be spending your networking time, and which contacts you should go the extra mile for to keep in your network.
For more than 10 years, Donna Gordon has been dedicated to helping
entrepreneurs. As founder and president of Investment Resources, she
taps her vast network of contacts and information sources to help
businesses start, grow, expand and acquire. She's counseled hundreds of
clients in industries ranging from banking to life sciences and is
often invited to speak on the topics of profitability and Internet