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.

Lead Generation for Small Business Owners – Part 1 of 5

Do you have a strategy for generating leads? You do realize that without leads you will not have new customers. Attracting and generating leads is a necessary component in growing your business. The lead attraction process is not overly complicated.

In order to generate leads for your small business you must have a lead attraction strategy. There are five primary steps needed when designing your lead attraction strategy.

1. Be visible – you must promote your business. When you send an email your email tagline should contain your business information and a call to action that directs the reader to your website, social media sites, or blog. An email auto-responder or the resource box on your articles or press releases will also generate leads for your business. Your business information must be visible and contain a call to action directing traffic to your website or squeeze page.

2. Offer or Give away – people love free. You will want to offer a free eBook, tip sheet, special report or a coupon on your blog, website or squeeze page. A squeeze page is the preferred method. You do not want your lead to get distracted by clicking on other buttons and then navigate away from your offer. Your goal with your squeeze page and offer is to capture his or her information.

3. Contact information – when your lead clicks to download your free item or makes a small purchase you will want to collect his or her contact information. At a minimum you will want his or her email address. If you are able to capture a phone number or mailing address you will be able to follow up using various methods.

4. Follow up – you must have a strategy for following up with people that receive your free report. You will want to send another report or your newsletter. If your lead purchased something you may want to follow up with a phone call or send him or her something in the mail as a thank you.

5. Continue to follow up – you will want to continue to build rapport with your leads. This can be done using your ezine, print newsletter, or via social media. Do not SPAM their email account with emails. Remember, to follow FTC guidelines. You must follow up after the initial contact. You must make time to establish rapport and build the relationship.

Lead attraction and lead generation are necessary steps in growing your small business. Today, you have many free resources at your disposal to aid in growing your business. When you capture your leads contact information and follow up without spamming you will continue to grow your business.

This article is the first of five and is an overview of the lead attraction and lead generating process. Please read the remaining articles in the series for more specific steps to designing your lead attraction and lead generating system.

Should Small Business Owners Rely on Google?

Let me start by saying that Google are not out to hurt small businesses however they often do. For many small business owners the idea of being on the first page of Google for meaningful phrases within their industry is very attractive. If done properly Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can have a massive impact on the visitors and ultimately sales or leads a small business generates through their web site.

The problem is most small business owners want to target the most generic of phrases i.e. “New Car” which has a huge amount of searches each month and so is very competitive and therefore a small business would have to invest a lot of time and money to achieve this. Often entry level SEO Companies will promise the earth when it comes to delivering phrases like this and will often give unrealistic time frames and unrealistic costs. The problem here is that it takes a small business 3-4 months sometimes to find out that these promises are unrealistic and therefore 3-4 months have been wasted not only from a cost point of view but from a lead generation / sales point of view.

There are other issues when it comes to targeting generic phrases like this in that even if a small business found a partner that could deliver these phrases in a timely fashion because they are so generic and because the search volumes are massive then the leads generated can often be very high. Just what the Doctor ordered you might think however the leads tend to be wildly different in quality from very early stage researchers, to clients ready to buy now and so unless you have the infrastructure, team and processes to qualify, filter and nurture all of these leads then many will get wasted.

So how does Google fit into this process?

There are typically three types of SEO Company:

Entry level SEO Companies who concentrate on very long tail phrases (very specific like “New Car for sale in the South of England”) which generate little if any searches and therefore little if any traffic and ultimately little if any leads / sales. These companies will typically concentrate on a little on page optimisation and very little if any link building.

Agency style optimisation companies – the agency model works very well with bigger blue chip companies who want a bespoke service have the time and money to invest on generating good quality generic phrases and have the people in house to manage and quantify the leads and enquiries. This type of model involves employing real quality SEO specialists who take a bespoke view on each client when it comes to their optimisation both online and offline. This model works well when a specialist has 5-10 accounts to work with and the company charge a lot of money for each project. This means that when Google makes changes to their algorithms they have the time and resource to make the changes necessary for each client. The problem with this model is when it is employed for small business owners because the company cannot charge a lot of money, therefore the SEO Specialist has to work on 60-100 plus clients and so even if success is achieved in the first instance when Google makes changes the SEO Specialist and company are incapable of coping and keeping up. The big problem here is that often the small business owner has come to rely on the traffic and sales from Google and if they lose these the impact can be massive.

Specialist Small Business SEO Companies – There are surprisingly very few companies who are specialists in this field and the big difference between this model and the agency model is that the companies who do this have developed world class processes and often software so that their specialists can handle multiple accounts and therefore truly keep the cost of optimisation low. The major difference here is that if Google do make changes then because of these processes and software the specialists can implement the necessary alterations to client sites instantly, seamlessly and with minimal impact to results ongoing. This type of company tend to focus on quality long tail phrases which do generate good profitable traffic however they will also have software that helps the small business owner maximise this traffic by making improvements to the whole of the online sales funnel and turn it into leads and sales.

Google are always making changes to their algorithms to prevent spammers, unscrupulous affiliate programmes and companies involved with the likes of click fraud. The problem is a lot of these companies produce small poor quality web sites to do this and so Google are always moving towards better quality, content rich, constantly updated web sites to feature high on their rankings. Unfortunately small business owner web sites tend to be more like the spammer model than they do the blue chip model and therefore often get affected by Google’s changes albeit quite innocently.

It is essential therefore if you are a small business owner that you look beyond the initial three months and the glamour and allure of the “Big Phrase” and work with a partner who can deliver long term sustainable leads and sales via your web site and can cope with the whims and moods of Google.

Small Business Marketing – Adjust Or “Get Eaten”

Small businesses never have it easy with their marketing efforts. Customer loyalty only goes so far – especially during a recession. When customer start pinching their pennies price is more important than quality or features. As an example my local newspaper wrote about a contractor that did kitchen replacements and upgrades. His average order went down from $20,000 to $8,000 and of course his order book was not filled as much as it was before.

The advertising market is changing a lot. More and more traditional advertising channels are seeing a loss of customers moving their advertising budgets online. However, with this change prices for online advertising get more expensive, too – effectively pricing some businesses out of the market. So, marketing efforts need to go from broad to extremely targeted and that move requires even more skills in online advertising. Learning online advertising is time consuming and almost a job by itself and not many small businesses have the necessary resources to do so.

However, there are options available. While some of these options can be expensive, they can also be less than satisfying as the risk is often pushed to the small business and the service provider walks away with money in their pocket no matter the success rate. These providers work with the money of the small business. An example would be they get paid a percentage of the amount that the small business spends on pay per click marketing. The service provider manages the PPC account for the small business. But again, they get paid based on the money spent on pay per click advertising and not based on how well the PPC campaign is going.

It is better though to consider a lead generation service that sends targeted sales leads to the business. The only risk the business then assumes is the risk of not closing the deal. However, the entire risk of generating traffic and to collect the leads is with the service provider. The service provider and the business agree on a price per lead and then the service provider receives the matching dollar amount per lead from the small business. The service provider only gets paid when they deliver and the small business does not have to pay for anything if nothing is delivered. Local Sales Lead Generation is one of the most successful ways to gain new customers. Very limited risk in acquiring the leads + full control over the actual sales process put the small business in control. It reduces the need to learn and to stay current with online advertising and allows the business owner to fully concentrate on the business and what s/he can do best.