Networking is a must-include in every small business owner’s marketing plan. Doing so is the most effective way to expand your business and find new clients. But networking must be so much more than simply joining a local networking group (such as your local Chamber of Commerce or BNI chapter) or attending large networking events.
It’s about going beyond meeting people in those settings and building relationships with your connections. Sure, the more people you meet, the more people there are to remember your business but the phone isn’t going to ring until you have gained the trust of the connections in your network. Your new connections need to trust you before they will consider doing business with you. And you need to work hard to gain that trust. How long that takes depends on your industry as well as the cost and perceived value of your services.
However, regardless of those factors, there are certain ways to fast track the trust cycle. Because having a killer opening line at a networking event is a great way to start a conversation and having a solid elevator pitch sparks interest and creates awareness, but neither build trust.
5 tips to gaining trust
Arrange to meet again. After your initial conversations, arrange to meet for coffee so that you can both take a deeper dive into each other’s businesses. But don’t just leave it at that and then wait for the phone to ring. Cultivate the relationship by checking in frequently and asking to meet again. Meeting frequently builds familiarity and helps the other person get to know you and understand your business.
Meet in their space. Visiting the other person’s office provides a greater understanding of their business and their needs. You’ll get extra points for making the effort to accommodate their schedule and it will boost their confidence in you.
Focus on getting to know the other person. Showing an interest in your connection’s business goes a long way to building trust. Don’t sell your services or your Unique Value Proposition (UVP) at every meeting. Instead, simply listen and show an interest.
Make introductions. Every business owner who networks through a BNI chapter knows that the philosophy of that organization is “Giver’s Gain” — which means if I give business to you, in return you will want to give business to me. The same philosophy applies here — by finding referrals for your connection and making introductions, he or she will notice your efforts and be more inclined to do the same for you. This not only builds your network but it also builds trust with that individual.
Ask about their clients. This goes along with listening and showing an interest. By asking about the type of businesses they work with, you will not only get a better sense of referrals to make, you’ll also show that you’re putting a greater emphasis on their business rather than on making a sale.