Cultivating a Network

Copyright 2006

In order to grow your business, whether home or office based, you need to develop a network of contacts. Think of networking as planting and tending a garden. You are planting, growing and cultivating your contacts, and, as with a garden, this has to be a long term investment of your time. Eventually the harvest produced will be repeat orders, and increased business.

You should look for every chance to grow and strengthen your network of potential clients. There are many tools you can use to achieve maximum growth, but probably the most effective and indispensable tool is your business card. Make sure you always have a plentiful supply of clean, correct and professional business cards.

Would you try to dig a garden without a spade? Have your cards professionally produced and keep them crisp and clean. Business card holders are an ideal way to keep a stack of cards presentable. Any soiled or damaged cards should be discarded. Don’t keep a pile of damaged ones to give to less important prospects. You simply never know where your next best customer will come from, they are all of equal importance, and each should get a pristine and professional card (or two).

Take plenty of your business cards with you everywhere you go — professional meetings, social gatherings, parties, weddings, funerals, even to the airport to collect Aunt Nelly. Beware though if you are only going to places where people know you already. If you are doing this then you are really only socialising and not networking. It is impossible to create a network without meeting new people. Networking will provide you with customers, potential customers and suppliers.

It is important to understand that networking is not primarily about making sales. Networking is about making, and keeping, contacts. Remember that rewards from networking are not short term. This is a long term project, which will offer fruit (in the form of increased business) for many years to come. Very often, it is the people referred to you by your initial contact who give the greatest reward.

Thinking the philosophy behind networking is beneficial. With long term networking, which will produce the best results, it is not a question of asking “What do I get out of it?” Your question should be “What can I do for you?” The outcome of the second question is often the answer to the first. The key to developing new contacts is to be helpful. Think of something which can be useful or offers assistance to your new potential customer. One of the golden rules is – never try to make a sale while networking, however tempting it may be.

It is helpful to have a networking plan, even if it is informal. Decide how many new contacts you would like to make in a month, then plan how you will do it. Will you enroll in a class? Join a church group perhaps?

Tending to your network of contacts is also important. You should always be thinking of what you can do for them. Perhaps follow up on your initial meeting with a handwritten note, asking for them to forward on to you their business details? This is the beginning of a business relationship. Some of the things you can do to make your selected networking partners feel special include — clipping out and sending them relevant information from magazines and newspapers that you know will interest them. Ask their advice. Contacts like to be asked advice generally, it makes them feel that you trust their advice and value their comments. Don’t over use your contacts, and be careful to be diplomatic. Don’t talk in a derogatory way about your competitors. One of the key aims of building a network is to create trusting relationships.

So if you have green fingers in the garden, turn them to networking and grow your business the same way you grow and care for your garden. As with a garden, the benefits and rewards at harvest time can be huge.