No one can deny the power of networking. It definitely works and the growing number of networking groups sprouting around the country is proof of that. Finding the perfect group can enhance your client base, your confidence and your motivation. It's a crucial element that all freelancers, startups and entrepreneurs must get to grips with.
However, could the race to attend as many networking groups as possible be a detriment to your customer service and ultimately the power of your word of mouth marketing and reputation?
At a networking event I attended last month, a question was asked to the room about how many people in the room belonged to more than three other networking groups or events. More than half the room raised their hands and honestly, I couldn't have told you their names. Why? Because they hadn't connected, they merely attended.
Word-of-mouth is, without a doubt, a very powerful marketing tool and it's also free! With the rise in the number of networking groups the membership fees are also steadily increasing so let's make sure that the clients we gain, are the clients that will sing our praises to others. It is a fact that 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.
In the Forbes article Why Word of Mouth Marketing is the Most Important Social Media, Kimberly Whitler states: "If you could master what has been identified as the most valuable form of marketing—the one that consumers trust above all others and the one that is most likely to drive sales for your company — would you instead choose to ignore it or leave it to chance?"
I've seen quite a few creatives miss the opportunity to gain loyal customers and valuable feedback by concentrating too much on 'being known' rather than 'being reputable'.
Finding clients is the easy part, keeping them is another game altogether. I've no doubt this fact contributes to the statistic that 90% of startups fail, although of course the economy can be blamed a little.
If you don't do a good job, your clients are not going to return and their potentially priceless feedback will never appear. On the contrary, it may well damage the business. So, how do we ensure we make the best use of these networking groups, gain repeat customers and encourage those clients to recommend us?
01. Find the right group
There are so many networking groups to choose from but don't feel like you need to attend them all to be successful. Think of networking groups as shoes, find one that fits you and use it until it wears out. Just like anything in life, stretch yourself too thin and the quality goes down.
Find one that suits you. Some are early morning meet ups like BNI with a lot of structure and are very efficient but require a weekly commitment and a pretty fat membership fee.
Others, such as I AM WOMAN or Introbiz are a little more flexible with frequent events in the day and evenings without the pressure to attend them all. You may also find a lot of the same people at each networking events so don't waste your money becoming a member of them all.
02. Focus on the clients you have
Once you've got a client on board, don't you want to keep them? Focus on your existing client and their needs before you scramble to gain ten more. Ten average testimonials are not worth the same as one fantastic review that you can then share and shout about.
Focus on the job at hand. Don't try and get too big too fast. Clients will thank you for putting their needs first and they will sing your praises for doing so. Put 100% effort into the service or product you're supplying and the rewards will be great. It’s about quality not quantity.
03. Go above and beyond
Too many people (especially in my industry) have the attitude that the job is over once the client has paid and you have delivered. It's true, as a freelancer I value my time and allocate specific hours to a project but there is a bigger picture.
Going above and beyond for a client will let them know that you care about what you've delivered and the results, that you're invested in their investment and it's as important to you as it is to them. If they know this, why would they bother to go elsewhere for the next job?
04. Follow up
When it comes to going above and beyond and building relationships, a follow up email or phone call is always important. Not only after networking events but also after you've completed a job or a project.
If you think you can help their business or want to offer a referral or a service, a friendly follow up email the next day will hit the spot.
Make sure you follow up the day after and don't wait a week, stay fresh in their minds. Once you get to know these people better, perhaps after a few events or working together, you'll get to know how they prefer to be contacted.
Some clients prefer a phone call, some are too busy and prefer an email. Think this through and you won't go wrong.
05. Build a relationship
Networking group leaders will all tell you that networking isn't about giving the hard sell, it's about building relationships and trust. This is why investing in the right group is so important, it's a long term commitment. Sure, you won't see results after one meeting but nurture the relationships you start from the get go and you may build a bigger network of contacts than you might expect.
Even if you're sat next to a person whose business is almost definitely not going to need the services of yours, fear not. Build a rapport, a relationship and trust and whose to say they won't recommend you to a friend who happens to be the head of a huge corporation that needs exactly what you're offering.
Don't be too quick to dismiss potential contacts and be nice open and friendly. Don't shove your business down their throat at first sight. Listen and ask lots of questions.
06. Always be honest
The success of Word of Mouth marketing depends on customer’s trust and whether you earn becoming a worthy topic of conversation. You can do this with an exceptional product and by maintaining integrity across online platforms. Building that trust and respect also depends on honesty.
'The customer is always right' is a term I'm not that keen on. Your client has hired you because you're an expert in your field and because you've built up a good reputation through networking and testimonials. You would hope then, that they trust in what you say.
Don't be afraid to discourage the client on a direction for the project or service they've put forward, if you know it to be a bad idea. Even at the risk of some friction between you, be honest. The success of the project must be a priority and the client will thank you in the long run.
07. Get testimonials
Clients who feel you've done a great job and that you've built a relationship with will always be happy to write a testimonial. Get in the habit of asking once the project is finished and after you've followed up with an email or a call.
You can either get them to send it to you first and you can publish on your website, or give them your Facebook details and ask them to write a review on there. Collect as many as you can and publish on other social media platforms. Let everyone know about this great review and your sure to attract some interest.
There is no way to deny that networking groups are a great way to build a business and gain clients but that isn't where the work stops. Word-of-mouth networking, while seen as a more traditional approach, gives people a chance to build deeper relationships and increase trust which leads to more qualified referrals, longer professional relationships, and more a more successful business.
Think of these networking groups as the introduction and be aware that you'll need to put a lot more time and effort into making the time you spend there worthwhile and ultimately profitable. A recommendation from client is priceless.
Words: Jessica Draws
Jessica Draws is an experienced designer with a love of beautiful, creative visual work. She has produced infographics, illustrations, graphics and digital artwork for all sorts of brands – including Sainsbury’s, Go Compare, IKEA, London Women’s Clinic and many more.
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