Bear with me for a few paragraphs as we talk about social networking. But, I want you to erase the thoughts about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, all of it! Huh? Give me a few minutes to talk about human social networking—yes, good old-fashioned, face-to-face social networking.
Are you members of any networking, leads, or referral groups? Let’s be honest with ourselves—are they bringing in new business to you? Or are they merely an escape from the office for a lunch with other humans? Here’s a thought—start your own group!
As a business owner, you know (and patronize) several other small businesses. Have you ever spoken to the owners about the possibility of referring business to one another? If these are people you buy from, why wouldn’t you try and send business their way, and vice-versa? We all know that referrals are the best way to grow your business and build solid relationships with your clients—past and present. You become more valuable to your clients and prospective clients if you can provide personally recommended resources and businesses to them. Take a moment to think about other types of services that your clients might have a need for and might ask you about.
For example, you are a travel professional. Why not align yourself with a local Uber driver, a wedding photographer (or any wedding merchant for that matter), lawn-cutter, pet sitter, kennel, or a tanning salon (although they are mostly out of vogue now)? If you already have relationships established, you are ready to recommend them to a client. Maybe even have a card printed (or saved as a document to email).
These relationships are “strategic alliances,” which is really just another way of saying people to whom you might refer business or people who might refer business to you. What’s even better is that you are probably already connected with many of these people! It really is as easy as that!
But, before you run out to forge these alliances, there are some things you need to remember:
- Trust is key. Be sure that the businesses you choose are ones you respect and would personally use. If you would not use the service, why would you expect a valued client to?
- Make sure they are relevant to your line of work. You want your strategic alliances to be businesses that are fairly closely tied to your travel business so it makes sense to refer your clients to them and vice-versa.
- Turn your professional relationships into personal relationships. In additional to the professional connection, foster the relationships with these business owners in other ways as well. Invite them for a coffee or lunch. Stop in to see how their business is doing and perhaps update them on changes with yours. Shop from them! Offer help or advice when appropriate or solicited.
- Communicate. If you refer a client to another business, by all means let them know you are sending someone their way. Include a few details about the individual that might be helpful in quickly establishing the connection. Conversely, if someone refers a new client to you, at the very least, send him or her a thank you card or if it turns into a valued client for you, maybe send them a bottle of wine or a certificate for dinner on you.
- Return the favor. This isn’t just about having business referred your way. Make sure you are driving on a two way street and referring business out
- Finally, once you have established a core alliance, find ways to network more frequently. Here are some ideas—a monthly happy hour, quarterly luncheon, or something as simple as a hidden Facebook page (ok I know I said to forget that word, but… we’re done).
The most important thing is to keep in contact and maintain the relationships.