Travel consulting is a people business, and in the end, it’s all about who you know. As our good friend Mike Marchev will remind us on occasion, it’s also about how many “who’s” you know. An important component of building a successful travel practice is the network of people with whom you come into contact. Although your own circle of influence may be small, it grows exponentially because your friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, teachers, and co-workers all have circles of influence into which you can market. These relationships provide opportunities to introduce your practice to people with whom you might otherwise not come into contact.
But you have to make the effort to meet real, live humans in all of their physical glory. Hiding behind your safe Facebook page or blog is no way to grow the network of people who may at some time become clients. Human beings are your species, and you have to mix with the herd every so often.
Getting outside your office and meeting people raises the profile of your travel practice, making you more visible in your community. Without being overtly commercial, get involved. When you take the time to carefully integrate your professional life with your personal, not only does your circle of influence grow, but others have an opportunity to know you in varied contexts. You are still “that travel person” but you are also, that animal lover, involved parent, volunteer or community activist. When people in your community have a chance to see what really matters to you, you begin to matter more to them.
Spend some time this week looking at the various ways you have at your disposal to gather a network and expand your circle of influence. Certainly there are the professional associations in your hometown such as the chamber of commerce. There is your active involvement in schools, at church and in the hobbies in which you participate. Finally, there are the opportunities you have connecting with family, friends and personal acquaintances to expand the scope of your circle of influence.
While there is little capital expenditure typically associated with networking, it is, after all, net-working and requires your attention to a plan to maximize your exposure professionally. Almost all marketing activity has the goal of brand building and networking is no exception. In this instance, YOU are the brand, so networking is a perfect media for growing your business. The more people you know, and the better you are at communicating your story, the more benefit you will receive from networking.
There is one very important point to make at this juncture. The key to successful networking is simply that you get from it what you put into it, or better put, you get by giving. The more you give to the other individuals and organizations in your network, the more you will get in return. The more you expose your “self” to others, the better they get to know you and your travel practice. Not because you are overtly selling anything, but because they are seeing you in a context in which your personality and a wider range of personal characteristics are on display. As you network in your community, seek to build genuine relationships with the people with which you come into contact. If you are genuinely passionate about travel, that passion will infuse itself into your casual and social conversations and those you come into contact with will begin to know you as “that travel person.”
Exercise – Build a systematic networking strategy into your business plan. How will you build on and expand your network? Sit down with a sheet of paper and write down every civic and social group to which you belong. Decide which of those you could give more of your time to in a context that would allow you to come more into contact with potential clients.
Next, write down your hobbies and avocations. Are there groups that center around these activities with which you would enjoy socializing? What opportunities do you have for volunteer work? Are you participating fully in the opportunities that surround you? How can you give to each of the opportunities around you in such a way that you can truly expand your circle of influence?
Narrow down your choices to be efficient. In which of your opportunities can you build the most genuine relationships? Commit to being more “out there.” Your business will grow as a result, and so will you.
PS. Here’s a bit of good news: you don’t have to be an extravert to make networking a part of your business plan. I myself am a perfectly content, high functioning introvert. Be yourself, put on a happy face and get out there.