Guest post by investor at Jones and Associates Wealth Management, Scott Jones. Many of the best stories begin with a failure
I started networking (very unsuccessfully) about 8 years ago. At the time, I just didn’t get it. I, like many people I encounter every day, thought networking was all about going to an event, telling people why my services are the best, and expected to find clients by doing so. I was dead wrong. After working at it for about 6 months with nothing to show for it, I gave up on going to local events and went back to what was successful for me, all be it, not as steady a stream of business as what I wanted.
A couple years later, after talking with some friends who were having some great success in a networking organization called BNI, or Business Networking International, I decided to give it another chance. This time, I went in with a different attitude. I went in not expecting it to generate business, after all, my previous experience of this was a waste of time. However, if the guy sitting next to me could generate good business from it, I had to be able to at least duplicate his success, if not do better (my competitive spirit came out a bit).
The light bulb went off!
I started attending the meetings for a chapter that was just getting started. The key to getting this group off the ground and able to start passing business opportunities to each other was that we had to get to 15 members. The best way to find new members was either to call your existing networking partners, or go out, meet, and invite people to check out a meeting. This was when the light bulb went off for me. While I went out and started meeting people at chamber events, I started asking one simple question, “Who should I introduce you to that would be the best contact to refer business to you”? If it made sense, I’d invite them to the meeting. If not, I’d try to find someone else I met, preferably at the event, that would fit the bill.
All of a sudden, I became a traffic cop, introducing people to one another who could help each other by referring business back and forth. The best part was, for me, I was becoming their hero in that I was the one who found these great resources for them. In order to thank me, they started referring business to me whenever they could and introducing me to other people in their network who could help me meet my target clients.
Since the light bulb went off, I have founded the South Jersey Business Alliance (SJBA), which hosts a monthly networking happy hour for free for typically 60 to 100 people at each event. Annually, we host a multi-organization event that brings in 350+ attendees and raises funds for a local charity. The organization’s mission is to create alliances and referral business between local businesses, the exact philosophy that turned the corner in networking for me.
40% - 60% new business comes from professional referrals
Since starting the SJBA, I have become the only male to serve on the board of the National Associate of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) South Jersey. I have expanded my business by referral and networking to the point that I only work by referral from clients or other professionals, with 40% to 60% of my new business coming from professional referrals. Just as important, I’m able to offer my clients resources for just about every profession they could ever need, which has actually lead to more business as well.
I was told by one client who hired me: "What impressed us about you was not that our friends said you were approachable and really good at what you do, we expected that from anyone they would recommend. It was when they told us that they needed a new windshield for their car and everywhere they went, they were getting quoted just below their $1000 deductible. They mentioned to you in a meeting the frustration they were having with this, and you recommended a couple places they should call. One of which was able to replace it for $250. We figured that if you’re so well connected that you could save them that much on a windshield with top notch service, imagine what you could do for your clients as their advisor. You were hired before we ever met on that account alone.”
The moral of the story
The moral of my story is this: successful networking is not about going to an event. It’s not about having the best “elevator pitch”. It’s about building relationships and helping others. Call it karma or whatever you want, but for this networker, I’ve found that you get what you give. I go to events to meet 3 to 5 new people who I can form a relationship with potentially. I then call or email and ask them if they can meet for coffee to learn more about them and see how we can help each other. I find I get back just as much or more than what I give.