If you want to build up a client portfolio from SMEs or private clients then one of the channels to market you need to seriously explore are formal networking groups. But, BNI (or insert name of any formal business breakfast networking group) is not for me I hear you wail…. it’s too structured for me.
It’s true not everyone likes or gets structured networking groups for many reasons:
1) turning up regularly (or getting a sub) gets to be a bit of a bind
2) doing an elevator pitch regularly is scary
3) with the one profession rule, there are never enough of my target market in the room at anyone time
4) it doesn’t work for me and my client base
5) I don’t like all the rules
Let’s unpick these five reasons:
1) Turning up regularly only becomes a bit of a bind when you are either not getting any business success. Or you are not clear about how a formal networking group fits into your overall networking structure. In fact the regular attendance at one of these groups is often key to their success – visibility. Seeing the same group of people weekly or fortnightly is a great way for them to really get to know you and your business – vital if you are going to get any business from a group like this. Regular attendance also shows you are committed to the group, which helps others work to find referrals for you.
2) Like many others I hated doing my elevator pitch. My heart rate would quicken and palms get sweaty when it was my turn. In fact my nerves and adrenaline often took over. So, why was this? Particularly as I train people on presentation skills. It was normally because I hadn’t taken the time to really think through what I was going to say and rehearsed it a few times. If I had been clear on my networking strategy it would have been so much easier to identify meaningful messages for my 60 second. The more you deliver your elevator pitch, the easier it becomes.
3) With these groups you never want to sell to the people in the room. You want to sell through them. You are using the combined power of their networks to find new business. So, stop trying to sell to the room, and start asking them for introductions to named people you really want to meet.
4) More often than not, I hear people saying ‘structured networking doesn’t work for my business’. Very often these are the people who either don’t have a networking strategy or haven’t thought about how to use these type of groups to win business. Sometimes one group isn’t right for you – have you looked around and tried different groups?
5) I can’t change all the rules of these groups. They all have them, and they all have them for good reasons. But before you decide that a group is too structured for you, have you actually gone and experienced it first hand? Or are you just going on hearsay?
You just have to look at the sheer amount of formal networking groups to realise that formal/structured networking can work, and work exceptionally well for many ambitious professionals who need to build up their own client portfolio. It’s not uncommon to find that professionals get 20+% of all their new clients from these groups.
Isn’t it about time you put your prejudices to one side and tried them out for you?