Business Networking Strategies – the Elevator Pitch
For a lot of people, when they start a new business, they take a training course. It might be in an area relevant to their industry or profession, it might be a general training course, like our small business StartUp course, or it might be training in particular software, like our MYOB or Xero training courses. The best way to practice an elevator pitch is to practice all the time.
Training is incredibly important, but it’s no substitute for real-life interaction with other business owners, with whom you can gain valuable insights and perspectives on owning and operating a new business in the real world. This is what makes attending regular networking groups and events an important undertaking for any small business owner – old or new.
I recently wrote a blog post on what you should do at a networking event, but there was one point that we didn’t cover in great detail because I felt that it required a blog post of its own, as it’s crucial to your success as a networker: the elevator pitch.
Honing your elevator pitch
Perhaps you’ve heard of the term elevator pitch before. It’s most often used to describe a business or organisation’s mission statement; the name reflects the idea that you should be able to explain what your business does in the time it takes to ride an elevator. When you write a business plan, in it you need to include an executive summary, which explains what your business does or will do; it’s also your elevator pitch.
But your elevator pitch needs to do more than just explain what your business does. It also needs to encourage people to want to do business with you – or at least, continue listening to what you have to say. If you’ve completed our small business marketing course, then you’d have already practiced writing and honing an elevator pitch for your business when you wrote the executive summary of your business plan.
Be interesting, but above all, be compelling
Remember the goal of a business plan is to entice someone to invest in your business or idea, but the plan itself can run for many pages, detailing strategies and tactics for ensuring your business’s overall success. Most banks and financiers don’t have time to read every single business plan that lands on their desk, so they turn to the executive summary to see if the venture seems like a good fit for them.
It goes without saying, then, that your executive summary needs to be compelling, as does your elevator pitch. If you’ve written a business plan for your business, this is a good place to start when developing the elevator pitch you plan to use at a networking group or event. Be personable, though, and keep it conversational. Remember that the person on the receiving end of your elevator pitch is unlikely to be reading it; they’re listening to you deliver it instead, so you need to be comfortable giving your elevator pitch, while also seeming authentic.
Key elements of an elevator pitch
In crafting your elevator pitch, it’s crucial to include the following key elements:
Hook people with a good opening line that makes them want to hear more
Tell people what you do, not what you are
Repeat key information, such as your business name or main product or service
Be interesting and authentic
Use plain language when you’re describing a problem your product or service solves
Think about your end goal and ensure your elevator pitch services to achieve it
Finish your pitch by asking the other person what they do.
You should know have a good understanding of what to do at a networking event or group; now it’s just time to find a group to try out your new skills. Try meet-up.com or your local chamber of commerce to find groups near you. Make sure to RSVP if you are going to attend, and then stick to it. If something comes up, let the organiser know, so they don’t hold the meeting up waiting for you.
Networking Event Tasks: Step 1 – Let people like you
Whether you’re starting a new business or hoping to expand your existing one, networking can be your life support. Successful networking helps you to find and connect with like-minded individuals, with whom you can share your experiences as a new (or established) business owner, and gain valuable insights on the ways you can grow and develop your own business.
I’ve written about networking before, because I think it’s something every business owner should engage in regularly to complement their current marketing strategies. Networking with other business owners not only gives you access to a great brains trust to provide you with tips and advice, but it’s also a great opportunity to use referral marketing to grow your business.
What is networking exactly?
Many people think networking events and groups are places people go to sell their products or services to other attendees, but that’s not actually what a networking group or event are about at all.
[quote]The true definition of networking is ‘the process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’.[/quote]
That being said, as a business owner, you should always look for new or potential business opportunities in everything you do. This is how you can help to grow and expand your business. But, where discussing your business might not always be appropriate in typical social settings, at a networking group it’s more than welcome; it’s encouraged.
Networking is a balancing act of meeting people and being social, while also looking for opportunities that will help take your business to the next level. To achieve this balance and make meaningful connections with other business owners that will prove beneficial to your business requires planning beforehand.
How can networking help your business?
If you run a home-based business, it’s not uncommon to find that you can go entire days and weeks without interacting with another person on a professional level. This lack of interaction is not only isolating, but it can prove detrimental to your productivity and the continued growth of your business.
Your business needs new, fresh ideas and perspectives to thrive, and networking groups and events can help to connect you with people who can provide you with those ideas. They also give you the opportunity to do the same for other business owners, which is what makes the arrangement so mutually beneficial.
Take the following real-life example, for instance:
A home-based bookkeeper was looking for advice about her website and how she could increase her search engine rankings and traffic to her website. She’d previously enlisted the help of SEO experts and web developers and funnelled a lot of money into her website, but she felt it still wasn’t performing well – it wasn’t mobile, for instance, and she felt the copy could read better. The bookkeeper decided to go to a networking group of small business owners who were meeting to discuss online marketing, in the hope that someone might have some advice for her or could refer someone who could help. There she met another small business owner, who operated a content marketing agency and who advised her on how to increase her web presence by blogging, creating shareable content, and optimising her Google My Business page; the agency also had an in-house web designer and developer. The bookkeeper was so impressed with the content marketing advice she received, particularly the tips on Google My Business, that she hired the content marketing agency to manage all of her content marketing, including updating her website so it was mobile; they, in turn, referred a number of fairly big clients to the bookkeeper.
Five ways to succeed at networking
The key takeaway from the above example was that the bookkeeper went to a particular networking group with a goal in mind: to solve her online marketing issues. She was seeking qualified advice from other business owners who could empathise with her situation and perhaps recommend a course of action or someone qualified to help. She received both. At the networking group, she met a person who was willing to give her advice that she could implement at herself. Because she’d received useful advice before that worked, she felt safe in her decision to trust the agency to manage all of her content marketing.
So what are the five main things you can do to ensure the next networking group or event you attend is successful? Well, it starts with goal setting.
Network with a purpose:
Like our bookkeeper in the example above, you need to determine what your needs are and why you’re going to a networking group or event, in the first place. If it’s to find advice on how to improve your web presence, select networking groups with a focus on operating a business in the online world; if it’s merely to share the experience of operating a small business with other business owners in your local community, choose one in your area with that focus.
Now that you’ve established your networking goals, it’s time to find the networking group or event that will deliver them. Check out the attendees and members of some networking events or groups to see which ones are most suited to your business and your networking goals. Once you’ve identified some people you think are worth pursuing at a glance, research them online. Check our their LinkedIn profile, website and other social media. This’ll not only help you to further refine your list of people to connect with at each networking group, but it’ll also help you to find some common interests to discuss with them when you do meet.
Brainstorm some questions:
Before you attend any networking event, think of some questions that you’d like to ask the group or any individual member. It may seem like a waste of time, but it will help to ensure that, even if the other attendees are unprepared, at least you’re going to come away one step closer to reach the goals you set out for your business in the first place. Having targeted questions also helps to show the other attendees that you’re interested and engaged, rather than just there to kill time.
Establish your presence:
Show the group that you’re somebody worth knowing and that your contribution to the group is as valuable as everyone else’s. It’s worthwhile remembering that some groups only allow one member from one profession only, to ensure there’s meaningful business opportunities for everyone attending, so you need to show that you’re worthwhile keeping around on a regular basis. Listen, be attentive, show you’re there to help other’s problem-solve just as you are there to problem-solve for yourself. Always be willing to share and contribute ideas, but know when to back off so as not to be the guy who hogs the conversation and makes the group all about him.
Establish connections and follow-up:
Don’t just hand out and collect business cards willy-nilly. Your goal should be to establish a real connection with people that you’d like to add to your professional network of contacts and, in turn, be that person to them too. Exchange business cards, email addresses or other contact information and try to make a plan to meet-up outside of the networking group. After each event or meet-up, follow-up with each person you’ve exchanged details with. It’s probably taking to too far to call, unless you’ve made an arrangement to meet already, but otherwise sending an email or connecting on social media like LinkedIn is a good place to start.
Follow these five steps each time you attend a networking group or event, and you’re unlikely to go wrong. If you’d like to read more about networking and how you can make it work for your business, continue reading our blog. Otherwise, it’s time to get out there!
We’ve published numerous posts about referral marketing, which is an invaluable and cost effective way of marketing your business. In particular, we talked about LinkedIn. This is something that I, Steve Slisar, CEO of EzyLearn, am a big believer in — and so is small business marketing guru, Michael Griffiths. (You can learn more about using LinkedIn for referral marketing by attending one of Michael’s Sydney workshops.)
Peerbrief – One Grand up for Grabs
Recently I came across another great tool independent contractors can use to find work, and it’s based on referral marketing. It’s a new crowdsourcing recruitment and candidate referral website called Peerbrief, which was founded by Rob Fanshawe, a recruitment expert with 15 years industry experience, and who previously founded and directed 33 Talent in Sydney.
Peerbrief offers two services. The first is free for referrers – that is independent contractors, consultants, remote workers, and so on – to join and you’ll receive job alerts matched to your professional experience from potential employers. If, however, you know someone who is better matched to that job, you can refer the job to them – if they’re hired, the employer pays you $1,000 for your trouble.
The other service offered by Peerbrief is a subscription-based software service, which allows companies to set up closed referrals so their employees can refer candidates for jobs.
Referring the People in Your Sphere of Influence
If you’ve ever worked in a large company before, then you’re probably aware of the incentives they give employees for referring friends or colleagues for positions going vacant. Peerbrief works off same principal, and rewards people for referring their contacts for work.
At the moment, Peerbrief is working with three industries – tech, media, and marketing and advertising – so if you have previous experience in any of these industries, I recommend you (and your colleagues) join today and get referring!
All of that being said, I would caution not to put your eggs all in one basket. As these types of services gain more popularity, the work tends to become harder to come by as employers have a greater pick of potential hires. This is why I still recommend LinkedIn and face-to-face networking events as a way to grow and develop your business.
As always, I think it’s best if you have a number of marketing strategies on the go at once, as often, it takes a while for them to gain traction. If you have many plates spinning at once, so to speak, you’re less likely to find yourself in the midst a dry spell. If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively market your business, there are two marketing modules in our Small Business Management Course. Visit our website to enrol or learn more today.
When you start a new business, it’s incredibly important that you consider how you’re going to market your business to gain new customers. We cover the more traditional marketing strategies in our Small Business Management course, such as print advertising and even Google Adwords, but you shouldn’t only focus on these methods of marketing, as there are other, more powerful ways to market your business to customers.
I’ve written about referral marketing on this blog before, where I said that having a blog was a very effective way of getting people to talk about your business. If you frequently publish blog posts that your readers find valuable, they’re more likely to refer you on to their contacts. This is a form of referral marketing.
Have LinkedIn?, Need a Website?
Some people use their blog as a way to drive traffic to their website, but if you have a LinkedIn profile, I would say you don’t even need a website, since LinkedIn already gathers your professional information and then recommends you to other LinkedIn users with similar interests and professional experience.
I used to have my own personal website at the domain www.slisar.com.au, where I used to write and publish blog posts. I wrote a couple of blogs on it and tried to make myself seem amazing. After all, I had this domain and I thought, what on earth will I do with it if I don’t fill it up with stuff about me?
Sometime later I discovered the benefits of a LinkedIn profile, and I did away with my personal website. Now if you type in my domain name it directs to my LinkedIn profile (feel free to try it and connect with me, if you’d like) where you can see my online resume.
For many independent contractors – home-based bookkeepers, virtual assistants, etc – this is all you need to get started working in the digital age. You can still keep a blog, just as I do with the EzyLearn blog, which is connected to my LinkedIn profile so that when I write something, my LinkedIn connections can read it, like it, and start a conversation about it.
However, I probably don’t use LinkedIn as much as I should, but someone who does is Michael Griffiths, a small business marketing guru. He has helped companies with their online marketing for several years, and with a background in sports coaching, it’s little wonder he started teaching people about online marketing.
He now mostly focuses on referral marketing, and LinkedIn is a powerful tool he uses a lot. In fact, he’s created a training workshop that’s being held this coming Tuesday, August 19 in Milsons Point (in Sydney). That only leaves you with a few days to register, but if you’re serious about finding new ways to market and grow your business, it’s worth it.
Otherwise, if you don’t think you can make it on Tuesday, he’s holding another workshop in November. To register or find out more about Michael Griffiths’ referral marketing workshop click here.
Free Video: Michael Griffiths explaining the benefits of having a live and active website
Here’s a video of Michael talking about the value of having a blog and an active website that is regularly updated with new content. When you hear Michael in action during a presentation you realised how freely he shares his knowledge and experiences, enjoy.
We been speaking about referral marketing a lot lately, and in a recent post about marketing action plans, we talked about why you should include referral marketing and/or networking as a marketing strategy in your marketing plan. That may seem silly to some people, since networking doesn’t always translate to sales straight away, but we’ve discovered another reason why you should include it in your marketing plan: Google!
Google Outlines My Referrals
We were recently at our web stats using the Google Analytics app for Android, when we discovered that even Google separates the traffic to your website from other websites as ‘referrals’. This really highlighted the fact that you can be receiving referrals online from any news or content you make available on the web.
How to Create Great Online Content
The most accessible way to create good content online that will drive independent referrals for your business is to maintain a blog. If you publish a few posts each week that are highly relevant and highly targeted to your readers (your customers), the more likely they are to tweet, like or share your content with their friends, families, and colleagues.
You could even take it a step further. Maybe you’re an IT consultant and you’re looking for other ways to connect with your customers and provide them with informative content – why not create a few YouTube tutorials that you can embed in your website and share on your social media platforms. With a little care, and some thought to the execution, you’ll set yourself apart from the other IT guys who only talk in gigabytes and mainframes.
Move Up the Google Rankings
The other upside of creating regular content is that you’ll move your way up through the Google ranks, which in turn, will bring you more referrals from Google, too. SEO also plays a big role in your Google rankings, but only so long as you’re creating the content people want.
If you truly want a Google Sugar Daddy, then you need to keep pushing relevant, informative content online, so you can engage with your customers and clients online.
Thinking about starting your own Bookkeeping business – or any other kind of business? We cover more about the powers of Google and how to market and advertise your business in our Small Business Management Course.
In the marketing module of our Small Business Management course, our students learn about marketing action plans, and throughout the course come to create their own marketing plan for their soon-to-be business. We also talked about referral marketing and networking in our last post, in which we outlined what every business should be doing to grow their customer base. For this reason, it should also be included in your marketing action plan.
What IS a Marketing Action Plan?
A marketing action plan sets out all of the marketing strategies for your business, including your goals and how you intend to achieve them. For consistency, and so that you can see and measure how each of your strategies have performed, we recommend that you include any of your networking activities in your marketing action plan.
Aside from being able to isolate what strategies — networking, advertising, email newsletters, etc — have performed the best at delivering your marketing goals, including your networking activities in your marketing plan, with a schedule, will also help to keep you accountable and ensure you actually put the time into networking.
The Money Comes Later
Because networking is often seen as not being immediately revenue generating — after all, many times you’re drinking tea and coffee and eating biscuits, while you chat with other business owners — it can be tempting to let your networking go by the wayside. But you shouldn’t — just as you shouldn’t let your other marketing activities go by the wayside, whatever they may be.
Share the Load
It’s also good to include details about each of your marketing strategies, so you can delegate it to another member of staff to project manage. So if one of your marketing strategies was to send a weekly email newsletter to your database, you could include information about the copywriter you’re employing to write the copy and the information would need to be sent to them each week.
You should also include the cost of employing the copywriter and the cost of distributing the emails each week. We use Feedburner — our preference for a variety of reasons; namely, because it’s free and we use it to distribute our blog. Feedburner also comes with the stability of being a Google product (we’re currently creating more content for a Google course, by the way). Learn more about Feedburner in our WordPress training course.
By including this information, you’re able to accurately measure how successful your newsletters strategy has been compared with, say, advertising in your local paper. Since you’re also including your networking activities, too, also include any membership fees or the cost of meals in your marketing plan, too.
Just like a financial plan shouldn’t be a static document, your marketing plan should also evolve with your business as you grow and develop your customer base — and even your product and service offerings, too.
If you’d like a step-by-step guide on creating a marketing plan for your business, we cover marketing plans in our Small Business Management course, in addition to financial planning, web design, and other important aspects of owning and operating a small business.
Besides driving sales, getting people talking about your business, its products or services (or creating ‘awareness’) is the goal of pretty much any marketing campaign. Consider Apple, for example. As a company they came back from the brink in the mid-2000’s when they launched the iPod. Apple had always created far superior products to IBM, but it wasn’t until Apple really pushed themselves as the trendier, far superior alternative to IBM and Microsoft-based products that they could become the company they are today.
The success of Apple is not just that their products were better (because they always were), but the way they marketed them to their customers, which relied heavily on referral marketing. Apple knew that once someone tried an iPod, they’d tell their friends about it and they’d, in turn, tell their friends about it, and so on.
Basic Networking How-To’s:
That’s basically what happened. And you can do the same for your business, even if you don’t have Apple’s marketing budget (or even their technological know-how). It starts with networking, so we’ve put together a few networking How To’s to get you on your way:
Find your tribe: Whether you’re looking to connect with other local business owners or perhaps you’re specifically looking to connect with other bookkeepers, you need to find your tribe and make connections with them. You’d be surprised just how many other business owners are out there, just like you, looking to connect with others. Check your local newspaper, the noticeboard at your local shopping centre, gym or café. There are also a number of great online tools that facilitate networking – meetup.com is one of them, and a personal favourite of ours.
Use social media: Social media is another great way to connect and interact with your customers and clients. But it’s also a great way to connect with other movers and shakers within your industry. Twitter and LinkedIn are especially great platforms for cultivating online connections with people in your industry. It’s important, however, not to treat Twitter as your own personal spamming platform. Your Twitter feed should be interesting and informative – and show that there’s a real person (or group of people) behind the Twitter handle, rather than a robot pushing out links to your website.
Follow up – When you meet a new person, always ask for their business card and always offer yours. Remember that networking is not about selling, and in fact, you may not actually sell anything to that person, but if they like you, they may just refer you to their friend or colleague who is looking for your services. The key to getting to this point – where this other person is referring you to others – is being genuine. Take an interest in that person’s business and follow-up with them. Connect with that person on social media, send them email – follow up!
Get outside your comfort zone: Instead of always going to your local networking group, try a group somewhere else. Business Networking International, or BNI, is a global networking organisation that is always looking for new members. It is very structured and not for everyone, but its huge success is partly because of the structured way they operate. Find a chapter near you and see if it works for you (tip: you may try a couple of chapters before you find your tribe).
So what are you still reading this blog post for? Go forth and pimp your business! Network, people!
Referral marketing is a great way to gain new customers, and involves encouraging your existing client base to promote your business and its services.
A lot people do this already without even knowing it – when they like your Facebook page, retweet one of your tweets, or recommend your services to their friends, for example.
Blogging and Getting Referrals
Having and maintaining a blog is one of the best ways to get people talking about your business. The more you write about topics that are relevant to your readers, the more likely they are to refer you to their friends and colleagues – just as we’re doing right now!
Referrals Via Social Media
In the last few years, social media has come to replace some of the ways we communicate with our customers – or at least the way we keep in touch with them.
Using social media platforms like LinkedIn is another fantastic way to not only stay in touch with your clients, but to also promote your skills as a business owner at the same time.
LinkedIn is your online CV that represents you, the business owner. It shows prospective clients how well-skilled you are to carry out work for them.
But it also allows your current clients to see what you’ve been up to, and for this reason, it’s a powerful marketing tool.
We’ve written about some of the do’s and don’ts of LinkedIn previously, but one of the most important things to remember about LinkedIn is that, even though it is a social media platform that can be changed or updated whenever you like, you should still keep your profile as professional and consistent as possible.
Referral Marketing and Networking Events
So far we’ve talked a lot about the virtual world – but what about the real world? Going to networking events is one of the best ways you can connect with other business owners, who are looking to connect with you too.
Join meet-up and get amongst it with other business owners in your local area – you’d be surprised how many people didn’t know that it was your business they were looking for!
Referral marketing is an exceptionally powerful marketing tool, providing it’s done right. Make it one of your daily goals to always devote some time to maintaining your referral marketing activities. So whether it’s your blog or social media feed, spend a few minutes each day getting others to talk about your business. Find out more about our comprehensive Small Business Management Course.