Networking helped build our agencies and is an essential element of our ongoing marketing strategy. If you are a new or established business, you should consider your own strategy for generating leads through networking.
Lee Matthew Jackson
We will cover:
- Different types of networking
- Meeting styles
- Help others
- Help others help you
- Reality check
Outcome: To help you develop a clear long term networking strategy to help support your marketing efforts.
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Lee Matthew Jackson: So in today’s call we’re going to talk about networking and I want to give a realistic approach to networking. Let’s first of all take a look at what we are going to cover. So whether or not you are a new business or you’re an established business, networking is something that should be a part of your marketing stack. There are many different types of networking so it may not be the sort of networking that you would normally think of. We don’t have to all rock up for breakfast, et cetera. So what we’ll do is we’ll talk about the different types of networking that are available. Then we’re going to look at the main business style of networking where people go and meet up at places like for breakfast etc. So we’re gonna look at those meeting styles and then we’re going to talk about how you can help others in those groups and also help others to help you. Then we’re gonna wrap up with a reality check. So this is very much approaching networking through the local breakfast style of networking or lunch or however your local networking is set up. The outcome is to help you develop that long-term strategy to help you support your marketing efforts. So just having that nailed, you know why your rocking up every single week to this meeting and you have a strategy that you can apply to it.
So let’s first of all talk about some of the different types of networking. It does actually get quite a bad rap because people will often imagine it’s a group of ageing business, men and women or all suited and booted meeting for a 6 or a 5:00 AM breakfast and also BNI also kind of feeds this image of almost like a cult as well. So a lot of people are put off from doing local business networking, but there are actually a few different setups that can actually facilitate networking and don’t have to be that style that you are imagining. Also I would argue against that stereotype. I’m not in a BNI, but I have been a part of a BNI and it was a nice group of people who were mixed ages with mixed skill sets etc and it was actually a really good laugh. So I would also push against any of those stereotypes. But let’s take a look here. So first of all, we’ve got the business networking and that’s, you know, it does what it says on the tin. That’s local businesses usually meeting up, say at a hotel and they’ll have breakfast together and there’ll be some sort of format to the meeting. People will share what they do in a standup for 45 or 60 seconds. They call that their elevator pitch. There might be somebody who talks at the meeting, et cetera and all that sort of stuff and people will get to know each other and the same people will probably regularly go to those meetings and people do business, etc. So that’s kind of your standard business networking. You can have breakfasts, lunches and an evening network setups. We’ve got the whole nine yards here in Northamptonshire. We’ve got so many networking groups who do different meetings at different times of the day. So I literally could go for breakfast, dinner, and tea here every single day. It’s insane the amount of groups that are around here.
Now, the other types of networking include online networking and we’ll do this. We’re all here on this call because we’ve been networking through Facebook communities, through LinkedIn communities, et cetera. And over time you’ve all joined because you’ve been exposed to the content, you’ve been exposed to conversations and a lot of the early joiners as well in this membership actually joined because I announced it inside of our Facebook group. That was our free network that we had. So within those online communities, we’re all networking, we’re helping each other out, we’re passing on leads to people and we’re also receiving leads as well. So that is a perfectly viable form of networking. It takes effort, it takes building up relationships just like in business networking for you to be able to see results. So that is still a valid part of your marketing stack.
Associations are another place that you can be regularly networking. They’ll often have a monthly meetup, an association could be either your industry association where you are with peers in your industry. So that’s other companies that do similar things to you in a particular industry. Or alternatively you could be part of say the local chamber of commerce, etc. So that sort of association setup, they’ll do their regular networking, similar to the kind of business networking that you would expect and they’d also put on other local events. Perhaps they’d have a publication as well. And that association you can look to add value in and to build your credibility inside of.
Now our federal networks are kind of a more informal, it can be a formal book. Potentially an informal setup where there is a group of you, perhaps you are all suppliers in a particular industry who all do different things, but you’re able to cross refer each other. In that sort of network, you might be meeting online or you might be having a casual meetup once a month etc to continue to build those relationships. Or you may be meeting up at particular events regularly, but you are essentially almost like a partnership of businesses that will help and support each other. Referral networks are one of the important ways that we have built our businesses as well, both with business networking and also referral networks having that kind of informal relationship with other suppliers who have our target audience.
Finally meet ups. I mentioned this because we have, we’re pressing meetups here in the UK and I know there are tonnes all around the world. They are similar to business networking and almost similar to an association because you are hanging out with peers and people who probably do what you do, so you’re potentially hanging out with competitors. But, as you know with our community especially we all help each other out. On this call people could be in theory, competitors and yet we all like to share information and we like to pass on leads to each other because we all have our specialisms etc. So meetups are great because that’s a space that you can go and learn from other people as well as add value, build up relationships, and also potentially refer to each other.
So now that we’ve established the different ways of networking that are out there, let’s focus in specifically on business networking. So that’s the sort of networking you would be doing locally, going to a local meetup with other businesses and there are several types of those. The reason why I want to go into these is because we have grown our agencies off the back of a lot of local networking and before I carry on telling you the different styles, let me just explain why. We’ve been able to build up relationships with people who are not our target audience, who are not our ideal clients, but who do know those people. So local networking is a really surprising way of growing your business and something that we really did not expect. We did invest an awful lot of time, both in my old agency and also in Angled Crown in networking. We are really lucky here in Northamptonshire to have so many different types of groups. So I have experienced the following four types of business networking meetings. Let’s just take a look at that.
First of all, we have the casual, this would be maybe a free or very low cost networking meeting. It may be an expensive one of great people, but it’s just very casual. There’s no format. Everyone just hangs out for an hour once a week and perhaps has bacon butties and coffee and that’s pretty much it. The next type is casual, but with a meeting structure. So when I say casual, it’s still a relaxed environment, but there is some sort of meeting structure. So perhaps there’ll be the standup part where people will share their elevator pitch. There might be a little talker at a certain point, there might be a bit of one-to-one networking, et cetera. But there is essentially a structure, but it’s still a very informal, relaxed approach and pretty much anyone can join the room as well. So anyone can come into both of these. These are casual, anyone can come in. So you could have say three accountants and three web designers, which is actually very common. Accountants and web designers are often in the room. Then there’s the casual but locked down and locked down. What that means is it’s still a casual kind of format that might be a bit of a loose structure etc but they try and lock it down to particular businesses. So if there’s one web designer, then that’s it. There’s no other web designers allowed in. If there’s one accountant, that’s it. No other accountants are allowed in because that is a locked their spaces at worst they’ll lock it down. There is still some sort of meeting structure, but when I say casual, it means that there is not this kind of strict BNI formula where you are rated on performance, etc. Let’s jump into that. The last one that I’ve experienced would be the formal, it’s got a full on meeting structure. It’s fully locked down. There are expectations placed on you, et cetera.
So let me just share what BNI do. With BNI, I was in BNI for at least two years and it is a great space and great if you have a lot of people who are all pulling their weight. But equally it can be a massive drain. So I would always say be careful in those sorts of environments. But with the BNI, it was very formal meeting structure. Everyone was friendly, but we all knew that we started on time. We got through all of these different stages throughout the meeting. The same things were read out the exact same structure. We were expected to bring referrals for other people every single week. So there was just this constant kind of formal format. There was lots of rules and uh, it was also again locked down to just particular types of businesses. So, you know, if you were the web designer, you owned web design and you could even veto if a graphic designer came along and they were like, yeah, but it is graphic design for print. If you didn’t feel comfortable with that person in the room, you could veto and get rid of them, et cetera. So a lot more formal, BNI and there is at least one other local networking company here in Northamptonshire that do a very similar BNI format. The rest are a lot more casual. They’re more open and a lot of them do at least have that meeting structure. But I think the open thing is important. For me, I’ve actually generated the most business from the casual with a meeting structure. So casual, not locked down with a meeting structure has been our sweet spot because that means we can be relaxed, we know that we’re not going to a very boring, staid meeting every single week. We know things are going to be slightly different every week. We’re not hearing the same people saying the same things every week but we are at least seeing the same sorts of people rocking up and we’re enjoying time together. We together, we have coffee together, we network and it’s a really nice environment. Like I said, that’s been the most productive for our businesses and has generated hundreds of thousands of pounds over the last few years in revenue for our business.
So I want to get now into generating leads through networking and we do have to accept that it is a real slow burn. So we have to go into networking, not expecting instant results and we have to understand that there is some work that we need to do. So we need to go in with a strategy. That strategy is essentially to create relationships and to build your credibility and the best way you can do that is by helping other people. So the first thing you want to be doing is when you join a networking group, one that you feel comfortable in with a nice group of people. I would say stick to it, keep going to it. Don’t kind of just jump in and out of different networking groups all the time. Stick to that one and listen really carefully to the problems in the room. Make notes. So this is a thing I will do. I’ll take my notebook every time and we will make notes and listen to what people are expressing. It might be problems that our clients have had or it’s problems that they are having and I will note those down because I’ll be looking for ways to be able to help those people. And I don’t mean to sell them something, but I mean to be able to introduce them to someone else or to a product or something that is going to help them solve that problem. So that’s first thing I’ll always do, listen to the problems in the room when I’m doing things like my elevator pitch then I will share a tip that is useful. It could be something to do with WordPress, it could be something to do with time and productivity, but it’s a nontechnical tip that I know is actually gonna add value. I see this done a lot in our networking groups where people will stand up, they’ll do their elevator pitch, but they’ll also wrap up with some sort of tip, especially the accountants. They’re good at this because they’ll often warn you when certain things are due or when a tax law has changed or something and you just need to ask your accountant about things. So they’re really helpful and help build up that credibility.
Volunteering to speak is great because that means you get a platform in front of everyone and you can add value there as well. Whenever you do speak, I would say don’t sell to the room. I would say actually offer a valuable talk. One of my most successful talks a few years ago was one on podcasting. So I’d only been podcasting for a couple of years back then and I shared how I podcast and talked about the community and everything else and how other people could start podcasts and that generated a lot of excitement. It was just a 10 minute talk. I was not selling anything. However, there were other web where there was a design agency in the room who are really impressed who then wanted to work with us, which was phenomenal. But equally we were able to help lots of people and introduce them to software and also refer other people on to each other. So that was a really, really good experience. And it’s actually something that I’ve become known for is the podcast guy. Because of that talk.
Finding referrals is something that’s really, really good. Focusing on good quality referrals really helps to build up your credibility and also makes those people want to help you. So if you’re listening to the problems in the room, then that means you can identify what people are struggling with. If you also listen to the people in the room and listen to who they’re looking for, you can also identify those particular people and then make a real concerted effort to go and find from the people that you know, people who would be ideal for them. So let’s just give an example. Let’s say there is an accountant. The accountant stands up and they specialise in fact, let’s go for a real example, cause I know one that they specialise in people who run pubs and they do accounting for pub owners, landlords etc. So now that I know that I also know people who own pubs, which is very useful, but equally I know people with the problems that that person has described. So I can now make a quality introduction or a referral to the local Bell pub here to the accountant who specialises in accounting for pub owners. So this is a real quality lead for them. It’s something that will help both. I know the Bell’s struggling with their, you know, trying to keep everything organised. This is hypothetical, by the way. I know they’re struggling to keep everything organised. They need someone who specialises with all the relevant law etc, it’s a match made in heaven. This is a lead that I will connect them both, but then I will follow it up and make sure that they are actually having a conversation as well. Hey, how did it go with the account? And I introduced you to, has he got back to you etc and just really showing some care and attention to that to find referrals. So as many referrals as you can find that are quality, um, be sure to look for those when you help other people. People want to help you in return and referrals has been that kind of magic bullet for us in and amongst all this. You know, speaking has been great. Offering tips, etc has been wonderful. It’s boosted our credibility but becoming known as somebody who finds referrals and who connects you to people is actually very, very powerful. And that’s something that people have been attracted to me by in fact people want to refer to me as well because they’re also secretly hoping that they’ll be going to refer some business to them as well.
Then finally invite guests. Sounds a bit random, but actually being seen to bring people in to the networking environment is very, very valuable because the more people in a room, the more energy, but also the more opportunity for networking, for building of relationships etc. So if you’re seen to be the person who listens, the person who gives tips, the person who volunteers, the person who is often making great referrals and also the person who is invested in bringing other people and generating opportunities for the rest of the group, by bringing in those guests, then that is absolutely raising the bar. You are seen as the networker to align yourself with. So now that I’ve established that you need to be awesome and nice, you could be the nicest networker on the planet, but if people don’t know who you are, what you do or who you serve, then they are going to struggle to refer you. This is one of the biggest problems. One of the biggest bugbears I hear from people is that they give so much to the BNI network. Or I give so much to my local networking group, I send in referrals. I work so hard and I get nothing back. It’s so frustrating and that’s why people give up nd the biggest issue is because people fail to educate their network. They fail to share with people who they’re looking for, who is it that you serve, what do you do for them?
So let’s have a look at how you can educate your network. Number one, who are you looking for? Let’s do this as an example for me. So I will go in, let’s look at an Event Engine. So that’s my other business and I will go into a local networking. Who am I looking for? I am looking for an event organisers. Okay, so we’ve established event organisers. What are their problems? Okay, well their problems are they need to sell more tickets, they need to sell more sponsorship and they are potentially struggling with their marketing campaigns. So there’s a few problems that I can describe that are very, very specific. I can then say, what do I do to solve their problems while I’m solving their problems by building them websites that sell more tickets or that facilitate their marketing strategy or whatever. But I’m being able to talk throughout my elevator pitch of who I’m looking for, what their problems are, and what I can do for them. Then you can wrap that up with a conversational tool. So here are some tools for you to spark up conversations with the ideal person that I am looking for. So let’s do that again for Angled Crown. For Angled Crown who am I looking for? I’m looking for designers and design agencies. What are their problems? Well they’re really stressed out, they wanting, you know, got all these designs on the go, but they’re trying to build all these websites as well and it’s just constantly stressful. It’s a stressful life. They want to just be doing the design. They don’t want to be building all these websites all the time. They would love it if someone else could take that off their plate. Obviously Angled Crown will do that. We will take their designs and make websites and offer a whole load of supporting services as well to those agencies so they can focus on what they do best. So I’m consistently educating the room about what I do as Angled Crown, who it is I’m looking for, what their problems are and how I’m solving those problems for them. Then I can offer them a range of conversational tools. So it could be asking people how late they work is a very useful one. How late have you been working? You know, you look really stressed out how you’re doing etc.
So these different conversational tools that my network can use with the people that they know, if they know who my target audience is, if they know I’m looking for designers and they know the problems that those designers have, and if I can offer them some of those conversational tools, I’m making it as easy as possible for people to talk to the designers that they know, find out whether they’ve got some of the problems that I’m describing, and then make a good, decent introduction between the two. That could actually be a lead. The designer might say, I’m looking for a white labelled development company. Great. There’s an actually, or it could just be an introduction. Hey, you two should know each other because you rock around in the same sort of circles and you might be able to collaborate either or are both really good leads. One is an introduction where you can build a relationship and eventually generate leads. The other is actually the lead. But you’d got to educate the room, which is why it’s important to go to the same networking group. Pick one dedicate yourself to it, help others build up your credibility, be that nice networker, be awesome, but also be awesome at educating people as to who you’re looking for, what their problems are, the problems that you solve, and offer them some tools. The ability to be able to refer people to you. Make it as easy as possible. Otherwise you could be the best networker on the planet and get frustrated because nobody in the room is helping you out. So as you help others, they are going to be actively looking at how they can help you. So make it as easy as possible for them.
So let’s do the reality check. Networking is not a magic bullet and you got to consider this as a long-term strategy that’s going to compliment other elements of your marketing stack. So please don’t think that networking and throwing yourself all in is going to get you quick results and you can stop doing everything else. Networking takes time. So for us, we didn’t see our first results in the original agency back in 2009-2010 time. We didn’t see results for at least the first year and those results weren’t even that good equality because I wasn’t doing what I do now, which was I wasn’t being very specific about who I was looking for, who I was targeting. I wasn’t educating the room and it wasn’t necessarily even being that helpful to the room and I still managed to generate some leads through the relationship building back then.
Networking is also a large commitment. You know, if you’re going to commit to that group regularly, you’re going to go to the same group. You want to be showing up at least once every couple of weeks. You’re going to want to be volunteering for that, you’re going to want to be helpful. You’re also gonna want to commit to communicating with people outside of the group as well. So not just talking to them at the physical networking meeting, but also maybe emailing them, pinging them on social media, giving them calls, et cetera. So there’s a lot of commitment with it and because it’s a slow burn, it can be very easy for you to give in as a result. Networking also can yield some really terrible results. I’ve had, um, they call it in BNI shrapnel. So in BNI you are encouraged to refer every single week. So people will just to get the relevant points they need to be seen to be doing their best. They will often just give you weak leads, like really ridiculous leads. Like, Hey, here’s a human, they need a website probably, and it’s just the worst leads possible. I would often see like people getting their mum to ask the carpet guy for a quote, even though she had absolutely no desire for a new carpet. She’d only just had it fitted at the beginning of that year. But there were just, people were just trying to find stuff. So at times it will yield terrible leads, but if you can be that helpful person and also educate the room on who and what you’re looking for, that is going to reduce those terrible leads.
Networking requires a purposeful approach. Like I said, when we started networking, we had no strategy. We just kind of just went along and I got very easily disillusioned, managed to generate a business after the first year, which was good, but still we had no real rhyme or reason to what we were doing. We were successful despite ourselves going into networking. You need to appreciate it’s going to take time. It is a large commitment that you’re probably going to get some crap. But if you go in with a strategy of being helpful and also educating that room as to who you’re looking for as well then that sort of approach is going to help you get much better success from your networking.
Finally therefore, that in itself needs a regular review. The way I review what I’m doing is, first of all, I look at what business I’m generating from networking, but also I have conversations with people and just say, Hey, um, if you could describe what I do like in 30 seconds, could you try and describe what I do? So I’ll ask people in the networking meeting if they know what it is I do, or if I ask them who do you think would be an ideal lead for me, et cetera. Because if I get some crappy answers, then I know that I am doing something wrong. I’m not educating the room properly and that I’m not making it easy for people to refer me. So that’s certainly something as well that you should be considering.
All right, let’s do the patented Lee Matthew Jackson recap. So what we did was we looked at the different types of networking, which included business networking, online networking associations, referral networks, and meetups, just like the awesome WordPress meetups that we have. We said the, all of these are absolutely a valid ways of networking and you want to pick those that work best for you and that align with your business goals, your objectives and your own lifestyle as well. We looked then at the business networking aspect because that’s what we wanted to focus on for this cal and we talked about the casual, the casual but with meeting structures. We talked about locked down meetings, both casual and informal and I shared with you that the most income generating type of meeting for me was the casual, unlocked or open networking meeting that had at least some sort of structure to it. We then talked about the importance of building that credibility and building up relationships and doing that through being the most helpful networker on the freaking planet. Cause people want to help people who help them. And the ways you can be helpful is by listening to those problems in the room, offering tips, volunteering to speak and other sort of volunteering opportunities, finding a really good referrals and following up, making sure things happen and also being seen to be that person who also invites other people in order to grow that network.
Then what we did was we said, Hey, you can be the most helpful person on the planet, but you need to help people help you. That means you need to keep educating people. So you need to commit to that same group. Keep rocking up, keep educating the people of who you’re looking for, what their problems are, what you do to solve their problems and offer as many easy ways, conversational tools, whatever that looks like for people to be able to refer you to the ideal client that you want to connect with. Then finally, we did do a little bit of a reality check. I know that sucks, but I reminded you that networking does take time. That’s not to put you off. That’s just to set your expectations that it’s not the magic bullet. We said it’s a large commitment. It is at times going to yield some terrible results like that shrapnel we described. However, if you approach it purposefully i.e with a strategy, then you are going to see over time better results and that is be helpful and help people help you.
We then wrapped up by explaining that you need to keep reviewing what you’re doing, keep making sure that you are on track. And one of the easiest ways you can do that is making sure, asking random people in the group, do you know what I do? Do you know who I’m looking for? etc. Then if you get crappy answers, you know you need to do some work. So folks, that is a chicken wrap. What other raps can you get? You can get a breakfast wrap now as well at Subway. Mmmm.