Life would be a little too easy if we could become an expert at one skill and then build a thriving business around it. Once we’ve figured out what we want to do, and we are open for business, we still have to market ourselves; otherwise, we may find ourselves waiting. Waiting like we do at a surprise party, wondering when the guest of honour will arrive. In this case, our guest of honour is our future client. And ideally, our future client would know how to find us.
One way is to lead them to us with a trail of… personal connections. You might have been thinking of bread crumbs, and metaphorically, you could think of it that way. Entrepreneurs are keen to add value and bring success to other people’s lives. If you aren’t in business to help others, then chances are, you won’t get far in your journey. After reading The 5 Essential People Skills by Dale Carnegie Training, I thought of some tips that really boost a business owner’s reputation and bring them more clients. I’ve even added some suggestions to the original list in the book.
My biggest tip starts with the old adage, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This bit of advice applies the moment you venture out to meet new people.
Social networking that grows your business
If you’re looking to increase your client base, always be searching for networking events that your potential clients could be attending. A glance at the event description will help you to gauge the likelihood that your potential client will be there. If you’re not sure, then ask yourself what your potential client is looking for, and whether this event could be the answer to their search.
When you are at the event, interact with as many people as possible. These opportunities are like mini job interviews. Introduce yourself and keep the conversation light with social or general work topics that avoid debate and hostility. For example, sports, current events, and the weather are fairly neutral. You may even talk about your personal background and your work. When you are asked a question, try to keep your answers less than a minute long to avoid babbling.
Show that you’re interested in the other person by using your active listening skills. Nod and acknowledge key points that he or she is making. Use appropriate body language such as maintaining eye contact and facing the person you are speaking to. If the person you are speaking to is a little on the quiet side, guide the conversation with open-ended questions such as, “How long have you been in business?” instead of closed questions (that request yes/no answers) such as, “Have you been to this event before?”
Give them value, instead of expecting to get something out of the meeting right away. Instead of just looking for potential clients, and abruptly ending the conversation when you realize this person will never do business with you, find out what you can do to give them value. Ask her what brings her to the networking event to see what she is looking for. Maybe she wants a specific type of business connection. Ask someone to tell you more about his business and compliment him on an aspect that you like.
This attitude of giving value will make you instantly likeable. As you continue to network, your new business acquaintance might introduce you to others at the event. Having someone introduce you to a stranger makes it much easier to connect with others than by starting a conversation completely from the cold. Similarly, introduce people you’ve just met to others. At the end of the event, you may find yourself with a whole deck of business cards and possibilities.
In summary: connect by talking about social topics, practice active listening, add value to others, and introduce new connections to your network.
Follow up with new connections as soon as possible
When you return to your office after a networking event, it’s easy to get caught up with all the tasks that you missed during your absence, and to fall back into your usual routine. Set some time aside to follow up with the new connections that you made at the event. If you can, send them an email within 24 hours.
Keep your new collection of business cards organized. I sometimes write a quick note on each one to remind me where I met each person. If you’re more ambitious, enter each new connection into a database. This way, if someone asks you if you know an event photographer, you have a record of people so you can make a recommendation.
As I go through the list of new connections, I also note who I said I would follow up with. Following up on promises is crucial when you have your own businesses. People get a sense of how trustworthy and reliable you are right from the start of your new connection.
If you said you would shoot them an email to set up a meeting time, send that email to mention where you connected and remind them of the purpose for your meeting. If you said you were going to introduce someone to your network, email them to make the introduction.
It’s possible a quick email to refer Pam, who you met at the networking event, to Steven, who you know is great at marketing, will start a series of opportunities. You never know. For example, Steven may thank you by sending you some real estate business from his network. Or Pam might send you useful links to websites that give you some good business leads. The possibilities from a single networking event can be very far reaching.
In summary, follow up with connections as soon as possible, whether it is to set up a time for another meeting, or to introduce to people to each other from your network.
Check that your information is up to date and easily available
New connections will want to know more about you. First, if they met many people at the event, they might not remember details about you right away. Have some key words on your business card that jog their memory. “Realtor.” “I help you with your marketing needs.” “Business consultant.”
If your business card doesn’t have your photo, then make sure your LinkedIn profile has one. They may look you up on LinkedIn to remind them who they were talking with about X business opportunity! Your profile may also have details about skills which interest them, even if it didn’t come up in conversation. For example, a woman I met was looking for someone with publishing experience but we had only talked about marketing. When she saw publishing in my profile, she inquired about it.
Your website is also an excellent source of information about you and your company. This is where a new contact can find testimonials vouching for your great service. It is also where they can subscribe to your blog and continue to get information about your business niche. I was able to strike up a partnership when a new contact suggested posting a referral to his company on my website. The benefit was my clients could enjoy a discount for his services, and he would pay me an amount for the referral. Not the same as an affiliate program, but similar idea.
In summary, your LinkedIn profile and your website are ways to help increase your business. When someone refers leads to you, promote them back by sending business their way. You can also work out a type of partnership that is mutually beneficial.
Pay it forward
The overall idea for successfully increasing your client base is to pay it forward. When you meet someone new at a networking event, or even online through a LinkedIn group, add value to them first. Always add value first. Even if it’s just to compliment them if you can’t think of a way to help out their business.
When you meet someone for the first time, listen intently and show interest in what they do. This will make a favorable initial impression. You want people to see how much you want to help others, and how much other people matter to you.
Think of ways to help people without considering how you can get money back for your time. Entrepreneurs aren’t paid by the hour or by salary. They don’t necessarily get rewarded every two weeks for their hard work with a pay cheque. Sometimes they send out all these good vibes, follow up on leads, and build new bridges… and don’t reap the reward until weeks or months later when a referral turns into a paid project or a lucrative partnership. Sometimes a promising lead turns into nothing.
However, if you focus on paying it forward, if you work on helping others first, eventually, you start to get results!