In the first two installments of this series on networking during a pandemic, I told you about tested and true ways that I’ve seen it work over the past nine months. Just like most of our readers, I own a small business and these articles are simply a compilation of what works and what doesn’t.
Networking the way we did a year ago simply isn’t reasonable right now. Depending on where you live, the ability to walk into a group setting, sidle up next to someone and start a conversation doesn’t happen.
In our first article on networking during this pandemic, we talked about becoming more selfless, taking an interested in another person’s business, and letting the relationship grow without rushing to a sales pitch.
In the second article, we gave you real ways that you can grow your network by giving potential customers a reason to reach out to you – rather than the other way around.
In this final article, let’s talk about leveraging your own network, but in a very practical way.
Here’s the problem with advice like this, and it’s EVERYWHERE. Most things you read about networking will give you short tidbits about joining virtual conferences and following up. Or another blog will tell you to simply look for more networking opportunities. Heck, some of them will tell you the exact same thing I did: Use your existing network to grow.
Then you’ll get a few sentences that tell you to make sure to ask your connections for other connections. For once, I’d like to offer some very specific ways to use that existing network of yours to build new connections, which eventually leads to more customers for your business.
Be honest with your current network
This is not easy advice for most small business owners to hear, but I heard a commercial recently that should make us feel better about it. According to the commercial, nearly two-thirds of all small businesses either break even or lose money. The best article I can find says 60% of small businesses fail to make money. Close enough.
If ever there were a time for you to be honest with your current network, including customers, this is precisely that time. The conversation might go something like this, after you’ve made your general greetings:
“Look Jimmy, I want to be honest with you. Business is really tough right now. Is there anything my company can do for you? Do you know of anyone that needs my service? I’m trying to make it, but I really need to find some work soon.”
Yes, that sounds sad and depressing, but during this age of a pandemic, isn’t all pride out the door anyway.
Here’s a suggestion: Contact your 10 best customers and be honest with them. See what they say. Even if they don’t buy from you, I’ll bet they connect you with someone who needs your product or service.
Offer something to anyone who helps
If you want to meet new people, and you can’t attend a networking event, and virtual events aren’t working, maybe it’s time to offer something in return for being led to a few new connections.
No, that does not mean trying some referral program where you offer 10% off your current customer’s bill if they’ll refer a new customer or connection. Those things don’t really work, and most of your solid customers want to help you stay in business anyway. They don’t want to have to find a new one of you.
Instead, try bartering connections, if that makes sense. Tell your connections that you’ll find someone in your group who might make a good customer in return.
Yes, that’s exactly what networking groups are supposed to do, but that doesn’t have to be done under the cold lights of a hot breakfast. It can happen in one-on-one conversations you have with your current network.
The Friends & Family Plan
To borrow from a phone provider, maybe it’s time to give this a real shot, if you haven’t already.
Interestingly, most small business owners want to separate their business and customers from their friends and family. Maybe it’s a pride issue – they want to make a go of it on their own. Or maybe it’s because you just don’t want to intertwine the relationships.
If you’re desperate to build a larger network, and nothing else seems to be working, maybe it’s time to call Cousin Sally. Tell her you’re doing everything you can to keep your business going during this horrible time, and ask her if there’s anyone in her network she’d mind introducing to you.
Again, a lot of this probably goes to our inner-pride, and our desire to make it without the help of family.
For now, those days aren’t here, and if building a network is critical to the continued success of your business, there’s not a question are favor you should be afraid to ask.
If it’s my business, and the options are pride/failure versus humility/success, I’ll take the latter each time. And here’s the best part: Pandemic or not, this is always good advice.
Jonathan McElvy is the CEO of McElvy Partners. His company includes the Greensheet, The Leader, Fort Bend Star, Charlotte Media Group, Coastal Bend Publishing and Texas Printers. He has managed and owned small businesses for 20 years. If your business would like to talk more about your individual needs, click HERE for contact information. You can follow him on Twitter @mcelvy.