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Networking: What's Worked for Us

I know this will probably get lost in the sea of thousands of articles telling you how to be a better networker. But if you're reading this, it's likely that you are at least passingly familiar with The Bookkeeper. We get asked frequently how we grew our business so fast, and networking is certainly a component of that.

When it comes to networking, here is what has worked for us over the last three years.


Know your message.

women presentingA friend in marketing once told me, "Don't tell people how you're better. Tell people how you're different." We expended a lot of energy, early on, in trying to present the image we thought a serious bookkeeping company should have. (I, in particular, in an effort to look older, adopted a uniform of all-black, conservative clothing with my hair in a perpetual bun.) People didn't respond to the image we were putting forth because a) it wasn't genuine and b) they had seen it a thousand times.

Success came when we nailed down who we are, specifically. We're the company who does high-standards bookkeeping, but then also uses the information the books provide to do so much more for our clients. Once people found out that we did things like pricing strategy, forecasting, or even just filing 1099s, they got a lot more excited about our business.

Knowing exactly who we are has also helped us pinpoint who our ideal client is. In networking, it's easy to say, "My ideal referral is anyone!" But that really does not help the people who are trying to send you referrals. Yes, we would love to work with just about any small to mid-sized business. However, our ideal referral is really a potential client who is willing to listen and follow guidance; otherwise, they wouldn't be taking full advantage of our services.

Narrowing the scope of your business, as opposed to using a "shotgun" approach, helps your message penetrate deeper in your audience's mind and leave a lasting impression.


Mix it up.

Every company officer at The Bookkeeper has membership in a seat-specific networking group (i.e. a group where we're the only bookkeeper represented). Some of us are in more than one. And we demonstrate reliability to those groups by honoring the attendance requirements, but we also try to keep our routine fresh. Changing up our 60-second "elevator pitch" (a short spoken commercial about the company) week-to-week helps, as does bringing visitors or sending substitutes when we're absent. If we were to come and make the same speech week after week, the members of our groups would learn nothing new about us. Sometimes, just wording our pitch a little bit differently can spark something in another member's mind to make them realize, "Ah, I have a referral for them."

We've also found it helpful to break outside of our own groups. Visiting other groups, even if they have a member who might be considered "competition", is valuable. Not all bookkeepers work with all types of clients, and we frequently receive referrals from other bookkeeping companies who don't do exactly what we do. Night networking, which is typically more casual, can be beneficial as well. This is particularly good for those who are nervous about public speaking, as there's never a moment when you have to stand up and be the center of attention. And, since many small business owners are still working day jobs while they grow their own business, you get to meet a different set of people.


Follow up!

phone callYes, every bit of networking advice includes this, but only because it is so important. If someone meets 100 new people in an evening, how can you expect them to remember you long-term unless you remind them?

In a networking situation, you're not getting to spend much time with each person. The real work comes after that initial meeting, when you follow up with a 1-to-1. The one-on-one follow-up meeting is where you get to really show the person why you're interested in their business and what you have to offer, to them or referrals.

However, 1-to-1s don't have to be strictly business. It's always good to take a more professional tone with someone you're just getting to know, but it's also great to "touch base" with close referral partners. That can be an office meeting, but it can also be meeting for drinks or going to watch a game.


Come to serve, not to sell.

"Show, don't tell," works as well for networking as it does for storytelling. Someone who spends their entire time networking telling everyone how great their services are is off-putting, and has not yet earned enough trust to make those claims believable. Someone who shows that they are a competent and honest individual, by helping others within the group, commands respect.

One of my favorite things in networking is when I identify someone who would be either a good vendor or customer for one of my clients. Without a word of self-promotion, I'm empowered to benefit two businesses within my networking circle. Though it doesn't result in immediate business for my company, I still consider it a win-win, because it benefits my client, and it helps me to make a good connection with someone who could be a future client or referral partner. By referring them to each other, I am demonstrating my value to both.

Serving others also gives them a great opportunity to return the favor. No one enjoys 1-way relationships; you have to show a willingness to put others' needs before your own, and the right people will honor that by sending business back your way. However, that does not mean you help others only with the intention of getting something in return. Which leads to our final point...


Be real.

handshakeThere is this tendency in new networkers to act like they have everything together, all the time. And while you do need to be professional and not falling apart during a networking meeting, it is also okay to be honest about business challenges you're facing. Keeping a perfect veneer can be very unsettling to the people you meet, and you will find that you form better bonds when you allow people to help you.

No one has it all together, and people recognize that. You will never lose business just because you're human. If you do, it's not business you really want to have.