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How to get more visibility through networking
Copyright ? 2006
The most effective form of advertising is also the oldest:
word-of-mouth. Bright ads and slick brochures don’t compare
to an informed recommendation (or warning!) from someone
trusted and respected by potential customers.
Word-of-mouth can be just as effective when the information
comes directly from you. By networking with colleagues,
allied businesses, and potential customers, people can
learn more about who you are and what you do. Networking is
also a great way to become more attuned to the issues that
affect your customers-their needs, concerns, and
preferences-giving you a better chance of being in that
proverbial “right place” at the right time.
Networking is no different than attending a social
gathering. In fact, it’s better because you already have
something in common with nearly everyone you meet. Of
course, you should never adopt a “who are you and what can
you do for me” attitude. Networking works best when
there’s no pressure to make a sale. Ask questions and
always listen. First impressions are important, but they
also can be enhanced or changed over time.
To begin building your business network, consider the
Professional societies. Nearly every type of business has a
national association that represents their members’
interests; most have local chapters with regular meetings
and activities. Along with providing a great source of
contacts, professional societies offer volunteer
opportunities where you can demonstrate your initiative,
cooperative spirit, and leadership qualities.
Customers’ professional societies. If you really want to
know what your customers are thinking, get involved in
organizations that represent their interests. Do some
research before you sign up, however. Some groups may have
restrictions on membership, while others may have fees
that exceed your expected returns. On the other hand, many
groups may encourage businesses such as yours to advertise
in their publications or participate in special programs.
Chambers of Commerce/Business Roundtables. These groups
offer valuable exposure within a particular community or
region. While other members may not be in your target
market, they can provide valuable leads and referrals
(there’s that word-of-mouth advertising again!). Many also
provide opportunities for small businesses to “show their
stuff” via trade fairs, demonstrations, and media features.
Community service organizations. This is a great way to
combine a personal interest with your business. Many
groups may have a need for your type of service, giving the
opportunity to do pro bono work in return for free
visibility. What’s more, your fellow volunteers may also
be potential customers.