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Build Your Brand through Face-to-Face and Online Networking

Networking – face-to-face and online – is essential for not only building awareness of and trust in your brand, but also in you as a small business owner. According to a survey referenced on the Business Networking by Dr. Ivan Misner blog, professionals who said they spend a little over six hours a week networking gained nearly 47 percent of their business via networking activities and referrals. Wow!

The not-so-secret benefits of what networking can do for you:

• Raise awareness of your business and what you do.

• Build credibility.

• Let people get to know the face behind your brand. (Remember, people do business with people.)

• Extend your reach and can lead to referrals. (Expand the possibility of you knowing someone who knows someone who can use your services.)

Combining face-to-face and online networking optimizes business development efforts.
Your involvement in networking in person and your online networking support and reinforce each other. When your contacts cross over from one realm to the other, you build multidimensional relationships. That gives you more options for interacting – and it makes it easier to stay top of mind with prospective clients and existing customers.

Networking opportunities to consider as a small business owner:

Face-to-face networking groups
Availability of networking groups can vary depending on where you live and your specific industry. Here are a few types of networking groups to consider:

• Chambers of commerce
• Industry and trade associations
• Small local networking groups
• Community service organizations (like Rotary clubs, Lions Club, etc.)

Online networking opportunities

As you know, there’s no shortage of social media networks available to businesses. Which networks will give you the most return on your investments of time and effort depends on a number of factors, including your type of business. Most likely, you’re already using one or more of these platforms:

• LinkedIn (the one network we encourage every professional to consider)

• Facebook

• Twitter

• Pinterest

• Google Plus

• Instagram

• SnapChat

• YouTube

• Vine

• Foursquare

When networking inperson or online, you’ll want to get the most from the time and energy you spend. Here are a few tips for making the most of your networking efforts:

Think of networking as a process, not as an event.
Networking is about building relationships. You can’t do that by attending one or two meetings or mixers. Only through consistency of involvement will you reap the rewards that networking offers. This is true of both face-to-face and online networking.

Cross-connect when possible.
Whenever possible, connect with face-to-face networking connections via social media. Vice versa, if you have an opportunity to have coffee with a social media contact, take it! Cross-connecting will give you more opportunities to stay top of mind with contacts.

Choose platforms and organizations carefully.
Research which will provide the most opportunities for you to interact with your target market. Also, consider how much time you have available for networking and when you’re available to network. Not all online social networks demand the same amount of time and attention. Some networking groups require substantial time commitment and attendance at meetings. Before joining, find out if they hold their functions primarily during the work day or in the evenings. Which work best with your schedule?

Also, find out how much of a financial investment you’ll need to make. Some networking organizations require membership fees which then enable you to attend certain events “for free” as a member, but you might also have to pay for some events and activities. Make sure a group is within your budget so you can actively participate.

Be genuine – and genuinely interested.
People can detect a fake. Be real; be you when networking. Also, make your interactions about them not you in the beginning. Make it a point to ask questions and show an interest in other people before you jump in to share about yourself. It builds goodwill and makes a great first impression.

Follow up.
After meeting face to face, connect on social media (particularly LinkedIn) or send a friendly email. By doing so, you can build on that one-time meeting and open the door to communicating on an ongoing basis.

While successful networking comes easier to some business owners than others, it’s rare – if not impossible – to build a brand without it as part of a business’s strategy. If you’re not sure which networking groups, platforms, and activities might work best for your business, reach out to a SCORE mentor for guidance. We’re here to help!

Evaluate Your Competition

You are ready to launch your business in a growing niche market. Out of the blue a friend sends you a link to a similar new product or service.  After your initial shock, head over and evaluate the competition. Move into discovery mode and look under the hood of the competitor’s engine.  That knowledge may add a creative spark to your thinking.  Or it serves to confirm that you’re bringing an authentic solution for a customer want or need at precisely the right time.

Take a short drive  and see what makes them tick.  Scope out their website and metatags.  Appraise how they tell their story. Are they solving the pain point in a novel way?  If you compete in a new market segment with low barriers to entry, understand the incremental features and benefits promised.  How does that compare to the “must have” features you learned in your customer discovery?  Tap into their social networks and get a feel for their buzz.

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Build Brand Evangelists

You launched your business and sales are starting to ignite.  It’s time to discover your brand evangelists.  These are your customer champions!  Motivated users who are passionate about your product or service.  Initiate these 5 steps to capture their memorable user experience:

Reach out to 2 new customers each day. Pick up the phone and make that call. Start by thanking them for their business. Show some love, because customer shelled out hard earned money to buy your product.  Ask what they liked best about your product.  Before customers buy from you they have to KNOW you.  Followed by LIKE and finally TRUST.  If you have fostered trust,  you have made a sale. Discover what led them to your product.

Gather meaningful feedback.  Identify precisely how your product has improved their life in big or small ways. Did you save them time, money, or provide a new experience that was a WOW? Tease those pearls of information from their lips to your ears.  How did they find you?  That is a critical insight to understand. If someone else spread the word you now have another person to call and thank.

Ask for any improvements.  This may seem like a risk, but maybe there is a tweak or two or three that you may have not considered important when you launched.  That  feedback is critical as you improve your product or service further down the line.  Passionate customers usually have a lot to share.  Start by asking what would make it better.  Listen, learn and adapt.

Ask for a testimonial.  When a customer is genuinely excited about your product, it is time to spread the word.  A word of mouth recommendation is the single best marketing gift you can receive.  Recommendations lead to customer engagement, which reinforces the positive image of your business.  More new leads, more new customers, and more referrals.  All because you published trusted testimonials on your website, and/or on your blog.  Social proof delivers the credibility,  and starts the KNOW, LIKE, TRUST cycle all over again.

Offer a small token of appreciation.  Thank your customer for their time and their endorsement. Offer up a small measure of happiness, a coupon towards a discount on a future purchase for example.  It’s not the monetary value, it’s the thought that counts.

Continue to engage with your evangelists.  That’s a how small business wins in a socially connected universe.