It is one thing having an awesome product or service, but if nobody knows about it, how do you expect to sell it?
This realization usually happens just before business owners start to consider self promotion and exposure opportunities. There are a number of ways to go about getting your name out there, and forming relationships and connections with other businesses is one very important way of going about it.
I have spoken before about the importance of networking. I built my entire business from networking and a referral base, and I think in this day and age, when people prefer to do business with people they can trust, networking is key.
I am a firm believer that networking should be an important part of your marketing and self promotion plan. Networking can be done online, but it’s also important to get out and do some old-fashioned relationship building face-to-face.
It is so tempting to write off networking because you don’t feel you need any more clients right at that moment, or because you think that the people who attend the event in question are not exactly the right clientele for you.
One weekend I was at the National Speakers Convention in Melbourne, and a very inspiring professional speaker by the name of Kirsty Spraggon explained the incubation concept. Due to her background in the real estate industry, she has built a wealth of relationship building skills, and learned a number of key concepts about how it all works.
Something that really stuck with me was what she calls the Incubation Period. The time frame from when you meet someone, and the moment there is a result from that connection, Kirsty mentioned could be anywhere from six months to eighteen months. She calls this the incubation period. During that time, you may have a number of touch points with that person, including emails, phone calls and coffee meetings before there is a tangible result or benefit from the connection.
I would like to add here that the tangible result may not necessarily be in the form of that person becoming a client or purchasing from you. That may never happen, but you just don’t know who they know. Many of my clients have resulted as referrals from other people I have met – they have been friends, relatives, clients of theirs, or acquaintances to whom they passed on my details. The key is to nurture the relationships because you never know the return on them. It may pay off in a way you never expected, at a time when you need it most.
Two years ago, I was at a networking lunch and met a woman who runs a PR and branding company. While she sent me a number of referrals during the following months, it took a year before one materialised into a client for me. And he is still with me today. Not only that, but he then in turn referred me to another client, and an additional two people who are great contacts with whom I have formed a beneficial business association. One of them is Yaro!
Simply meeting someone is not enough. Maintain and nurture the relationship by making an effort to connect with them regularly – either through your blog, newsletter, or a personal email, phone call or coffee meeting. During this time, I have kept in contact with the woman I mentioned earlier with regular emails, Christmas cards and a gift when her baby was born.
And ask yourself what you can do to help them. It’s a two way street, after all.
Another way I built my business when first starting out, that proved entirely beneficial, was forming strategic alliances with other individuals and businesses that either offered a similar service to mine, or had a similar clientele.
Having a public relations businesses, I connected with people who had marketing businesses but didn’t offer services in PR. In some cases they referred clients directly to me for a commission, or I operated as a contractor working under their brand, and they took care of my invoices.
While I still accept referrals graciously, I no longer work under another person’s brand, simply because I don’t need to. Also, I found that it can get a bit messy, unless you are on the same page and have a clear agreement. But I am grateful for that opportunity to build up my business and bring in some income when I was first starting out. And these firms and people were happy to offer a value-add to their clients.
Find a business that operates similarly and in the same field, and offer your product or service to their clients as a value-add. In most cases, you will be expected to pay a commission for the business if it comes straight to you, or alternatively your service will be provided under the brand of the other business.
Other ways you can look at promoting your service or products to their clientele, or generating exposure for it, is by guest blogging or offering guest articles. There are a lot more opportunities depending on the business and your industry – be creative and open to suggestions.
An example of how this can work is when I had a client who wrote and published a book helping first home buyers with practical tips and information. What I did was approach another client of mine – a real estate agency – to bulk order a branded version of the book and offer it as a gift and incentive to her clients. It was a win-win for everyone – the author was able to move a whole load of her books, and the real estate agent could offer something different to her clients that her competitors were not.
Something I have always done that others may consider strange is to form solid relationships and connections with others who can be considered competitors. That is, other individuals with PR and publicity businesses. Why? Because I have received countless referrals from these businesses and individuals of clients they either didn’t have the capacity to service, due to it being outside their area of expertise, or simply because they were too busy at the time.
And I do the same now. If I get approached by a potential client who I can’t offer my services to, I refer them on.
Make sure you build solid relationships with others in your own area. This is important for more than the reason explained above. It keeps you up to date with what your industry is doing, so you can offer something different and make sure you are not charging too little or too much, and you can also stay on top of changing trends and technology. After all, how can you promote a point of difference when you don’t know what the rest of the businesses in your industry are actually doing?
I can’t even begin to give examples of how other PR firms have helped me build my business. There have been so many who have generously provided me referrals of clients they could not take on, or did not specialize in.
I firmly believe that there is enough business for everyone. Be generous in business – share your time, knowledge and contacts and you will reap the benefits. This is what building relationships is about after all. So that we can learn and grow from one another within our business community.