You can’t be an island and be successful. Connecting to colleagues and complementary businesses is a big part of success. It is also one of the least costly. Some connections will come with time, such as client referrals but making all your business source just from you is a huge missed opportunity.
The truth of the matter is that people love to talk about professionals, services and products that make them happy and their lives easier. When I joined my local health club I ran into clients and connections that introduced me to dozens of potential clients without me even asking. At this point my membership is more than paid for from referrals.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in an area with little competition or lots. Connections will set you apart, make you a leader in your field and open doors to opportunities you may have never even considered. In the last 5 years of putting effort into networking, I have been invited to speak for multiple town and county organizations, libraries, business groups, non-profits, and more. Networking got me on 5 Boards, Graduate School, and even my current placement in a veterinary office. Every conversation is a door and it can lead to great things.
Never be afraid to talk to people. If you come off weird or the conversation is a dud, try again next time. Work on speaking and conversational skills - yes they exist. Especially talk to people in sales. When my husband did a brief stint as a life insurance salesperson he taught me a lot about building rapport and connecting with people, especially when you have nothing beyond pleasantries between you.
Start today and work on it as often as possible. If you’re not comfortable walking into an establishment and introducing yourself yet, start with email. Contact local professionals that complement your business. Send them a kind and upbeat email about how much you like their business and you’d like to meet with them face to face to see if your business can help theirs. Remember to make it about them! And yes, you need to meet them in person.
Grab a coffee and talk about business. Keep it positive. Talk about how both businesses can benefit from a mutual relationship. If they say anything offputting, let it roll off and consider it later. Do not address it at that meeting. If things end on a positive note and you’re ready to work together, make sure you give them business materials like cards and request some in return. Within 48 hours, write them and thank them for you their time. Mention any additional opportunities or events coming up that they might be interested in being a part of. If the relationship is still good after a week, send them a gift, either food or something thoughtful based on what you learned about them at your meeting. These interacts will solidify your relationship.
Once you have a few email and meet ups under your belt, try walking into establishments and starting the same conversations. If the owner or staff is busy, don’t take it personally. Request an appointment before you leave and follow up with an email thank you later that day. If they are already working with another professional in your industry, don’t be push and don’t try to steal. Give them your information, offer a free service so they can see what you’re about and leave it at that. Do not deface, steal, or move around any materials belonging to your colleagues. That is rude and inconsiderate and makes you look bad in the end.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider your demographics. Look at the ages of your clients, if they have children, their hobbies, vets, etc. See what they have in common. Contact the businesses they frequent. There is a good chance if a few use you, more would too. Don’t get stuck in the pet professional bubble. Reach out to businesses that have nothing to do with you, but your demographic frequents. I get lots of business from local gyms, yoga studios, chiropractors (leash pulling dogs), daycares, libraries, and health food stores. All these businesses fit my demographic and my clients are usually excited to see my materials inside.
A quick word about materials. Don’t put them everywhere. It makes you look desperate. Also people don’t usually look at the bulletin boards at supermarkets, outside restaurants or in town centers. The only people who do are usually from out of town. Also it’s 2017 - do you get a phone book anymore? Skip phone books, business books, or other print ad media unless it is very specific to your customer base. My only exception to this is yearbook ads and community event ad books.
Now for the scariest part - talking to your colleagues and other pet business owners. You need to do it. Any you need to put your best face forward. Be humble. Don’t gloat. No other colleague cares how great you are - yet. They just want to make sure you are not going to try to hurt their business. You have to become their friend before they will trust you enough to bother to know how good you are and that you are a worthwhile contact. Have meals together. Host a gathering or a speaker. Go for a hike together. Once you see that you mesh, refer clients you them. You read that right, give them business. Almost every professional will see this as a mutual connection and return the favor. Now you’re connected. Reap the benefits!
Finally network like a business professional. Join your local Chamber of Commerce, Business Association, BNI and other business networking group. Some cost, some don’t. But what they offer is worth it and more. They will help advertise your business, learn more about your demographics, and open you up to more opportunities. They will teach you how to talk to people, make connections and build your business. Regardless of everyone else you network with, these people want you to succeed.
Find a healthy networking pace. Don’t try to make every connection at once. Some will grow into glorious relationships and life long friendships. Otherwise will fizzle. Some professionals don’t share well - they won’t want you dealing with other professionals in their industry. For some that might be a good deal, but if that sets off alarm bells, go elsewhere. Regardless of your market there is more than enough business to go around. They key is keeping your current clients as long as possible while building a healthy network to bring in and foster new ones. You can do it.