The 10 essentials of effective networkingNov 09, 2021
Having worked in sales and marketing for 25 years, phoning on spec, waiting, cold calling, courtesy visiting, running events, canvassing, and influencing people (with over 1 million miles driven unfortunately), I would like to share what I see as the 10 fundamentals of networking.
Marketing your tourism business and building your brand will always require a multi-pronged approach. This approach will involve tactics and strategies that embrace content creation, digital marketing, web presence, working with influencers, PR, directional signage, personal branding, radio interviews, competitions, trade shows, database marketing and excellent customer service to name but a few! What I have found is that being aware of the importance of the various pieces of activity allows us to plan around them and to make time to execute them. I recall sending a marketing plan to a business owner about 5 years ago that had a list of 20 pieces of suggested activity (along with the individual price tags). When I asked the business owner after a day or two, “how much of this will we need to run with?”, his answer was “ All of it, leave nothing to chance.” And we did run with all of it! That said, the most valuable part of the plan was the building of personal relationships that accounted for in excess of 50% of the business in that first 5 years of operation.
No matter how much marketing we do, it is highly advisable to remember that people are a huge part of your branding and business development strategy. People in your network, your community, other business owners, strangers that you meet at a trade show, or even those that we meet in casual situations are all potential customers or are potential sources of referrals. As I reflect on this topic which is close to my heart, I am reminded of a successful operator that I have seen in public for many years. My observation has been that their persona never changes, it is always the same warm host-like behavior which people find magnetic. The reality is that this person worked out years ago that you can never tell where your next source of customers could come from, that you are in the marketplace and networking from the moment you wake in the morning, be it on the phone/zoom or in person!!
1) Always have your networking tools with you
You are always in the market place and even if the person that you meet at a networking event or otherwise might not become the person that becomes a regular customer, they may well become a source of regular referrals. The success of a networking meeting depends on the impression that you create when you meet people, such as “Are you interested in more business?” “Do you welcome personal referrals?” “Do you care enough about the business to welcome new business?” Networking tools include:
a) Your elevator pitch. Could you tell someone that you just met where your business is, what it does, what type of customers you have and the types of referrals that you are looking for? If not, this 1–2-minute pitch is worth developing and practicing.
b) A brochure or business card which will give the potential referee something tangible to remember you by. Should they wish to look at your website or visit your Social Media platforms and create a connection, these details will be important to pass to them. This is especially true if they are meeting several other business owners in the same day.
2) Networking Goals:
Have goals for the people and the numbers of contacts that you want in your network. To be successful in building referrals from your network and the wider community, it is worthwhile having a list of people that you would like to touch base with or to build a collaborative relationship with. Having the list, enables you as a business owner or manager to be ready to meet the people on the list in any situation, as you will have worked out what it is you would say to them. I say this from the experience of wanting to meet 20 business owners in the past years, 5 of whom I approached in car parks! Had I not had them on my radar, I would not have had the confidence to given them my elevator pitch, I had already visualized bumping into then at either an event or in public and was ready when the opportunity came. If you have ever witnessed a great networker in operation, you will realize that this person has already thought about speaking to the individual targets and will have thought about the mutual opportunities in advance. They will say things like “I loved your article in the local paper”, or “I have been admiring your marketing material, its really great!” or “I love what you have done with your premises, it’s so inviting.”
3) Always play the host - treat everyone as your next best customer
Your behavior in public reflects how you are with customers or strategic partners. It goes back to the old saying “We are always on stage”. A networking event or a meeting is a chance to let people see your personality, and to represent your business and your brand in a warm and professional manner. This will give your potential customers or referees the confidence to say, “I would like to visit that business, the owner is a really nice woman”, or “I would gladly send my guests to that restaurant because not only is the food meant to be great, but the owner has a great attitude towards customers and people in general.”
4) Show an interest – listen and ask questions
It is essential to remember that we meet someone in a networking scenario, that we have two ears and one mouth and that they should be used with that ratio in mind!! To impress someone is to be impressed by them and listening to the other business owner/managers elevator pitch is as important as your delivering your pitch to them.
5) Don’t try to close a deal when you meet people
Long term productive relationships take time, and it is essential to give them space to develop. That is why it is essential to remember not to try to close a sale the minute we meet someone! Remember, networking is a chance for you to influence people’s impression of you as a person as well as your business. You would like them to reflect on the encounter and say, I really like that person and I would like to meet them again sometime. The opposite of that is when someone is too pushy in a networking situation and leaves people with the impression that its about “what can you do for me?”
6) Give referrals whenever possible – pay it forward!
An essential element of getting is giving, and if you develop a reputation for referring your guests, customers, and acquaintances onto other businesses than you will receive. “Just tell them that Louise sent you!” Has anybody ever said something like that to you? Try it and believe it or not, it becomes easier. What I found in the accommodation business and from working in tourist information roles is that when you give a referral to someone, and it works out for them, they will feel grateful and will be much more open to getting a reciprocal relationship going. Make the first move!
7) Share peoples posts online, tag them
You can recommend peoples businesses in several ways. Tagging them on your posts, or sharing their content sends a message to them that you associate with them. Sometimes we feel that people don’t notice if we like or share their LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter Posts, amongst the thousands of others that they receive. Believe me, they notice! When you post something yourself, every like and share that you get registers in your mind as a nod of approval from the Liker or Sharer. I am reminded here of the Irish Funeral culture where its not the ones that attend a funeral, but the ones that don’t attend we remember – everything is noticed on social media by those that post, so if you want to get referrals, likes and shares, don’t forget to give them to the people in your network and those that you would like to associate with.
8) Exchange Business Cards and ask for spares
When we ask someone for a business card, it sends a message to them that you are genuine and that you are interested enough to think ahead about sending some business their way or maybe about setting up a meeting in the future. As the old saying goes “The faintest ink is better than the strongest memory”, when you take someone’s business card, the chances of you remembering them are far higher, not to mention the likelihood of you phoning them or sending them a mail. By saying “do you have any spares as I am always being asked about who in the area that provides your service, this way I will be well equipped in the future!!”
9) Road Trip!
Don’t be afraid to wear out some shoe leather and call around to potential network targets. I have always enjoyed cold calling, simply because if I have fifty or sixty people on my radar and decide that there is a message that I would like to give them all in the same week, then I have found that calling out to them all in their own premises can yield great results. This could be an updated brochure, or a new service, or an event that I need them to attend. The call out is one way to cut through the noise of e-mails or Social Media messaging. You might say “what if they are not there?” this is sometimes a challenge for sure, but you will meet over 75 % of the managers and owners that you target, and the rest you can leave a message for - which many times leads to a phone call that otherwise you would not have made.
10) If you meet someone, reach out afterwards with a follow up e-mail or a connection request
Meaningful and prosperous relationships can be built from networking encounters. Sending a nice note or a follow up e-mail is a great way to touch base with someone again and to let them know that you are a serious networker, as opposed to just somebody that pretended to be interested in them at a meet and greet. If you would like to connect with someone that you have met, with a view to developing a referral-based relationship, connecting with them on LinkedIn is also a nice way to get the conversation going and to stay abreast of new developments in their business.
Remember, networking can be both fun and rewarding on a social and professional level. It is better to have thought about your networking strategies well in advance, in order for them to be more effective overall. This is a great time of year to think about your goals for building your network and referral opportunities in the new year. I hope these points help you to do that!
Jarlath is a business coach with an array of experience in networking, customer service and marketing. Check out his course on how to run an effective in-house customer service training session here.
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