Growing your new franchise through effective networking

It is a fact that new franchisee owners who do not network are missing out on tapping into a rich stream of new contacts and business that can make them more successful, profitable and help them to understand their customers and the marketplace better, while testing their message and its effectiveness. The other fact is that many people who do network make mistakes, which can cost them winning new business. Below are seven mistakes, which by avoiding can help you maximise your franchise through your networking activities.

1. Prejudging People
You cannot afford to prejudge people; you simply do not know who they know or who they can connect you and your business to. I have had some of my best referrals from people who I initially thought could not help me. We've all heard the saying 'never judge a book buy its cover', but many of us do, so give people time and your attention. It is also worth mentioning on the flipside that all that 'all that glitters is not gold', be open-minded and do not jump to conclusions.

2. Not Following Up
People go out there get the contacts, business cards and introductions but fail to follow up, or when they do they are trying to sell. Top referral achievers know how to follow up and they follow up on all contacts and keep in regular contact. The people you meet at business networking forums are there as equals, they do not want to be sold to and they definitely do not want to be treated as prospects. They may become customers or clients in time, however, and that is fine, but your objective is to find out about them and build rapport with the view to becoming an advocate of their business. It is also worth remembering that in business, as in the sporting arena, top performers develop skill and success through persistence and a focus on continuous improvement. Please understand that networking is a marketing tool and not just an event that you go to. I would implore you to follow up, do not hesitate, do not even allow that little voice in your head to put you off - JUST DO IT.

3. No Clear Objective
You want quality business, right? So your objective should be to build relationships on the following three criteria: know, like and trust.

  • Getting to know your contact first is vital. A good way to get the conversation going is to ask open-ended questions in which the person cannot easily answer yes or no. For example, 'how did you get into this business?' and 'What type of businesses are you looking to be referred to?'
  • Like is all about building rapport and getting on well. Many business referral clubs have an annual membership investment fee of £500 to £600, which is great. However, too many people undervalue the unique opportunity that this investment can give them and their business. You should be looking to get a return of 40 to 50 times your investment and then some.
  • Mutual beneficial business relationships must be built on trust as we are talking about your reputation there must be no hidden agendas.

4. Not Listening
Your ability to listen is one of the most important skills to have and it will give you the edge if you can learn, develop and cultivate it. This is not about just hearing what is said, it is about understanding and taking in what people really mean. Real listening will require your complete focus and attention. What are people really looking to achieve? What do people think is important about their business, job, personal ambition, and family, what is important to them? Usually people do not listen because they are too busy focusing on what they want to say next in a conversation. Remember practice and write down key areas of importance so the next time you speak or follow up you can ask them about their interests. You have two choices: you can be an interesting person or you can be an interested person, you decide!

5. Talking about what you do
Talk in terms of what benefits you deliver to your clients, suppliers, customers and contacts. Talk enthusiastically and be specific, do not go into detail at a first meeting at a networking event. Try to get over; 'What is unique about you?' 'Why do you do what you do?' and 'How do you deliver more value than others in your sector?' Please do not fall into the trap of saying that it is your service or the quality of your product that differentiates you, this is far too common and generic, explain how and explain why, and explain any guarantees. Also let people know who you want to be referred to specifically, never say anybody or everybody as you will usually get referred to nobody, because this is not specific enough.

6. Short Term Thinking
Do not be a hunter or a deal chaser; to get the best results from your networking activities you need to take a long-term approach. You cannot afford to have an attitude of 'what's in it for me?' or 'what can I get out of this?', you must replace this with the mantra 'how can I help you?' or 'how can I serve?'. Effective people take a farming approach to networking, they focus on cultivating relationships for a mutual long-term benefit and they definitely do not chase deals or instant sales. You may attend a networking forum and do business initially, that's great. However, this should not be your primary objective, as referral's work best if you develop a know, like and trust strategy mentioned above. When you get a referral you want to know that it is the type of business you want and that you are going to get paid for your product or service. So to protect yourself, follow these three simple steps:

  • Get to know your networking colleagues; know what they do, know what they like and do not like, know what they stand for and what they are about.
  • Get to like them, get them to like you and build a relationship while developing rapport.
  • Build trust and make sure they are reliable and test their reliability on little things first.

I cannot stress how important it is to know, like and trust your networking colleagues, because you cannot afford to introduce the wrong person, solution or company to your valuable network, clients, contacts or customers. Also, more importantly, you cannot expect others to put you in front or introduce you and your company to their valuable contacts if you cannot perform and successfully deliver on your promises. People who you recommend represent you so do not cut corners.

7. Letting Fear Get The Better Of You
So you feel nervous and apprehensive about going up to a complete stranger and introducing yourself, this makes you normal. We were all taught as children not to talk to strangers and as a child this strategy was given to you to protect you. In certain situations or circumstances today this may be advisable, however, in most cases it definitely does not apply now. In business talking to complete strangers is a way to generate interest and contacts for your products and services. If you only talk to people you already know and deal with, you will miss out on opportunities to make new connections. Set a target for yourself before you attend any networking event. Decide how many new contacts you want to make or how many strangers you want to meet. Above all make it fun, turn it into a game and take yourself out of your comfort zone and I promise you that with practice, determination and action you will look back and think what was I worried about, you will also find it to be one of the best business decisions you've ever made.

So what next? Well that is up to you, but I would encourage you to find a professional business networking organisation, which can help you become more successful and improve those skills. I firmly believe making networking part of your marketing activity will be one of the best business decisions you can make.

Text: John B Fisher, Founder of Business for Breakfast