I’ve always felt that success should be based on hard work, ingenuity and ability. I came from a working class background and earned the right to go to university and haven’t looked back since. In my corporate days I saw quite a few examples of people getting on because of who they knew and not what they knew or did. There’s a saying – “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. Frankly, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Now I’m a business owner and I’m finding a new twist on that old saying – and it’s a good twist.
You see, I’m what I would describe as a “connected business owner”. That doesn’t mean I tap in to some “old boys’ network” to get preferential treatment in winning contracts or anything like that. No, it means I’m connected to my clients, to my suppliers, to the communities I operate in and to my peers. Connecting is at the core of my business strategy. It’s not just what I know, it’s also who I know.
Why connections are important for you
Client connections – Without a sale there is no client. And the easiest sale is the one that solves a client’s problem or takes away an immediate pain. But if you don’t understand the problem or the pain, how can you take it away. If you connect with your clients and get to know them you will understand their problems, their pains, their desires. Then you will be better placed to serve them and meet their needs.
Connecting and understanding makes the selling easy and makes for happy clients. Happy clients are really important because they tell their friends and connections. They offer up referrals and recommendations of your products and services. They also tend to be repeat buyers – after all, why would they go elsewhere?
Supplier connections – Many business start out as one-man bands. But as you grow and become successful, that success will be limited by your ability to handle everything. What’s more, you’re probably not best skilled to do everything. Yes, you can save a few pounds by doing your own bookkeeping, but is that the best way to be spending your time? Couldn’t you use those hours more productively finding or servicing more clients. If new clients are worth less than the cost of a bookkeeper, you’re in the wrong business and you should take up bookkeeping.
So you need to develop a network of trusted suppliers. People to whom you can hand off all the things that stop you developing and growing your business. That doesn’t have to mean racking up huge overheads with maintenance and support contracts. It means getting to know the right people that can provide the support you need, at a price you can afford, when you need it. Where do you find such suppliers? That’s from the next group of connections.
Network connections – As a business owner, your network of other business owners is critical to you. But it can go wrong if you don’t have the right attitude and approach:
The wrong networking: It can be a lonely life running a business, especially in the early days on your own. Sat in your home office with a laptop and a phone it’s easy to become detached and disheartened. So you go to network meetings. Many business owners hate networking and only do it because they know or have been told they should. They hook up with similar minded people and networking becomes an excuse for a chat and a coffee. No real business is done. No productive connections made.
The right networking: Smart business owners remember the Jim Rohn quote “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. So they make sure they spend their networking time with other smart business owners. People they can learn from. Such groups attract good suppliers (who are business owners themselves) because the suppliers know they will have a ready market of smart business owners that want to outsource all the tasks that distract them from growing and developing their businesses.
These networking groups are also about encouragement and accountability. I was at the 100th meeting celebration of one such group recently. One of the long standing members said a few words about why he liked the group. He started his marketing business on his own in an office with an old laptop and a phone. When he first joined the group he told them of the bold plans he was committed to and the group encouraged him and regularly asked how he was getting on. That encouragement and accountability drove him to succeed. Less than two years on he employs eight people and has a six figure turnover.
How to keep connected
Unless you only need a small number of clients and suppliers and have a small close-knit group of network connections, it just isn’t possible to stay in touch with everyone face to face all the time – you’d never get any business done if you tried. So how does the smart business owner stay connected? They use all the modern media capabilities at their disposal.
- Regular e-mail contacts with clients and prospects. Delivering value through blog posts, videos and podcasts
- Direct mail flyers and newsletters – old fashioned but still hugely effective
- Regular tweets and Facebook posts of similar content
- Instagram and Pinterest posts of images
- Regular posts and updates on LinkedIn – the hidden jewel in the networking crown
Why LinkedIn should be at the core of your connection strategy
If you are in a B2B business – selling to other businesses – then LinkedIn should be at the core of your connection strategy. Even if you are B2C, it should be at the heart of connecting to suppliers and your business network. Why? Because LinkedIn is the professional social media site. Over half the world’s professional have a LinkedIn profile – some 380m worldwide and 18+m in the UK alone. If you have a LinkedIn profile, the chances are that most of the people you need to connect to – clients, suppliers and other entrepreneurs – will have one too.
With LinkedIn’s fantastic search capabilities, those connections are easy to find. And if your profile sings the praises of you and your business, and your existing clients echo that through recommendations on the site, the opportunities for you to connect and engage with more ideal clients are unlimited, provided you do it in the right way.
If you want your LinkedIn profile to sing your praises and start connecting with your ideal prospects in the right way, sign up for my next online LinkedIn bootcamp. Click the link for more details.