Taking the time to personally interact with our customers, vendors, employees, competitors and community can pay big dividends.
Consider how you can incorporate some of these networking concepts into your daily life. Then, keep a close watch on how the people around you react to your new proactive approach. Soon you will gain a reputation as the Go-To Person in your company.
Here are some very practical ways to become the Go-To Person:
Networking in your own company:
· Learn to sit down at your employees’ desks or in the company lunchroom and just talk with them. Find out how things are with their families. Ask about the value of the training and tools they are getting. The key here is being sincere. They will know if you are faking it, so wait until you are in a mood to really listen and then really listen.
· Observe how your employees look, sound and act. Dramatic changes in their attitudes, manner of dress, punctuality or weight gain/loss can be clues to important life changes that you should be aware of. Personnel problems only get worse when they go unnoticed or unaddressed.
· Walk around the building at least once a month and use the office machines yourself. See if the copier really works or still messes up every other page. Find out if the new headphones sound fuzzy or if the old chair mats need replacing. Just because things are good in your office doesn’t mean they are good everywhere else.
· Find ways to do favors for your managers and employees. They will often tell you about things they need if you just ask them. When you do, don’t make a big deal of it. It is much better for them to owe YOU a favor than to gain any extra approval from their co-workers. Just go about doing good quietly – the word will get out on its own.
Networking in your industry:
· Schedule a weekly 2-minute update call to at least 10 of your customers/vendors. Share one or two valuable pieces of information that you have learned that can help them in their business. It can be from a magazine article you’ve read or from a meeting you attended. The point is to stay in touch with helpful information.
· Go to trade shows with a plan. Stop by every competitor’s booth to say hello. Be prepared to share at least two pieces of industry information that will help them without hurting you. The point is to come prepared so that you don’t: a) sound uninformed or b) sound like a hopeless gossip. Remember, this is business.
· Find a professional group that you really enjoy spending time with. Don’t settle for just attending meetings. Find a role that is fulfilling and then volunteer for it. This is the perfect platform to allow you to call competitors and industry insiders who would not normally expect to interact with you. Now you are in a position to be in the know when things change that will affect your company.
· Position your company for industry recognitions. Most trade groups have annual awards for outstanding member performance. Nothing tells your customers that you are a great company like a “Distributor of the Year Award” or “Customer Service Award” from your peer companies. This type of recognition can be leveraged into thousands of dollars’ worth of free publicity.
· Get to know the folks who know what is going on in your industry. Most of the time these will be the “Old Heads” that have been around since dirt. Your approach to them should be tempered with high amounts of respect and deference. Each will have their own personality quirks (just like we do), but don’t let that put you off. Work at trying to understand where they are coming from and eventually each will share the insights that put them at the top of the heap in your industry.
· Remember to say Thank You. Every time anyone in your industry does something nice for you, be sure to send them a written thank you note. In an era of emails, voice mails, and text messages, nothing says “I really appreciate your help” like a hand-written note. Make it kind, thoughtful and personal. Over time, folks in your industry will start to tell each other about how enjoyable you are to deal with.
Networking in your community:
· Reach out into the community to other business, church, and city leaders who need help with their projects. People like doing business with folks who understand that they and their company are a part of the community and have an obligation to give back. Again, less is more in this regard. Don’t exalt your own activities – leave that to others. You will be surprised at how many folks are watching.
· Teach your children the value of doing favors for others. Entrepreneurs come from all walks of life, but a larger percentage come from entrepreneurial families. Second and third generation business owners who are raised with “giving back” as a high value, tend to add great value to the community.
· Find community projects to get your company and your people plugged into. But, do these things for the right reasons – to help your friends and neighbors, not just to popularize your company. Trust that people are smart enough to know who the good people are when it comes to companies that really care. Over time, your market share and profits will reflect how they appreciate your efforts.
In our businesses, just like in the military, it is up to us to be the Go-To People if we want our company, industry and community to improve. It is important that we always remember that our employees, customers, vendors and neighbors are in this great adventure with us. Together, by looking out for each other, we can build an environment that serves everyone and teaches the right things to the generations following after us.