When my sister came out to help me at the bridal expo a couple of weekends ago, she asked (while helping to staple business cards to the back of the coupons I was going to distribute) what I was doing to market my business. Other than the expo and this blog, I was actually still feeling my way around the issue and looking into several possibilities — and relying on word-of-mouth through friends and family, which of course is only feasible for a limited amount of time. I knew I had to branch out and start considering new ways of generating interest in order to get my name out there and get work, but it was definitely slow going.
That’s when she asked if I had ever considered, or looked into joining, a networking group. To be honest, I hadn’t really heard of any such thing, but it was certainly something that made sense for me; because of my introverted personality, it’s hard for me to put myself out there, or speak to new people and promote myself. A networking group would help me to break the ice, as it were, and help me promote my business through the possibility of referrals and business partnerships.
Funnily enough, one of the vendors at the expo came up to my booth during one of the lulls in traffic and asked if I had ever considered, or were part of, a networking group. Kismet anyone? When I told her that I wasn’t part of any group, but was considering it, she said her group was having a visitors day that coming Tuesday, so I took down the info and, come Tuesday, showed up to see what it was all about.
The group, it turns out, is part of the worldwide networking group known as BNI, and from what I could tell, it’s a very dedicated group of business owners who are eager to help one another grow each others businesses through quality referrals and business relationships. There were about twenty or so other visitors that day, but the members themselves felt very friendly, welcoming and fun. Of the members I was able to meet, I got along with them quite well and could see myself building a quality relationship with them, both personally and professionally. They went over all of what was required of the group, and BNI as a whole, and gave us all an application.
In my mind, there wasn’t any other choice but to fill out the application and give it a go. Because of how it all went down, and because I did feel quite comfortable with this particular group, it was an obvious decision. The membership dues, though possibly on the lower end of other networking groups, did seem a bit high for me at this moment in time, but in consideration, I could spend the same amount of advertising materials that might generate a few impressions, and not necessarily quality at that. At least this way, I know that any business I acquire through the group is going to be, at least for the most part, quality referrals that will generate repeat business (if I do a good job, that is).
It just felt right. Part of the application was an interview with one of the members, as well as some recommendations from a couple of people I’ve worked with (which, from what I was told, were killer recommendations, so thank you very much for that — you know who you are!). With that taken care of, I was officially inducted as a member this morning. And because each individual chamber only allows one professional in a certain category, I am now the only graphic designer (and for the time being, writer, videographer and web designer) that the group will refer to those who are seeking a graphic designer.
It’s not like I have to make referrals, either. Not that I won’t, but if for whatever reason it doesn’t ever come up in regular conversation, it doesn’t come up. But when it does, I can tell whomever is looking for said specialist, “Hey, I know a guy,” and have that ability to refer them to someone I can trust to get the job done. And if it turns out that the person I refer does a poor job, or I simply can’t refer them for whatever the reason (because I don’t find them reliable, or they might ruin my own standards of integrity), then I don’t have to refer them. Other than that, as long as I show up to the meetings and show that I’m trying my best to help everyone else build their businesses, then I’ll get the same in return from everyone else. You get out of it what you put into it, as anything else in life.
Potential for quality referrals aside, though, the thing I might be looking forward to the most is the chance to build my skills in networking, marketing, and promotion, which is one of my biggest weaknesses. To be able to learn those skills (while not having to spend thousands for courses and/or schooling) will be a valuable asset for me, inside and outside of the group. Also, the opportunity to develop new friendships and strong working relationships will be essential to helping me grow as an individual and as a business, and I am defintiely looking forward to getting to know everyone in the group over the next couple of months.
“You have to be outgoing and sociable right now,” says my sister. Well, it’s time I give it a shot. I mean, if I get a half a dozen good, quality clients this year as a direct result of this group, it’ll be absolutely worth it. I just need to make sure I return the favor… in time.