Networking: It’s A Mistake For Small Businesses To Overlook This Marketing Tool

It’s been said, “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” This phrase applies especially to those who want to master the art of brown-nosing as they climb up the corporate ladder in a large, multi-billion dollar company.

But this article isn’t for those people. This article is for the entrepreneurs and small business owners out there who are wondering:

a.) “How can I get the word out about my company?”

b) “Where can I get more leads and sales?”

c.) “Where can I meet other like-minded business owners and employees to learn and exchange ideas?

There are many ways to market a business. The obvious one is direct marketing such as newspaper ads, flyers, brochures, TV commercials, and radio spots. All of these are great when done correctly. But first, you have to decide which medium is right for you, and then you have to design or pay someone to develop your message. Once that’s done, you sit and wait for a response. Direct marketing works, but it has to be done correctly to get a good return on investment. You probably won’t get it right on the first try and fine-tuning your strategy is the only way to go about get profitable results.

Networking as a Marketing Tool

There is another way to market your business with a lot of extra benefits that you just can’t get with direct marketing. It’s called Networking. Most small business owners and new business owners either don’t do it, or don’t do it enough. Those who are doing it know that it works. There are many ways to network and this article will go into detail on many of them. And no, we’re not talking about “networking” with the stranger at the gas station and telling him all about your business.

My business, a graphic and web design studio, was only a few months old when I realized it was time to start meeting new leads face to face. Yes, I was initially keeping busy as I exhausted the “friends, family and their referrals” resource, but I knew that my business needed something else if I was going to be in it for the long haul. I started with one networking event which I dreaded going to because I did not like meeting new people. I’m great around people when I know them, but I had a hard time talking to complete strangers, especially business professionals.

The first event was a Chamber of Commerce lunch. From then on, my desire to meet other business owners hit the ceiling. I was shy at first, but you just have to throw yourself in with the sharks, so to speak. I quickly got over my fear of talking to new people as well as my fear of public speaking. If you love talking to new people, than you can just skip the whole “getting used to it” step. Some small business owners are very good at running their business, but contact with other people may not be their strong point. That is why you either have to force yourself to network, or have another, more gregarious person in the business do it for you.
Networking is great because there are a lot of things happening at once. You are meeting driven people like yourself. You are talking about your business and learning about other small businesses. You are exchanging ideas that will benefit everybody in the group. Eventually, once people know and trust you, you will start getting leads and sales.

You have to put in the work and time to get results from networking. Networking is about developing relationships and that doesn’t always happen on the first try. There is a lot of commerce going on in our capitalistic society, so when you are producing a high ticket item like a custom website, home remodeling or financial services, people will be much more inclined to buy from you if they trust you. The same principal applies to pretty much anything you are selling. Once people learn that you are a legitimate business owner, then they will have no problem buying from you or referring someone who will.

OK, enough about networking in theory. Let’s explore some groups, organizations, and other ways to actually network.

Open Networking Groups

Chamber of Commerce – Almost every city has one. Some are invaluable while others can be a complete bummer. It really depends on where you are and who is running the organization. Our local chamber of commerce has been great for kick starting my networking bug. Although I met other people in my industry that may be competition, I have actually formed alliances and a referral system for exchanging business with them. In addition, you’re meeting a ton of people in other industries that you can learn from. There are some common factors that apply to all businesses, so its beneficial for you to learn how other people are running their business so you can borrow or innovate upon their ideas.

Just search Google for “Your city: chamber of commerce.”

Small Business Alliances – I know my town has one and it’s incredibly beneficial because they focus on the growth side of running a business. They help with all the questions a small business owner could have like: What do I need to know about my lease, do I want a 401K plan for employees, or who can help me find a good insurance? Anything in regards to the growing pains of a small business! Try this site and see if there’s a local chapter http://amiba.net/. Keep in mind, there are a bunch of other small business alliances that don’t have to do with American Independent Business Alliance. My SBA is actually a local one that is not associated with the AMIBA.

Meetup.com – Yes, there’s actually a site out there that networks people and brings them together in real life. I have yet to go Meetup.com event, but that’s only because I found out about the site a few weeks ago. It looks very promising. The “Meet-ups” are usually free, and if they cost money then it is usually going to pay for food, drinks, and the space.

Meetup.com has every kind of group imaginable, from single mother meet-ups to Dungeons & Dragons meet-ups. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the golden nuggets that relate directly to small businesses, entrepreneurs, or even your industry. The good thing about Meetup.com is that you can start your own group if they don’t have what you’re looking for!

Rotary Clubs – We are not part of a Rotary club yet, but it is a well established business networking organization that helps out the community. Being part of a Rotary can add extra credibility to your business. From their site: “Rotary is the world’s oldest service club organization. It’s made up of more than 32,000 Rotary clubs in nearly 170 countries. The members of these autonomous clubs are called Rotarians, and they form a global network of 1.2 million business and professional leaders, all volunteering their time and talents to serve their communities and the world. Individual Rotary clubs, in turn, belong to the global association Rotary International”

Leads Groups – These groups have one goal in mind: networking. Some are national and others have one chapter. Some are open and others are closed. You have to look hard to find these groups, but they can be some of the best resources out there.

Search Google for “Leads Groups: Your City”

Closed Groups
LeTip – This is a networking group that only allows one company from each industry, hence the closed group title. The exclusivity of closed groups is great if you can get in with a good group that has every intention of getting bigger. That means you will have all of the members acting as your salespeople, which is far more cost-effective than hiring a sales team of 20+ individuals.

This group has a greater sense of trust among the members than say a “Chamber of Commerce,” because you are with them every week and you get to know each member and their business individually. There are a ton of chapters throughout the US so check it out at http://www.letip.com

BNI – Very similar to LeTip. One company per industry. Both BNI and LeTip have training programs that help you learn how to market yourself to other people quickly and effectively. The one catch is that closed groups usually do not let you be a part of other closed groups, so you have to pick one you like and stick with it. Loyalty is important. If you have more than one person in your company, divide yourselves among the different closed groups. Visit http://www.bni.com for more information.

Networking is essential for small business growth.

I’m sure I missed a lot of groups in the list because I don’t know what they all are. Some heavy searching on the internet or communication with other business owners can yield some great results for your area.

I’m fairly new to the networking game. I can’t imagine what it will be like a year or two down the road but I promise you it will be exciting. There is no other way to grow a business like small business networking because you’re going to be face to face with like-minded people. They are either going to be your clients, allies, or in some cases both.

One thing is for sure though: if you stick with these like-minded individuals in the groups and organizations mentioned above, your business will grow faster than you could have imagined. If you’re sick of spending money on direct marketing or if you just sit around on your butt wondering why your business is not growing, get out there and meet new people. The worst case scenario is that you’ll make a friend and get a free meal.

Internet Marketing For Small Business Tips – Choosing A Domain Name For Your Lead Generation Website

If you want to create an internet marketing for small business strategy for your local business you will need to have a website set up. This website needs to be a lead generation website in order to be effective as a marketing tool.

So what do we mean by lead generation website? To be an effective marketing tool for your local business the website that you have set up should be search engine optimized, and have the ability to capture the names and email addresses of those who visit it.

The first step towards an effective lead generation website is to choose a domain name for it. This is the name of your website and it also determines the address where it may be found on the internet. When you choose a domain name remember to include the main keywords that your target market will type into the search engines to find you.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate more clearly what I mean. We will assume you have a local business, called Anderson Plumbing Services in the town of Membury. You certainly would not want your domain name to be the name of your business because not many people would find your site this way. You want to use the keywords which a prospective customer might type into Google to find your services, and incorporate them into a domain name. So a better example for your domain name might be memburyplumbing.com.

So now that you understand that it is important to include keywords in your domain name, where can you find out what keywords people are using when they are looking for information on local business services? Fortunately there are many tools that can help you find these words. One of these is the Google Keyword Tool. If you type the phrase “Google keyword tool” into your search bar you will find it is the first result to come up.

Type into the search box some words that you think people might be searching for such as “Membury plumbing” and the tool will bring up a list of many others related to this one. You will also see some columns which tell you how many times a phrase is searched and what the competition is like for that phrase. Ideally you will want a keyword phrase that gets enough searches but for which there is not too much competition. Once you have a few domain name ideas written down you need to select a domain name registrar to see if the name you have chosen is available and register it. The domain name registrar that I use is Godaddy. Do not take any notice of all the upsells that this registrar will try and sell you. Just register the name you have chosen. It is a good idea to register your domain name for as long as you can; five years is best. The search engines are able to pick up these details and tend to take more notice of a domain name that has been registered for longer.

Now that you have a domain name that has keywords in it you will be stand a better chance at achieving an effective lead generation website as people will be able to find it more easily.

Small Business Websites – Why A Small Business Website Does Not Produce Results

When a small business decides to take their business online there are usually several mistakes that they do. This is partially due to lack of experience and often lack of knowledge. There seems to be a trend that small businesses think of their website as an online business card instead of a marketing tool. That is where the majority of them go wrong. So let’s take a look at some of the most common mistakes done when a small business takes their business online.

1. Order of links

So many times you visit a small business website and they proudly flag the “about us” link as their first link. This is called the pride link because they often think that telling people about the company is the most important thing. The links should be in order of importance. Not in the order of the business owners EGO! If you use a website designer and he does consult you on the order of links, chances are you should be using someone else or at least make sure you educate yourself about online marketing because your website designer sure hasn’t!

2. No focus

Most small business websites lack focus. When you enter you are not sure where to go next which makes it hard for the user to understand exactly what he is supposed to do. The website should flow and the user should be able to make sense of the site within a few seconds of opening it up.

3. No sale / No lead setup

Many small businesses do not use their website to increase sales directly or capture leads. It is nothing more than an online brochure or business card. Sometimes the information is more confusing than it is helpful. If you competitors site is easier to navigate and captures either the sale or lead, you just lost a client. A small business websites needs to be even more on top of catching leads than a corporate website because every client lost counts more!

4. No analytics

Most small business websites have no clue what people do when they enter their site. No clue what users are really looking at and where they are losing their potential sale or lead. If customers just walked in and out of their place of work eyebrows would be raised and something would be done. Shouldn’t the same thought process apply to the site? You need to know what is going on with your small business website and what users are doing.

5. No marketing purpose

This is the biggest “Whammy” of them all. Small business websites tend to fail seeing the potential of using the website as a complete marketing tool. The fundamental reason to take a business online would be to do marketing. The lack of marketing vision explains the mistakes from above. If just this single piece was in place when a small business builds their website, many of the other things would be solved because they would educate themselves about what it means to have a marketing tool!

6. No results!

This is no surprise considering everything above. If there is no purpose, no focus, no vision and no marketing thought behind the site then there are probably no results from the site either. What is even worse is that most small business websites do not even measure results or understand how to measure results from their site. Once again it is a lack of understanding more than anything!

So what can a small business do when they are ready to take their business online and setup their small business website? The most important thing is to educate themselves in a few areas. The most important ones being, what you need to consider before building or having someone build your website. How to use the website as a marketing tool and it would be extremely beneficial to you if you at least had some understanding of what SEO is and how it works. What is the difference between a website designer, website developer and an online marketing company? All of them do different things and have a different understanding of how to use the internet; the question is what purpose is your website supposed to serve? For most it should be a marketing tool, because the internet is the most effective marketing tool available!