One of the most effective and least expensive ways of attracting new customers is by meeting new people and expanding your sphere of influence. This is usually called “networking.”

Networking comes in many forms. You can expand your networking circle by:

iStock_000037060362   BrianAJackson/iStock
  • Gaining membership in business associations like the local Chambers of Commerce.
  • Joining “networking” groups like BNI, LeTip and many local groups.
  • Being part of social groups, religious organizations and other non-business groups.
  • Just meeting people — sometimes even striking up a conversation with someone while in line at the supermarket or at your child’s soccer game can help your business.

While networking can be one of the most effective and inexpensive methods of marketing, it isn’t easy. There is much more to it than just meeting people and shaking hands.

The problem is that very few people were voted King or Queen of Sociability in high school, and most people think of themselves as being rather shy. If you are going to be an effective networker you’ve got to get over that quickly.

Unless you are naturally at ease in most social situation, and few people are, you have some personal challenges to overcome. Like any new skill, from riding a bicycle to learning a new bookkeeping program, it takes some learning, some thought and some practice to be good at it.

When a stranger asks, “What do you do for a living?” most people are stuck for an answer. Shockingly few people have a good response ready for that question. They mumble something very generic.

I gave a presentation at a local Chamber of Commerce recently. There were 25 people in the room and I asked them to stand and tell the group what they say when asked “What do you do for a living.” Everyone responded with their job title with one exception:

  • “I’m an accountant.”
  • “I’m an insurance agent.”
  • “I’m a real estate broker.”
  • “I’m a financial planner.”
  • “I’m a carpet cleaner.”
  • “I’m a web designer.”

And so on. They were all stuck for an answer.

The one exception said, “I help people care for their elderly relatives with love, care and dignity.” This person could have easily said, “I run an assisted care facility,” but that would have been as generic a response as all the rest.

With that one short, thirteen-word statement, she impressed upon everyone in the room that, if they had an elderly relative who needed more care than they could provide, this woman’s facility was more compassionate than others in the market and their loved ones would get better care there.

Clearly, this woman had thought a little about how she would speak about herself, her job and the company she managed in order to convey to her listeners that she and her company were different and better than the competition.

All the rest took the path of least resistance and didn’t impress anyone at all.

In fact, there were three insurance agents in the room, all working for different companies, and each of them said, “I’m an insurance agent.” So, as a listener, I assumed that, if I was in the market for insurance, there would be no difference between them other than which one had the most convenient location to me.

Now, I know that isn’t true. Each company specializes in a different aspect of insurance; each offers different services; each has different pricing structures; but none of the agents said anything about their specialty, yet they certainly had the opportunity to do so. They are commodities.

But you don’t have to be a commodity!

Every Cleanfax subscriber is unique. You have different specialties. You offer different services. You have different pricing structures. You have different service “packages.” You have different branding.

When you have an opportunity to introduce yourself to a stranger, unless you want to be lumped in with all the rest of your competitors, don’t be stuck for an answer when asked “What do you do for a living?”

Differentiate yourself. Separate yourself from the pack. Create a short statement that illustrates the benefits of what you do instead of the title of what you do.

Practice it over and over and over again until it sounds natural. Practice it when you are waiting for a stop light to turn green. Practice it in the shower. Practice it when you are “on hold” and waiting for someone to come to the telephone. Eventually you will become comfortable saying it. You will be telling askers the benefit of what you do instead of the title of what you do.

If you do it right, they will ask you a follow-up question, and when that happens, you can expand on what you do by telling a “success story.”

But wait, there’s more!

If you send out a newsletter and/ or offer promotions by mail or email, ask these potential customers for their addresses or email addresses, and put them on your list because, even if they are not a good prospect for you right now, they might very well be a good prospect for you in the future.

When they need or want your services at some time in the future, they may not (probably won’t) remember this conversation with you, but if you communicate with them regularly, at some point they will want to purchase from you. These follow-up communications are critical to networking success.

As a matter of fact, as I write, an investment advisor I met at a function two years ago called just to see if my investment goals had changed and whether I would be interested in reviewing my retirement plans. I told him again that I had no plans to change advisors and he politely ended the call with, “if you don’t mind, I’ll call you again in six months or so to see if a conversation might be more appropriate at that time.”

And, who knows, at that time I might want to talk to him.

If you want to grow your business, I know that networking, if you pick appropriate places and occasions, can be one of the best ways to meet people who can be your ideal clients when they are in the market for the services you provide. But you have to intrigue them or engage them enough so they will remember you, and if you follow-up with them to reinforce your conversation, it will cause your phone to ring.

So don’t be stuck for an answer. Have your well-practiced, natural-sounding answer to that “What do you do for a living?” question constantly ready to pull out of your memory at any moment.

You won’t sound like a commodity anymore. You will sound like someone who knows the value they bring and who will do a great job every time.


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