Networking… we’ve all heard people postulate about the importance of it, and honestly, I understand if your eyes start to glaze over right now – not another diatribe on networking!!
But wait… hear me out…
“Why? What’s so different about what you’ve got to say?” I hear you ask.
Well, that’s simple: In my experience of operating my own VA business since 2008, together with my work at VA Institute helping startup Virtual Assistants get set up properly, I am always keenly interested in learning more about what drives success in business (any business – VA or otherwise).
So, when I hear VAs talking about their business growth, I am always asking questions… I dig because I really want to know. It is of profound interest to me to understand the difference between thriving in business and just surviving.
And what stands out as being a definitive and undeniable key to a VA business becoming successful is the operator’s ability to network – online and in-person.
Let me put it another way: those VAs who fail to grasp the importance of good networking, and who fail to implement a networking strategy into their businesses are more often than not unsuccessful in building a thriving VA business.
Let’s unpack this a little bit…
Growth in business requires clients… yes? So, how do you find those potential clients? Well, in my humble experience whether you’re a VA, a lawyer, a plumber, an accountant, an electrician, or whatever… it all comes down to proactively meeting people who could use your services, and / or who could become a great referral source.
People buy from people they know, like and trust.
Read that again and let it sink in… people really DO buy from people they know, like and trust!
So, how do you become known, liked and trusted? Go and find places where you can MEET PEOPLE – preferably places where your ideal client might also be!
Now, this is where business networking groups are very useful – and there are loads and loads of them. They are set up and designed for the purpose of bringing people together to build relationships with each other… that’s right; build relationships… giving others an opportunity to get to know you, maybe even like you, and eventually trust you enough to want to work with you (or refer you on to their friends and colleagues).
One thing to bear in mind – this is a long-term strategy… Attending one networking event will most probably not result in a new client, BUT if you attend regularly and focus on building relationships with those who are part of the group, it WILL reap rewards for you: you will meet other business owners, grow confidence in yourself and your own abilities, be able to contribute to others along the way, and hopefully meet potential clients when the opportunity arises.
I always recommend face-to-face networking if possible. In fact, attending this type of networking is what many VAs attest to as being the start of their business growth.
To find a group that you could attend, start with your local Chamber of Commerce and see what business networking groups they have running. If you can’t find anything on their website, then maybe think about phoning up and asking them. At the very least, they will be able to direct you to another group that might suit your needs.
When you attend face-to-face networking, rather than getting anxious about it, think of it purely as a way to meet people – i.e. don’t go along thinking you’re going to have to work the room and sell your services because you’ll fail miserably. Instead, focus on being generous with your time and advice; be conscious of asking others about themselves (people love talking about themselves); make an effort to meet new people who you can learn from.
Bring your business cards along, and perhaps something with a bit of info about you / your business so you have something to hand out if you find someone who is interested. Don’t collect a million business cards; instead, ask for cards from people who you have chatted with, and who you’d like to keep in touch with, then make sure you follow up – either connect with them on LinkedIn, or perhaps even email them and arrange a coffee catch up if appropriate.
Online networking is also great, but don’t rely solely on it for your networking strategy. Look for places and groups where your ideal client would potentially network online in and join those groups.
We work through Networking in detail in the VA Startup Program. To find out more, visit www.vainstitute.com.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org