The most effective form of advertising is also the oldest: word-of mouth.
Bright ads and slick brochures don’t compare to an informed recommendation (or warning) from someone trusted and respected by potential customers.
Word-of-mouth can be just as effective when the information comes directly from you. By networking with colleagues, allied businesses and potential customers, people can learn more about who you are and what you do. Networking is also a great way to become more attuned to your customers – their needs, concerns and preferences-giving you a better chance of being in that proverbial “right place” at the right time.
How to network effectively
Networking is no different than attending a social gathering. In fact, it’s better because you already have something in common with nearly everyone you meet. Of course, you should never adopt a “who are you and what can you do for me” attitude. Networking works best when there's no pressure to make a sale. Ask questions and always listen. First impressions are important, but they also can be enhanced or changed over time.
Look for networking opportunities through these organizations:
Nearly every type of business has a national association that represents their members’ interests. Most have local chapters with regular meetings and activities. Along with providing a great source of contacts, professional societies offer volunteer opportunities where you can demonstrate your initiative, cooperative spirit, and leadership qualities.
Customers’ professional societies
If you really want to know what your customers are thinking, get involved in organizations that represent their interests. Do some research before you sign up, however. Some groups may have restrictions on membership, while others may have fees that exceed your expected returns. On the other hand, many groups may encourage businesses such as yours to advertise in their publications or participate in special programs.
Chambers of commerce and business roundtables
These groups offer valuable exposure within a particular community or region. While other members may not be in your target market, they can provide valuable leads and referrals (there’s that word-of-mouth advertising again!). Many also provide opportunities for small businesses to “show their stuff” via trade fairs, demonstrations, and media features.
Community service organizations
This is a great way to combine a personal interest with your business. Many groups may have a need for your type of service, giving the opportunity to do pro bono work in return for free visibility. What’s more, your fellow volunteers may also be potential customers.
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