A comprehensive business plan considers numerous factors, including analyses of your products/services, markets, competitors, sales strategies, financials and much more. Its purpose can vary. For example, you might create a business plan to seek funding from a lender or from venture capitalists. Or, you might simply create a plan for yourself as a roadmap for your business. After all, if you want to arrive at a particular destination, it’s usually best to chart a course first and plan how you are going to get there.
A business growth plan, however, is going to be laser-focused on how to capture market share, i.e., get more of your ideal clients (or customers) in the door as quickly and consistently as possible, and serve them in the most efficient, profitable and satisfactory way. Its purpose is to help you grow your business, increase revenue, and, ultimately, increase profitability for the shareholders of the business.
The cornerstone of any small businesses’ business growth plan is its network. Essentially, the more people who are aware of the business and the services the business provides, the better the odds of capturing more market share (getting more clients). Whether the business is just you right now, or you and a few other people, it is still about meeting the right people at the right time to help you grow the business. Those people can be your best referrers, ideal clients, reliable vendors, collaboration partners, or mentors, coaches and advisors. In the end, it’s a numbers game.
That said, not everyone you meet will be helpful to you in your efforts to grow your business. The issue is: you can’t know who will and who won’t be a key person in your life and the life of your business until you meet them. If that’s the case, how then can you possibly create an effective “networking” strategy?
Quite simply, we start by getting clear on exactly whom we serve, how we serve them in a way that is unique, where exactly they (and people who refer people like them) hang out (online and offline), and what we want to say to them when we get in front of them to further the relationship (create intrigue). Lastly, we create a system for following up in a way that adds value and deepens the relationship.
So, let’s break each element down and go a bit deeper:
- Whom we serve. Make a list of the types of people you would like to meet. This could include reliable vendors, collaboration partners, mentors, best referrers, as well as (of course) ideal clients. Once you have your lists, create really detailed demographic and psychographic profiles of each. (Pro Tip: Imagine your phone rings today and it is the one person you would be so thrilled to hear from that it would make your whole month, or even year, that when you hung up the phone you would be doing your happy dance. That’s who we are talking about here. Now, describe that person: How old are they? Gender? Married? Children? Profession? Education level? Title? Position? Community involvement? Hobbies? Board service? How do they make their buying decisions? Who influences them? Think of all the information we need to know to know where they hang out. We want to be able to know what they are thinking before they know it.)
- How we serve them in a unique way. This is where we get crystal clear on how we serve our ideal clients. The clearer we are on how, exactly we serve our clients, the better able we will be able to communicate it to others once we are in front of them. The key, here, is to consider what sets us apart from competitors who provide a similar service. What is our unique sales proposition (USP)? How do we provide our service in a unique way? How do we solve their “wake up at 3:00 a.m. problem?” Be ready to answer this question with total ease. But only when asked.
they hang out. Now that we know who our ideal clients (and others we want
to meet) are, and we are crystal clear on how to communicate our USP, we are
ready to find out and go where they hang out. This is networking. Networking can occur online or offline. It can
occur at traditional business networking events like Chamber meetings, Bar
association luncheons, and tradeshows and conferences. But business networking also
can occur on soccer field sidelines at your children’s soccer games, or girls’
nights out, neighborhood gatherings, or in local coffeehouses. It also can
occur in Facebook groups, through private Messenger chats, and on Zoom video
calls, just to name a few virtual options. So many people get it in their heads
that “networking” means putting on a suit and going to a formal “networking” event.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in today’s hectic world, more
and more people are appreciating virtual networking options. For example,
LinkedIn allows us to very specifically target our ideal clients or best referrers
and initiate a relationship with them. (Pro
Tip: The biggest mistake people make in attempting to networking on
LinkedIn is moving too fast. They want to jump straight from “Hello” to
marriage with complete strangers. If you wouldn’t act that way with someone in
person, don’t act that way with them in the virtual world. It’s that simple,
really.) Make a list of all the places the people you’d like to meet are likely
to hang out—whether that’s online or offline. This could include:
- Professional organizations they belong to (Maybe you could join, too. Perhaps you could be a presenter.)
- Books they read (maybe you could write one)
- Magazines they read (ad opportunities and article opportunities for you)
- Videos they watch (If they are likely to watch a lot of video content, you need to be on Facebook Live and creating your own YouTube channel)
- Social media in which they are likely to engage (Instagram? Facebook? LinkedIn? Different demographics will show up in difference places and at different times. You’ll want to be where they are when they are with content they are most likely to engage.)
- Tradeshows, conferences, events (You’ll want to be there, too. Possibly as a vendor or sponsor. Maybe as a speaker.)
- Places of employment (Could you be a guest speaker or presenter?)
- Community organizations (Could you be a speaker or presenter? Could you join?
- Social clubs
- Church or religious organizations
- Children’s school activities, organizations
- What to say to create intrigue. Networking is about building relationships, not making sales. It’s a bit like dating. The purpose is to create intrigue, to get people interested in getting to know more about you and your business. It’s not about being obnoxious and hitting them over the head with your service offerings until they want to run screaming in the other direction when they see you coming. One of the best ways to create intrigue is the focus on the other person by asking them questions about themselves and their business. Ask. Ask. Ask. And then listen. Listen. Listen. In the beginning, it’s best to shower them with attention and leave them realizing that they know very little about you. Why? Because now they’ll be curious to know more.
- Create a
follow-up system that adds value, deepens relationship. The magic is in the
follow-up. Alas, follow-up often fails unless there is a system in place to
ensure that it gets done, especially when you are on a mission to meet as many
people as possible to increase your odds of meeting the right people. Good
tools, like a CRM (client relationship management system), thank you notes,
virtual coffees, virtual calendaring systems and the like, can help. However,
the first step in creating any system is to sit down and map out exactly what
you want your follow-up process to accomplish, and the steps to get you there. Do
the same thing, the same way, each and every time, with each person, and your
system will serve you well, and likely yield the best (and measurable) results.
Following up is about deepening the relationship with certain people. There are some people you meet you might never care to see again (again, it’s just like dating in that way). However, there are some people you meet that you’ll want to get to know better because you think you might be able to have a good business relationship of some kind—either as vendor partners or collaborators, as servicer/client, or as referral partners, or as mentor/mentee. After the initial meeting, you’ll want to reach out to these people shortly after and suggest a follow-up conversation. How you go about this depends on 1) how you met them, 2) their status in relation to yours, 3) geographic location, 4) time constraints, 5) each of your goals and objectives, and 6) other considerations.
Not everyone you meet will want to engage in a business relationship with you, and you likely will feel the same way. In fact, over time, only a small percentage of people will have a major impact on your business. If we apply the Pareto principle, only 20 percent of the people we meet will be directly responsible for 80 percent of our firm’s growth. However, you increase your odds of success when you take a strategic approach to growing your business network.