For contractors, finding time to tear ourselves away from our businesses can feel like an impossible undertaking. Chances are, you’re already networking and don’t even realize it. Networking is crucial to ensuring business growth.
• Networking Groups — Marketing or networking groups, like BNI (Business Networking International) have existed for decades and focus their efforts on increasing your revenue dollars through networking. Typically, they limit the number of individuals who are allowed to join in each industry. For example, a plumber should be the only plumber in the group. While the potential to meet prospective customers can be high, these groups require you adhere to a very stringent system. You are required to provide a certain number of referrals to other members of the group, per month. This can be a large time investment. Also, these groups charge dues or membership fees. If you do not have the time to invest in the group, you would be better served not investing your money in this avenue.
• Other Contractors — We meet other contractors at contractor organization meetings, continuing education classes and parts houses. A sense of camaraderie unites and binds us. It may seem “against the rules” to “engage with the competition.” But, it’s actually good business sense. Our plumbing company, Mr. Plumber, services 95% residential customers and 5% commercial. We do not undertake any new construction, remodeling or industrial jobs. Often times, our repeat customers will contact us to perform those types of jobs. We have a referral system in place to refer these jobs to a company we know and trust. They, in turn, refer any residential calls to us.
• Your Customers — Doctors, lawyers, insurance agents, realtors, teachers — our customers come from all avenues and walks of life. Use their services! This will bind the relationship and create a unique synergy of shared services.
• Social Media — Social media is about engagement. It doesn’t do a company any good to have a page with thousands of “likes” or “followers” if their posts are not engaging. Facebook, twitter, linked in, Instagram. These platforms are a must for a contracting business. You don’t have to be the one to manage these sites. However, you should put at least one employee in place to manage this campaign and ensure you are getting the engagement you need to make this process worthwhile. Existing and potential customers want to see reviews, pictures of staff and pithy posts about your industry. This humanizes the business and allows the customer to feel like they’re not inviting a stranger into their home. Brand yourself as the expert Contractor in your particular field. Aim towards achieving “shares” and “comments” — challenge your customers to engage.
These tips are not the only ways to network. Think outside of the box. Talk to everyone! Make sure everyone you interact with on a daily basis has your business card. They won’t want to have to contact you, but they will be glad they have your card when they do need you.
Allie Perez is director of operations, Mr. Plumber / Mr. AC, San Antonio (http://www.mrplumbersa.com). Her interesting viewpoints on the trades can be found on her blog at http://www.mrplumbersa.com/blog. She also is founder of Texas Women in the Trades (TWIT). Visit texaswomenintrades.com.
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