As a business owner or manager, do you cringe at the thought of having to “network” to grow your cleaning company? If so, you need to get over it, because networking is the best way to meet people and build relationships, which is the cornerstone of growing a successful cleaning business.
If you feel uncomfortable with the thought of networking, then change the way you think about it. Most of us think that networking is an activity, an event to attend, or "something I need to do” to market the business. Instead, view networking as an attitude or a skill to develop. It is something that can become a part of what you do every day.
To change your attitude, start replacing negative self talk with positive self talk. For example:
“I can start networking easily by calling all my family, friends and colleagues and tell them I’m looking for referrals for my cleaning business.”
“I am confident that the people I meet will offer to spread the word about my cleaning business because people like to assist others who ask for their help.”
When you’re ready to start networking at local events like chamber of commerce meetings or Business Networking International (BNI) lunches, decide what you want to accomplish. Networking isn’t about seeing who collects the most business cards. How many times have you attended an event and then let the pile of cards sit on your desk?
To network more effectively, develop a plan of attack before the event:
Set a goal. Perhaps the goal is to have a conversation with three people before the event is over. Once you’ve reached your goal, if you’re not feeling comfortable, give yourself permission to leave. If you’re enjoying yourself, by all means stay and continue meeting more people.
Be prepared. Have your business cards ready and know your elevator speech — a 30- to 60-second statement of what you do and how you help your customers.
Practice your conversation questions. Role play with a friend or family member. The more you practice, the more confident you’ll feel.
To network effectively, you need to be able to carry on a conversation with people you meet. I can tell you’re cringing again. Not to worry. The key to keeping a conversation going is to ask lots of questions:
• “How did you get involved with (name of group)?”
• “What challenges do you face in your business?”
• “What advice do you have for someone just starting out?”
• “This is my first time attending this group. Can you suggest two or three other people here that I might meet?”
• “Who is a good referral for you?” (Let them know you’re interested in helping them with their business).
Many times when asking, “Who is a good referral for you?” I’ve received surprised looks because attendees rarely meet people interested in helping with their business. Because it’s such a pleasant surprise, they’re happy to introduce me to other people they know at the event. This strategy has reaped rewards for our business because I’ve met more people through these impromptu introductions and the referrals coming back to me have increased substantially.
If you want people to take an interest in your business, then you need to show an interest in their business. People like to talk about themselves, so ask for details: “Can you explain that to me?”; “Can you give me an example?”; “That's very interesting...tell me more!”
Work the Event
Now that you have an idea of how to change your attitude about networking and how to keep the conversations moving, take action.
Be proactive. Instead of waiting for people to approach you, take the initiative and walk up to a stranger who looks like they could use someone to talk to and introduce yourself. Ask about their business. They’ll be relieved someone is taking an interest in their business and will eventually ask about yours.
Listen, listen, listen! Ask questions about the person you’ve just met and then let them talk. The more you let people talk about themselves, the more you learn. Eventually they’ll realize they’ve been doing all the talking and will ask about your business.
Write comments on the back of the cards you receive. Perhaps someone mentioned they might have a referral for you but need to look up the person's contact information at the office. Or maybe you talked about continuing the conversation over coffee. Jot down these notes—this will help you when it comes time to follow up.
Follow up. When you get home, don’t set aside the cards and forget about them. Make a point to follow up with the people you've met within a week. The best way to follow up is with a phone call.
Nurture Your Network
It's not enough to attend the event and follow up with one phone call. Work on your network to keep it fresh:
Start a contact database. Document the people you meet. Enter information into your database soon after meeting someone or attending an event. Make notes about every contact you have with someone, including the date. This will be helpful to you if you need to refer back to a conversation or if it’s been a while since you've connected with them.
Go through your database regularly. Contact at least two people you haven't spoken to in 60 or 90 days. This way they won’t forget you.
Always be prepared by having your business cards with you. When shopping, at the hair salon, and even at your child’s school events. You never know when you might meet someone who could provide you with a referral.
Spend at least two days a month attending networking events.
Invite someone in your network to attend an event with you. Don’t stick together at the event though. Each of you should make new connections and then you can talk and compare notes later.
Read an article. Clip it or print it out and send it to a person in your network that you think might be interested.
Don't let your database get bogged down with old information and contacts. Once a year, go through the database and delete any people you haven’t connected with during the year.
Now that you’re prepared for networking, make it a part of your weekly or monthly schedule. And, if you’re tempted to stop networking for a few months because you’re too busy, think again. You need to continually market your cleaning business even through the busy times. If you suddenly lose a major account and don’t have many people in your networking database to contact, you could be setting yourself up for a big loss in sales and profits.
We recently lost a large contract due to a buyout and the decision to go in-house with the cleaning. Our contact person at the account lost her job during the transition and found a similar position at another company. Her new employer happened to be looking for a cleaning company for their new building. Because of the relationship we had with her, she recommended our company to her new employer and we got the contract.
As you can see, if you continually network and build relationships, you should be able to replace that lost business quickly by making a few calls to people in your network who will be happy to send referrals your way.
Jean Hanson is co-founder of The Janitorial Store. She is also vice president of Minnclean and Brainerd Lakes Cleaning and Supply in central Minnesota. Contact her at (218) 855-1854 or visit www.TheJanitorialStore. com and www.cleaning-Success.com.