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You may have heard about this important little facet to growing a business…networking. Well this week I’m giving you 4 tips to improve your networking efforts.

While you can spend all kinds of time and money working up and running advertisements all over town, a crucial part of your marketing efforts should be focused on building a network with local business owners. Word of mouth is still one of the best forms of advertising you can get, and having another business recommend you can speak volumes to your ideal clients. But for a lot of therapists I’ve spoken to, they think that means just joining their local chamber of commerce, maybe attending a networking event here and there, or maybe even joining a BNI type group. You attend an event, talk to a few people, maybe get up and give a talk about what you do and hope for the best. But networking needs to be a far more strategic part of your marketing plan than that. So let’s look at 4 ways to improve your networking efforts.

#1: FOCUS ON QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

A big mistake a lot of business owners make is that they just start throwing out cards to anyone that will take one and talking about what they do to anyone that will listen. But is that really the most effective use of your time? If you instead focus on the quality of those connections, the real potential for that relationship based on what they do and who they connect with, would you be handing out that many cards? Would you be wrapping yourself up in that many conversations, trying to bring up what you do, when you’re not even sure this person is really worth connecting with. The problem arises in that so many therapists get focused on just getting that next one client. So let’s say you’re at this great networking event, and you think well this person has been rubbing their neck and looks tense. I’ll strike up a conversation with them and surely they’ll come in and try me out, and then they’ll refer all kinds of people. And while that may happen, it’s a far better use of your time to specifically find the people who work with your ideal clients. What if that person owns a gym and the only people they’re ever going to refer to you are gym rats, and you hate working with athletes…you prefer prenatal work? Not a good connection to make. They may love you and send all kinds of people your way, but if it doesn’t fit your business mission and the focus of your brand, then it only serves to take you away from your ultimate goals and lead you down the path of resentment and burnout….not exactly a good use of your time and effort. What about instead, finding the boutique owner that sells maternity clothes in her shop, or the OBGYN who just moved to town, or the yoga instructor who holds prenatal yoga classes once a week? So anytime you are attending a networking event, or see the potential to make a networking connection throughout your day, take a minute to sit back and evaluate the real potential of the quality of that networking relationship. Do they fit your ideal client, and/or do they cater to your ideal clients? Get particular about who you’re spending your time trying to network with. It’s also important to remember that your reputation will be tied to this person and their business, so choose wisely. It’s good to be picky here. That pickiness will pay off because your network will be 100% fitted to you and your ideal clients.

#2: MAKE A REAL CONNECTION

On this note of quality professional relationships in your networking, it’s important that you make a real connection with these people, not just handing them a card or maybe even having a 2-minute conversation where you spill your guts about what you do. It’s just as important that you know what they do, who they serve, and how you can make the most of this professional relationship. One of the easiest ways to do that is to ask questions. I’m not saying you can’t tell them what you do, by any means, give them the quick elevator pitch, but then you need to start digging into what they do. Ask questions and see who they serve, what challenges they have, things like that. How can you be of benefit to them? How can you help them serve their customers better? How can you help them provide something unique or otherwise reach their audience based on what they’re telling you? And how can they do the same with you and your audience? When you do exchange business cards with these people that are quality connections, be sure and write out just a couple little details on their card so you’ll remember them later and can move forward with that connection.

#3: MAKE IT MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL

One of the traps that many therapists fall into when they try to make a networking connection, is to forget this part. They’re so focused on getting those referrals, impressing this person so they’ll send clients your way, but what is that person going to get out of this relationship? What can you offer that benefits them and their business? Is it help with their own personal aches and pains? Is it that you volunteer to go in once a month and offer chair massage or some other service to their customers? Can you send people their way for further healthcare or a more holistic approach if that’s the type of business they’re in? In what ways will they benefit from this networking relationship? And this isn’t just about referring people back and forth…but let’s say you’re connecting with a physical therapy establishment that contains a gym. What if you became a member of that gym and you regularly tag them on your business social media accounts…or maybe one of the PTs tapes your shoulder before a workout or shows you how to properly do an exercise to accommodate an injury. Can you grab your phone and do a quick live video on your business’ social media page with them where they are explaining the benefits of xyz and you are talking about how much better it feels and how great they take care of their members. Tag them and you’re putting your business in front of their audience, and they get some free advertising in front of your audience. It’s a win-win.

#4: HASH OUT THE DETAILS

You can’t just have that great conversation and then leave it there. There needs to be some sort of follow-up or at some point, the details need to be hashed out. So whether this is in that initial conversation or a follow-up call or coffee chat, be sure to show your value and explain what they can expect from you and what you should expect from them. It’s not like you’re working out a contract with them or anything, but this idea of being shy about these connections, like “here’s my card” and then you just leave it…well that oftentimes doesn’t really pan out, does it? They’re not naïve, you’re both trying to network. You’re both trying to improve your business and grow your network and referral sources, so why wouldn’t you just be upfront about it and say like “You know I’ve been wanting to join a gym. I’ll come down this week and sign up. Maybe I can tag you guys on my business page so you can get in front of my audience too. And if you ever want to do a video together for social media or something down the road, that would be great. I think both of our audiences would benefit from that and we both get a bigger reach.” This is the kind of stuff that you want to talk about, not some vague b.s. of “it was great meeting you. Hope to connect with you again soon”. That doesn’t get you anywhere. Work out at least some basic expectations for both parties.

Alright, so what do you think? Are you going to change up how you network now? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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