Networking: The Cost of a Connection

"Networking is a waste of time," said JoAnne, owner of a busy print shop. "Besides, I advertise in the daily paper."

"Wow, that must be expensive," I exclaimed. "Are you getting results from that investment?"

"I sure hope so! My advertising budget is about $475 a month but I've never really tracked the results. I guess I should do that."

"You should." I replied. "A small business can't afford to waste money on ineffective advertising. But back to your comment about networking: why do you think it's a waste of time?"

"I don't know how to connect with people and make a lasting impression," she replied. "Maybe I should give something so people will remember me."

"Not a bad idea. It's the best way to be remembered. Give potential clients something of value and it's easier to make that follow up call."

"But how much value will make an impression?" she asked suspiciously.

"Good question! But let me ask you this: How big of an impression do you want to make?"

"Enough so I can follow up with a call and they'll remember who I am. Once I've made the connection, the rest of the process is easy. It's making that first connection that's difficult."

"If you knew how many people came to your shop as a result of your advertisement, that would give you an idea of what you're now paying for a connection," I suggested.

"What do you mean?" she asked, her interest rising.

"Well, advertising can be effective if you understand how it works. Most business owners don't, but spend their hard earned dollars advertising anyway. It's a well-worn business tradition. But let's say your $475 a month advertising brings you ten new connections a month. You're basically paying $47.50 a connection or, we can call it a lead. How does that make you feel?"

"$47.50 per lead? That's outrageous! Especially since they may not even become a customer."

"Exactly. But if they do become a customer, $47.50 may not be out of line," I replied. "But it gives you an idea of how much you are paying to get a lead. If you could be more accurate on placing that $47.50, you would have more control over the growth of your business."

"But how do I do that?" JoAnne asked glancing at her advertisement.

"My point was to answer your question about how much 'value' should you give to make a connection. First you have to decide how much a connection is worth. People will assess your sincerity on how much value you put into the connection. It's like a handshake. A firm engaging grip says one thing; a wimpy shake says another."

"So give me some examples of how to give something of value from a business that would have impact."

"Discounts for first time buyers are nice," I said, "but everyone does the discount thing. Give something that stands out. A friend of mine gives a copy of his book, nicely packaged in a wooden case, to anyone he wants to do business with. Another business owner gives away CDs with a selection of Celtic music. Then there's the landscaper who brings rose bushes to every networking event he attends and gives them away for free. His cost? $12.95 per bush. He told me that his 'bush give-a-way' was the most effective strategy in growing his business. If you were to do that with your $475 advertising budget, you could give away 36 rose bushes a month. Do you think that would be more rewarding than placing an advertisement?

"You see, every business has to generate new leads. Telemarketing, cold calling, advertising are all shots in the dark ? an expensive way to find the specific customer you're looking for. But in a networking situation, you have control over the audience. First of all, you're only going to attend those events that serve your business needs. Second, you're there in person-the power of one-on-one communication. And third, by offering something of value, you are initiating the relationship. It's a powerful way to build a business."

"Wow! That puts networking into a whole new league," JoAnne replied.

"Yes, networking works if you put something of value into it ... more than just a business card or a handshake. It's a powerful tool once you know how to use it."

Luke Vorstermans owns and manages a successful publishing and communications company and is the Editor of Business Dynamics magazine and content contributor to IR Design.

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