How does business come to you? Is it through ads? Mailers? Word of Mouth? Of the three, it turns out that the last is the most effective, because if a friend or business associate recommends a business to you, you’re getting the message about that business from someone whose opinion you generally trust. So, how do you spread the word?
Along with several other business owners and representatives of various companies around the area, I am a member of a local chapter of BNI–Business Networking International. It is a membership organization designed to help businesses pass referrals to one another. The essence of it is that you are the sole representative of your particular business type. Once you join, no one else who does what you do can join that chapter. Some businesses go a step further and place representatives in multiple chapters (though no single person can be a member of more than one chapter).
BNI takes networking to a whole new level. Unlike many community organizations, you’re the sole representative of your business type. And as a member, you have the opportunity to train a group of people, anywhere from 15 to 50 people strong, on how to sell your products or services for you! For the price of a single newspaper ad in a small to medium publication, you now have a trained sales force who is actively listening for opportunities on your behalf.
Why am I loyal to BNI?
Because without it, SheTech and Company would not be in business, and that’s the simple truth. For the first six months of operation, BNI referrals represented at least 95% percent of our active client files. As our business grew and moved further afield, that percentage decreased; however, BNI referrals still make up well over half of our active business.
SheTech and Company would just be a wistful thought if it were not for this group.
How does it work?
Every week, we have the opportunity to deliver a 60-second commercial–the “elevator pitch”, if you will–about our business, and tell the group what to listen for. A great referral this week, for instance, for SheTech and Company, is a business looking to get a marketing “facelift”; a new or upgraded web site, new promotional materials, new training materials, a new logo, and so on.
In addition to our weekly “elevator pitches”, we each get to deliver a longer presentation on a rotating basis. So every week, one of the members will talk at much greater length and in much greater detail about what the business does, what differentiates it from the competition, and perhaps show results of past work in a portfolio or slide presentation. This is the chance to really train the other members of a chapter on what exactly the business does, and how it can help customers.
Then we get to pass referrals. What that means is that we have all been listening in the days between meetings for opportunities to offer the services of our colleagues; for example, a client of ours recently mentioned that they do not have business insurance yet, so lo and behold, I could hand her a card with the name and contact information for my friend Gary Hitson, who handles personal, business and life/health insurance for the area.
Our own logo and web site, in fact, would be in a much sorrier state if we had not joined forces with designer Dana Rimback (on whose web site we are now working!) to develop a new logo and look for the site.
And teaming up with Dana means that our customers’ sites are highly functional and now much better designed than before we started working with her.
With members of BNI at my back, I have a network of great friends and business associates to whom I can refer business, and know that my clients are being treated well, by people I trust. And likewise, they know that people they send our way will get a great web site and marketing package. And the goodness spreads outward: with the associations we make, we can offer a continually expanding range of services, whereby all of our clients benefit.
It’s all about the power of referrals!