Q: I recently started my own business and have a staff of five people. How do I get each of them to buy into networking as a way to grow the business?
A: First, let me congratulate you for even considering this question. Too many entrepreneurs focus on bringing in new business themselves or in tandem with the sales force but overlook their support staff as a source of referrals. Building word-of-mouth for your business is not just the responsibility of your marketing or sales department. As you might imagine, it's far better to engage your entire staff in your word-of-mouth marketing campaign-not only at startup, but also throughout the life of your business.
Here are some tips on how to engage your staff in networking:
1. Include networking in the job description for each and every employee. Often, if a new hire knows upfront that he's expected to incorporate networking into his job, it will happen.
2. Have clear and reasonable expectations. If your company manufactures a very obscure product, your staff might have a hard time bringing in tons of referrals. However, keep in mind that people are more important in the networking process than the type of product being sold. When you have the right person, he or she will be able to build a network around any kind of product or service.
3. Teach your staff how to network effectively for the company. Hold focus groups where you role-play ways to ask for referrals from other customers, friends and family. Bring in local networking experts for in-house trainings. Better yet, send your staff to a networking class, such as the Certified Networker Training , available in most markets.
If you belong to a weekly networking group, bring your staff to those meetings one at a time so each member can see firsthand what networking can produce. This also helps your networking partners feel that they know your business better, since they've been able to meet the people in your company.
The bottom line: Until you teach someone how to do something effectively, expecting them to do it well-or even at all-is unrealistic.
4. Motivate your staff to bring referrals to the company. My wife once worked for a business owner who incorporated monetary bonuses into her word-of-mouth marketing expectations. For every new customer, she was given a bonus. It was a win-win arrangement for the company, as each new customer brought in revenue well above the bonus amount, and my wife felt rewarded each time one of her referrals came through the door.
Having a bonus system in place made it obvious that she would be attending chamber meetings with the boss and developing other connections in the community while passing out business cards and fliers for the company. To properly execute this idea, check with your CPA or tax preparer.
You might even establish a "networker of the month" status for the staff, using a reserved parking spot or an overnight hotel stay somewhere fun as a reward. Make the motivation something that's relevant to your industry and, most of all, exciting to your staff.
5. Be sure your staff sees you practicing your networking skills. Often, we as entrepreneurs don't share with our staff the amount of time and energy we put into building and maintaining our businesses utilizing word-of-mouth marketing. I have always felt very strongly about this point. If I am going to expect my staff to do something, motivate and reward them for doing it, I better let them see me doing it as well. All too often, networking is something done behind the scenes and not necessarily in front of the staff.
One way to change this is to track how much business you brought in, as well as the staff's numbers. Imagine the pride one competitive staff member will have when he or she breaks your number. Imagine the profits your company will realize when everyone in the company focuses on growing the business.
Networking is a group activity. Make sure to get your whole team on board with the process.