Should You Start Networking?
I’m convinced there are two main ways to grow your photography business. Online marketing and in person networking. Online marketing is a perfect fit for photographers because of the value of good visuals online. Networking takes time and commitment, however, if you want to grow your business locally, meeting prospects and referral partners in person is powerful.
I’ve built a few companies using the combination of digital marketing and networking. Both types of marketing provide my companies the biggest sources of quality leads.
There is more than one type of in person marketing. The two main types are causal networking and referral networking. Casual networking is a mixer at the chamber of commerce or a Network Afterwork event. Referral networking is more organized such as a BNI (Business Network International). Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Below is a video about my thoughts on BNI.
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Is BNI worth it? Link: https://youtu.be/xiL9MOar1j4
My Networking Experience
I was a member of BNI for 14 years. I’ve watched referral relationships build companies to new levels through this organization. I’ve also seen people get absolutely nothing out of it. Referral groups have become more popular over time. There are many spin-offs. My local chamber of commerce as a referral networking group, yours may too. However, if you don’t work the system, it will do nothing for you.
In my old group, we had a chapter leader who would regularly proclaim during the social time, it’s called networking not netsitting. What he was saying is the people who are sitting at their seats and not making an effort to actively build relationships are wasting their time (and money).
If you are not very good at connecting with people, networking may not be right for you. However, practice does help. I’ve met most of my business partners through networking, both casual and referral networking have produced excellent relationships. These connections alone have grossed well into the six-figures for my income.
The advantage of referral networking is you have set group of people who you educate to find opportunities and referrals for you. Each week, bi-weekly or monthly you share information which earns trust in you, your product or services. Each member commits to looking for referrals to bring to the table each session. The better you are at educating your team, the more referrals you are likely to receive.
BNI vs. other referral groups. Yes, I am a fan of BNI. There are many who are not. The reasons for dislike I often hear are the restrictions, structure, requirements and rigid rules. People don’t like being required to attend at 7 a.m. every week. Disgruntled individuals sometimes create spin-offs which promote their opposition to BNI, with a less rigid structure.
Many of these groups fail, because they don’t have the structure. If you commit to a group of people as a referral team, you really need to get to know each other. Once a month doesn’t do the trick. When it’s your turn do present and educate your team about your product or service, it’s not a rewarding experience if only half the group shows up on your week. Commitments are important.
BNI evolves and educates their chapter members and leaders. Recently, I visited a chapter after a six-year absence. The group meets not far from my studio. It’s a strong chapter and the referrals were flying. I noticed the core consistency of BNI and some improvements since I left. It looks like I will invest in BNI again.
I’m not anti other groups. There are a few good referral groups around my area. Honestly, it’s as much about the leadership and people who join the individual chapters as it is the organization behind it. If you don’t like one referral group, try another.
Often, the best referral groups for you have people related to your industry. For example, a photographer might look for members who target brides, such as a DJ, flower shop, and event planner. I recommend at least 3-4 people in a chapter who you know can trade referrals. The rest of the members are gravy.
Practice Make Referrals
Another advantage of a regular referral group is the networking practice. Each week you practice your pitch or elevator speech. You can practice tag-lines and product offerings. After you share your information, you can follow-up and receive feedback. This practice helps you improve your causal networking activities too. You know what hooks and engages people.
What is your experience with referral marketing and causal networking?