Networking is important for us as entrepreneurs and business owners, although it’s a skill everyone should master. It is the best and most cost-effective marketing tool. In order to get that tool working for us, we need people who have in-depth knowledge of what we do so they can be our “boots on the ground” in their own networks. Our work as fertility awareness based method (FABM) instructors can be rather hidden at times. After all, many people do not know that our profession, let alone our field, exists until they encounter someone who has learned it and had their life changed by it.
You need just two things to begin networking: courage and time. You don’t need a big or extroverted personality. You don’t need to live in a big city (or small town). You definitely don’t need box tickets or lots of money to spend on fancy steak dinners.
To put it simply, networking is about building relationships of mutual trust and reciprocity.
Consider and select
While there are hundreds of people you could choose to tell about your work as a FABM instructor, I propose that you begin by networking with people you already know: a client who has already sent several people your way, your banker, your hairstylist, your priest, your doula from your birth, your mom’s friend who teaches childbirth education, your friend who is a reporter for the local newspaper, your friend who sells non-toxic beauty products, your doctor, a mental health counselor who attends your church, etc.
It should be someone you are already comfortable with as an acquaintance. Also, it’s important that you select someone who interacts with the demographic that aligns closely with your client avatar. For instance, it would not make much sense for me to network with my banker if he is known for mainly serving seniors who are entering retirement if my target demographic is young engaged couples who are in college or have just graduated.
Choose someone who already knows you and who you enjoy chatting with. Invite your guest to get together with an e-mail or phone call. Offer two or three dates and times along with a possible location. You can include that you could make other times work, but it’s better to propose something than to keep it entirely vague or there will be a lot of back and forth to get a meeting set.
If you know your guest does not have reliable childcare or is currently on maternity leave on the days when you are proposing to meet, consider making it a playdate and bring your kids along, too (if you are a parent). If you know she does not eat gluten, do not meet at a bakery. It’s common sense, but these details can sometimes be overlooked. If she works on a certain side of town, offer to come to her or meet halfway. Since you extended the invitation, do everything in your power to make it possible for her to say yes.
Let your guest talk first. Some great starting questions include: “How did you get into your work?”, “What kind of clients/patients do you see the most?”, “What really gets you excited about your work?”, or “What goals do you have for this upcoming year?”. Sit back and listen well. If your guest feels heard, they will eagerly ask that you share the same things about yourself and your business. If the meeting goes well, find an excuse to meet up again: schedule a time to meet and discuss something further, consider inviting that person to an event you are hosting soon, or to an opportunity for continuing education. Make a point of mentioning how thrilled you would be to find ways to collaborate even if you are not exactly sure what that would look like. It’s like a first date. If you want there to be a second date, make sure you express your enthusiasm for how the time went before you depart. Make sure to bring business cards, brochures, or something visual that she can take away from your time together. Even if you have to print something to give to her, something is better than nothing.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You have my permission to not continue networking with an individual whose mission, philosophy, or ethics are vastly misaligned with your own. I have only had this happen once and it was a good learning experience. Remain cordial and professional and thank the person for her time.
Thank your guest for his/her time
This can be a simple thank you via email, text, or to make it a bit more personal, a handwritten thank you card (make sure to grab their address at your meeting). Follow up on any action items you committed to. Did you mention you would add your guest to your resource list or share one of her posts on social media? Did a particular client come to mind who could benefit from your guest’s business? Make sure you take care of these things within a month of your meeting to build trust and reliability.
Then begins the work of staying in touch with your new contact. That could mean occasionally forwarding relevant articles. It could be sending a Christmas card with a handwritten greeting inside. You could send people their way who need their services, write a review on their Facebook or Google business page because they led a workshop for your clients, or give a $5-10 gift card during a week that’s particularly stressful for your guest. For instance, a gift card to an accountant for a coffee shop or restaurant would be very much appreciated in March or April in the height of tax season.
Expand that to include people you have never met
Once you have had several meetings with people you are comfortable with, I recommend a similar approach with people who are strangers. The main difference is that it can be hard to initially connect with someone who does not know who you are.
This can be helped by figuring out whether you have any connections who know the person. Is this the doctor of a friend? A former client? LinkedIn and Facebook are great platforms for learning if you have mutual connections. Being able to “name drop” is really helpful if you are trying to set up a networking meeting.
In my own work, I now carve out time for two monthly networking meetings: one with someone who I reached out to and one with someone who has reached out to me. These 2-3 hours per month are an invaluable time of growing my network and growing as a professional.
Networking appointments have the potential to lead to great things, including but not limited to: sharing/renting office space, co-leading workshops, guest blogging, webinars, accountability groups/coaching, mentoring, networking group invitations, and most importantly, referrals. None of these were handed to me on a silver plate at the first meeting, but rather, they came along as the relationships grew and were nourished.
If you take networking seriously for one year, I am confident that you will see growth in your business and direction in your work that you could not have previously imagined.
This guest article was written by Liz Escoffery, CFCP. She is a Certified Fertility Care Practitioner, Childbirth Educator, and Organic Conceptions Field Advocate. You can find more about her on her website at www.indyfertilitycare.com