Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about the benefits of networking, wonderful tool that it is. At the centre of networking, we’re all seeking referrals. I have spent 17 years networking in a structured way and have built a business around it. It has helped us secure the right kind of clients in that business over this time and I have learned a lot about how networking works; the benefits to all involved and the inherent risks that accompany it.
When seeking referrals, we must be very specific about who our target is. We must not only convey who we do want to meet but also those we don’t. This is not elitist, it is simply ensuring that you are introduced to the people who will be the best fit for you and your business. What do you want these people to deliver to you? Is it the everyday bread and butter of your business, or are you looking for your premium customer or client who is in interested in the best that you have to offer? Also, will these clients be long term or short term ones? You must know the answers to these questions before you go into any meeting (or one to one) so that you can convey it clearly to your network. This saves everybody time. If you have an idea of who in your network has this kind of contacts, it allows you to be even more focussed in your networking efforts.
Receiving a referral from a trusted member of your network group is a significant endorsement of you and your business and should be relished as such. Remember, if you have been referred it took a lot of trust and confidence on the part of the referrer to make that judgement about you. It says I see the value in what you do, I like the way you work and I can trust this person to you.
Receiving a referral marks you out as an authority in your field.
However, things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes mistakes can be made and the situation takes a turn for the worse. When you’re working in this world of referrals, you are dealing with personal reputations, good names that have been built up over years. These are at risk when you make a referral and when it goes horribly wrong people change their mind about you; whether you had a hand in the problem or not. You are the one who recommended the referral and so, you can be held responsible for the mess. All the work that you put in to nurture that relationship can be undone in one short misstep by your network partner.
The old adage applies, when you do something good for someone they will tell two or three people, but when you do something wrong, they’ll tell ten. If those ten people happen to be members of your network, it’ll be as though you’ve got the plague! No-one will come near you and you will have a huge hill to climb to recover your position.
When a network partner lets you down by not delivering the service that you believed they would, or when the person in receipt of service reneges on payment, the situation needs to be dealt with by you swiftly and forcefully. You have worked very hard to win your good reputation and should not allow it to be trashed by anyone. Dealing with the matter swiftly is your only option. Doing so shows the injured party that you acted in good faith and did not foresee the difficulties that have arisen. This can go some way towards repairing your relationship. Speaking to the person who has let you down gives them an opportunity to understand just how much value you put in your network contacts. Sometimes not everyone appreciates how important a situation is in our eyes. Having this conversation may also allow for reconciliation to occur, if not now, at some point in the future.
Sometimes the decision to make a referral or not can come down to that gut feeling you have about another person. Do you trust them, really trust them? If something inside tells you that it’s a bit risky, then by all means, do not pass on the referral. Just because there is an opportunity to make a referral does not always mean that you should. It is ok to step back now and again to evaluate the situation, remember when you make a referral there are three people involved, if it goes well then everybody wins – but if it goes wrong, two people, one of whom will be you could end up hurt and damaged by an error in judgement.
Business relationships are built on trust and confidence, two things we do not want to lose. Networking is about more than just securing yourself new business, it is about creating a community of trusted individuals who can support each other through the highs and lows of running a business. Make building good relationships your primary aim in networking and you won’t go too far wrong.