I recently joined a business networking group that meets every week in Lancaster (see our BNI Castle Lancaster group here). This is a pretty big step for me as I’m not really the type to be so outward going but I took the plunge for a few reasons. Everybody needs more business right so that is obviously my first reason for joining but there’s more to it than that. As well as growing my web design and internet marketing business I want to grow more as a professional person in a number of ways. Being part of a networking group of other professionals that meets regularly and with members that actively work to help each other is proving to help me grow on a few levels. So where have I found this new opportunity for growth? It’s my local BNI chapter.
For those of you that don’t know about BNI (which stands for Business Networking International), as you can guess from the name, it is a world-wide organisation which focuses on getting its members more business via quality referrals from other members. Although these referrals can be internal but the aim is to get members external referrals from outside contacts we make. I could of course go on about how BNI works but this is not my intention for writing this post today (you can contact me directly if you want to learn more about BNI or come along as a visitor to our Lancaster chapter, BNI Castle). What I wanted to talk about was how networking face-to-face is impacting my own business where my head is very much engrossed in an online world most of the time.
Do you ever get that feeling…?
I’m sat here in my office at a large desk, listening to some chilled out DnB with three computer monitors and a keyboard staring back at me. It’s actually a very nice summer’s morning outside but I’ll only notice that maybe 2 or 3 times today even though I’m right next to a large window. I’m not in the middle of Lancaster so I don’t have lots of noisy traffic and busy streets outside (sorry if it sounds like I’m bragging). In about two hours’ time I’ll have a quick early lunch and then be getting stuck into a new web design project I’m pretty excited about. Once that happens chances are I won’t notice what time it is until Steve Lamacq comes on BBC Radio 6 Music and then I’ll realise it is already four o’clock in the afternoon. It’s at that time when I’ll shift focus away from the screens and look out of the window to my left bringing myself out of the very tiny world I’ve been living in for 4 hours straight.
Since 2000 I’ve been working in SEO and web design and for most of that time I’ve focussed my own business efforts on its online presence so when I break away from my screens for a moment I briefly return to the real world and remember there is a lot more out there offline I can turn my attention to in my professional life. Do you ever get that feeling that you should be doing more to further your business offline too?
Weekly offline business networking is re-focussing my internet-based business!
The nature of my work means I could actually make a living with just my laptop and an internet connection. I used to live in Taiwan working from my rented home there. It’s pretty hot and humid over there in the summer so naturally I would need to keep cool. I could be on a conference call with a client in the US and members of their team discussing serious plans for various internet marketing campaigns all while sat in pants and a t-shirt and I have done that (obviously we weren’t using webcams otherwise it could have been a little awkward). With the time difference, a call like this might be 11 o’clock at night in Taiwan so you can see how easy it is for someone in my work to spend way too much time online.
Although I’m completely settled back here in the UK (and have been since 2008), it’s very easy for me to just hide behind a computer screen especially given my personality. Before I joined BNI I went to a couple of their meetings in Lancaster so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into when I decided to join. I knew I’d need to be proactive in networking face-to-face instead of via email / Skype / LinkedIn, etc. as well as be prepared to stand up in a room full of other professionals from other types of business and be able to talk confidently about what I do and why they can recommend me to their contacts as a great website designer and marketer. Every week I have to engage in a little public speaking which is difficult for everyone, especially me but being put into situations where I need to communicate what I do and how people benefit from my services has pushed me to really determine what I have to offer potential clients without blinding people with lots of long-winded jargon and this is an important step for me in connecting with people on a more personal level over a cup of tea.
Don’t Be Anonymous – Be More Personal in Your Business
So these days I’m no hiding behind a computer or an email address. I absolutely love meeting potential new and existing clients face to face. Joining a networking group that meets every week without fail is getting me to be a lot more vocal offline about what I do and helping me develop professionally through seeing people who run other businesses and learning from them, getting feedback from them, exchanging business referrals and enjoying the social aspects as well. This experience is helping me learn more about myself and how can help people even more by improving the way I communicate and present myself.
In this online industry, more and more people I speak to really like to be able to speak to someone who can really help them in person. If you call me about the services I offer the first thing I want to do is schedule a time I can call you back without distraction to discuss your needs and then if we are both happy I like to meet you in person if possible. This way you get to know me on a more personal level because trust is important.
There are many other types of service businesses out there that are in similar situations where it is not necessary for the two parties to meet face to face in order to conduct business. If this describes your business then I’d like to encourage you also to make an effort to make a more personal connection with your client if appropriate and you know your clients will value it.