A common theme discussed in the business world is the importance of networking. The importance of networking is not lost on me, but it isn’t something I actively think about on a daily basis. It isn’t something I actively think about because it seems instinctual to me to do! I am not an avid Twitter user, I don’t actively pursue work or put money in to advertising nor do I go to any local networking groups, but I am constantly networking in one way or another.
I thought this post would be interesting to write as I think back about the way I accquired most of my clients. Going over them in my head makes me realize the importance of networking, even when I didn’t realize I was doing it.
The Importance of Networking for the Long Term
Networking can be a wide variety of things including:
- Providing great customer service that can create referrals
- Creating relationships with your clients and staying in touch even when it isn’t revenue related
- Reaching out to influencers to open lines of communication
- Communicating with theme/plugin developers with positive and negative feedback and thoughts
- Sharing, Tweeting and Liking articles and posts of like-minded individuals
- Returning emails and inquiries quickly and professionally
- Following-up with past clients to ensure they are happy and check on their progress
I know many people won’t find all of these to be networking in a classical sense, but each and every one of these has helped me grow my client base. I consider many of these to be in the “networking for the long term” area. Sometimes I won’t see a return or referral for months or years from the people I network with and sometimes there will be no return at all. Regardless of that I believe it is important to continue to grow and cultivate relationships, avoid burning bridges and keep the lines of communication open with current, past and prospective clients and colleagues. You never know where your next project will come from.
Examples of Referral Sources
I thought it would be interesting to list off a few examples of how I came to work with a few of my clients. Thinking about how I’ve acquired many of my clients always gives me clarity on the importance of the items listed above.
1. LA Marketing Co.
We’ll call the first example LA Marketing Co. LA Marketing Co. is a company I’ve worked with for 5-6 years now on a number of projects, large and small. They have provided me relatively consistent work, hosting clients and helped me grow as a developer. How did I end up working with them you ask? Let’s talk about it.
In 2012 I launched a website called Berks Perks, which I sold a few years back. It was during the Groupon craze and was essentially a Groupon clone for my local area. I used a WordPress plugin/theme combo called Group Buying Site (now Smart eCart). While building that business I got to know the lead developer of the plugin and became an active member of their support forum. I did a good deal of customization projects for other site owners and companies using the same plugin and theme. Through the forum I met the owner of LA Marketing Co. who was looking to customize a Groupon-like site for a client. I took on the job, we got to know each other, and the rest is history.
So what started as a website venture for myself turned in to developing a relationship with a plugin/theme developer. That turned in to providing support and customization work for other customers. Through that I met a business owner who has in turned in to a long-term client and friend.
While it may not fall under the classical networking definition, I believe at each step along this journey I was able to create relationships that I maintain to this day. Each one of these relationships is an example of an invaluable form of networking.
2. Local Company ABC
Next we’ll talk about Local Company ABC. Local Company ABC is a startup that I’ve just started to work with. I’m doing fresh design and development project for them, as well as handling their hosting and maintenance. I’m sure you’re itching to know how they became my client. Let’s discuss.
This relationship started through a sign company that I worked with to design and build a new road sign for a brick and mortar business. During the design and implementation of the sign I got to know the owner of the company who somehow heard I do web development. He said he was looking to have his site redone and had some astronomical quotes from other companies. Long story short, I ended up doing his site for him.
Two years later that business owner refers his former office manager to me to work with her to redesign her website. While that project is in the works, she then refers a client of hers who is starting a new business to me for the design, development, hosting and maintenance of her new site. So what started as a sign design project turned in to multiple development projects, at least one hosting client, and another channel of referrals that will remain open.
This is another great example of simple networking leading to new clients (even though I didn’t even realize I was networking!).
Yep, Networking is Very Important
Moral of the story here. Networking is important and treating everyone with respect, dignity and professionalism can pay off in the long run. You never know where your clients will come from. You never know what people are saying about you that you never hear. What you can do is control the perception of yourself and your company through your interactions with the people you work with. A few pieces of advice:
- Don’t burn bridges. If things aren’t going to work out for whatever reason, don’t end things on a sour note. Maybe the project wasn’t right for all parties. Maybe budgets didn’t align. Maybe you were simply too busy at the time of a request. It is always good to end all interactions, large or small, on a positive note. Keep the doors open for the future and control the perception of yourself and your business.
- Keep in touch! I find myself sending random emails to old clients just to see how things are going, or to see if their site is performing. These emails aren’t sent to solicit additional business, I send them because I genuinely want clients to succeed. If I didn’t have that goal, I wouldn’t retain any long term clients. It isn’t about the short term in this business. Long lasting relationships are good for all parties for a wide variety of reason.
- Relationships create referrals. While you may not be able to work with every client for reasons mentioned above, that doesn’t mean that they won’t refer you business. Maybe your prices were a bit too high for someone, but they have a friend or colleague who could use your services. Keep your relationships in good standing to keep your referral sources open.
- Care. Genuinely care about what you’re doing. Clients can tell when you care. When you ask a lot of questions and make a lot of suggestions it may become cumbersome, but it also shows your client that you care about the end product. You care about how things turn out because you know it reflects back on you and you genuinely want your client to succeed.