Advertising and direct marketing are not the only tools to find clients and prospects. Networking through colleagues and people within your community can be just as effective—and a technique that is often neglected.
We talk a lot about online ways to network and reach customers, but there are traditional opportunities that offer invaluable services that just don’t exist online, as well as some opportunities that do not involve traditional brand-marketing techniques.
Getting involved with your local chamber of commerce can prove to be a huge benefit to fostering local relationships. Chambers exist almost everywhere, and for often a nominal membership fee, businesses can find huge opportunities to network, among many other benefits. They are so ubiquitous because they serve a valuable purpose in that they give businesses a way to engage the community and help us stay relevant locally.
Chambers can act on the behalf of businesses to work with local government officials to promote legislation that benefits both the community and the businesses that work within the community. They also often participate in or organize local activities that help foster relationships between the community and businesses.
Membership also acts as a way to giving businesses a degree of legitimacy by showing that they promote good business practices and are actively engaged in the community.
A great resource beyond local nonprofits is Business Network International (BNI), which is an organization that builds reputations based on positive relationships with partners through referrals. Organizations like BNI don’t mean instant sales, but they are a great way to develop positive relationships with clients who can bring you leads through the referral exchange process. I personally have been a member of the Lake Highlands Chapter of BNI here in Dallas for many years and have found great business through my membership.
Another good way to network is by attending seminars and workshops. Through these events, you can gain valuable insight into contemporary industry issues and develop relationships with potential clients and business partners. Networking is all about meeting people, and sometimes the best way to do that is face-to-face; after all, not everyone lives online.
If you’ve tried these methods, there are some Internet resources that can bridge the gap between online networking and traditional forms. One such service is Meetup, which is an online community where people can plan meetings and events in their local communities.
Meetup is great because it’s an online social networking website that translates into real-world meetings. You can organize meetups around common interests and meet informally to share information and network. The informal nature of this service means that you shouldn’t go in to it expecting to advertise (nobody likes “that guy”).
The point I’m trying to make is to remember that integrated marketing communications is about taking different tactics and creating a cohesive plan to market and sell your business. Some tactics may work better for you than others, and that’s alright. Just remember that online social networking is never a complete replacement for traditional tactics.