Do you know the secret of successful businesses and the best way to get new clients? Relationships! Strong business relationships help us grow and improve our businesses (read more about the importance of relationships.) Good business relationships expand our customer base through referrals. And let’s be honest, the grind of running a business feels far more meaningful when relationships with clients are positive. But how exactly do positive relationships and networking bring you referrals?

Relationships Grow Your Business

We strive to make our clients and customers happy for a multitude of reasons. We want to …

  • Do a good job
  • Deliver on our promises
  • Uphold our mission
  • Foster healthy business relationships that can profitably last for years

Beyond that, we want our clients to be happy because referrals from satisfied customers are one of the best ways to get new customers.

Happy Clients Bring More Clients

Referrals happen when someone who has engaged with you or your business recommends you to someone else. Satisfied clients, as well as people with whom you have a relationship who don’t need your services but know someone who does, can connect you with new clients. When people who respect your work refer you to someone in their life, they’re helping you grow community and your client base at the same time.

Referrals are active connections between people — they happen via email, word of mouth, or even in an exchange of business cards. Those connections build relationships, trust, and your business’s reputation. When you provide clear value, deliver high quality services, and make people with whom you interact feel listened to and respected, they’ll want to recommend you to their friends/colleagues/neighbors. This becomes a symbiotic connection because:

  • You get a new relationship and potential client.
  • The potential client is connected with the solution to their problem (you!).
  • The person who referred you gets the joy of helping their friend and a small business they trust.

What Comes Before Referrals? Strong Relationships!

If you want referrals, it’s crucial to cultivate strong relationships with your existing client base and your larger network. Cultivating relationships should always be at the front of your mind when networking. If you succeed in focusing on the relationship while networking versus keeping the “what can you do for me?” mentality, you’re far more likely to forge a connection that is mutually beneficial.

Networking is not the time for a sales pitch — instead, it should be all about getting to know the other person and establishing the new relationship. (Dive deeper into the dos and don’ts of networking in this blog post.)

Networking → Relationships → Referrals

The bottom line is, if you want referrals, you’ve got to build relationships first, and networking is one of the best ways to develop new relationships. When you network and focus on the relationship rather than a sale, you make a connection with someone who could…

  • Be a future client
  • Connect you to a future client through a referral
  • Positively impact your business with their unique perspectives and experiences

Although the idea of networking can sometimes feel arduous or awkward, remembering to make it about the relationship can transform it into something that’s not only valuable but is also surprisingly pleasant.

Virtual Networking Is Here to Stay … and I Say Yay!

Although it can sometimes feel like screens are a barrier to real connection, that’s not the case — strong relationships can be built both in-person and online (phew!). From the conversations I’m having, it seems that virtual gatherings are, most likely, here to stay.

Even after opportunities for in-person gatherings open up, virtual meetings are still valuable. The more interactive a virtual event is, the more valuable it is. Networking events that utilize breakout rooms, and facilitated workshops, panels, and events that involve interaction, are spaces where you can effectively focus on relationship-building. (One of my first introductions to really good virtual networking was Stacey Shipman’s Engage the Room events. Check them out!)

Convenience Counts

While you may not get to show off your firm handshake or pass around your gorgeous business cards on Zoom, there are advantages to be had by attending or hosting virtual networking events. They’re efficient, more accessible to people with diverse physical/mental abilities, allow for easy cross-country and international connection, and save commuting time. (I live in metro Boston, so commuting time can be a significant factor when deciding what I want to attend. Depending on the time of day or route one must travel, it can get really gnarly — driving in and around Boston can feel like fighting a living dragon!)

So, with all that in mind, it’s important to be comfortable networking both in-person and online.

How to Network In-Person and Virtually

Although networking can look different depending on the scenario, a lot of the basics remain the same whether in-person or virtual:

  1. Be a joiner. Join as many in-person and virtual networking events, conferences, etc. as you can. Try them out. Find the ones that provide the right valuable connections to you and your business … and then consistently commit to those few.
  2. When networking, focus on establishing a relationship rather than trying to sell something. Remember we’re all human and we’re wired to connect!
  3. Listen to the people with whom you’re connecting, especially when they talk about what they do and their pain points.
  4. Clearly communicate what you do and for whom.
  5. Provide value. In the conversation, you can offer your expertise or provide a tip or suggestion. You can also offer up a perspective or share a relevant article or piece of media. You can even, on the spot, make a referral/connection which instantly makes you the hero.
  6. Follow up via email (and continue providing value!)
  7. When in person, be intentional with body language and eye contact. Exchange business cards and share contact information so you can follow up and continue to cultivate the relationship.
  8. Online, participate in breakout rooms, have links ready to share your website and social profiles. And definitely follow up via email and/or social media. (Check out my blog post on introductions to learn how to do this best).

When you network in a way that centers on the relationship, you’re doing everyone a favor; relationships can make or break businesses. When relationships are positive, they help you improve your services, plug into the community you’re serving, and expand your business through referrals.

If a client or new networking connection feels like their relationship with you is strong, respectful, and valuable, they are far more likely to recommend your business to people in their life. If you forget about the relationship and only focus on the transaction, you’re losing out on symbiotic connections and the magic ingredient that keeps businesses thriving.

Whether you network in-person or virtually, be prepared to listen, concisely communicate what you do, participate, and follow up in a way that provides value.

Ready to Network Like a Pro?

If you want to level up how you communicate about your business, schedule some time with me. We can sharpen your brand messaging, hone that elevator speech, and develop a strategic marketing plan that includes the right kind of networking for you. 

Do you prefer in-person or virtual networking events? Have networking and relationship-building helped your business grow through referrals? How have your business and relationships changed with the increase in virtual events? Let me know — I’d love to hear how you’ve been navigating all the shifts in how we connect with each other!