As a marketing tool, networking is a great outlet for making “ideal” connections for small businesses. What’s an ideal connection? Perhaps an analogy will help elucidate the term. You’ve probably heard the following saying:
Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a day.
Teach a man how to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.
For that man, his ideal connection would be a fishing instructor. Similarly, you could consider a fruit tree. Would you prefer to have a mango, or a mango tree? For your business, as the analogy goes, there will be clients (fish, or fruit…), and there will be those who love you and your business and will feed you with clients for years (these are the fishing instructors or fruit trees…).
Connecting with these people is obviously going to benefit your bottom line tremendously. But where do you even start? How do you identify these ideal connections for your business? How do you then connect with them? And perhaps most importantly, how do you foster and nurture these relationships over time?
In his #1 National Bestseller, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, author Malcolm Gladwell describes an interesting case study about breast cancer education and awareness. Public health agencies had tried to convey messages about breast cancer to target audiences of women, but found that they weren’t moving the needle in terms of public education. They found, somehow, that the most effective way to educate women about the subject was to start with hairdressers. Hairdressers talk to clients for extended periods of time. Typically, they are trusted by their clients (ask any woman–most would swear by their hairdresser), and therefore women paid attention to this information and took it to heart.
Who is the hairdresser for your business? Who has clients who trust them, who listen to their advice, and who are also your target customers? For a company that does eco-friendly landscape maintenance, their “hairdresser” might be landscape designers who focus on design and installation of eco-friendly landscapes, but who don’t do maintenance. For a plumber who specializes in installation of tankless hot water heaters, their “hairdresser” might be building contractors that are LEED certified and are looking for qualified subcontractors who can help them implement sustainability features in construction projects. For an organic wholesale food manufacturer, it may be someone who does nutrition education and cooking classes. For the publisher of a green business directory, it might be the proprietor of a local green building retail store or the head of the local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, who happen to know everyone in the green building community.
This is one of the greatest benefits of being an environmentally friendly, socially responsible business. There will be an element of “wanting to help” that you will encounter among those people who may well be your lifeline to new clients. That landscape designer who designs native landscapes got into that business at least partially to make a difference in the world. It costs them absolutely nothing to promote your landscape maintenance business to their clients, and if they feel that it helps magnify their positive environmental impact and creates local green jobs, you are at a natural advantage that conventional businesses simply don’t have. There’s no unifying theme in conventional business that proves as much a trust-building rallying point as sustainability does for those of us in the green business community.
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and chief strategist for Green Business Village, a sustainable business coaching service that uses the power of sustainability to solve common business problems.