Newspaper circulation is dropping by the day and is next to nothing,
bulk advertising mailers aren’t near as effective as they were years ago, radio
time can be costly and can pigeon hole your advertising dollars with the type
of clients you’re looking for, local television is only available in those off hours
and I’m not sure how many new prospective customers I’ll find with broken
cars at 3am, and internet advertising isn’t as local as you’d like, and at best is
unpredictable. So what’s an affordable, useful, and productive way to
advertise your small business locally? One that draws local people that want
to work with a local company? Maybe, instead of advertising to the consumer,
how about directing your meager advertising budget to other businesses….
Networking is the answer.
If you’re not familiar with networking you should be. Networking groups are everywhere. Occasionally you’ll hear the term ‘Tips’ groups vs. networking groups. They’re basically the same thing. Networking groups are a diversified group of business people, shop owners, sales people, and/or employees that get together once a week, once a month, or on special occasions to exchange ideas, business cards and referrals. They’ll usually have a few minutes for you to introduce yourself and talk about your business. Some will offer you a chance to do a presentation about your business at each meeting. Either way, this is your opportunity to advertise your business to other businesses and generally, create new business for you. But, the big thing you’re looking for is the referrals. It’s probably the most important reason to join one of these groups.
Some of these groups are small, some have been around for decades, and some are very secretive. Some in fact, only allow one of each type of business into their group, while others have no restrictions at all. Of course, there are rules in most cases. Things like, “always check with members first for any service and always relay your experiences with the other members, attendance policies, and confidentiality concerns. In a few of these groups it’s not about how much money you have, because you can’t buy your way in. It’s your character and community standing that are the deciding factors. For some of these groups you have to be nominated and then you’re brought before a board of your peers to be voted in, or black balled out. Other tips groups aren’t near as picky. Whichever way it’s organized I guarantee to you… it’s all worth it.
You’ll even find some of these networking groups that share a common interest outside of their own business ventures. Such as meeting at a golf course once a month for a short meeting and a 9 hole golf tournament. There’s even a tips group here locally that likes to sample different restaurants each month and switch their location depending on the group size and menu selection. I’ve even heard of one that meets every Saturday morning for breakfast. They’ve got a whole corner of this restaurant reserved for them. Sometimes they are a hobby based tips group. From model airplanes, to sewing, to horse racing. The types of networking groups are endless. Once you start checking into them you’ll be surprised at the diversity and number of tips groups there actually are.
I’ve been with one networking group for over 20 years. This one is a private membership type that meet once a week with rather strict attendance rules and a ‘hush-hush’ policy as to who is a member. I recently withdrew from the organization because of my busy travel schedule and couldn’t meet the group’s attendance requirements. Although I will say, I made a lot of connections, and a lot of money out of the group.
Now, after being out of the loop, –so-to-speak-, I find I’m missing something. The referrals weren’t the only thing that was important and only a small part of what I enjoyed about being a member of the group. It was the alike thinking individuals who experience the same good and bad days, crazy customers, and unpredictable parts and employee problems we all face on a daily basis that made the difference in my daily activities at the shop. It just proves the old adage that misery loves company. I couldn’t agree more. In other words, it was the lifelong friendships and the contacts you make that were more important.
Recently, I went looking for another tips group to get in. I found one that meets at a golf course once a month. My kind of group. I’m not really there for the business contacts anymore, I’m there for the fellowship and contacts. The dues are extremely cheap, attendance doesn’t matter, and any number of identical businesses that would most likely share the same type of clients are allowed. This time around it’s all about the camaraderie since I’ve retired from active repair shop ownership.
Here’s the big problem though: If you’re sitting there complaining that you don’t have enough work to keep your bays full and don’t know what to do, start searching for a tips group. If you’re not that guy sitting there worried about filling your bays but you know of a guy who is worried about filling his bays, tell him about tips groups. To put it another way, if you’re reading this you’re more than likely the type of individual who is looking to succeed in their business by absorbing as much knowledge from every source possible. That’s where getting involved with a tips group would be absolutely beneficial to you. It’s the ones that don’t keep up with the changes, don’t socialize, and don’t get off their duffs to do something about their situation that fade into obscurity.
If perhaps, you can’t find one in your local area, or you feel you’re too far off the beaten path, chances are you’re not alone. My suggestion, start your own networking group. It can start off based on common interests or school activities or anything else you can think of. Try putting one together at a local meeting place or at the local coffee shop. It can all start by just talking with another business owner on a Wednesday morning, which then leads to the next person, and then another. Soon, you’ll have a group with lots of new friends and business contacts.
Think of it this way. Right now, reading this article, you’re effectively in somewhat of a tips group. Everyone who is reading this are probably looking for the same thing you are. That my fellow tippers, is basically the secret of networking. I for one, have found that networking groups are far more valuable than expected. If I needed a plumber, tile for remodel project, or in the need to rent a piece of machinery for a job, the first place I looked was through my networking group. If there wasn’t anyone I could find in the member list, I would ask the other members who they’ve used for that certain job. Chances are, that referral they told me about got my business, and for them, it was better than any other type of advertising. Because, these type of customers are more than likely not going to give you a hard time about the cost. They’re after a quality job done in a timely manner. Chances are they didn’t reach the top of their business ventures by cutting corners. They appreciate good workmanship and good service.
Let’s face it, the internet is great, newspapers and radio media are fantastic, and like most people the TV is on 24-7 blasting out commercial after commercial. But, nothing beats a handshake and a “Nice to meet you” in person, in your community, from another local business. There’s something to be said about front porch diplomacy. Even as the world seems to draw closer and closer by way of our laptops, getting out into your local community is still hard to beat. Even with all of that, some businesses still thrive because of local appeal and not national reputations. Automotive repair is one of those businesses that really need local involvement to keep the bays full.
Get out there and network!