Having thought about some of the lessons I’ve learnt in starting the business, it would be good to look next at the things that have gone well. This will be a short series, with the first theme of networking.
Success in business is all about people: finding the right people to talk to, work with and ask for help is critical. And that’s where your network comes in. Whilst sometimes it’s obvious whom to contact and it’s a matter of a straight cold ‘approach’, often the people in your network can be vital in finding out who to talk to, and hopefully, introducing you; if those you know can’t directly help.
Networking: there’s a lot more to it than “business breakfasts”
Even as an extravert who loves talking, the idea of “networking” fills me with dread. It conjures up images of “business breakfasts” with a load of people in suits, all trying to sell you something and not adding much value to your day or to your business.
What has worked for me is not so much the formal networking events that we are all encouraged to go to (although I have had one or two successes from these and they can be worthwhile). More successful for this business, and I think for many others, has been building my own network.
I have used this for every aspect of my business, from driving listings in retailers, to finding ‘knowledge’ experts in various fields (design, marketing, manufacturing, finance), to collaborations and even celebrity backing.
It’s taken a combination of things, from using Linkedin to drag up old contacts from years ago, to listening when others said they knew someone who might be able to help; to Googling people and horrors! cold calling. Here are 3 methods that have worked for me.
1. “PEOPLE WHO KNOW PEOPLE”
Friends and colleagues are often willing to suggest people they know, whom you should talk to. This is of course the easiest way to be introduced. Through this method I have found my designer, consultant, accountant and even buyers.
Example – I have a friend who knew someone from an FMCG sales background. My friend put us in touch and because I quickly discovered that this contact has mountains of vital knowledge and experience, she has been able to help us in our discussions with buyers. I nearly didn’t take up this offer from my friend as I hadn’t wanted to trouble either of them, but it has been worth it – I’m glad I did.
|Top tip for networking through friends
This is such a useful resource and not just for the obvious reason that you can ‘see’ the contacts your existing contacts are connected to. Google+ may also help with this.
I find I often use the Linkedin search function. Pop in the company name and the job title of the person you are looking for and you’ll often get the name of the person you need. Although you won’t get an email address or direct line, you have much more chance of getting past the switchboard operator if you can ask for someone by name.
I usually ask the person to connect with me and then ask for their email address so we can start communicating.
Example – I used Linkedin to find a buyer in a company I used to work for. I found his name fairly quickly, but it then took me days to get the Head Office number (a well-hidden secret). I then rang him cold, as above, but mentioned that I used to work for the company. That immediately got a warmer response, as there was a connection. I then arranged to meet him and it looks like we’ll shortly be a supplier. This is a really exciting one and we’ll announce more soon.
| Top tips for Linkedin:
3. COLD CALLING
Just the thought of cold calling can give some people nightmares. I don’t like it either, but sometimes it has to be done. I’ve had plenty of rejections on the phone, either because I didn’t get to talk long enough to explain what makes our products great, or people were too busy or the wrong person or a whole load of other things
But be persistent! If your product or service is genuinely good and you have confidence that the person or organisation you’re speaking to will be a good fit for your product or service, then keep going. It’s bound to be worth it.
Although I don’t look forward to cold calls, I am ridiculously fearless about contacting anyone and everyone who I think should know about us and I know this is one of the reasons behind our success. Yes I am nervous when I make the call, but if you don’t do it you will never get what you want.
Example – I knew we should be stocked in Wholefoods Market, who have amazing stores in London and around the UK with exactly the right fit for our products. In this case I wasn’t able to find a ‘name’ via my contacts or via Linked in, so this was as cold a call as you could get.
First, I had to Google their Head Office and ask to be put through to the buyer in the fresh/grocery department. I spoke to the manager of that department who sounded completely uninterested at first. But I ploughed on, saying I could explain the product in one minute – the classic ‘elevator pitch’.
I highlighted the quality and uniqueness of our humous, how it would fit in her current range and some useful practical information such as the good shelf life, wholesaler she could buy us through and excellent sales we had in other stores.
Now she was interested. I arranged to drop some samples off in person (always best to try and meet if the initial contact has been warm) and quickly followed up with a phone call to see what she thought. To my delight she was blown away by our products and pushed for them to be listed as quickly as possible. Success!
|Top tips for cold calling:
More about critical success factors coming soon.