Networking is a term that gets used a lot in the white collar world, but as a service business owner, chances are you "know a guy" or "have a buddy" that specializes in a trade or one that runs a business providing services, much like your own business. If this sounds like you, you've probably already got the beginnings of a strong professional network, and expanding that network can lead to not only more work, but better jobs.
There are lots of good reasons why you should build your professional network, but we'll cover the ones that are especially important for running a service business.
Have you ever had a bad customer that has refused to pay? Maybe you've had a customer that kept changing their mind after the work had already started. Almost every service professional has a similar story, but they're all unique in how they need to be handled and how they end. If you have a strong network of service professionals, chances are someone has dealt with whatever you're dealing with, and can probably offer you some friendly advice. That advice isn't limited bad customers either. It can be anything from what works for advertising, how they hire/fire employees, how they scaled up their business, etc. The power of outside advice when running a service business is often overlooked, but you should always be seeking it out to help your business run smoother, and most other business owners are more than happy to let you pick their brains and discuss the ins-and-outs of running their business.
Do you know anyone that...
Most customers (and we do mean most) have a list of things they need help with. Houses don't clean themselves, and they certainly don't take care of themselves—they need cleaning, maintenance, and upgrades. If you've built a strong network and you have a relationship with someone that has a customer looking for the work that you do, you're in, and the job is probably yours.
On the flip side, even being the guy that "knows a guy" is helpful too. Imagine you're doing wildlife control job and a customer asks you if you know a good handyman. You give the customer a solid recommendation, and your handyman friend does a great job. The next time the customer needs something else, maybe a painter, or roofer, they call you—that's an opportunity to sell more work, and not only do you increase the work that your business network gets, you become that customer's go-to person when they need something done, and you're always on their mind, which means you're the first person they call. The same is also true for your network. The more business you send their way, the more likely they are to recommend you to their customers. It's a win-win situation for everyone. In most cases, no one service business is able to provide everything their customers might need, so it's always good to be able to recommend someone that can take care of your customers' need done.
An extra hand
At some point during the life of your business, you'll get a job that's a little too big for you. It'll be one that you don't want to turn down, but you're not sure how you'll pull it off alone. These jobs create an excellent opportunity to use your network and find some quality help. Most service professionals enjoy the work they do, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't welcome a break and trying something new for a day or two. Asking around is a great way to not only get help but also find someone to share those stories with, the ones that can teach you how to be a better business owner (or maybe you'll end up helping someone else). Some of the jobs you might get hired to do fall outside of what you're able to do and are bigger in scope. If you have some other service professionals that can lend a hand, that means you can actually take those jobs and not lose out on potential work. Again, every customer you work with is the potential for future work, for you and your network, and it goes both ways.
How to find folks
So, you're ready to build up your professional network now, but not sure how to do it? Here are a few quick tips: * Cold call business cards and offer trading referrals * Join your local chamber of commerce and goto some events * Join some online forums and communities. For example, lawnsite for landscapers or treebuzz for tree trimmers. There are tons of communities out there for service professionals and just a simple search for your profession will more than likely bring up a few. * Search and connect with other professionals on Facebook * Depending on your industry, you may way to try linkedin.com * Talk to the business owner when you have work done by other professionals * Ask the professionals you already know to connect you with others
Those are just a handful of ideas, but once you've built a strong network of service professionals, it'll start paying in all sorts of ways you didn't expect. Get out there, talk to folks, and good luck!