“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
This adage held true in your first job search and still holds true today in business. Building and fostering long-term business relationships not only enable you to be connected to the key decision makers in your community, but also their contacts. From a competitive standpoint, your personal contact list becomes an immensely valuable asset.
Many business owners underestimate the importance of developing business relationships with the key people in their trade areas. Whether it is a comfort level in approaching strangers or perhaps not fully understanding the multi-fold benefit of these relationships, often owners will not venture to meet key leaders. A key leader in your trade area can enable you to exponentially grow your potential customer base since these leaders are tremendously influential over their followers.
There are many key leaders in your trade area that you should target for introductory meetings in the upcoming year. Including in that list would be:
Chamber of Commerce President
Fire, Police Chiefs
Youth Organization Leaders
Key Business Leaders
If you are planning your grand opening or are already established in the market, creating a plan that includes introductory meetings with key leaders helps develop a stealth marketing strategy. This type of marketing is exceedingly difficult for your competition to overcome—after all, these are your contacts in which you have established a relationship. For operators that have effectively fostered these relationships, they stand to gain from this viral networking strategy.
Make A Plan: Making inroads to developing key leadership relationships should not be left to happen-chance. Rather, create a year-long strategy to meet key public officials, private sector business leaders, youth organizers and other top networkers. A progressive goal of meeting with two to three new contacts a month will enable you to expand your network—and more importantly, your reach—much more quickly. At years end, you will be able to point to 25 new “movers and shakers” that hopefully will connect you with their network contacts.
Be A Tipper: As one expands their exposure to other key leaders in the trade area, you become one of those “tippers,” as well. A tipper is one that is at the epicenter of a number of activities—the person that is not only in the know, but is connected throughout ones network. The more activity that flows through a tipper, the stronger the chance that they will be presented opportunities that can be capitalized upon.
Think “Exponentially”: You may remember the Faberge Organics Shampoo commercial starring Heather Locklear that ended the commercial with the famous line of ”and they’ll tell their friends—and so on, and so on…” Networking with key leaders follows the same premise. Get to the right people and your brand will cascade throughout their networks much more quickly. Identifying and fostering relationships with 25 key leaders in your trade area may connect you with thousands of people in no time.
Outsmart Competition: When it comes to market share, many companies try and outspend their competition. Money can buy many things in an attempt to capture loyal customers, but combating a competitor that is tightly linked to the key leaders in their trade area, is often the most difficult to overcome. Relationships matter and establishing key contacts throughout your local marketing trade area will give you an impenetrable market position.
Stay Top Of Mind: While meeting 2-3 leaders a month will get you started, it doesn’t end there. Sending out periodic emails or notes to these contacts is time well-served to remain top-of-mind. Leaders are intensely busy and their daily lives keep them moving at a breakneck pace. A periodic “hello” or update on your business is all it takes to keep you and your brand relevant.
Networking with key leaders in your trade area not only positions your brand firmly in these tipper minds, but also their constituents. Whether you find them through LinkedIn or in-person events, fostering and maintaining relationships with these leaders outflanks your competition. The math is extraordinarily compelling when you consider the amount key constituents that monitor each of these key leaders.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at http://www.graycatenterprises.com.