When I first launched my business, I joined a well-known referral networking group for business, and I learned a LOT. If you’ve ever attended one of these groups, you know the format: meet weekly, spend some time networking and socializing, get about a minute to pitch your organization, and then publicly promote the members in the group that you’ve referred business to.
During this time, I made some of the best relationships I’ve ever had with business partners, colleagues, and vendors. I practiced hundreds of different marketing pitches in front of a live audience where I was able to immediately gauge what worked, and what needed tweaking. I gained confidence and perfected my 1-minute elevator pitch. I learned how to identify referral opportunities for others, and for my own business, which would help to build and sustain those new relationships I had made. And most importantly, I scheduled time every week to focus on my own business, rather than sitting behind my desk working on projects.
So with all of these positive attributes, why on Earth would I write an article on leaving referral networking groups behind?
It’s simple – I learned what I needed to learn, built a good foundation, and moved on to open my business up to bigger and better opportunities.
If any of the below ring true for you, it may be time for you to cut the cord with referral networking.
You’re selling out your friends and family. And sometimes yourself.
Sometime in my 2nd or 3rd year of referral networking, I noticed that I was starting to act more like that friend who tries to hook up her single friends with each other just because they’re still single, versus one who truly thought I could find the right match for them. In other words, I was starting to refer friends and family to buy life insurance, vitamins, skin care products, and handyman services just because they were breathing or owned a home. And that’s not good for anyone. Plus, if you do it too often, your friends will stop inviting you over to watch the game.
You’re referring business for the sake of it, not because you truly believe in it.
There’s a certain expectation that I could never get behind to refer business to people in your networking group just because they’re in the group. If I work with a trusted professional who does a great job, I will refer business to them when it’s a good fit for both parties. That’s it. There’s a level of trust and credibility associated with referring business to others that gets muddied when you’re doing it because you’ll get points toward your networking score at the end of the year.
Your time could be better spent elsewhere.
This was the most difficult one of all to acknowledge. If referral networking had contributed to my company’s growth, then would we falter without it? How was I to know when ‘enough was enough’ if we still hadn’t reached our biggest goals? Well, it’s a leap of faith, but I can tell you that for a few weeks in a row, you’ll start to wake up wondering why you are going to this meeting when you should be focusing your time and energy on a different area of your business. Or you’ll start to dread those one-on-one meetings, because they’re no longer leading to better opportunities. As long as you translate all of those hours into true marketing and sales efforts, and don’t fall back into the trap of always working IN your business rather than working ON your business, I bet the results you see will be beyond your wildest dreams.
Referral networking is a great stepping stone for many entrepreneurs. It gets us out of our comfort zones, forces us to focus on sales and marketing, and helps us develop crucial relationships in those important first years. But there comes a time for many businesses when enough is enough, and when you’re ready to work on the marketing program that will take you to the next level.
Congratulations, that’s a great milestone to have achieved.