By Jeffrey I. Shavitz
When is the best time for an entrepreneur to begin networking? Before he or she even opens for business. That's right. Making mutually beneficial connections is so vital to the success of an enterprise that the work of building a network and establishing new relationships should begin well in advance of a budding payment professional's launch into the marketplace.
Now, I realize this isn't always possible. Maybe you lost your job, answered an ad for a sales position at an ISO and just began working the field; maybe you were so busy hammering out the technical aspects of creating a killer payments app that you didn't feel you had time to network; or perhaps you own an established ISO and have been networking but feel your results have been lackluster. That's OK. You can begin or revamp your networking starting today.
I recently returned from an industry tradeshow, where I was struck once again by how critical networking is to building a thriving payment business. Industry conferences and shows provide some of the best networking opportunities available. But how do you network effectively? How do you join the ranks of those who enjoy the greatest returns from networking? You devise and implement a networking plan.
Following are six pointers that should help you either begin or enhance your networking efforts:
Instead, be like the networking pro I know who touches base with people at conferences and meetings by introducing himself, offering his business card and saying, "If there's anything I can ever do to help you with potential leads or contacts, please let me know." He never asks for business or help with introductions. He is an example of someone who is growing his business by using networking effectively. He realizes you cannot predict when a special contact is going to happen. It could be on an initial meeting, by pure luck, or it could take years—but when you focus on giving, it will happen. Some people refer to this as the law of reciprocity. It's simple: people instinctively want to help others who have helped them. It is powerful, and it is real.
It goes without saying that you'll meet many direct competitors at industry events. Some payment professionals fear they might share too much information with their competition on the exhibit floors or at after-hours parties. This worry even stops some people from networking at industry events.
It's important to keep in mind that networking with competitors doesn't mean sharing confidential information. What it can mean is making friends with people who respect you and fully understand the unique challenges and opportunities you face. It can mean having a group of peers with whom you can converse candidly, exchange "war" stories and share advice.
Two of my best friends are my direct competitors. We would never attempt to steal accounts from each other. We gain far too much from our interactions and support to do that. As far as other competitors go, with a market of approximately 20 million merchants, if I lose an account to a competitor occasionally, it doesn't bother me if I've done the best I can with the merchant. There are plenty of customers to go around for all of us.
If you remain concerned about merchants inside and outside of your network, find ways in which you can make what you sell and the way you follow up uniquely yours. When you do this, your customers will want to remain with you; your competitors won't be able to poach your business. This is because merchants have difficulty finding great service providers.
I've been told, "Clients would rather buy an average product or service from an extraordinary company than buy an extraordinary product from a bad company." Remember this: there are plenty of competitive products; merchants want to buy from those who value their relationships and provide stellar service.
In addition to networking in person as often as possible, it's also important to use today's technology for networking. Social media, LinkedIn for example, can help build networks when used correctly. One rule of thumb is to research people who want to join your social media networks before letting them in. Some people are concerned only with the number of connections they have and not with the quality of those connections.
Email also remains a highly useful way to reinforce network ties. And it makes it easy to send thank-you notes when people introduce you to potential business partners or help you in other ways.
Today, with so many tools at our disposal that didn't exist less than a generation ago, there's no excuse for not touching base in meaningful ways with potential clients and other people you want in your growing, dynamic sphere.
Jeffrey I. Shavitz is Chief Executive Officer of TrafficJamming LLC, which is a virtual business group for entrepreneurs and small business owners to help grow a company's sales (traffic = customers in his language). His experience in payments includes co-founding Charge Card Systems Inc., which was sold to Card Connect in 2012; Alternative Merchant Processing, dedicated to high-risk merchant processing; and Charge Card Funding, involved in the cash advance space. Jeff has published four books: Size Doesn't Matter — Why Small Business is Big Business, which became an Amazon No. 1 top release in both the business and entrepreneur categories; Small Business Aha Messages; The Power of Residual Income – You Can Bank on It!, and Networking – Get Connected. He can be contacted at 800-878-4100 or firstname.lastname@example.org; his websites are www.jeffshavitz.com and www.trafficjamming.com.
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