Let the parties begin!
With Thanksgiving out of the way, you thought you could hunker down in your small business or just kick back at home? No way — the holiday season is a perfect time to use social opportunities to build your small business.
Long before Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or even MySpace, there was another kind of social marketing: people actually meeting other people at social gatherings. That’s still the kind of marketing that works best. In small businesses, word-of-mouth marketing and customer relationships are the key to ongoing sales. Nothing beats the impact of connecting with a business owner face to face. So pack your social schedule.
During the holidays, opportunities abound to meet new small business prospects and deepen relationships with current customers.
No place to go? I’m betting that’s not true. I suspect you have more invitations in your inbox or Facebook posts than you actually pay attention to. You’ve probably received notices of Chamber of Commerce holiday mixers, industry association end-of-year parties, other companies’ open houses, even neighbors’ cookie-decorating parties.
Here are some other ways to meet people during the holidays:
• Volunteer at a local food bank, toy drive or other cause.
• Offer your place of business for a charity’s holiday event.
• Organize a holiday get-together at a local sporting venue.
• Set up a “meet up” to turn online contacts into real-life connections.
Before you attend any event, be sure to have:
• Plenty of business cards. Stock up on your business cards and bring them with you everywhere you go. You never know where you’ll make an important new contact.
• Your elevator pitch down pat. An elevator pitch provides a concise summary of your service, business or product idea that can be delivered in a short time.
Here are some holiday networking hints:
• Arrive early. You’ll have a better chance to meet people when fewer people are yet there. Throughout the event, mingle, move around and don’t be afraid to approach people. Especially look for wallflowers. They’ll be happy you’ve approached them, and you might make a great contact.
• Ask people what they do and listen when they tell you — networking is a two-way street. People are always flattered when you show interest in them.
• Give out those business cards you stocked up on and ask people for theirs. Jot down a few notes on the back of the cards so you’ll remember later who gave you which one.
After your networking event, contact all leads as quickly as possible — ideally, the next day. People are busy, and it’s easy for them to forget about you. If you’ve told a new contact you’d send them something, or provide a quote, or just give them the name of a contact that you think might help them, do it as soon as you are back at your place of business. If you don’t hear back from them, you can check back with them right after the first of the year.
The holidays are also a great time to reconnect with your existing clients or customers. Plan one-on-one holiday lunches, dinners or drinks. It’s not too late to host a small get-together at your office or at a restaurant for your best clients and staff.
Some other ideas:
• Send greeting cards to your customers, prospects and vendors.
• Give affordable gifts to your best customers and/or bring them as cold calls.
• Choose a “customer of the week” and feature them on social media.
• Make charitable donations in the name of your most valued customers.
Don’t know where to start? I’ve created an interactive worksheet to prompt you to think about who you can entertain during this season. It’s part of my free “2014 Small Business Holiday Success Guide,” filled with my best tips for a successful holiday season. Download the entire guide here: https://planningshop.com/solution-center/
Yes, this may be a busy time of year. But the holiday season is when many of your best prospects and referral sources are willing to have lunch or a drink — so get up and get out. With a little planning, you’ll not only get the most out of the holiday season, you’ll lay the groundwork for a prosperous 2015.
This story originally ran in USAToday on November 28, 2014 http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/small%20business/2014/11/28/small-business-columnist-strategies-network/70067494/