Using or Abusing Your Network?

“Hey random Facebook friend I haven’t talked to since high school! How are things going with you? Anyway, I’m selling Mary Kay now and wanted to know if you would be interested. It would really help me a lot if you took a look and maybe bought something from my page here.”

When someone tells entrepreneurs to “use their network” this is typically what we image with thinly veiled horror. The insincerity of it is most striking, and it shows through in the language these messages often employ. I hesitate to call it a sales message as the likelihood of it producing and sort of sale – except perhaps the recipient paying to be left alone – are close to nil.

But these methods of “using your network” also fail because they aren’t conceived of as a sales method should be. Insofar as selling is about selling, it tends to fall on deaf ears. Plenty of ink has been spilled already decrying selling as telling, so suffice to say it doesn’t tend to work.

Messages like the above fail because there is no value for the recipient. How could there be? I know you copy and pasted it into whichever medium you could most easily annoy me with and sent it to a thousand people. Without any degree of personalization it can’t be useful to me. This of course is overlooking how most of the time people spamming every connection they have like this tend also to make it about them, not their lead.

“It would help me if you bought.”

That is how not to “use your network”. However, secondary, tertiary, and even tenuous connections can in fact be a valuable resource for those starting a business of any kind, especially those that are referral based. The crux is on making it add value to those you are trying to serve.

 

Doing it the Right Way

Entrepreneurs often are advised to use their network, and for good reason. When done properly it is an effective tool. Perhaps the phrasing is prejudicial. Rather than saying “use your network”, we ought to say “engage your network”. Using implies a one-sided benefit, whereas engaging implies and exchange with potential for mutual benefit.

And unless you are sitting on a treasure trove of cash or have very wealthy friends keen to invest, your business and its marketing will have humble origins. Dream BIG, start small, after all. While a grand marketing campaign that fills the airwaves would be nice, this is unrealistic for most starting out. Hence the value of your network.

Every one of us has contacts and even potential customers within our circles of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, and this is the boost your initial marketing and sales will need to get things off the ground for you. With a limited budget and reach, the warmth of these initial contacts can be used to make up for the lack of traditional marketing advantages.

 

Numbers don’t Lie

A few weeks ago, we put this advice into practice. Business Improvement Group recently hosted a webinar sharing some of our thoughts on growing a consulting practice. But first we had to fill it. The metrics after the fact show just how important a personalized message that actually promises real value to the individual is.

We publicized the event in two ways – through social media and by reaching out to individuals within our networks that we thought could genuinely benefit from what we had to offer.

The former tactic yielded a few interested people, but overall the signup rate was about 0.5%. This is not to say that our social media announcements were selfish or salesy, just that it is hard to let someone know exactly how they stand to benefit through a mass broadcast message.

The effectiveness of individual, personalized invitations was quite different. By specifically targeting those we knew were starting a consulting practice and likely encountering some issues we had worked through ourselves, we saw a registration rate over 20%! The necessary caveat being that this necessarily takes quite a bit longer than putting something up on social media and calling it a day.

We had something of genuine value and actually wanted to help, rather than simply hitting them up for a quick sale.

Despite the caveat, this is a difference of 40 times. So, unless it takes forty times longer to fill a webinar (or whatever the goal happens to be) it is safe to say that this method is more effective.

Many people are hesitant to reach out to their network. They think they are pestering them and will alienate their friends and colleagues. But when done with an authentic desire to provide value, there is no reason to be ashamed of reaching out to your network. If the person can genuinely benefit from what you are offering then why would they be put off by your attempt to contact them?

The warm leads that you have from living a normal human life often are the best launching pad for your business or services. So, even if it is a random friend you haven’t talked to since high school, if they’ve been posting a lot about a specific problem you know how to solve, perhaps it is worthwhile – for both you and them – to say hi.

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