From the August 2011 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

July 28, 2011

Three Rules of Community Networking

It’s time to face facts—the marketing “magic bullet” doesn’t exist

In the last few years, investors have undergone a sort of psychological paradigm shift. Those who were quick, or at least willing, to trust any financial professional had that trust effectively beaten out of them. Investor confidence is no longer as strong as it was pre-2008, nor is the belief that everyone can make money via the stock market. The nearly Armageddon-like financial crisis spurred the onset of a new mindset for the majority of Americans: “I must not lose my money.” They are now far less willing to endure the amount of risk they once were, and part of that is the risk of trusting a financial professional who could let them down.

So, how do you build or prove trust when investors have put up so many new walls?

Your reputation is your best ally, and the more deeply seated your roots in a community, the better. As you know, it takes years or even decades of dedicated effort to develop and nurture a broad base of respect in a community. You also know that falling from social standing is tantamount to death in the eyes of many. Newcomers may risk tarnishing their reputation—they can always move on. But if your community roots are deep, people understand that you are far less likely to risk sullying your good standing. It stands to reason that you’ll “do right” by your clients to avoid a blemish on your reputation.

Two primary goals, of equal importance, are the keys to networking:

  • Help the organization or group to achieve its mission.
  • Create new relationships that lead to business.

These goals must be achieved in conjunction with each other if you want to be effective. Skip directly to the second goal and you’ll be branded in the members’ minds as a self-serving salesperson. Not only will your networking likely be utterly unsuccessful, you may risk your position in the community.

Rule No. 1: Do not join a group if you’re not passionate about it.
See the first goal listed previously. You must be willing to help the organization to achieve its goal. You must be sincerely committed to the cause.

Rule No. 2: Select a group with members who could become ideal clients or professional referral sources.
If you’re passionate about a group or cause, but your ideal client isn’t, you may feed your soul, but you won’t build your business.

Rule No. 3: Participate—actively and continuously.
While the requirements and types of participation vary greatly depending on the organization, it’s important to do more than the mere minimum. Be seen as a “leader” in the group to earn respect. Make sure you attend all meetings and events, volunteer as a committee participant or chairperson, and donate time or money.

Finding a local group or organization may be less challenging than you think. Keep your eyes open at places you frequent: churches, schools, stores, parks. Ask friends and neighbors which groups they belong to. If all else fails, try www.MeetUp.com, an online resource for connecting your interests to active groups in your area.

Once you’ve found a group, how do you turn your participation into business? Consider the following strategies:

All participation, no promotion—Aside from actively participating, you should not do anything to promote or solicit business. This strategy works best with groups of very affluent people where such promotion is unbecoming. You should be helpful and offer insights when the conversation warrants it.

Add to your ongoing newsletter—Naturally, others will undoubtedly ask you what you do. When that happens, tell them and offer to add them to your mailing list. Explain that you send a regular newsletter and ask their permission to add them to your mailing list.

Ask them to breakfast—One successful advisor would simply say, “I’d love to know how I can send more business your way.” And, if it makes sense, “I’d love for you to better understand what I do.”

Finally, have patience. Networking doesn’t happen overnight. Could it happen at your first meeting? It’s possible. But more than likely it will take six to 24 months of regular participation in order to generate new business.

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