If you’re more used to dealing with avatars than humans, more accustomed to communicating in 140 characters than actual dialogue, and more apt to poke someone than shake their hand, you might need social networking intervention. While social networking is an important tool in franchise success, a growing number of women franchisees are turning off the computer and turning on the in-person networks. It may sound old-school, but face-to-face networking offers a crucial advantage for women franchisees competing in a tough market.
“I can’t imagine not networking in this recession,” says Pam Crespo, franchisee of Elements Therapeutic Massage in Scottsdale, Arizona. “You can’t put a price on a support team that continually sends referrals for your business and believes in the services you provide. Networking is my recession-buster.”
As busy as she is running her franchise, Crespo manages to devote about 20 percent of her workweek to in-person networking, via her local chamber of commerce and the Business Institute Network (BNI). “And I usually fit in an extra event or two each week,” she says. “Depending on my schedule, it may be a networking breakfast, a luncheon, or an evening meet and mingle.”
If you think you can’t afford to spend 20 percent of your week networking, consider the result: Crespo has doubled her sales since last year. Referrals are second only to walk-in/drive-by traffic as her main source of business. What’s more, as she has increased her networking, she has decreased her spending on expensive marketing campaigns.
Doubling your sales in a recession may be an aberration; women franchisees’ success in networking is not. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women put a strong emphasis on networking, and building and maintaining positive workplace relationships, and are more willing to consult with experts, employees, and other entrepreneurs.
“Women have a slight advantage [over men], because they’re natural collaborators,” says Dina Dwyer-Owens, chairwoman and CEO of The Dwyer Group Inc. and chairwoman of the International Franchise Association (IFA). Dwyer-Owens adds that networking is crucial for women franchisees in a competitive market because it “saves us all time, energy and money.”
So how can you successfully transition from Facebook to face-to-face? Here are 10 tips to refresh your offline skills:
1. Look for a variety of networking options. “Google ‘networking events’ in your city or ZIP code,” says Crespo. “You’ll be surprised how many there are.” Attend as many events as you can until you find the right group for your business referral needs.
2. Be clear about your purpose. Answer the question: What are you looking to gain? “Meeting serious people with the same or common goals is a clear indication you’re in the right marketing group,” says Crespo. “I look for results-oriented people.”
3. Ask what networking programs your franchisor offers. “Some organizations have formal mentor programs and face-to-face meetings,” says Dwyer-Owens. “At The Dwyer Group, we also have family business networking sessions at our annual reunion. The feedback has been overwhelming about the connections that both men and women have made with their peers.”
4. Check out the WFN for franchise-specific networking. The Women’s Franchise Network (WFN), a task force of the IFA’S Women’s Franchise Committee, is 18 chapters strong — in Chicago, Denver, San Diego, the Twin Cities, Southern California, New York/New Jersey, Washington, DC/Baltimore, Seattle, Toronto, Miami, Connecticut, Richmond, Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, Louisville, Vancouver, and Houston — with chapters opening soon in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Nashville, and Austin.
“A strong network of women franchisees can serve a number of important purposes, including mentoring, educating, and promoting the brand,” says Mary Beth Brody, chair of WFN. “A franchising network may be more effective than a generic women’s organization because of the shared experience of being in the same franchise system and understanding the unique challenges and opportunities that exist within that system. These shared circumstances create a special bond.”
5. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who might have the answer you’re looking for. “Know your business neighbors, and invite people to try your services,” says Crespo. “Get your target market talking about you and your business.” Crespo believes in throwing the net wide. “Every person you meet while networking is a contact — take those contacts and make them connections. They may not have a need for your service, but being networkers themselves, they may know several people who are interested in what you have to offer. It’s not always the immediate reward, but the relationship you can build.”
6. Always be reciprocal — it’s about “we,” not “me.” “Be sure to show an interest in the other person as an individual, not just as someone who can provide solutions for you,” says Dwyer-Owens. “Never underestimate the power of listening.”
To be a good networker, you need to give as well as get. “Ask them who their clientele is,” says Crespo. “Think of people who would be good contacts for them and give them referrals when you can.”
7. Make networking part of your regular schedule. “Try to make time to network two hours each day,” says Crespo.
8. Think beyond business. Brody points out that networking clearly offers referral and business development opportunities, “but one of the most significant benefits is the creation and nurturing of lifetime friendships.”
9. Don’t underestimate yourself. “Don’t think you can’t do it,” says Crespo. “Just do it!”
10. Bring it full circle: Combine social and face-to-face networking efforts. Keep an eye on the next level of networking: a combination of Twitter-like social networking and old-school meetups. Foursquare is a rising star in this field; check it out and see how you can use it to amp up your networking — and your franchise.
Janean Chun is a writer and editor based in New York City.