By Loraine Kasprzak, MBA
Kathy Fulton, owner and lead graphic designer for KC Creative, Inc., has been a friend and colleague of mine for more years than either of us can remember. She’s a master juggler – she manages her business, raises a family, and still finds time to train for triathlons. But even someone as high energy as Kathy was thrown for a loop when she had to relocate her business not once, but twice, in three years. After each move – from Chester, NJ, to Richmond, VA, in 2005 and then to St. Louis, MO, in 2008 – Kathy has had to re-establish her business in a town where her reputation and the quality of her work were unknown.
“It’s been challenging to maintain client relationships cross-country, get project work done, and establish KC Creative here in St. Louis,” Kathy told me. When old project work wrapped up and her sales pipeline emptied, she knew she needed to look for clients more actively. “I couldn’t rely on old relationships exclusively. I needed to build local word-of-mouth to get more business.”
Kathy shared with me what she’s doing to re-establish her referral network. As she rebuilds the second time, she’s learning which tactics work the hardest for her. These tactics can also work well for any service firm looking to build its own local network.
Accept invitations. Kathy started by accepting any invitation that came her way, especially to charity events and networking meetings, so that she could connect with the local community. She also saw the parents at her children’s new preschool as a resource. “If a parent invited me for coffee, I gladly accepted,” she notes. “As we got to know each other, I would mention that I was a graphic designer and share my business card.”
Volunteer your services. Kathy found that volunteering her design services helps others get to know her and her work. She’s created invitations for fundraisers on a pro bono basis, and doing so has given her more visibility in the community.
Get on the Board. She accepted an invitation to be a Board member for a local charity so that she could further expand her network. The challenge here is to become known for her graphic design work and not just as a Board member.
Join local networking groups. Kathy joined a women’s professional networking group and attends their meetings as often as possible. “I’m starting to get some leads,” she says. “There’s an accounting firm in the group that has been very helpful.”
Tap your spouse’s network. Kathy’s husband works for a bank that sponsors events in and around St. Louis and she attends as many of these events as possible with him. “I made several good contacts at the bank’s holiday party, including the head of one of the larger local non-profits,” says Kathy. “I was able to arrange a breakfast meeting with her to discuss her graphic design needs.”
Schedule one-on-one meetings. Attending events and networking meetings is a great start, but Kathy knows she has to take it a step further. She sets up breakfast meetings with the business owners and community leaders she meets, so that she can listen, learn and help where she can. She comments, “These breakfast conversations often turn to how I can help them. It’s well worth it for me to give some free advice about how they can improve the look and feel of their marketing collateral.”
Make a conscious effort. With all the challenges of running a business and managing family life, Kathy learned she has to plan ahead to network. She schedules time each week to make follow-up phone calls, attend meetings or meet one-on-one with new acquaintances.
Stay in contact. The hardest part, says Kathy, is staying focused and following up with her new contacts. “I want to stay top-of-mind with strategic people without being overbearing. I’m creating a series of mailers to offer design tips. I also plan to send email blasts. LinkedIn and Twitter are helping me stay in touch too.”
Still, Kathy notes, it can be a slow process. “It takes time to get others to trust you and want to do business with you. I’m just now beginning to get calls from prospects and others who will refer me for projects.”
Find out more about KC Creative. Kathy Fulton’s boutique firm specializes in graphic design and print production management. Stop by the KC Creative site.
Continue the discussion. What are you doing to build word-of-mouth and referral sources for your company? Please share your tips and comments below.
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