By Steve Appelbaum, Founder and President of Animal Behavior College
While there is no shortage of advice and information about how to network online, this article will touch on another type of networking that, if done correctly, can be very effective in generating business and name recognition. I am talking about in-person networking with fellow pet professionals.
In ancient times, just after dinosaurs walked the earth, in-person networking was one of the most common ways of generating business outside of paid advertising. When done correctly, in-person networking is just as effective today and might even be more impactful because many new business owners skip it in lieu of creating a strong social media community. I believe this is a mistake, not because social media or other online networking isn’t vital, but because in-person networking will make you stand out as it is less common. Plus, at least as of this writing, no one has figured out how to create an online social interaction that is quite the same as one in person. So, the bottom line is do both and if you are going to try in-person networking with pet professionals, consider some basic questions and suggestions.
What is your end goal?
Do you want to generate additional business, create more awareness about your business, or start your business through in-person networking? Maybe you have another goal? Regardless, carefully consider it and write it down. That’s an excellent first step. Next, ask yourself another question.
How will you achieve your goal? The actions you take to achieve your goal are where the proverbial rubber hits the road. The specific actions you take to achieve a goal are called many things, but in this article, we will call them goal actions.
The next step is to write down the goal actions you need to take to meet your goal. Again, this is where you need to be specific. For example, it’s not enough to say, “I want to generate business by networking with other people in the pet industry.” I mean, that’s great, but it’s too general. Instead, it might be, “I want to generate business by establishing relationships with five veterinary hospitals in my city. I will initiate contact with these hospitals within the next 60 days and carefully note all promises for additional follow-up and the dates these promises will be executed.”
Now that you have written your goal(s) actions down, ask yourself if they are realistic. After reading them a few times, do you still believe that if you complete/achieve your goal actions, you will achieve your goal?
Be clear about what you are looking for in a networking relationship.
Be clear or have ideas about how you can assist the company or person you are looking to establish a relationship with. In other words, approach networking relationships from the perspective of what you can do for them.
I can’t overstress this point enough. By the way, I don’t mean that networking relationships have to be altruistic and that you shouldn’t look to have your needs met. However, the more you can understand the perspective and needs of the other party, the better positioned you are to approach them in a fashion that meets their needs. People do business with others because they like them and have something to gain. Let me give you an example.
Veterinary offices have long been an outstanding place to generate referrals. That’s because veterinarians and their staff are entrusted with the health and well-being of pet parents’ precious pets. This means when a veterinarian or member of the veterinary team makes a recommendation to a pet parent, it is likely to be taken quite seriously by that pet parent.
Dog trainers, cat trainers, groomers, and even pet store owners who can build a rapport with a veterinary hospital that results in garnering referrals from the hospital will likely see increased business. If you are a dog or cat trainer, groomer, or pet store owner, the above paragraph describes what’s in it for YOU which is getting referrals. No real news here. You probably understood this part before you started reading this post. The question you need to ask yourself is, what’s in it for the hospital to refer your business? As surprising as it might seem, many business owners fail to consider this question.
Often business owners don’t take the time to speak with the hospital staff and learn what the hospital might be seeking. Generally, most hospitals are looking for a few key things. The first is additional clients. The average veterinary hospital in the United States and Canada typically loses about 4% of its clients each year. People move, some pets pass on, and the hospitals need to attract new clients to maintain their business and even greater numbers if they wish to expand it. Can you assist the hospital in gaining new clients?
Some dog trainers have been able to do this by inviting veterinarians to speak in their group classes. Essential health tips, which can be seasonal, are good topics, and while not all veterinarians will be comfortable doing this or have staff they can send, many will jump at the chance to get to know potential clients.
Others might embrace supplying you with materials you can give to your clients. For example, I worked with veterinary hospitals that provided free office visit passes for many years. These were only good for new clients and one per person. Nevertheless, this gave me something of perceived value to give to my clients while at the same time helping generate new business for the hospitals. Not only should the above actions work for dog trainers, but they can work for cat trainers as well. In fact, they might even work more effectively for cat trainers since there are fewer cat trainers practicing, and behavior information is less commonly available to cat parents.
Some hospitals might be open to offering value-added items for their clients. For example, training tips and solutions to behavioral challenges can be given to clients or written for a veterinarian’s website.
Pet stores can also take part in relationships with veterinary hospitals. As a pet store owner, you can offer everything from a “meet the veterinarian” event at their store to distributing office visit passes in return for referrals to the store. In addition, some pet stores offer discount coupons that veterinarians can give out to their new clients. The point is that with a little bit of work and consideration, it’s possible to come up with an almost endless number of ways in which pet professionals can create essential and effective networking relationships with each other where everyone benefits as a result.