I’m surprised at the number of people who think networking is a waste of time. They think it’s silly, or some piece of business jargon that means standing around with a coffee in your hand talking about nothing.

I especially hear it from people who don’t have jobs that typically rely on networking, but they believe in the power of word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied clients.

Networking is just another version of word-of-mouth. The only difference is, your network is made up of people who are in the same or similar industries; satisfied customers may or may not be a good alliance for you.

I know a few massage therapists, all who are doing anything and everything they can to find new clients. But if they were to just have coffee a few times a month with a few strategically important people, they could change their whole business model.

Most massage therapists I know work alone, and rely on satisfied clients and friends to bring them new business, or they work for someone else, and still have to bring in their own clients. Regular repeat business is their bread and butter, because it’s money they can count on.

This is why networking is important. What if you could create an entire network of people who were all looking out for you, could be an ongoing referral source for you, and could constantly refer people to you? How would that work?

Who are people who typically need massage work? People who have back and spinal problems. Office workers who sit at a desk all day. People who have been injured and are going through therapy. People who carry their stress in their shoulders, necks, and backs.

Who do you know who knows those kinds of people? Start looking for common threads, because that’s where the linchpins — the referral sources — will be found.

Who helps people with back and spinal problems? Chiropractors.

Who is concerned for the health and well-being of office workers? Human resources professionals.

Who knows people who are going through physical therapy? Physical therapists.

Who knows people who are concerned with being relaxed and having a more positive outlook on life? Yoga instructors.

So what should you do? Print out some flyers and deliver them to all the chiropractors, independent HR specialists, physical therapists, and yoga instructors in the phone book?

No. It’s a complete waste of money, time, and paper. Yes, you’ll reach everyone, but no one will have any reason to trust you, and they won’t be invested in helping you.

You need to get to know one or two people from each profession, at least in the beginning. You need to get to know them fairly well, let them get to know and like you, and start referring people their way.

Here’s how it works:

You have a client who says they have some back issues, so you recommend them to your chiropractor or yoga instructor. You know a business owner who comes to you regularly because they’re stressed about work, so you recommend your HR specialist. And someone comes to you after a sports injury or car accident, so you send them to your physical therapist.

By doing this, you’re helping your network grow their own business, and they get the idea that this is the kind of thing you would like them to do too (it helps if you tell them this outright). And all it takes is a few referrals to get the ball rolling. If everything is working correctly, it begins snowballing and getting bigger and bigger.

It also won’t hurt to begin to expand your network either. Add a couple chiropractors, a couple yoga instructors, a couple therapists as time goes by. You may have to stagger referrals, or maybe your network is made up of people who specialize, which makes it even easier. The HR professionals may specialize in professional offices versus manufacturers. The yoga instructors may differentiate between regular yoga and “hot yoga.” And the chiropractors may have different patient bases. In all these cases, you can refer people to the appropriate specialist, and still keep your network happy.

With any luck, pretty soon most of your business could come from referrals rather than advertising or relying on word-of-mouth.

Networking is one of the most powerful tools you can use to grow your business, because it means you have other people working on our behalf, rather than spending money on marketing and advertising, which ultimately gets lost in the general marketing mix that we all ignore.

But networking is that ever-present relationship that only needs to be maintained with social media and email contact, coffee, and the occasional “let’s celebrate” lunch among friends. It will be the cheapest, and most effective, kind of marketing you’ll ever do.


Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, a newspaper humor columnist, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing. His third book, The Owned Media Doctrine, will be available this summer.