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The secrets to building a circle of influence for your business

Throughout our lives we end up meeting so many people both personally and professionally. Some people you will only ever know casually while others you will take the time to build relationships with and as a result go on to become trusted allies. It’s those trusted allies you align with that form your ‘Circle of Influence’.

Usually those you choose to align with will share common values and similarities or simply compliment your strengths and weaknesses. They will also have no competing interests and represent a synergistic benefit to both parties through an ongoing relationship.

Relationships can occur organically through friends, family, introductions, working together or simply by actively sourcing them out and making new connections. So take a moment to think about who is already in your circle and who else you might need or like to have in your circle? Before you say you don’t have one … you do! Big or small, everyone has a ‘Circle of Influence’. The real question is are you utilising the connections you have and building relationships that generate business your way?

If you already have a ‘Circle of Influence’ established, regular monitoring and reviewing your circle is critical to its ongoing success. The effectiveness of your circle can be compromised when there are changes to the dynamics of your business or when economic conditions change like changes to legislation or industry sectors, diversification in your goods and services or ideal customer profiles, advancement of technology and changes to the way we communicate and deliver our goods or services to our customers.

Taking time to review the effectiveness of each relationship and the mix of strategies you have in place will ensure your circle remains purposeful and a key driver of success in your business. For a functional ‘Circle of Influence’ that generates a flow of healthy referrals for your business, follow our seven secrets below and reap the rewards.

Secret No.1: Know your business purpose

Before you even think about building a ‘Circle of Influence’ you should know and be able to articulate a few key things about your business, like the value behind your brand and what it stands for in the marketplace, your standards around service and quality along with information on your ideal customer type. Usually the people and businesses in your circle will have similar values and styles of operation that align comfortably with yours. If you get the alignment right early in the game it should provide you with sustainable healthy working relationships.

The key is understanding what your targeted ideal prospect looks like and communicating this information correctly through to your ‘Circle of Influence’ will prove critical when it comes to having your trusted allies refer business your way. If they don’t understand your business, they won’t be able to effectively refer business your way!

Secret No.2: Identify who’s in your circle already

Begin by thinking of all the people you currently have around you – everyone from family members through to friends, business colleagues, clients, suppliers, networking groups and associations etc. Are there any people or organisations that stand out as trusted allies already or perhaps have similar values that you either would like to get to know better or work alongside?

Take the time to research your current contacts and get to know them and their business so that you can form stronger relationships of alignment and identify where the business opportunities lie.

Secret No.3: Identify where the gaps are and fill them

Once you know who is in your inner circle, think about who else could be added to your circle that could be a beneficial driver of additional referrals to your business. Perhaps there are people who can connect you into other networks and can open doors that lead to further business opportunities?

Again, research them and meet with them to understand their business and ideal customer type with the aim of looking synergistically for business opportunities and establishing an alignment. To make new connections try things like asking for specific introductions at networking events, connecting through Linked-in, following through social media, sending an email introduction through a colleague or simply by picking up the phone and making the call with an invitation to meet for coffee and chat.

Remember that before people buy and recommend us, they need to know they can trust us. So to make new connections you will need to apply some strategy, be persistent, patient and take advantage of timing until the right opportunities present.

Secret No.4: Devise different strategies

Once your circle takes form in both structure and size, the diversity of your group will become evident and this will impact on the range of strategies required to produce the results you are aiming for. You may have membership-based organisations in your circle where the strategy is more a mix of attending networking events, writing articles, public speaking and promoting your businesses offerings in newsletters. Alternatively you may have individual customers who like to participate and socialise at corporate golf events etc. Consider the purpose of each relationship within your circle and devise the right mix of strategies for each.

Form ground rules on how the alignment can best work by putting something in writing to formalise it and minimise misunderstandings. Remember to keep the relationship alive through regular contact and communications in order to position you and your business at the forefront of their mind and receive regular referrals.

Secret No.5: Maintain Relationships and drive value

While there are a number of strategies behind a successful ‘Circle of Influence’, the biggest secret lies in how you develop, cultivate, manage and value the relationships you have with others. It’s also about how well both parties know and understand each other’s business.

Consider how often you will make contact with each of the people/businesses in your circle and how you will reward referrals or provide door-opening opportunities. Consider how you will develop and maintain solid and beneficial relationships that have an ongoing business value to both parties. Remember that open, honest and ongoing transparent communications with regular feedback and recognition will contribute to a long sustainable relationship.

Try regular communications around your product/service with promotional announcements, invitations to attend events, phone calls to catch up, lunch or coffee invitations, personal thank you notes, gift incentives or recognition in your company newsletter etc.

Secret No.6: Monitor and manage

While a ‘Circle of Influence’ can provide a positive generator of leads for your business, it can also cause you problems if it’s not established correctly or managed effectively. Put systems in place that provides feedback from various sources so that you can be confident the relationship is working well and benefiting both parties. Handle issues when they first arise however better still regular face-to-face get-togethers provide an opportunity to discuss issues, successes and explore further ideas for building the relationship.

Secret No.7: Reward and recognition

In business we form relationships when we believe there is synergy and value to be gained. As a result, we hope this will translate at some point in time into business.

Receiving referrals, repeat trade and positive feedback from both your trusted allies and customers represents a sure sign of success. Once the success formula for referring business has been successfully identified by both parties, it can be replicated and the referrals should then flow through regularly both ways. Recognition is always nice to receive though weather it’s informal, an email, a gift card or a lunch out to let the other party know you value the relationship. This in turn creates stronger relationships, more ongoing referrals and foundations for the future that can open up extra opportunities.

A well functioning ‘Circle of Influence’ can lead to ongoing business success through a flow of work being continually generated. The real trick though is maintaining interest and the relationships alive while identifying where the extended networks and connections lie so that you can tap into those. People like to help people, especially those they know and trust.

In addition, consider if marketing and PR budgets need to be allocated towards building, developing and maintaining your ‘Circle of Influence’ as this will enable you to implement all your strategies effectively and reap the rewards of a highly successful ‘Circle of Influence’ that generates business through positive word of mouth!

Business benefits of a circle of influence:

  • Constant flow of new business leads
  • Cross-networking and promotional marketing opportunities
  • Improved market positioning due to strength in brand alignment
  • Relationship and trusted support
  • Confidence and peace of mind when making referrals
  • More opportunities through leveraging and tapping into extended networks
  • Cost savings in resources and time.

– Wendy Fogarty is a Management Consultant with over 25 years’ corporate experience and founder of I&IBS.

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