Get Old School Again with Time-Proven Business Networking

Get Old School Again with Time-Proven Business Networking

There are two ways to promote your shop: 1.) Advertising and 2.) Marketing. Advertising is when you buy space or time or impressions and you pay a fee for the exposure. Marketing is an enormous category that includes product marketing, branding, re-branding and a whole list of other things that are used to hopefully bring you new business while strengthening your position in your market.

Nancy Friedman (aka the Telephone Doctor) said that business-to-business networking is where the smaller independent shops can shine and compete on a level field with the bigger MSOs in their area.

I tell shop owners that advertising is the easy way out and marketing is the workhorse and the elbow grease of the promotional world. Advertising is like Babe Ruth and marketing is like Pete Rose. If you’re not a baseball fan, let’s put it another way—advertising is ideal for large corporations and for big MSOs, primarily because they have larger budgets to do it. Marketing is for smaller, independent shops that do great work but have less money to tell people about it.

So, I’m not trashing print media or broadcast media, I’m just saying for the average body shop out there with a limited budget, marketing is the smarter way to go. You can get a lot more mileage out of your marketing dollar by doing things as opposed to buying things--such as calling on dealerships for business, keeping in touch with the insurance agents in your area and maybe most importantly—doing some business-to-business networking.

Many shop owners don’t like the idea of getting out there in the community, meeting people and shaking hands. They feel comfortable working in their shops and fixing cars; as soon as they’re outside of that environment, they feel like fish out of water. If they stick their heads out and see their shadows, they’re likely to retreat and wait for spring.

But the shops that understand the value of networking know that it works and that is brings them a ton of business if they continually get out there and meet other people in their community. This can be achieved in many ways, but the core concept is the same—meet as many folks as you can and become an integral part of your business community.

Nancy Friedman is known as the Telephone Doctor and she speaks at SEMA and other automotive-related events year-round about customer service, best practices and yes—B2B networking. The doctor was in recently when we discussed networking and its value, especially for smaller shops.

“Networking is where the smaller independent shops can shine,” Friedman explained. “They can be a big fish in a small pond in a chamber of commerce or with the Elks, Rotary or even through a networking group, such as the Business Networking Institute (BNI). No one really cares how big you are or how many locations you have, as long as the work is good and your rates are fair.”

Be active and involved in any networking group and you’ll reap the benefits over time, Friedman said. “Become an integral part of the group, which means attend the meetings and other events and take on some responsibility. That’s the only way you’ll ever get anything from a networking group. I tell people sponsor events within the organization and be very proactive in getting out there. Most of these associations sponsor charity events and those are a great way to connect with the members of the group and the community as a whole. Great friendships—both personal and professional--start there and then build over time.”

Some body shop owners say—hey, I work 10-12 hour days ... how do I find the time to get to these meetings and events? Well, the doctor has the answer. “Many businesses have 2-3 people who go to the meetings and share that responsibility,” she explained. “Maybe one of your techs or estimators is the social type and not afraid to meet new people? As the owner you should still get out there periodically and wave your flag, but delegate the rest to the right people and let them shine.”

Collision repair shops all over the country are members of the Business Networking Institute (BNI) -- the world's largest referral organization with more than 150,000 members in 58 countries worldwide. BNI was founded in 1985 by Dr. Ivan Misner for the primary purpose of building powerful referral networks.

BNI works by creating a group of people from various industries and encouraging the regular distribution of referrals. Each chapter allows one person per occupational classification, and prospective members must be approved via an application process. BNI's philosophy is "Givers Gain" - members are expected to focus on giving referrals to other members to build relationships and receive referrals in return. Chapters have specific rules regarding required attendance in order to cultivate the relationships needed to create a comfort level in referring business. Chapters carefully track the monetary amount of passed business in order to prove the value of the money and time commitment.

By joining a BNI chapter and working it hard, body shops all over the country have made this organization a big part of their marketing plan. One owner has used it to foster a young, small shop by joining his local chapter and getting out there into the promising world of networking.

Kendall Glines is the owner of Lone Peak Collision Repair in Midvale, Utah, a small shop with five employees that fixes 5-7 cars weekly. One year after opening the shop in late 2012, Glines joined his local chapter (the Boom Chapter in West Jordan, UT) by paying $420 in annual fees after a $150 one-time registration fee, but those have been paid back many times over, he explained.

“I love the fact that I am the only collision repairer in the chapter, which means I don’t have to compete with other shops within the group for referrals,” Glines said. “We had to go through an interview process to qualify for membership and they checked out all of our references, because they want only top businesses that are honest and do quality work. Everyone knows 250 people in their community if they’ve lived there for any period of time, so the concept is to connect to those people and then indirectly connect to their group of 250 people.” (I did the math and if 250 people have 250 friends/associates/colleagues, that equals 62,500 people and if every one of them gets into an accident every nine years, that’s a grand total of almost 7,000 cars annually.)

Glines knows exactly down to the penny how much business he’s received through his BNI chapter and the numbers make him smile. “We’ve brought in $212,000 through BNI referrals and I also get work from a local car dealership who is a fellow member of our chapter. The referrals reach a point where they take off exponentially and as more members get to know you, it gets even get better. We’re going to do at least $1 million this year and BNI has been a big part of that. It has allowed us to avoid the DRPs and retain more control on all of our repairs.”

But, don’t apply for membership his chapter, Glines said, because he’s already that little fish in a big pond and happy about it. “Revenues are getting better every month and BNI has become an integral part of our business model now. We’ve become a part of the BNI family and proud of it.”

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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