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Why local makes sense

According to the Automobile Association running a car that cost up to £12,000 when it was new, costs nearly £2,200 every year. If you do less than 5,000 miles a year then you spend about 62p per mile. If you do 15,000 miles a year it cost about 35p a mile. For a car that cost up to £22,000 the figures increase to £4,200; £1.05 and £1.50 respectively. These costs are based on petrol being about £1.06 per litre (or 106p as they love to show it at the petrol station) and we all know how the price has crept up since then.

Getting to my local town which is 7 miles away (and back again) is going to cost me about seven pounds (plus time)! Suddenly that trip to the supermarket has become expensive, especially if I was only going for bread and milk! Well, not exactly but you can see where I'm going.

Shopping locally, like we did in the snow, meant getting the essentials, only added £2 worth of petrol to the cost - the village is closer. Saving me money - that all essential ingredient to happiness. On that basis alone, local makes sense.

Local networking makes sense too

Now you must've wondered why all around us local business networking groups have sprung up during the past couple of years, some of it, at least, is down to the fact that we often don't need to go 20 miles to network we are better to take a good look round our own locale.

Could it be that some of the things we travel miles for (expensive miles), are actually available virtually just around the corner. Keeping it local also has another advantage, people who work closer to their place of business are not anywhere near as hampered by transportation difficulties. Buying something from a business just around the corner helps keep the price down. Getting to know the business people on your doorstep usually creates good business relationships simply because you've at least one thing in common - you chose to live in the same area - you share some of the same benefits as well as the same problems. A synergie of sorts.

It's a bit like reading the local papers - you find out things. Instead of getting the long distance plumber to come to you - the one you knew when you lived 25 miles away - you can get the local guy (or gal) out. Hopefully (s)he's going to become a regular supplier so (s)he'll understand why it's worth doing a good job for a fair sum.

I've been networking since before we knew what to call it, so I guess I know a bit about it. If you are networking here's a few things I suggest you look out for:-

1. Find out the exact costs of networking. Breakfast or lunch clubs can sound like a good idea for some people until they work out that £10 a week is £500 a year - if they've been telling themselves they can't afford a website then stop going out to lunch and spend the dosh on a professional website to help get leads.

2. How often can make a difference. Do you really need a weekly networking session? If you like the discipline then good, go for it. Many suppliers (like me) provide such a good service on a daily basis to our clients, committing to a weekly networking session would result in giving less time to my existing clients.

3. How many new contacts are you looking for? Potential customers take time from you to become buyers. Every new enquiry you get can take time off you: having the first conversation; getting prices; calculating profit; sorting logistics; working out the deal; following up - and after all that there is a chance the 'potential customer' was just checking your price against the price from his regular supplier! Now I'm not saying don't find potential clients (far from it) but I am saying think about how many enquiries you can really handle. That can be why local networking works well for some people, they get busy they don't go to the next networking meeting. But you need the flexibility to not go.

4. Evaluate the cost against the benefits. Popping down the pub for a free network when you have time is exactly the way some local networking groups work. Great for some. But if you are looking for a more structured business networking group then paying a membership will produce improved benefits. For about £60 a year some associations offer listings on a website; in a directory delivered to each house and business; free help with finance, HR, marketing, law; free advertising for vacancies, articles for sale and member offers. Now that's value.

5. Saving your valuable time. Have you ever been to a networking meeting and come away without any new business or new contacts? Yeah me too! Ever wondered why? It's easier to talk to the people you know. Even if you are given a list of attendees do you go and search for the ones you want to meet? Sometimes, but more often 'no'. If you knew who was actually there and available and right there in front of you, wouldn't that make a difference? Of course it would. Real networking groups who are focused on getting business professionally do one thing at the beginning of the meeting, or after the speaker or presenter, they ask everyone to tell everyone else, who they are and what they do. If you say no to that opportunity then why are you even going networking? Doing an 'around the room' provides a real shortcut to speaking only to the people who you want to talk to and focuses others' attention on you for the same reason.

6. Size matters. If face to face networking is what it is all about then the group needs an abundance of members. Not everyone can come to everything. A membership of 100 would normally turn out 30+, open invitations will get around 50 or 60 depending on the distribution of the promotion. The general rule is 'the more the merrier'. I used to run events for 150 keen networkers, from a membership of 400, and we kept everyone to 20 seconds when they introduced themselves - the events were very successful.

7. Don't be afraid of 'competition'. Some circles only allow one trade in membership at a time. Why on earth do that? I work with 20 other businesses who could have been considered 'competition' but the reality is I do things they don't and visa versa - so we offer each others services where appropriate. It helps us to increase strength in our respective businesses and provides greater benefits for everyone's customer base.

So don't be frightened, networking can easily help you develop more business and sharpen up your marketing skills at the same time.

Alan Reading runs Custom Marketing Resources providing a full range of marketing services to clients of all types and sizes. He's good with customer care too so if you know nothing about marketing yourself you'll be treated gently! Free advice on 01622 820841 or creative@cmr-group.co.uk

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Alan Reading has presented for Business Link, Enterprise Agencies, Chambers of Commerce, conferences and seminars for The British Hardware Federation, The Newspaper Society, the Association of Free Newspapers, training and marketing companies on starting, promoting and marketing business.

He is an award winning designer, has judged more than his fair share of design awards, hosted breakfasts, lunches, dinners, dinner dances, balls and networking events, compéred fashion shows, radio programmes and appeared on TV more than once, frequently on behalf of clients.

Alan is a business minded Designer (past President - and Chairman - of 3 Chambers in Kent) running his own business - Custom Marketing Resources (01622 820841) - in its' fifteenth year. You will learn even more - and see what his customers say about him - on his website http://www.cmr-group.co.uk He is willing to provide free advice by phone too even about websites.

Register with CMR by email today - there's always something new to hear. creative@cmr-group.co.uk

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