Why and how electrical contractors should build their networks
Where do most of your electrical jobs come from?
Successfully bidding on tenders is one thing, but many contractors also get a lot of business through referrals. Even during the tender process, businesses that happen to know someone involved can find themselves with an advantage.
It’s easy to get swept up with having your head down and working, but there are many advantages to actively building and maintaining your networks.
Your network could even be your competitive advantage – let’s take a look:
Why build your networks
Networking often isn’t seen as a priority, particularly when you’re busy just getting the job done. It takes some effort to build and maintain networks, but there are advantages to doing so.
These days, it’s often not enough to be a skilled contractor that does a great job – it’s frequently about who you know. This rule tends to hold true in many different fields, not just electrical contracting.
When you think back over projects your team has worked on, are there any that come to mind which you can attribute to having a good relationship with key decision makers? Sometimes the fact that you already knew the procurement team, facilities manager, or project manager may have held sway when awarding the contract.
Of course, not every project goes up for tender, particularly in the private sector. Sometimes a business will make enquiries through contractors they already know – hopefully you’re one of them!
Outside of the decision-makers who award contracts, it’s also important that electrical contractors have good industry contacts too. You always want the best possible pricing from suppliers, reliable, skilled subcontractors, and a heads-up on potential opportunities that are coming up. Who do you need to know to make those things happen?
Many electrical contractors count referrals as a staple of their business. You’re not going to get those referrals if you don’t cultivate networks. The bottom line is that it’s worth putting some effort into networking, because being well-connected is an advantage.
How to build networks
Before considering different tactics for building your network, make sure you’re being intentional about it. Many people turn up to events or breeze through conferences, collecting business cards as they go, but this is ineffective without setting some kind of intention first.
It’s not enough to just be seen and add to a collection of business cards – what are your goals for networking? If you can articulate them specifically, it helps you to understand what you need to do, and whom you need to meet. It also helps other people to connect you with the right people when you clearly say: “I’m looking for someone who does/knows X.”Be intentional about building networks- collecting business cards is ineffective! Click To Tweet
Some tips for building your networks include:
Building relationships with vendors and subcontractors
Every site you visit or appointment you attend is a potential meeting-ground for new contacts, so make the effort to meet them.
You might find vendors, procurement managers, facilities managers, or even subcontractors whom you could potentially work with in the future. Learn names, get their contact details, and always have your business card available to pass to them.
When you’re on the job, make sure you make yourself known to every person there. The relationships you can build over the course of a project can lead to being hired directly, or referred to someone else who needs your services.
Organising meet and greets
Do people know your team and what you’re capable of? Meet and greets are one way to share that information, create a good impression, and build your contacts.
Some businesses do this with “open house” style events, allowing people to come to them, enjoy refreshments, and learn about the company. Smaller contractors might go directly to potential clients and meet them in their own offices, perhaps taking along some kind of morning tea or treat.
Sometimes the best way to meet the right people is to put yourself out there. It’s not always a comfortable thing to do, but you can reap rewards from building a personal connection.
Attending conferences or events
Events and conferences are a great way to meet new people, as long as you do it with intention, as discussed earlier. It’s easy to circulate around a room, handing out business cards, but who do you really want to meet? Try to have a plan in place beforehand.
Consider also looking outside of typical industry events. What sort of events would your customers be attending? This might even include things like city council or planning meetings. You might learn about future opportunities and meet the people behind them.
Part of networking is building your visibility and recognition among others. Ideally, you want your company name to spring to mind when people are looking to source electrical work.
Sponsorships are one way you can not only meet people, but get some visibility for your brand. There are often community events, or even bigger events (depending on your budget), which require sponsorships.
Also consider sports teams. You get your branding on a shirt, and you never know who else is connected to the team. Be sure to turn up to some games so you can meet them.
Electrical contractors often report mixed success with networking via social media and online channels. It comes down to finding the right groups that have sufficient engagement. Groups that are full of people wanting to self-promote are usually not effective.
The idea of engaging online is to be useful to others. If you can showcase your expertise without being pushy, then you can start to build relationships with others based on trust. The idea is that, next time they’re looking for expertise that you have, your name comes to mind.
Tips for maintaining networks
A key mistake many people make when attempting to build networks is not following up. To be effective, networks need nurturing – you can’t just work a room, collect business cards, then shove them in a drawer somewhere.
What often happens is that, you suddenly remember that person you met a few months ago – weren’t they connected to a company you’re hoping to land some contracts with? You email them out of the blue, and you’re lucky if you hear anything back – they probably don’t even remember who you are.
Here are some tips for keeping your networks well-maintained:
- Do something with the contact as soon as you have it. For some people, this means adding them to a database or CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software. Importantly, include notes about where you met them, what they do, and anything you learned about them.
- Another option is to add them on LinkedIn if they have an account. It’s best to do this while the meeting is still fresh in their minds. Include a quick note to jog their memory, such as: “it was great to meet you at ___ yesterday.”
- Do what you said you were going to do. If you’ve made any promises upon meeting people, follow through! For example, if you’ve told them you’ll introduce them to someone that you know, do so as soon as possible. Delivering on a promise is a great way to make an impression!
- Stay in touch. Send the occasional email, interact on social media, or invite them to events that will be of interest. There’s no set manual for how you do it, but keeping up contact is important for nurturing networks.
- Follow up with clients. If you’ve done a great job for someone, make sure you follow up with them. This might be by sending a survey requesting that they rate your service, or including them on an email list to keep them aware of any offers you have. Satisfied customers can be an important source of referrals.
“Who you know” can make a big difference to any electrical contractor, from being offered or referred jobs, to being connected to people who can help.
Having the right connections can be your competitive advantage. Maybe you get the first call when an opportunity comes up, or maybe you’re able to offer better value because you know the right people to supply the job.
In any case, it’s worth including time for networking as an essential part of your business activities. You may be busy right now, but building a solid network can ensure that you stay busy into the future.
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