Digital marketing is a commoditized service. What this means for you is that you have to really stand out and prove to people why they’d work for you over someone else offering the same services. As we’ve said above, anyone can build a website — you’re the special feature people are paying for.
Much like plumbers, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, HVAC professionals, and many, many more professions, digital marketers are everywhere and they’re always looking for work. In the same fashion electricians are constantly attending networking events and keeping themselves relevant looking for their next job, digital marketers do the same thing.
When starting out, physically networking may be the greatest asset to your business compared to every other method of obtaining clients. Networking events and meetups will put you in front of the people who are willing and able to buy from you — be present and turn on the charm to get more work for your digital agency.
Why Networking is so Effective For Your Digital Agency
Websites are websites — at the end of the day, it rarely matters who built it and many businesspeople would have a difficult time deciphering the difference between something you build and something your competitor down the block built. Unfortunately, this means who clients buy digital marketing from is a lot less logical than it should be. Fortunately, this means there’s an opportunity to be exploited.
Imagine you and your competitor can build the same exact website using the same tools — neither is better nor worse than the other. Which agency is this law firm in need of a web presence going to hire? Let’s take a look at their options and how they might approach this.
First, a lawyer might reach out to their network and ask if anyone knows anybody — the opportunity is already there because whoever this person is asking could easily have done work with you in the past and recommend you. If you’re in that referral circle you’re off to a great start — you probably got into that referral circle by meeting their acquaintances at a networking event. You met them in person at some point.
If the lawyer still struggles to find someone after their network wasn’t able to provide any names, they resort to their networking. Perhaps they’re going to a business cocktail hour — you better believe they’ll be on the lookout for some marketing people.
At the cocktail hour, the lawyer meets Joe from Joe’s Media & Marketing. Joe and the lawyer speak a bit since they can both help each other out professionally. The lawyer is impressed with the work Joe’s done and takes his business card for later use — it seems likely this lawyer might be setting up a meeting with Joe’s Media & Marketing to get some deals moving!
Later that night, the lawyer runs into you. Although the lawyer already has someone in mind for their website, they’re always eager to network, meet new professionals, and possibly weigh some options and have someone bid for their work. You and the lawyer are connecting really well and they’re a big fan of your charm and wit. You barely even talk about your experience but they get the idea that you’re more than qualified to handle their website and such.
The next day, the lawyer forgot all about Joe’s Media & Marketing and calls you immediately. They want to set up a time to talk more details and get a website up and running! You have this job in the bag — the lawyer is happy to give the work to you because they like you as a person as well as a businessperson. Truthfully, Joe might have been the better option, he’s done law sites in the past, he’s older, and maybe he’s even more professional — but the lawyer really liked you and your personality so they decided it’s better to give the work to you since they’ll be more comfortable with you.
Notice how much revolves around you — you are the differentiating factor between all digital marketing agencies. You are why someone is going to choose your firm over someone else’s.
How Networking Has Helped My Digital Agency
When I first started Calaboration, I did nothing but attend business meetups, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and happy hours. I wanted to encounter every single person who considered themselves a business. Everyone needs a website — if you didn’t have one I was in your face pitching you one.
This may seem aggressive — but it worked. Being aware of my strengths, I was always able to determine how I could most easily get a new deal. I found I was most appealing and made most contacts in crowds, whether speaking in front of them or mingling within them. By understanding that speaking, gesticulating, and entertaining people in the real world would be my greatest shot of getting initial work, I immersed myself in all the networking events I possibly could’ve.
I quickly became friends with some of the top real estate agents and lenders in the state. Although I didn’t get much work from them in particular, they’re so well-connected they’re always happy to throw me some names of people who need websites.
This wasn’t something that I was able to do very well while others were unable to. This was just being present. Woody Allen says, "80 percent of life is showing up" — this goes to show that you could be stumbling on your words, wearing unprofessional clothing, and anything else that would seemingly ruin your chances and still get the job; all because you showed up.
Of course, we suggest learning all you can about proper conversational skills and such, but the big picture is that by showing up and being in front of these people, you already have a huge edge and beat out 80% of the competition since they couldn’t make it out that day.
"80 percent of life is showing up" ~ Woody Allen
Don’t get discouraged when you go to a few events and meet the same people who aren’t giving you work. This is just like building a brand and will take time — you may get lucky and land a client after your first day out, or it could take a month for you to build the necessary relationships that’ll result in a new client — whatever it is it is crucial to continue on and persevere.
Ultimately, if you want to get clients quickly and are willing to put in the legwork, networking events could be extremely resourceful. Getting out of bed at 6 am for early breakfast networking and staying out until 10 for cocktail events will not be sustainable forever. Go out and do it now so you can build the foundation for your digital agency.
How to Network to Get Clients
Networking is a skill like any other. It can be acquired, refined, and even perfected. It goes on for a while and takes a lot of time to win at networking. Just like branding, networking is building a reputation and using it to win you more trust and more work.
You walk into a happy hour and everyone is wearing a sports coat and holding their gin and tonics. You pay your $20 admission fee and start walking around. Where do you begin?
Nail Your Pitch
How are you introducing yourself?
Hello all, I’m Nick Calabro with Calaboration — a digital marketing and media agency. We’ve worked with politicians and real estate agents to build their websites, execute lead generation tactics, and even their more traditional marketing desires. Thanks for putting on the event and I look forward to meeting you all!
If an event calls for everyone going around the room, you should craft a short bio of yourself and your company that you can always repeat. Say this with more confidence than anything you’ve ever said.
Find People in Groups of Three
You don’t normally want to barrel into a conversation between just two people. They’re likely engaged in each other and don’t really have room to let you in. This is why it’s best to find a group of three people or more — the natural progression of conversations will eventually favor two people and there will be somebody slightly left out; this is who you can pursue a conversation with since they’ll be yearning for someone to speak to them anyway.
Find a group and walk up to it — I wish I could say there was more to it.
Typically, people will welcome you into their circle. You can introduce yourself, give your little pitch, and ask what everyone else does. When you find someone that has something in common with you or that you want to learn more about, simply shift over to them and ask for their card. This will spark a conversation and you’re networking!
Talk to the Right People
You never want to avoid anyone — everyone and anyone would be great contacts for you and could always have the potential to help you out in the future. With that said, you are there to get business. If you’re selling digital marketing and web design, you probably don’t want to be talking to all the other digital marketers at the event. In fact, you want to make rounds as soon as possible so you can get in front of people before they can.
Don’t Get Trapped
If you find yourself getting wrapped up in boring conversations that are all about the other person and have no chance of leading to anything valuable for you, you have every right to bail. Your business is the most important one at that event, don’t harm your lead pipeline because you wanted to be polite and listen to someone tell stories about their grandchildren.
Speak Loudly & Confidently
I consider myself very lucky that I naturally speak loudly and exude excitement. People tell me all the time how they appreciate my passion and hunger — I look at them oddly because this is my effortless state, but it’s increasingly becoming clear that these are some of the traits that are neccesary to succeed at networking.
People will always remember the person that made them feel good, that made them laugh, and that showed they were happy to be in their presence. No one is going to remember the person that says, "I guess I can fix your toilet" in a monotonous tone.
I’m sure as soon as you decided on a name for your agency you designed some business cards. It’s a very entertaining process to go through because it’s a tangible reward for your efforts of becoming an agency CEO.
Networking events probably account for 90% of the business card printing industry. You will receive hundreds and you’ll give out thousands. I hardly meet anyone that doesn’t get a copy of my business card and I try to get one from everyone I meet.
The secret to this business is being in front of people. When you have jacket pocket full of business cards, send out emails to each one of those the next morning.
Hi Barb, great meeting you last night. It was great getting some insights into your industry and I’m eager to learn more about this. I’d love to buy you a coffee or get together in some capacity so we can talk more about your business and if there’s anything we can do to work together.
Calaboration has worked with other accounting firms in the past and I’d love to get a feel for how you’re currently doing it.
Thanks so much and talk soon!
Where to Network for Digital Marketing Clients
At first, it is going to seem like there are so many networking events and that you’ll never be able to go to them all. Soon, after you go to all of them, you’ll learn that only a few out of those thirty were any good. You might stick to a certain couple that you’re happy with and attend those weekly and be done with it.
The different types of groups will keep you busy throughout the day as well. Morning breakfast groups usually start very early and will take up about 90-120 minutes. Afternoon lunch clubs will have a different vibe but ultimately offer the same thing. Things get different when you’re dealing in happy hour and have to navigate the bar and everyone standing around.
BNI — Business Networking Company is a very popular networking group that you can find anywhere. There are probably a few chapters near your area that you can test out and find one that fits.
LeTip — Much like BNI, LeTip is a referral network. You sit in a circle, give a speech about what you do and who your clients are, and sit back down. You’re encouraged (and sometimes forced) to bring referrals for someone else in the group so you can all have a powerful pipeline.
One thing to keep in mind with groups like BNI and LeTip is that they don’t allow anyone joining who might be a competitor to someone already in the group. They’re very strict about having one person from the industry only at each group. This allows the system of passing referrals to work so well — as soon as I learn my neighbor needs a plumber, I’m going directly to my designated plumber at the group instead of choosing someone out of a pool.
Meetup — Just doing a quick search on Meetup.com for business events will bring up many options. These are going to be less structured since there’s (likely) no big company behind them, but they will make for great experiences.
Like we stated above, the best thing you can do after a networking event is reaching out to everyone. Hopefully, you listened and garnered enough data at the event to coherently have a conversation later on with them as well.
Meet for coffee, help them with their social media, and build that brand. You’re going to be a friend to them forever now and even though most of them will never return favors and help you out, the ones that do will make it so worth it. Happy networking.