Please Put Your Business Card Away
When I first started out in business on my own, there was no LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. The only way to network was to get off your backside, get in a car and attend a N.E.T.W.O.R.K.I.N.G. event.
Oh how I hated those meetings. What shall I wear? Have I got my business Cards? What’s my 60 second elevator pitch? Who shall I talk to? Is there anyone in here not wearing a grey suit? I remember approaching people, thrusting my business card at them and blurting out my speech on what I did and how it could benefit them immensely. It never worked, they grimaced, their eyes glazed over and I just longed to run to the car and head home to a nice bath & a bottle of wine.
It was only when I moved to Shropshire and attended my first Women in Rural Enterprise & Craven Arms Business Network events that I really started to understand what networking was all about. It’s not about who has the best elevator speech, the smartest grey suit or the most professionally produced business card, it’s about building relationships. People buy from and recommend people they like and trust.
Now we have Twitter & it’s a great way of networking online. The problem is people on Twitter keep thrusting their metaphorical business cards at me and giving me their 60 second elevator speeches. You can tweet me as much as you want about how your B&B is the best in your area or you’re running a special offer this weekend. Unless I know you & like you I am not going to come and stay with you or recommend you.
The clue’s in the name really, SOCIAL networking. It’s not Advertising Networking or Selling Networking. Twitter works by creating relationships with people and showing those people what you offer. Simples!
The other mistake I see people making ( and indeed the mistake I made at the beginning ) is that they think Twitter is just there for meeting future guests . Twitter is so much more that just trying to persuade all of your followers to come & stay at your B&B.
So who am I building relationships with?
- Local Suppliers
One thing that has amazed me about Twitter is the huge number of people that I have met locally, both virtual meetings & real life ones. I have met new suppliers, @pimhillfarm do wonderful organic oats, @dragonfly_dawn makes wonderful environmentally friendly soaps, @brockhallfarm great goat’s cheese, @abundantludlow for beautiful flowers and other great bits & bobs, as well as fab dog & guaranteed hug.
Suppliers pay attention now – If I’m in a shop and see a range of products I will choose products of people I know and chat with on Twitter over products from people I don’t know. I like you so I am coming from the position of wanting to really like your product as well.
2. B&Bs and Accomodation Providers
I’ve networked with B&Bs locally all of the time I’ve been running my business, but it’s only since I’ve been on Twitter that I’ve met like minded tourism operators. The great thing about Twitter is that you can meet people online and through chatting with them decide whether you’ve really got things in common.
We share ideas, recipes, discuss issues, provide an ear ( via direct message ) when things are going disastrously wrong. Sometimes it’s really only people in the same industry who can understand how you’re feeling.
When people ring me and I’m full it’s my local Twitter friends who get the referrals, because I like them, but also because I am constantly reminded that they are there.
3. Journalists, Radio Presenters, PR professionals and the like
Twitter is a great way of getting PR. Requests are coming out all the time for people with different stories to tell in magazines and newspapers. I’ve been in Good Housekeeping, The Mail, The Times and Woman & Home this year and I know I can attribute at least one of those directly to relationships I’ve built on Twitter.
Also by following your local journalists & making friends with local radio presenters & PR professionals you can see what they’re interested in story wise and improve your chances of getting local publicity, which is not to be underestimated when you run a B&B. Visiting Friends and Family is a target market that any B&B owners ignores at their peril.
4. Tourism Professionals
There are lots of great tourism professionals and experts out there on Twitter. I’ve made friends with a few and benefit considerably from their expertise. Our local Virtual shropshire @vshropshire is a great example of how to use Twitter as a tourism organisation. @forfeng and @abouttheinn over in the states share great articles on hospitality and give sound advice
5. Potential guests, past guests or friends of both potential & past guests
So everyone who is following you is a potential/past guest or is a friend of a potential/past guest. Since that very first B&B landlady first donned her apron, picked up her rolling pin & decided how much to charge for the bath plug, B&Bs have been relying on recommendation and word of mouth. And Twitter is the ULTIMATE word of mouth.
But don’t just tell people how wonderful you are. Why should I believe you that you’re the best B&B in Outer Mongolia if that’s all you ever tweet? Paint a picture – describe your breakfasts, post pictures of the views, tell them about great days out, share recipes, details of events.
Most importantly create relationships with them, reply, retweet, engage! People generally stay at B&Bs becase they prefer the more personal touch. They like the recommendations, the chat – reflect what you’re doing in your business on Twitter. When guests first arrive or come to breakfast do you spend the time saying “We won a gold award in the tourism awards this year”, “Did you know we’re the best B&B locally?” – probably not?
Running a B&B can paradoxically be a very lonely profession. You’re very much tied to the house, especially if you’re a one man band. I’ve made lots of friends on Twitter and I’ve actually gone out much more meeting people in real life than I would have done otherwise. I’m meeting up with another 2 new people this week. I’ve also reconnected with people I used to know, casual acquaintences who have gone onto become firmer friends.
Next week I shall be sharing my own personal Twitter Rules…..you may choose to ignore them, I frequently break them myself. In the meantime, take off the grey suit & rip up that business card.