Join Local Community Organizations
In an Internet-saturated society, there’s a lot of buzz around online social networking, but it’s important not to overlook the value of real, sincere face-to-face time. The effects of traditional communication may well still offer benefits just as big—if not bigger—as spending time trying to drum up business via the Web. Dave Gallerani is a perfect example.
The owner of Cape Auto Body and Repairs in Plymouth, Mass., has a body shop that spans 8,000 square feet and reaches $2 million in annual sales; he’s been networking at local community organizations for the past 30 years. Gallerani says that between his connections and his son’s—who also works at the shop—he generates an extra $200,000 in business per year. “There’s no question,” he says of how local networking has increased his cash flow. “The more people you know, the better chance you have of selling your work. It’s the way to do business.”
Gallerani has been involved within his community for more than three decades. At 26, he was already on the Board of Directors for the city’s Chamber of Commerce. His résumé features an array of positions he’s held through the years, including past president and current member of Plymouth’s Business Networking International (BNI) group, founding member of the Peer Solutions Network, past president of the Plymouth Lions Club and officer on the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Auto Body Association.
He spends at least six or seven hours a week networking at local community meetings and organizations. “Pretty much my whole job is to go out and get business,” Gallerani says. “I stay as connected as I can.” The effort has paid off. Over time, he’s secured fleet accounts with several businesses including Glynn Electric, a local electric company with 75 trucks, and Comcast, a communications company with more than 30 trucks in his area. Gallerani also landed accounts with Dynamic Results, a division of Comcast with 20 to 30 trucks of its own, and Horizon Foods, which has had as many as 12 vehicles.
—Dave Gallerani, Owner, Cape Auto Body & Repairs
The successful meet-and-greet doesn’t happen by accident, Gallerani has learned. Here are a few of the tips and tricks that he relies on for successful local networking:
Keep going. Even if you think your efforts are floundering, don’t give up. “Don’t stop because you think it’s not working,” Gallerani says. “You have to do it over and over again, just like any other type of advertising. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. People aren’t just going to flock to you.” He advocates for consistency. “You get more out of something when you make an effort,” he says. While attending a meeting or event, make a point to introduce yourself to new people as well as stopping by to say hello to those you already know.
Be focused. Your main objective is to share information about your shop. Though small talk is a nice way to start a conversation, don’t waste time chatting about mundane topics. Make sure the person you’re speaking with understands some of the unique selling points of your shop and what differentiates you from your competition. For example, Gallerani is always sure to mention that his shop performs mechanical repairs in addition to collision work—a nice cross marketing strategy for him. And when your competition comes up in conversation, resist the urge to trash talk. “I’ll say they do a good job, but we do a better job,” he says. “Take the high road. It’s more professional.”
Listen well. This probably sounds like common sense, but it’ll go a long way to helping generate more business. “Listen to what these people are saying, [and] make sure to catch who they are,” Gallerani says. “That’s a key thing. I usually go out of my way to find out who someone is. You really want to know the names of the people [you’re networking with].” People like being recognized, and it makes them feel more comfortable around you, Gallerani explains. “You have to look at it as, ‘If I’m the consumer and I go into someone’s business, and they ignore me, I might walk out.’ If I ignore someone [at a meeting or event], why wouldn’t they do the same thing? It’s pretty simple. Treat them nice. It’s not that hard.” Remember their name and offer a warm welcome and they’re more likely to remember your name when they—or someone else they know—needs their car repaired.
Make time. Don’t let a busy schedule interfere with your networking opportunities. “A lot of people say they don’t have time,” Gallerani says, “[but] I consider it part of my lifestyle. You have to have that personality to go out and talk to people. The more you do it, the better you get at it.” If you’re apprehensive about attending meetings and chatting with people you don’t know well, start small. Participate in a local Chamber of Commerce or City Hall meeting and speak with folks you know fairly well or have seen around town before. Once you’re comfortable, gradually begin introducing yourself to some people you don’t know. With enough practice, it will get easier—and may eventually become second nature.
Be prepared. You only get one chance to make a great first impression, as the cliché goes. “You need preparation when you go to these events,” Gallerani says. “Take a shower; wear a jacket and tie. People do measure you by the way you dress. You project a certain image. If you look successful, you’ll be more successful.” It’s also a great idea to have a plan of attack for what you want to share about your shop. “In most cases, I show up with something typed with bullet points,” he says. “I don’t leave anything to chance.” A quick outline of what you want to cover while networking helps you stay focused. Plus, it’ll ease any nervousness because you’re better prepared.
Keep contacts close. Once you’ve established relationships with people you’ve met, remember to keep them in mind when you’re in need of the particular service they provide. “It really is full circle,” Gallerani says. “If I do business with you, you’re more likely to do business with me.” And when you realize that two of your contacts may be a business fit for each other, refer them—and make sure they know you made the connection. This will pay off in dividends. “Now that person is more likely to say, ‘Dave’s a good guy. He sent me some business.’ So if he knows someone who was in an accident, he’ll say, ‘Dave’s a trustworthy guy. You should see him,’” Gallerani says. The “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” approach to generating business is one he’s seen work repeatedly.
A GOOD INVESTMENT
Gallerani says success from local networking comes when you establish an approach that best fits your personality and communication style. “Everyone needs to figure out what works best for them,” he says. The most important thing to remember is to stick with it. “I think people give up too easily,” Gallerani says. “The more you involve yourself, the better. You never know who you’ll meet or where the next [bit of] business is coming from.”
With an extra $200,000 added to his bottom line, Gallerani doesn’t plan to stop networking any time soon—and not just because it’s great for business. “For one thing, it’s fun!” he says. “I wouldn’t miss my BNI group for anything. You make a lot of friends over the course of this. It’s a good way of life.”