I’m often asked these days about how to network and build a referral business as a home-based business owner. During the eight years I worked from home (The photo is the home I started BNI in), I learned a great deal about the pros and cons of working from home and how it related to my networking efforts. Although most of the networking techniques that work for any business work for most home-based businesses, there are at least two important issues that I think apply to a home-based business more than any other.
Promoting My Home-based Business
My opinion in this area rubs some home-based business owners the wrong way, but I feel strongly about it: When networking, I don’t recommend you share that you run a home-based business. I believe telling people you meet in networking environments that you “work from home” has either a neutral or a negative impact because it either doesn’t matter to them, or they’re not impressed that you operate your business out of your house.
When I worked from home, I rarely, if ever, met anyone who said, “Oh, fantastic, you work from home–I must do business with you!” Working from home was just not something that I found made people “want” to do business with me. Therefore, why should it be emphasized when meeting people through networking?
Often, when I attend a networking function, I see someone stand, say what they do, how people can refer them and then add at the end that he or she runs a home-based business. I believe that bit of information will generally have no impact or a negative impact on what people think of your potential abilities–it almost never has a positive impact on people wanting to do business with you.
The Cave-Dweller Syndrome.
I find that many home-based business owners seriously suffer from Cave-Dweller Syndrome. Home-based business owners who want to build your business through word of mouth, you have to be visible and active in the community by participating in various networking groups and/or professional associations that will get you out of your cave. These kinds of groups include Casual Contact Networks (like your local chamber of commerce), Business Development Networks (like my own BNI), professional organizations (almost all professions have one), and service clubs (like the Rotary or Lions Clubs).
Look for other ways to be very visible in your circle of influence. For example, be active in your child’s school PTA or your church. Keep your eye open for opportunities to be involved in groups of people who come together for a common cause.
The bottom line is, networking doesn’t change too much whether your business is based from home or a corporate location. The dynamics of developing a strong word-of-mouth-based business transcend your business location. The caveat for the home-based business owner is that you’ll have to be even more diligent and focused on finding those networking opportunities.