Hairdressing is a chatty ‘people’ business and so you may think you are a good networker. But networking is a marketing and promotional tool many businesses fail to use to its full potential, argues Charlie Lawson.
Most salon owners know only too well the importance of word-of-mouth referrals as a marketing tool.
Yet, while 90 per cent of businesses rely on word-of-mouth as a means of gaining new business, our research suggests only three per cent have a formal strategy for getting new business this way.
So what do salons need to do?
First, they simply need to provide an excellent service – that’s pretty much a given in the hairdressing industry.
But, second, they need to polish their networking skills.
Most people get “business networking” wrong. They often think of it as specific networking events, whether it be breakfast meetings, evening events or trade shows; it is formal events where they can sell their services or brand to others. Networking is that but it is also much more than that.
Networking needs to be part and parcel of your daily salon business, business-to-client and business-to- community as well. Some of this will, or should, be second nature to most good hairdressers: asking questions and listening (properly) to clients, telling stories and being chatty and personable.
But while there’s nothing wrong with this, you (and your stylists) should be thinking about how you can take this relationship to another level, one where you surprise and delight your clients in equal measure and, in the process, build much deeper salon loyalty.
For example, of course you’ll probably make a careful note of what regular hair treatments clients have or prefer. But how about also noting when and where they tend to go on holiday and, when the time comes around, making a point of offering some specific tips for maintaining their hair while away?
You can also “give to gain”. This is one of the biggest secrets of effective networking.
For example, a new client tells you about something they are doing, such as a renovation project, buying a new car, looking for childcare and so on.
Your salon may well be a hub for local information and gossip, so you may well know the best person for the job. So don’t be afraid to recommend them.
First, you’ll have done another local business a favour, and so might well get a referral or recommendation back.
Second, and more importantly, you’ll immediately have taken your relationship beyond the merely transactional salon relationship.
At its most effective successful networking should be almost invisible; it’s not about the brand or “sell” even if, indirectly, that’s precisely what you are doing. It’s about the relationship, about going above and beyond the clienthairdresser dynamic.
So, never underestimate who your client might be, who they are related to or may know. A salon can be a hothouse of opportunity, links and further networks if you are open to building the right kind of relationships.
Next, get social. More and more salons are becoming social media savvy and the benefits of this are obvious. Customers or companies who follow you on Twitter or Facebook page are “opt ins”, meaning they are happy to follow the information you put out.
So, maximise this relationship and put out as much quality, relevant and frequent content as possible. Share tips about haircare, style tips, celeb-spotting Tweets and promotional offers; ask customers for permission to photograph them and use them on your channels. If you use a programme such as HootSuite it’s possible to pre-plan your Tweets so they can go out at a set time without requiring you to be doing it while you are with clients.
Finally, get the "L factor" – likeability. Any salon can be good, but one that in the client’s mind is both trustworthy and likeable has an immediate advantage.
This brings us full circle. The best referrals, the ones we trust the most, always come from friends and colleagues. Hairstyling is a very personal, personalised, creative process.
If your customers love what you have done, having a relationship that goes a bit deeper can encourage them to go out and be that little bit more vocal and enthusiastic about you and what a great salon you’re running.
The message here is you need to think of networking as an active ongoing commitment, a key "under the radar" part of your promotional and marketing activity.
Networking in its purest form is simply a two-way connection. So think about not just how you can help your clients, but how they can help you.
If you read nothing else read this…
- Networking is much more than just business-to-business or peer meetings
- Deeper engagement with clients can create more word-of-mouth referrals
- It’s about the relationship not the “sell”
- Social media can be an important part of the networking process
Charles Lawson - Director of Business Network International (BNI)