What do you think about when you hear the word “networking,” professionally speaking? Many may associate the word with what happens during conferences, meetings, and trade shows. Some may trivialize it, while others may develop anxiety at the thought of meeting new faces. However, if positively approached, the activity of networking not only adds great value for your business but it helps you establish lifelong, symbiotic relationships which will pay dividends for years to come.
In the collision repair industry, we find ourselves networking at association meetings, trade shows, and other special industry events with fellow body shop professionals, repairers, manufacturer and jobber reps, and more. Oftentimes, the overwhelming feeling of being too busy with our jobs gets in the way of attending those events. But there are ways to get past that feeling by delegating assignments or asking managers to take charge while away. It’s important we aren’t ignoring or minimizing the importance of networking and to make it a priority in our daily lives.
Admittedly, networking isn’t all that easy and it takes time to master it. We have to dedicate time to other business-related and value-added activities, even though work might pile up as a result. If you’re one who might be leery of networking with the presence of competitors nearby, you are not the only one with that concern. This is a common worry in the highly competitive collision industry.
To make matters more complicated, “fragmentation” is an oft-used word to describe the collision industry, as many shops do not see eye-to-eye on various industry issues or have divergent ideas on how state associations should be run.
Despite all the common excuses, the first and most important step to networking is: just do it. If you’re serious about improving your business, you need to force yourself to learn from others. This will allow you to connect with and see how others in similar businesses are operating. Abide by sound business practices but be open and willing to discuss the day-to-day challenges you face and how to overcome them. The challenges many are facing right now in the collision repair industry are:
- Parts shortages
- Rising tech salaries
- Rising costs
- Increasing vehicle technology
- The tech shortage
You can’t do it all alone, and what is the popular phrase? “Two heads are better than one.” Gather with a handful of professionals in a 20 Group style setup or hundreds at a trade show cocktail reception to learn new techniques and identify common themes. Even though the traditional 20 Group is comprised of individuals from non-competing businesses, it is a great concept that can be leveraged by many key stakeholders.
Even if you’re apprehensive about sharing your blueprints for the world to see, perhaps a 20 Group within your local network is the right way to go instead. The purpose would be to focus on continuous improvement while fostering healthy and spirited competition.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to reach out to a valued equipment vendor, supplier, or distributor who, as a business partner and neutral go-between, has your best interests in mind and can connect you with like-minded shops in your market. They have many contacts you may not have connections with yet and would be happy to facilitate a networking event that can forge both business relationships and friendships.
Other tips for networking?
- Be approachable with an open and friendly demeanor.
- Bring business cards. Lots of them.
- Look your best and dress for success.
- Eye contact is key. It shows you are bold, serious, and respectful.
- Identify three challenges your shop faces, along with three accomplishments to share and discuss with colleagues.
- Limit conversations to no more than 15 minutes per peron to network with the maximum amount of individuals possible.
If you find yourself still asking, ‘Why should I care about networking?’ then think of it in this manner. We network to not only connect with other industry professionals, but to truly establish professional relationships that lead to strengthened partnerships. An established relationship with a potential partner or customer could aid in handling tough negotiations. And by having a positive, historical relationship and an understanding of one another’s needs, you’ll find common ground during those more difficult times.
Overall, have fun with networking! Approach it with the right mindset, be open and communicative, and without a doubt, you’ll get the most out of your networking experience.