The “Big Fish” networking strategy
How to grow your business with no brand, email list, or social media following.
The “Big Fish” networking strategy
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In 2012 I started a new FB ads agency with a business partner whom I met at a seminar. We had no brand, email list, or social media following.
We were being told by marketing "experts" that relying on word of mouth isn't a sustainable business strategy and that we needed to build funnels, pay for ads, post on social media daily, and network like crazy. (sound familiar?)
The problem is that this advice doesn't work when you're starting from scratch and don't have thousands of dollars to experiment with advertising and hiring experts. We quickly realized that we needed to get creative with our marketing if we wanted to succeed.
(Even if you DO have the budget, there's no guarantee it'll work anyway. Just this week, I heard a podcast where one business owner shared how she had spent over $33,000 on hiring an agency to set up a funnel and run ads for her business, only to get ZERO clients from it.)
Now back to the story...
We heard about a series of business seminars being hosted by Jeff and Kane - a pair of business partners and inspiring US entrepreneurs who had moved to Australia.
We jumped on the opportunity to volunteer as crew members to help support them in creating a great experience for their attendees. In exchange, we could attend for free and learn from the best in the business.
As volunteers, we were often required to do twelve-hour shifts. We'd show up from 7 am to help set up the venue, working through until 6 or 7 pm, and on the last day, we'd stay back an hour to help with the teardown (packing up all the chairs, sound equipment, etc.).
It took me an hour, sometimes ninety minutes, to get from my house to the city by public transport. That's just one way. So I'd have to wake up at 5 am daily just to make it in time, and I'd get home around 9 pm each night (then do it all over again the next day). It was crazy.
We did this a few times for an entire year, sometimes for three or four days at a time.
Now here's the thing...
During that time, we:
Built relationships with the speakers/entrepreneurs who were hosting the events. As well as the other volunteer crew members and paid attendees of the events. Below is a photo of us at one of the events (Jeff is in the middle, and my former business partner Poy is on the right).
Gained firsthand experience and knowledge of running events, which we could use for our own events in the future.
Received direct coaching and mentoring from Jeff along the way. And we didn't have to pay thousands of dollars for his coaching services.
Even got invited to Jeff's engagement party and wedding, which were both super fun.
Most importantly, we got opportunities to promote our business in front of Jeff & Kane's audiences, which led to us signing multiple paid clients worth thousands of dollars to our business.
I'm calling this the “Big Fish networking" strategy.
(I first heard Joana Galvao referring to it as the "Big Fish" strategy on the Futur podcast. Her story is amazing so I encourage you to listen some time.)
Note: this is not to be confused with the "Big fish in a little pond" theory that Seth Godin and others have written about.
I used the same strategy when I approached the President of the Parramatta Chamber of Commerce in 2012 and offered to help their organisation with their social media for free.
That interaction led to:
Our business being given a Silver membership (worth $1650 per year) without having to pay a cent.
Me together a social media plan and managing their social media in 2012 - 2013. I also trained their intern on how to use social media to promote the Chamber's activities and events.
Paid consulting gigs and other work.
An invitation to become their social media partner for their 2014 local area awards event. (screenshot below)
Volunteering for the Chamber also introduced me to the Director of the University of New England Future Campus (Parramatta). We partnered with UNE Future Campus to co-host a satellite event for TEDxSydney on Saturday, 4 May 2013. Poy and I also delivered a talk at that event which was super fun.
In recent years I've been able to use this strategy with various local and online communities I've been a part of.
How the Big Fish networking strategy has worked for others
I asked members of my private Authentic Influence FB group if they'd had success with a similar strategy, and I got some great responses:
Stevie V Brown shared:
It's worth noting here that Stevie is a seasoned entrepreneur and has had her business since 2015. So this strategy is useful for established businesses too.
Eric Putnam shared:
Ericka Bates shared:
Why does this strategy work?
The Big Fish networking strategy is effective for three reasons:
1. It's an add-value-first approach - You're focused on adding value to the organisation or individual that you're volunteering for. This creates trust and goodwill, which are essential for building strong relationships.
2. It's a long-term play - This strategy is not about getting something from someone right away. It's about building relationships over time so that you can create opportunities for mutual benefit. (It's a nice complement to the slow-growth framework I wrote about previously.)
3. It evokes the principle of reciprocity - When you help someone, they feel obliged to return the favour. This is human nature.
By offering your time, energy, and expertise to help others, you're more likely to get help in return when you need it.
Of course, this doesn't mean that you should only ever help people who can benefit you professionally.
The best relationships are built on a foundation of mutual respect and trust. But if you're looking to build relationships with influential people in your industry, this strategy can be a great way to get started.
How to get started with the Big Fish networking strategy
Look for opportunities to volunteer with individuals, organisations, and communities who are influential in your industry or target market.
Build relationships with the leaders in these organisations. Get to know them, their goals, and what they're working on.
Offer your help and expertise free of charge. Be willing to go above and beyond to help them achieve their goals.
When the opportunity arises, promote your business or services in front of their audience (with their permission, of course). You may just find that they will naturally refer your services to people that they know. You can also offer to help some of the Big Fish's community for free because you want to build your portfolio of work and get some solid case studies.
Keep in touch with the people you build relationships with and continue to offer your help and support. You may choose to use CRM software to make this easier.
This strategy takes time and effort, but it can be incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally. It's a great way to build long-lasting relationships, gain valuable experience, and generate leads for your business.
It may be counterintuitive, but this strategy works best when you don't have any expectation that you will get something from it.
Just focus on adding value consistently, building great relationships, and learning from each experience.
Have you used a similar strategy in your business? I'd love to hear about it.
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What's new this week
1/ I made some tweaks to my copywriter page.
2/ Published a new IG carousel post on the problem with instant gratification.
3/ Got some positive reactions to my Sept 2022 Monthly Income Report and story of how I ended up in Danang.
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