Wednesday, April 23, 2014

500

It's probably somewhat fitting that I should be writing my five hundredth post in this blog right after a wonderful weekend celebrating another milestone -- Elizabeth's and my tenth wedding anniversary.

You see, what made it a fantastic weekend wasn't just the ten years of wonderful memories with the woman I love. Of course, that was important. What made it especially memorable, though, was the efforts our friends and families went through to make it so special.

Elizabeth's sister, JoAnn, flew up from Austin to cook the food and prepare the house and, most importantly, take care of our children over the weekend. My mom baked cake and cupcakes for the party on Saturday. Casey acted as go-getter and quality control on all the efforts. Tim and Kim went the extra mile by completely spoiling us. They gave us a magical box with ten numbered envelopes, each to be opened at a specific time over the weekend. The instructions from these notes told us how to prepare and where to go, including two nights in a local bed and breakfast and a special dinner at our favorite downtown restaurant.

Of course, all of the activities were wonderful, but after "I love you", do you know what the most common phrase was when Elizabeth and I were talking?

"We have truly amazing friends."

And that's where we have the tie-in with networking, I guess. You see, ten years is a wonderful milepost, but without our friends to share it with, we probably wouldn't have had nearly as much fun.

In a way, five hundred blog posts is a pretty good milepost, too. It wouldn't have been nearly as much fun, though, without you to share it with. Thank you for being here all this time and I hope you will stick around for another five hundred.

So what mileposts can you share with your network?

Photo by Kimber

Monday, April 21, 2014

They Don't Want It

Some days they just aren't in the mood
for a sing-a-long.
"I don't think I want to go, Daddy"

You could have knocked me over with an overpriced movie ticket. I had been so excited about taking the girls to see the "Frozen" sing-a-long movie that it didn't even occur to me that Kaylie wouldn't want to go. After all, she ran around the house singing the songs from the movie all the time. At a dinner party over the holidays, we couldn't stop her from retelling the entire story including the musical accompaniment. When we saw it again in the theater I had to caution her repeatedly about being too loud when joining in. Now she didn't want to go to one where you were actually encouraged to sing along?

I guess I was a little disappointed.

A similar thing can happen when we first start networking. We meet people at an event and we agree to meet for coffee. We get excited because we think it means there's a good chance they want to buy from us. Then we're disappointed when it turns out they don't.

How can we serve them when they don't want whatever it is we're selling?

Here are a few ideas on what we can do to make ourselves useful:
  1. Ask them what they need. Just like a doctor, you can't prescribe without diagnosis. Instead of selling/telling your services, actually ask them how you can help.
  2. Ask them what their challenges are. Sometimes they won't know how you can help. Ask them, instead, what challenges they might be facing in the next six months to a year. Maybe you can help.
  3. Ask them about their dreams. It doesn't have to be all negative. Wouldn't it be great to help someone realize a life-long goal or dream?
  4. Know what you have to offer. Understand you are more than just your job or business. You have resources you can call upon to put in their service. Know what they are so you are ready to be the one they call whenever there's a problem.
  5. Keep your networking goggles on. One person's problems are another's opportunities. Maybe the person you are speaking with doesn't need anything that you can provide personally, but you might be able to make a connection to someone who can help. You score points with both parties.
  6. Be a friendly ear. If nothing else, sometimes they just need a sympathetic ear to listen to their problems and plans. Be their confidant and advisor. They will feel closer to you even if it doesn't build their bottom line directly.
Remember, when you sit down to chat with a networking contact, you don't get to decide that your solution is what they need. You may know they'll love it, but just as with my daughter and the "Frozen" sing-a-long, first focus on what they know they want.

They (and you) will be much less likely to be disappointed.

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    The Networker and the Hard Worker

    Your network lets you lift heavier loads.
    Some people just don't see the point. Maybe they are part of a large organization. Maybe all of their "clients" are internal. Maybe they never have to deal with anyone outside the ivory tower. At any rate they ask, "Why should I bother to network? As long as I work hard, I should have no problems keeping my job"

    Maybe. Maybe not.

    Most of the time, though, a great network can magnify what we can get done by our own efforts alone. Consider just one scenario:

    Suppose you are the HR Director for a medium-sized company. Your IT expert, Bob, Has been working for the business happily for years. Bob knows everything about your IT infrastructure. If something goes wrong, which it rarely does, Bob is the one to make sure things get fixed and fixed quickly. Bob just gave notice. He will be leaving in two weeks. How do you deal with it?

    The Hard Worker: Time to get to work. Post the job on the company website and on a few job search sites. Sift through the hundreds of applications that will result. Go through multiple levels of interviewing to winnow down the applicants. Make an offer to the best one. Make an offer to the second-best when your first choice ends up not taking the job. While you are doing all this, try to get Bob to record everything he knows about the infrastructure. By the time you have someone hired, things have started to fail.Oh, and Bob isn't available to take questions anymore. The other employees are complaining and unable to get their work done. This makes management unhappy. They start trying to "help" by "encouraging" you to hurry. You finally get someone hired. While skilled, it does take time before she truly understands all the systems you rely on. Result: Delay, stress, unhappiness, degraded morale.

    But that's all OK, because you are a hard worker.

    The Networker: Well, first of all, since you have developed a relationship with Bob, you'd know before this all came up that his wife is looking for a job -- the reason Bob would quit and leave town. With your connections outside the company, you might know of a job for her. Wouldn't that solidify Bob's loyalty forever? OK, suppose you can't help out. You still have your network to call upon to fill Bob's position. Heck, Bob might even know of a candidate or two. This will lead to a much smaller pool of higher quality potential replacements.That means the selection process goes faster, the system has less of an opportunity to break down, the other employees and management are happier and when it comes time to train the new employee, Bob may still be available to answer questions. Even if there's a gap in IT coverage, your other connections within the company may yield some temporary support or you may be able to call on your network contacts for recommendations on temporary third-party IT support.

    Of course, it's always good to be a hard worker. If you dedicate at least some of your effort to building a powerful network, though, you might find that the same amount of work goes a lot farther than if you are working alone.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    The Scenic Route

    Well, that didn't work out the way I'd hoped -- and that's OK.

    For about the past year, I've been trying to focus my speaking business on a specific target market. I thought I would try career resource departments at various institutions of higher education. It seemed like a good fit. I love working with the students. They definitely need my help. The departments usually have at least some budget for outside speakers. There are a lot of them from small local community colleges all the way to major, internationally-known universities.

    The problem is, at least for the speaking segment of my business, it didn't fit so well. They don't usually need keynote speakers. The students don't have much money, so they are unlikely to want to pay for additional services or products. They also don't usually belong to other professional organizations where they can bring me in to speak again, so the spin-off business on any given engagement is pretty unlikely.

    Don't get me wrong. I still love to work with colleges and universities. If I should receive a referral to help one of them, of course, I would be happy to work with the students.

    They won't, however, be a focus for my networking efforts.

    So, has the last year been wasted? Not a bit. I made great contacts who could still connect me with other opportunities. I had the chance to refine my offerings both with in-person presentations and information products that let people take me home with them. I certainly developed a better understanding of my business and the factors to consider as I select my next target market -- maybe banking and finance or maybe entrepreneurs and solo professionals. We'll see.

    I'm certainly much better off than if I had just tried to market my business to "anybody". I wouldn't have learned any of these lessons. I would still be in the same place trying to figure out why I wasn't doing better. I think this is what is standing in the way of most people's success in networking. They are so afraid of selecting the wrong target market, they end up selecting no target market.

    See, the way I look at it, I didn't so much go down the wrong path, I just took the scenic route.

    And that's a lot better than just leaving the car parked in the garage.

    Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Squashpup

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    Forward Behavior: Check the Facts

    Maybe they should have checked Snopes.com first
    To quote Dennis Miller "I don't want get off on a rant here, but..."

    A few years ago, I wrote a post about being a responsible forwarder -- someone who forwards articles of interest to other people in your network. While this can be a fantastic way to stay in contact and provide value to your network, there is a dark side. I've had a few recent incidents which forced me to revisit the topic.

    All the rules I mentioned before still hold. Send it to only one person at a time, attach a note explaining its importance, avoid cutesy stories, inflammatory political screeds, and religious tracts. Above all else, though, please, please, please, check your facts.

    I cannot tell you the number of times someone has sent me a message directly or posted it on LinkedIn or Facebook with a story and/or a call to action which has turned out to be either false or woefully out of date. These days, it takes about a second and a half to verify the truth of a particular story. In case you are wondering, though, here are a few warning signs that the message you are about to forward may only have a fleeting relationship with facts.

    1. It portrays a political viewpoint or figurehead as either divinely inspired or spawn of the devil. Much as we might desire the simplicity, rare indeed is the modern situation which we can render down to a battle of good versus evil.
    2. It uses the actions of an individual who belongs to a group or even a small segment of that group to make general, sweeping statements about that group or the society at large. Just because some teenagers hold a protest in Texas doesn't mean all teenagers are universally striving to topple the government.
    3. It makes the claim that it has the real story.
    4. It claims that the story has been downplayed in the media and this is some sort of indication of a vast conspiracy to keep the people in the dark.
    5. It contains no specific information which you can then verify via a trusted third party.
    6. It contains no citation for original sources which would allow you to research yourself and come up with your own conclusions. Caveat: Just because it does have citations doesn't mean it's accurate. The original sources may be just as flawed.
    7. It makes the claim that Snopes says it's true. They might, but don't take anyone else's word for it.
    Even if the story passes the above tests, still check it with one or two of the reputable fact checking services. The ones I've used in the past are:

    Really, this all comes down to taking responsibility for what you put your name on. You probably would refer someone to your network whom you didn't think could do the job. That would make you look bad. Wouldn't forwarding inaccurate information have a similar result?

    Do you have any fact checking sites beyond those I've listed?

    Photo by Victor Victoria at en.wikipedia

    Friday, April 11, 2014

    The Network Provides

    They say, every once in a while, we should count our blessings. We really need to appreciate all we have in our lives and know that we need to be good stewards of all the good things we have.

    I also like to count my networking blessings. Similarly, it helps remind me to take care of my connections and do all I can to help them in return.

    What are some of the great things I've received through my network?
    1. Our new basement. Backyard neighbors passed along out contractor's information.
    2. My 10-year marriage. My mom (yes, she's a part of my network) introduced me to my lovely bride.
    3. About 90% of my clients in my old business. In fact, most of them I can trace back through a chain of referral back to my original freelance project.
    4. About 90% of my clients in my current business. A few show up at my workshops after reading about them or contact me out of the blue to speak at their organization, but most are from talking with someone else who's attended.
    5. My radio spots on WLBY. Thanks to Mike Wynn for making that connection.
    6. My column in the Ann Arbor News. Thanks to Jenn Cornell for the introduction.
    7. My 16-year history with Keith Hafner's Karate. I wouldn't have known about them without a friend.
    8. Our nanny, Miss Beth, who has cared for our children for the last six years. Where would we be if one of my networking contacts hadn't connected us with his daughter-in-law?
    9. Numerous radio and television interviews. So many opportunities that I didn't even have to ask for.
    You probably have one or two good things that have happened with the assistance of someone else. Take a moment to make a list.

    Then take another to thank them.

    Image by openclipart user dkdlv

    Wednesday, April 9, 2014

    Making the Magic

    I love Christmas. I love the presents. I love the food. I love getting together with family. I love the whole thing and I have loved it my whole life.

    When I was a child, Christmas was pure magic. I believed in Santa Claus and every year the lights on the tree just lifted my heart. Then I became a teenager. I still loved Christmas, but I had kind of "seen behind the curtains" and now the magic wasn't there anymore.

    This year, the magic came back.

    This year, my daughter, Kaylie, had just turned six. She is old enough to think, but still young enough for magic. She stayed up to watch for Santa, set out cookies and milk, and swears that she not only heard sleigh bells, but actually saw the Man himself -- obviously magical for her. It was magical for me, on the other hand, because I was a part of the magic. I helped make it happen.

    This happens to us as we develop as networkers. If we are lucky when we start out, we run into a fantastic networker or two who starts connecting us with a few opportunities. We love that feeling and we wait for more of it to happen. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. Sooner or later, though, we begin to feel a bit jaded. Oh, we still enjoy the process of networking and the occasional opportunities it brings, but we think we've seen behind the curtain and that's all there is to it.

    The magic doesn't come back until we become a part of the process. We can't be the child receiving gifts all the time. Sooner or later, we have to give.

    And that's when we discover the real meaning of the season, er, I mean, networking.

    Bob Burg, the author of "The Go-Giver", said it quite well when he defined networking as "the process of developing long-term, mutually-beneficial, give-and-take relationships". If we don't have the "give" with the "take", then there just won't be any long-term networking magic.

    Photo by Jonathan G Meath