Wednesday, January 7, 2015

9 Reasons to Network Early, Part 2 of 3

“It gets late early out there.” ~ Yogi Berra

Showing up early is one of the easiest and most powerful techniques for success when attending networking events. Last time we talked about three of the nine reasons to show up early: Own the room, double your networking time, and free your hands to be ready to network. Today let's take a look at the next three reasons.

First, you have time to scope out the location. Find the buffet line, the dessert table, the beverage stand (especially the coffee!). Look for the coat room if one is available and by all means locate the restrooms. Knowing where all of the facilities are will not only make you more comfortable, but others will see you as an authority and you just might end up being their hero.

In addition to the facilities, you should also find the “good spots” in the room. For example, if the room is full of round tables and you know that at some point you will be standing and introducing yourself, sitting at a table in the center of the room probably won’t be as productive as sitting toward the edge. An  edge seat means when you stand up to address the room, the other attendees are all in front of you.

Meet the organizer. OK, so you’re there and you have the lay of the land. You are ready to network. Here’s where reason number five for being early comes in. Who can you connect with who will be there before anyone else? Think about it for a second. Before the first attendee, before the sponsors, even before the speaker, the first person there will be the organizer. These are the folks who are actually throwing the party. You may even have spoken with them when you called to find out more information about the event. Do you think they might be well-connected? You bet! Do you think it would be a good idea to get to know them? Again, yes!
Here’s the trick. These folks are usually a bit busy and possibly more than a little stressed with all the preparations. Stopping them for a friendly chat at this point isn’t likely to endear you to them. No, the best way to connect with an organizer shortly before the event is four little words. “How. Can. I. Help?”

At this point, one of two things will happen. One, they will say “no thank you”, or, two, they will take you up on it.

If they turn you down, don’t push. You will get credit for the offer. You will stand out as someone willing to make an effort for the group and when you next approach the organizer, during a more calm portion of the gathering, he or she will remember you and be more willing to connect and help you.

If they take you up on the offer, even better. Most likely it will be a relatively low-effort task, such as handing out flyers. For the expenditure of very little time and energy they now see you as someone who has actually worked to support the group -- making you much more worthy of their assistance in the long run.

I do want to repeat, though, just make the offer and, if they say “no”, move on. Many organizers already have a plan and you diving in to help without being asked may end up making the organizer irritated

Finally, meet the other early people. The organizers are only one category of people who show up early so benefit number six would be to meet the other folks who tend to be there before the event officially starts. You can connect with the speaker (if there is one). Depending on the person, they may also be quite well-connected. Be aware that some speakers don’t like to be disturbed before they go on, so do be respectful of their process.
Master networkers also tend to show up early (for all the reasons we’ve been talking about). Not only are they good to know for their networks, but they are also quite comfortable making conversation, so if you aren’t at ease making small talk, they can make it much easier to slip into that mode.

One other group to be aware of is the newbies. These are the folks who show up early because they’re afraid they might be late. Remember, just because someone is new to the group doesn’t mean they aren’t worth knowing. That poor lost soul standing off to the side, waiting for someone to come talk with him might actually be the CEO of his company. Be his hero and rescue him. You’ll never know where it might lead unless you make the effort.

While it may "get late early", there's no reason I can think of to be late. Tune in next time when we talk about the final three reasons, including the most important one of all.

Photo by Sun Ladder

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

9 Reasons to Network Early, Part 1 of 3

"It's just as easy to be ten minutes early as ten minutes late."

Do you remember Mom telling you that? That was right after "Never talk to strangers" and right before "If you keep making that face it will get stuck that way." I don't know about the other two, but let's talk about that first one, especially when it comes to networking events and meetings.

Showing up early has an amazing number of benefits. Let's look at nine of them over the next several posts.

Reason #1: If you show up early, you own the room. The cliques haven’t formed yet. Anyone arriving after you (at least at first) will have to approach you. That gives you a little bit more power and control of the networking environment. And that will serve to make you more relaxed and better able to connect with those around you.

This can be particularly important to those who haven't gotten over the whole "Stranger Danger" mindset. As I've told my clients in the past, instead of being a small child afraid of strangers, why not be an adult and pretend you are hosting the event? It's a lot easier to be the host if you get there before anyone else.

Reason #2: Double your networking time. Depending on the type of event you can almost double your networking time. While most events run for an hour and a half to two hours, that usually includes a meal and possibly some other form of activity such as a speaker. That means your effective networking time can be as short as fifteen minutes -- not much time to complete that ambitious networking goal you picked before you walked in.

That extra ten to fifteen minutes you get from showing up early gives you a much better chance of reaching your networking goals. The more goals you reach, the better long-term results you will see.

Reason #3: Free yourself of the stuff. As with most of these benefits, this is all about you feeling relaxed and at ease. When you first show up at a business gathering, you really aren't prepared to network. You might have your purse or briefcase, maybe a coat or an umbrella. Business people always seem to carry a lot of stuff with them. If you walk into the event just on time, then you still have to get rid of all of that stuff just to have a hand free to reach out to the other attendees.

Getting there early allows you the opportunity to drop off all your stuff, maybe check your coat (or at least drape it over the back of your chair), and check to make sure all of your materials in place. Basically, you can get rid of everything except those tools you need to succeed in your networking.

Can you still network if you "only" show up on time (or, shudder, late)? Sure you can. But why put more burdens on yourself that you already have? Life is difficult enough sometimes without adding in challenges that are easy enough to avoid.

See you next time for reasons 4, 5, and 6.

Photo by Sun Ladder

Monday, December 1, 2014

3 Reasons for Systematic Networking

Are you ready to fly?
When I was a computer programmer, my life was all about systems. I mean, that's basically what a programmer does -- create systems so that the computer can take care of repetitive tasks without (much) human intervention. The thing about systems is, it helps people perform consistently at a higher level that they could without. Think about a pilot preparing to fly that plane you are on. You wouldn't want her to skip that checklist would you?

I've noticed the best networkers share that pilot's systematic approach when it comes to their networking. They have databases, scripts, and procedures, all to make their networking as effective and efficient as possible. So, what benefits could the rest of us receive from applying their systems-oriented approach to networking?

  1. Efficiency. They don't have to re-invent the wheel each time they practice networking. Imagine what your job would be like if each time you came to work, you had to figure out the whole job all over again. Do you think you would take a productivity hit?
  2. Consistency. Because they have a series of steps to follow and know what they are supposed to be doing with their networking at any given time, they are less likely to have gaps in their behavior. Success in networking is more about consistent effort rather than occasional intense activity.
  3. Improvement. Since they have a set practice, they are more likely to be successful in measuring their outcomes and tying them to their efforts. This allows them to work on those activities to improve their results. Inconsistent behavior is largely not measurable and, therefore impossible to improve.
So, what behaviors could you systematize? How about what you do with the business cards you collect? How you set up your one-to-ones? What you talk about during those morning coffees? How you ask for referrals? How you measure your networking activity?

The sky's the limit and with a few systems in place, you'll be ready to fly!

Photo by Greg Peters

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