Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Know Your Network

Quickly, off the top of your head answer the following:
  1. You just lost your job.  Who do you call to begin your search for a new one?
  2. Someone just told you about a job opening at a local company.  Who could benefit?
  3. A dear friend is ill.  Which speciallist would you recommend?
  4. Your daughter is getting married.  Who do you trust to help make it an event to remember?
  5. A local company is giving away its old (but still serviceable) computers.  What local charity could use the donation?
These are just a few opportunities when your network can be of tremendous benefit (both to you and to others).  It only works, though when you know as much as you can about them.

How you gather and maintain this information is a matter of the system you create to manage it.

But don't let the lack of a system stop you from diving in!

So, who have you been able to help because you knew your network?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Don't Talk -- Ask

Those of us with a technical mindset often have problems attending an event where we don't know people.  We dread the idea of standing there and wondering what to say.  Well, here's a little hint:

Don't talk -- ask.

If your goal as a great networker is always to find ways to help the other person, then the only way you are going to find out their needs is to ask.  More importantly, it's the best way to find out about them as a person.  Believe it or not, by seeking to discover more about them, they will begin to see you as the most interesting person they've met.

The trick is to ask open-ended follow up questions.  Try these suggestions:

  1. "What do you do for a living?" is a common (boring) question that most people will ask.  A good time to use this is right after they've asked you and you've responded.  After they've shared this, though, you can then follow up with "How long have you been doing that?", "How did you get started?", "What led you to want to do this?".  If they've been doing it for a while, then "How has the industry changed in the time you've been in it?" lets them be an expert.  "What sort of exciting things are going on in the industry right now?"
  2. "What do you like to do for fun?"  I often like to ask this in one-on-one meetings over coffee.  A lot of the follow-up questions from #1 apply here, too.  This gives them an opportunity to be a person and not just a job.  You might even find a common point of interest.
  3. "What are your plans for the upcoming year/season/month?"  Whether they share personal or business information, you will find out about their goals and aspirations.  These may be areas in which you can lend a hand.
  4. A good one if you are attending a recurring event is to ask "Have you been to this event before?"  If they haven't, you can offer to help (if you are experienced).  "What do you like about this event?" might give you some information that will make your own networking more productive.
  5. "What other events do you attend in the area? Why?"  This can point out other events that you might want to consider for yourself.  It might also let you know what other groups your conversation partner belongs to and even what his target market might be (which might lead you to being able to refer him at some later date).
Now, you don't have to use every one of these questions on every person you meet.  For networking events, I recommend that you keep three or four of them available as conversation starters.  Any more than that and you will be monopolizing too much of that other persons time.  After all, they should be trying to meet people they don't know, too.

So, what other questions do you use when you are at a networking event?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The People in Your Neighborhood

It's funny, but we always seem to think about networking as something we do "out there".  We attend meetings and luncheons and coffees in order to meet new people.  Ironically we ignore possible connections a little closer to home, like the ones that share our same street.

I was chatting with a new friend, John Krzesicki (pronounced "Krzesicki") today.  In addition to filling me in on the exciting world of being a self-employed business development strategist, he was telling me about the adventures of his daughter, Kristen.  Among other impressive accomplishments, she spent a couple of months studying in China.  Unfortunately, in the midst of that visit, she had her wallet stolen with all of her money and credit cards.

Now from John's description of her, she is a remarkably resourceful young woman and probably could have made do, somehow.  Still, we dads will always want to help when our little girls get in trouble.  Unfortunately, trying to wire money into China is apparently an act not meant for the faint of heart, so John was a bit limited in what he could do.  Fortunately, being a great networker, John had met and maintained good relations with his neighbors.

Guess what?  One of those neighbors just happened to be an executive with a company based in Shanghai.  With a single call, that neighbor was able to make sure that Kristen could focus on her studies and not have to worry about how she was going to be paying for dinner.

Now, of course, this is kind of an unusual series of coincidence.  I mean, what are the chances, really?  Still for a little bit of effort, John has a remarkably powerful segment of his network made up of the people who he sees every day when he leaves for work.

Makes you kind of wonder who's living a few doors down from you.

So, who is living on your street?  Are you waiting for them to take the first step?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Be Our Guest!

Yesterday, I mentioned that one of the things you can do to help develop a networking relationship is to invite the other person to a networking event you think they might enjoy (and pay for them, since they are your guest).

The challenge with inviting a guest (or attending an event with someone you know, for that matter) is that they can often distract you from the ultimate goal of meeting more people.  Now, you might be able to make the argument that your goal is to further your relationship with your guest.  If that is the case, then you are fully justified in spending all your time with them.  Rather than taking the chance of being interrupted constantly, however, you are better off skipping the networking event and instead just the two of you go for coffee.

If you decide instead that you want to be cooperative networkers, what I would recommend first is that the invitation come only after you have already gotten to know each other.  Then you can work together to make better use of the event.  Some plans you might consider (and talk over with your guest ahead of time):
  1. Split the time.  Each of you spend part of the event doing your regular networking.  Then, after you have achieved your goals, you can get back together and sociallize.
  2. Split the time, plus.  Again, each of you do your own networking, but also keep an eye out for people whom your guest might benefit from meeting.  Since you've already gotten to know each other outside the event, you should have a good idea of whom they are seeking.
  3. Touch base.  Separate for the duration of the event, but periodically check in to see how things are going, especially if you have someone you want them to meet.
  4. Wrap up.  Separate for the duration of the event with the intention of spending time together after it ends.  Then you can spend time reviewing what happened and whom you met.
  5. Establish accountability.  This can be done in addition to any of the previous strategies.  At some point, tell your guest whom you will be calling later and when.  Ask them to help you out by checking in on you at a later date.
As you can see there are a lot of ways, working in concert with a guest, you can make an event doubly effective.  Also remember, by helping them make more good contacts, you are expanding your own network.  Ultimately that will benefit you more than an hour or so of the two of you chatting in the corner by yourselves.

So, what other "tag team" networking strategies have you used?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Then a Miracle Occurs

A long time ago, I got a t-shirt with a famous Sidney Harris cartoon on it in which two scholars are looking at a blackboard on which one of them has written a fairly complicated series of equations.  In the middle of it are the words "then a miracle occurs".  His companion says "I think you should be more explicit here in step two".

That's kind of where most of us technical folks are with the second level in the "ART" of networking -- Relationships.

The Awareness part is pretty easy.  Just show up someplace and meet folks.

The final part, Trust, is pretty straightforward, too, assuming you've developed the relationship well.

How do we develop that relationship, though?  It's really not that difficult.  All you have to do is treat that other person as if he or she were a friend.

I know, kind of shocking, right?

Now, it isn't exactly like a friendship (though it can develop into one).  Friendships often develop organically -- almost without effort.  Networking relationships grow with intention.  You have chosen that other person as someone you want to have in your network.  As such, there are a series of activities you can follow in order to improve the relationship and lead it toward the level of Trust.
  1. Follow-up after the initial contact.  One meeting does not a relationship make.
  2. Take the initiative to set up the first (and possibly second and third) meeting.  Maybe it's just phone call, but there should be at least one prolonged personal contact such as a coffee or lunch.
  3. Remember important dates.  At least their birthday, but anniversaries, kids' birthdays, etc are all important.
  4. Look out for their benefit.  This isn't always business related.  It could be a contact or recommendation of any kind which might help make their life easier.
  5. Always follow through on what you say. How else can you establish Trust?
  6. If appropriate, ask their advice on a problem you might have.  Again, this doesn't only have to be business oriented.
  7. If you attend an event which might be good for them, invite them as your guest -- and pay for them as your guest.
  8. If you read something that may be of benefit to them, pass it along with a short blurb on why you think it might be helpful.  Never forward without explanation.
  9. Learn about their interests, goals and achievements.
Following even a few of these ideas will help you fill in that step two "miracle" and bridge the gap that leads from mere Awareness to full Trust which should be the goal of any good networking practice.

So, what other behaviors could we add to the list above?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Simple Tips: Eating While Networking

Networking events often have food associated with them.  Whether it's breakfast, lunch, dinner, hors d'oeuvres, etc, there are a few simple rules you can follow to make sure the comestibles don't interfere with your networking efforts.
  1. Whenever possible, don't eat until you've accomplished your networking goals.  If your goal is to meet three new people during the event, then let the buffet line be your reward for snagging that third business card.
  2. No food fights!
  3. Unless it would be offensive, always eat finger foods with your left hand.  No one wants to shake hands with your pizza sauce besmirched paw.
  4. At a sit-down event, never sit at an empty table.  You are there to meet people.  Sit with them
  5. At a sit-down event, never sit at a table with anyone from your company.  You already know them.
  6. In general eschew the alcohol.  If it would be impolite to do so, then obviously consume only in moderation.
  7. In fact, everything in moderation.  I can't think of a single good business impression conveyed by a plate piled so high with food that it's in danger of collapsing under its own weight.
  8. Never let the phrase "Are you going to finish that?" come out of your mouth.
Remember the old saying.  It's called networking not neteating.  You should always be focusing on the real reason you are attending (and it shouldn't be just to sample the pigs in a blanket.

So, what networking food rules do you have?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sidestepping the ART of Networking

Yesterday in my post on the time commitments of networking, I mentioned that there is a way to shortcut the time necessary to progress through the Awareness/Relationship/Trust process.

Now before I go on, I want to re-iterate that you still must achieve a given level in order to gain the benefits of that level.  If you expect to get business from a relationship before it reaches the "Trust" level, then you are likely to be disappointed.

That being said, there is a mechanism to jump ahead a bit in the process.  All you have to do is borrow someone else's reputation.

What?

OK, this is also called a "referral".  This is when someone (whom your networking target trusts) is willing to vouch for you.  This is much more than a "lead".  A lead is just a name and maybe a telephone number of someone who "might be interested in talking with you."

A referral means that your advocate is doing just that.  They will trumpet your skills, value, and trustworthiness to the skies and in so doing stake their own reputation on you.

Think of it as the transitive property of trust:

If your networking target trusts your friend and your friend trusts you, then the target trusts you.

Now, you may notice one caveat to this setup.  That is that you must already have a relationship at the "Trust" level before you can make use of this transitive property.  This is why you still want to build as large of a "Trusted" network as you can.  The more people who trust you, the more likely it is that there is a path of trust which leads to any given networking target.

So, how many people are in your network who would be willing to lend you their reputations?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Networking: How Long Does It Take?

One of the most dangerous statements I've heard about networking happened right near the beginning of our current economic trevails.  I was at a Chamber lunch and overheard one gentleman speaking to another, "Yeah, things are getting tough in my business, I guess I'm going to have to start networking."

What's wrong with this phrase?

The gentleman who was talking obviously didn't realize that true networking comes from developing mutually beneficial long-term relationships.  Just like good friendships, this takes time.  Depending on your business it could take anything from three months to three years.  You don't get to skip the steps of Awareness, Relationships, and Trust.  They take time to work through.

... unless you find some way to get a head start on the process.  More on that tomorrow.

I've not seen that particular gentleman around the Chamber networking meetings lately.  I wonder how well his "Bonzai!" networking worked out for him.

So, what networking practices are you taking part in right now?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Networking: How Much?

If you had an unlimited amount of time, you could attend every networking event in your town or city, spend your mornings and afternoons meeting people for coffee, and eat lunch with a different one of your contacts every day.

Unless you know a secret to which none of the rest of us are privy, though, unlimited time is a pipedream unlikely to come true in the foreseeable future.

So how do you determine how much networking to do?

Personally I've found two paths that you can follow:

1.  Spend some time analyzing your business in detail.  Determine how much money you want to make.  Divide that by the average amount of money one of your sales is worth.  Multiply that by the number of networking meetings you have to make to ultimately make that kind of sale (remember to look ahead by three to six months given the networking lag time).  Multiply that number by the number of "touches" you need to make with your network in order to get a single networking meeting.  You'll also want to figure in the number of events you need to attend in order to meet the requisite number of new networking contacts to offset the natural attrition rate of average personal and business relationships.  To be truly accurate, you should also figure in the relative effectiveness of different types of networking contacts (e-mail, newsletters, hand-written notes, phone calls, etc).  I would recommend using a fairly sophisticated spreadsheet in order to analyze all of this data.

OR

2.  Make your best guess and adjust over time.

Those of us in the nerd set tend to gravitate toward #1.  In reality, though, this tends to lead not to better networking, but rather toward constructive avoidance.

The second path allows you to get going.  The next trick is to just keep track of what you do on a daily basis.  How many calls?  How many emails?  How many events?  After a few months you can look at what results you are receiving and decide which activities need to be increased.

The big challenge is not to let ourselves to be distracted by trying to create the perfect system before we start networking.  Get going, first, then figure out how you can improve.

So what level of networking do you need to start out?

How to "Show Up"

In my previous post I tried to convey how important it is to show up for networking, whether over the phone, in person, or via the 'Net.

And by "show up" I mean participate.

The challenge is that many technical people have no clue how to do this.  We aren't natural "people" people.  If left to our own devices, we'd much rather be left to our own devices.

This is why I recommend having a system or a series of systems to help you expand your networking.

For me, the best networking systems have three aspects:
  1. A limit.
  2. A schedule.
  3. A reward.
Let's break this down a bit.

The Limit:  This is basically how you will know when you are done with this particular activity.  It will vary with the activity and also with your level of networking experience.  It should always be something that you think you will be able to accomplish easily and yet will move you in the direction you ultimately want to go.  For example, you might have the goal of sending out one "just checking in" email message every day.

The Schedule:  Obviously some activities, such as attending a networking lunch at your local Chamber, will have their own built-in schedule.  For others, such as staying in contact with your current network, consistency is always better than intensity.  Put another way, it's better to spend ten minutes every day than to try to cram in a full two hours, one day a week.  What we are trying to do is establish the habit of networking.  To that end, the best thing you can do is pick a specific time every day during which you will pursue this particular activity.

The Reward:  I believe quite strongly in the power of rewarding myself for my networking efforts.  And by rewards, I don't necessarily mean anything lavish or expensive.  For example, my goal each day is to make three telephone calls to people I know and like.  When I've completed my task, I get to ready my daily comics and do a sudoku puzzle.  Nothing particularly exciting, but it does get me to make those calls each day.

Set up a system like this for each and every networking activity you want to pursue (though you shouldn't start nire than one or two at a time).  As you follow your system, you will find that the goal is easier and easier to achieve.  As that happens, step it up a notch.  Try new activities.

So, to what activity are you going to apply a system?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Show Up

This is the number one most important rule of networking success:  You must show up.  This is how you create the opportunities to expand your network.

This holds whether you are talking about networking events, group meetings, or even online networking opportunities.  Unless you show up, they will never know you exist.

In this case, the emphasis is definitely on "show".  They must see and interact with you.  If you attend the networking event and just grab your lunch and sit alone, if you show up late and leave early from the meeting, if you just "lurk" online without contributing to the conversation, then you aren't "showing up".

So, how do those of us in the technical set achieve these lofty goals of interaction?  Check back tomorrow for some ideas that will play to our strengths.

What was the last networking opportunity you "showed up" for?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What to Record

Everything.

OK, obviously you can't track "everything", but I would recommend tracking as much as possible about your networking efforts.  As a technically minded person, you know that those things that are measured get improved.

Right now I track at least the following:
  1. Those people I intend to call/email/meet each day and the information gleaned as a result of those contacts.
  2. Promises made as a result of those contacts.
  3. When the last time I met someone in person and where.
  4. Whether the last call resulted in an actual voice-to-voice conversation, a voicemail, or a message left with a receptionist.
  5. Birthdays, anniversaries, other special days.
  6. Notes, emails, articles I send out.
  7. Whether someone receives my newsletter
  8. Whether I know their birthday.
  9. Evaluations of my networking style whether at an event, on the phone, or via any other medium.
  10. Whether I am connected with a person via LinkedIn or Facebook
  11. Whether I make a sale and who referred it to me.
  12. Etc, etc, etc.
The more you are able to record, the better you will understand the success of your style of networking.

What pieces of information do you record about your networking activities?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Any System in a Storm

In my previous post about networking, I mentioned that you should have a system to track the details of those in your network (and I mean that in the non-creepy-stalker way).  Nerds, er, technically minded people like myself have a real problem with this.  We spend such a long time planning, testing, reviewing, building, etc, etc the perfect system to keep track of those details, that we never actually get around to doing the networking.

Here's my advice (with original attribution to my lovely wife): Just do something. Don't worry about it being perfect.

No matter how much time you spend evaluating/building the perfect system, it just won't be perfect.  It can't be.  Until you actually start doing the networking, you won't know what you need.  And guess what?

Most of what you need can be done with a simple spreadsheet and word processor.

I have my tools set up in Google Docs/Spreadsheets, but whether you use that, or OpenOffice.org, or the omnipresent Microsoft Office suite, you can pretty much do anything you need in less than an hour.

So, get busy on doing your networking!

If you would like a copy of the files that I use, just drop me a quick email message at gpeters@cyberdatasolutionsllc.com

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's the Little Things

On our first full day vacationing at Disney World, we went for lunch at the Crystal Palace. While we were there, our server presented my daughter Kaylie with a cupcake (complete with lighted candle) and a card signed by the characters she had met that day (Winnie the Pooh and friends).

Now, of course, Kaylie thought this was pretty neat. Lisa and I were even more impressed though, as we hadn't told anyone at the restaurant that we were celebrating Kaylie's birthday.

How did they do it?

From the reading I've done, I realized that Disney does an amazing job of developing systems to pay attention to such details and it's from these details that lifelong fans are born. What I suspect happened was that morning when we activated our tickets, the gentleman behind the counter asked if we were celebrating anything. When we told him of Kaylie's birthday, he did two things:
  1. He gave her a badge with her name on it saying that it was her birthday. From that point on a number of the cast members made a point to wish her a happy birthday.
  2. He entered the information into the Disney information system. Then when we showed up for lunch (with a reservation under our name), we were flagged for special attention.
From that point on it was one vanilla cupcake and a signed pre-printed card (probably costing less than a dollar total) and we were hooked.

From this episode we can see that it isn't the actual monetary value of the gesture that's important. It's just the fact that we (through Kaylie) got that recognition.

And the only way that happened was that Disney had systems in place to support these magical moments.

What systems do you have in place to create moments of magic for those in your network? Do you know birthdays, anniversaries, recent travel? Do you make use of it to make them feel special?

This is how we travel from Awareness to Trust...

... we develop those Relationships.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The ART of Networking

Networking is the process of creating mutually-beneficial, long-term relationships. Given that, it isn't something that you can do quickly. There is a series of steps which you must follow. Only a Bad Networker tries to skip ahead. The steps are:
  1. Awareness: This is when the other person recognizes you face and name and maybe your company name. They probably know you well enough to say hello if they see you walking down the street, but unlikely any more than that. Business at this level is highly unlikely.
  2. Relationship Building: While you can achieve the "Awareness" level at almost any networking event, developing a relationship with another person requires something more. This means getting together for coffee or lunch. This means finding out more about them as a person. This means finding out ways to help them and, you guessed it, actually doing the helping. Business is possible at this level, but still not very likely.
  3. Trust: This is where we, as good networkers, want to be. All things being equal, people will do business with those they know, like, and trust. To get here, though, you need to have shown your consistent reliability and commitment to the other person.
So there we have it, the A.R.T. of networking. In many ways good networking is an art, but those of us with a technical mind (OK, "nerds") can discern systems and techniques which turn this process into a more step-by-step mechanism for future fun and profit.

So, what kind of networking opportunities do you participate in?