Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mix the Medium

You've scheduled in your regular networking time. You've got your log to track what you are doing.  You've got your list of people to contact.  Now there's only one thing left to do.

Decide how you're going to do it.

There are so many different mechanisms you can use these days, it can be a bit overwhelming to even think of it, so we tend to fall back on only one or two.  For the longest time, my main system involved calling people.  It worked and there were a lot of positives to the practice, but there were one or two limitations, too.  Let's take a look at some of the options.

  1. Email: Upside: Easy to do.  Very rarely are you going to meet someone without an email address.  You can send out one in a fairly short time, allowing you to get more contacts in the same amount of time.  Downside: It can feel somewhat impersonal.  Everyone knows it's easy to do.  TO counter this, you may have to spend a little more time making it as personal as possible.  Bring up details about the person that you know through your association with them.
  2. Phone: Upside: Much more personal.  Much easier method when you are trying to plan something (such as a coffee or lunch).  Back and forth on emails can take days whereas a phone call can take only a few minutes.  Downside:  Takes longer than an email and can be seen as intrusive.  Not everyone has time for a prolonged phone call.  To mitigate this, be sure always to ask whether this is a convenient time to talk.
  3. Voicemail: Don't even try to tell me that you haven't hoped at one time or another that you would get someones voicemail.  Upside: Time requirements of email with the personality of a phone call. Downside: Hard to predict when you will get to use this mechanism.  No interactivity - they hear you, but you can't find out anything about them. Also, some people get nervous when being recorded.  Be sure to practice your voicemail technique.  I recommend leaving your number at the beginning and at the end of the message.
  4. Text Messaging: Upside: Especially good when dealing with a younger audience.  Time requirements are almost nil.  Downside: Limited message size.  Even less personal than email.
  5. Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/etc: Upside: The social media sites appeal especially to the younger and more technical crowd.  You can usually see a log of what a particular person has been posting and interact by commenting on it.  Downside: Still fairly impersonal, though many will reveal more information about themselves.  Largely ineffective with the 50+ market as they are vastly underrepresented on the social media sites.
  6. Handwritten Note or Letter: Upside: Definitely stands out.  Almost no one sends anything handwritten anymore. A well-crafted letter can make someone feel like they are on top of the world.  Downside: Can be time-consuming. Less convenient than email unless you develop a system so that you always have stationary, envelopes, pen, and stamps on hand.  I've heard of a few approaches for this, including keeping a box of pre-stamped envelops and stationery in the car.
  7. In Person: Obviously you'll almost always have to use one of the other methods in order to arrange the face-to-face meeting, but after that... Upside: Very personal and interactive.  This is where you are likely to find out the most in depth information about your networking contact. You almost can't get to the "Trust" level without at least some one-to-one time. Downside: Much more time-consuming than any other method.  Juggling schedules and locations can be a pain if you are both busy people (and who isn't?).
There are so many different ways of maintaining your contact with your network. Make use of more of them to not only maintain your own interest, but also to leave your network always wondering where you are going to turn up next.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Business Cards -- (Don't) Take Two

In the years that I've been networking, I've noticed a practice that I once used myself. In retrospect it seems kind of strange. I would be at a Chamber lunch or a member reception -- the exact event wasn't particularly important. I had just met someone and had a nice, short conversation with them. They would politely ask for my card.

I would hand them two.

Someone somewhere had told me that this was a good idea. After all, that way they would have one for themselves and one for someone else, right?

Let's think that through.

A referral by its very nature is the act whereby one person effectively lends another person their reputation. If I tell you that Bob Smith is a great accountant and you decide to use him, you are doing so because you trust my judgment.  If Bob screws up your taxes.  Not only do you distrust Bob, but my reputation becomes tarnished.

So what are the chances that someone you just met and spoke with for a total of five minutes is going to be willing to lend you their reputation?

Now, after you've met for coffee a time or two and you wait until they ask, then you can pass them two cards (and when I say "they ask" I mean they specifically ask for more than one card). Remember, passing more than one card implies that you are expecting that other person to refer business to you. If your relationship isn't at that level yet, then you are only succeeding in making them uncomfortable and that's not good networking practice.

So, keep the extra cards in your pocket. Your printer might not thank you, but everyone else will.

Brief and to the Point

I'm here to tell you a secret.

You've probably heard that you should come up with a "30-second commercial" or an "elevator pitch".  These are supposed to be relatively short responses to the question "So, what do you do for a living?".  The idea is that when asked, you can give this little presentation and it will so intrigue people that they will immediately ask to hear more about the fascinating world of software design, accounting, or whatever it is that you do.

Do you want to know the real reason?

It's to prevent you from boring the other person to sleep, to tears, or to death.

I ran into a young gentleman the other day at a networking event.  To tell you the truth, I didn't even ask him what he did.  The person who introduced us did it for me.  He then proceeded, for the next forty-five minutes to tell me in excruciating detail about his product, the reasons he built his product, who he would help with his product, why his product was the best on the market, how it differed from other products like it, how long he had taken to develop his product, and, apparently, how his product was designed to allow him to continue talking without drawing a breath or leaving a conversational gap anywhere so that someone trapped into talking with him would find no escape, no rescue, no hope.

OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating just a little...

...but not by much.

So, all I can say is, don't be that guy.  Develop a brief response to the "What do you do?" question.  Maybe include a 10-word description of your product or service and a brief mention of who you help.  Beyond that, just stop talking.  If they want to know more, they can ask.  Then you can share more personal information about your interests and goals in life.  Then you can set up a later meeting.  Then they get to learn about you as a human being.

Then they will not only learn about, but will look for ways to benefit you in your business/employment/job search.

And they won't have that glazed look to their eyes.  Bonus!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Shifty-Handed Deck Dealer

This is the third in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: The Shifty-Handed Deck Dealer

Environment: Moving from table to table at any event.

Behavior: The Deck Dealer has the mis-impression that the more of her business cards she hands out, the more business she will get.  To that end she moves from table to table, conversation to conversation, interrupting the natural flow of events in order to pass out one or two or a handful of her cards to everyone present.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Wait until they ask. The only person that the Deck Dealer is making happy is her printer.  She can go through a box of cards in one evening and usually has to order by the case.  For everyone else, the plethora of personal placards merely places a burden on them of finding a convenient garbage can. Good networking is always about the other person. With business cards the only time yours are about them is when they ask.  Even then, the likelihood of someone acting upon that card is somewhere between slim and none.  That's why, when someone asks for your card, you should always ask for theirs, so you can take the initiative and follow up.

You can even ask if it's OK to call them regarding whatever reason they asked for your card. It saves them the effort and tells them that you care about them and their time.

Counter-Measures:  As with most of these ineffective behaviors, the best you can hope for is to ignore it.  Just take the proffered card and continue with the conversation that the person interrupted.  The Deck Dealer probably won't even pause long enough to make sure you stick it in your pocket instead of dropping it on the floor.

How We Can Help:  If you really want to help, one of the best things you can do is to just stop them.  The best way to do that is just to ask "I know you are trying to talk to a lot of people today, but would you be willing to tell me a little bit more about what you do?"  That will force them to slow down and through good questioning, you might even be able to find a way to help them.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Networking Cell Phone Etiquette

OK, this is going to be short and to the point. I know you already know this, but just in case: When you are networking with someone in person, whether it is at an event or especially in a one-to-one, the only time you should answer your cell phone is when not answering it could conceivably result in someone bleeding to death.  Even then you should apologize profusely to the person with whom you are talking and explain that you would never normally do this, but you would hate to have that death on your conscience.

Anything less than this is disrespectful to the person with whom you are sitting.

Listen, the whole idea of networking is to create mutually beneficial relationships.  These are ones in which both parties are equally valuable to the whole.  If you answer the phone in mid-conversation it's just telling them that you are always waiting for someone better to come along and you will abandon them at the drop of a hat.

Or the buzz of your cell phone.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Another Excuse

When I'm coaching about good networking practice, I quite often hear the lament "But what will I say??" when I recommend making calls or sending emails to people. Really, there's nothing to this. Any excuse will do. I've already told you about one or two of them. Another one just occurred to me today.

Imagine you are at a networking event. One you've attended enough to know the other regulars. You realize that one of them, a real pillar of the community, isn't sitting in his usual place at lunch. As soon as you return to the office, drop him a quick line (either by email or by phone) mentioning that you noticed he wasn't there and you are hoping things are OK.

Upsides: A connected member of the community knows you are thinking about him.  Perhaps you get to find out about some challenges with his business with which you can help. Maybe he's out traveling or pursuing one of his hobbies.  He could even be making the sale of a lifetime.  In any case you can celebrate or commiserate with him (and maybe even follow-up with an appropriate, hand-written note).

Downsides: None that I can think of.

It's time to make those existing relationships count.  Stop coming up with excuses not to call and start coming up with ones that will motivate you to strengthen the contact instead.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Groups: Why Quit?

We've talked quite often recently about joining and participating in networking groups. The events that these organizations put on can be a font of new contacts whom you can develop into strong networking partners.

So why would you ever quit?

Actually, there can be any number of reasons. Even if you've done your homework and made sure that the type of group, its members, and the kind and number of events meet your needs, still there are times when it might make sense for you to part ways. All of these reasons, though, presume that you have already put forth your best effort to participate.
  1. Culture. For whatever reason, what felt like a good fit at first turns out just not to be the case.  That can happen and there is no shame in recognizing it.  This doesn't make you or the existing members wrong, just not right for each other.  You'll probably discover this within the first few months or so.
  2. Goal Accomplished. You may have joined the group in order to achieve a particular task.  Maybe you became part of a board in order to help transition the organization through a particularly hard time.  When you've completed that goal, though, it will be time to re-examine whether you still need to be a part of the group.
  3. Mission Impossible. Part of your analysis of a group should have included whether it has the potential to meet your needs.  Meeting clients, social interaction, collaborating with colleagues, etc. -- whatever those needs might be, you may realize later that it just isn't going to happen.  If that's the case then you have to stop wasting your time (and that of the other members of the group) and move on.  One caveat with this one, though: Be sure you have given the group enough time.  If the need you are trying to fulfill is to get more clients, it may take three to six months (or even longer) before your networking activity will pay off.
  4. Group Change. Maybe a new leader comes in and makes some changes. Maybe the organization has run into some financial challenges which force it to cut back on some of it's programs.  Maybe one of the pillars of the community moves to a different state.  For whatever reason, the group is no longer what it was when you first joined.  At that time, you need to take a hard look at your participation to see whether the group still meets your needs.
  5. You Change. This is especially the case when you join an organization in order to connect with a particular industry or social sector.  Perhaps they are your target market. Maybe they are your colleagues. If your needs have changed (you are focusing on marketing firms instead of non-profits, for example), then your associations will likely change, too.
Quitting a group for the right reasons can make way for more profitable and enjoyable associations in the future.  Be sure, though, that is is for the right reasons.  If you haven't put forth the effort to become a valued part of the group, if it's your own impatience which is making you bolt, if you are just bored and looking for something new to do, you will likely never be satisfied with any group.  Really, at the bottom of it all, if you and the organization are both benefiting from the association, then you should stick around to see what develops.

Huh, that sounds kind of like what you're supposed to be doing with the people you meet.  Imagine that.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Helping Others and Showing Your Face

I was reading Guy Kawasaki's blog the other day and he pointed out this video by Lewis Howes  on good practices in using social media sites.  It's about 6 minutes long.

Now he's got a number of great points here, but two in particular stood out to me:

#6. Promote others.  This is the nature of all good networking, whether online or offline.  The connections you can make for other people are what make you the "go to" person.  Also, each connection you make earns you the gratitude of both sides of the new relationship.

#7: Connect face-to-face.  I've heard people say that with these new social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, we no longer even need to meet.  We can do all of our networking from the comfort of our computer.

Horse Hockey!

Much as we reluctant networkers would like it to be that way, nothing replaces actual face-to-face meetings.  Depending on who you believe, more than ninety percent of communication is non-verbal.  The rest is all tone and body language.  That being the case, the written word, which is essentially what these social media sites depend on, is clearly an inferior mode of communication.  It's a great tool to use in addition to face-to-face networking, but it cannot replace it.

Check out the rest of what he has to say.  He's got some great points on effective use of social media.  The is an area that I am continuing to work on myself.  In fact, I'll be taking a four-week training course from the Whole Brain Group on the use of social media in business.  I'll be sure to let you know about what I learn.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Which Groups? Why? Part 2

OK, so after yesterday, you've got a potential group or two that you might like to join.  The general format of the group and the make-up of its members will meet some as yet unmet need that you have.  Time to join up, right?

Not so fast.  Here are a few other questions that you should be asking:
  1. How often does the group get together?  Does that match your available time?  Many closed networking groups meet once per week.  Some social groups might meet only once per quarter.  You'll want something that meets frequently enough that you have a chance of becoming known but not so frequently that it will place an undue burden on you.
  2. How much will it cost?  Is there an annual fee? What about the cost for each gathering?  Many social groups cost only enough to cover the venue.  Becoming a member of a non-profit board on the other hand can run into the thousands when you count the donations you will be expected to make to the cause.  Will what you expect to get from the association (whether it's business, personal connections, or satisfaction that you are giving back to the community) justify the expense?
  3. How can you serve? What sorts of opportunities does the group offer that will allow you to give back? How much time will it take?  Helping to host a Chamber networking event rarely takes more than an extra half hour or so.  Being on the fundraising committee for a non-profit, however, can almost be a full-time job.  How will that fit in with the time you have available?
  4. How many members does it have? How often does it have new members or visitors?  If your goal is to meet new people, then a group which is largely stable will afford you less opportunity.  On the other hand, if your goal is to secure deep relationships with just a few people, a group with a more stable membership would suit you better.
  5. How well does the group treat new members and visitors?  Do they go out of their way to make them comfortable at events?  Watch this closely as it can quite often be an indicator of the future success of the organization.  If they aren't welcoming new members and making sure that visitors walk away with a good impression, how can they hope to maintain a strong long-term membership?
  6. What other membership requirements are there?  Does the group have an attendance policy? Are you expected to host events for the group yourself?  Many closed networking groups require that you bring referrals every week for other group members.  Can you realistically meet the added requirements?
I'm sure there are other questions specific to given group categories, but this should at least give you a good start on evaluating whether a group fits your needs and lifestyle.  I would also recommend that you apply these questions to any groups you might already belong to.  Maybe one or two of them overlap and can be left off the schedule in the future.

After all we all only have 24 hours in the day.  We need to invest our time in areas where it will pay off the best.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Which Groups? Why? Part 1

Yesterday we talked about the best way to make any group you belong to pay off -- namely, participate.  The question arises, though: If I'm going to spend that much time serving a group, how do I know which group to join and to how many should I belong?

How many is a function of your own time.  If you have no other distractions in your life (family, friends, dog, etc), then the sky's the limit.  Otherwise, you need to invest some effort in prioritizing.

Before you do anything else, though, sort any potential groups into one or more general categories:
  1. Target Market: These are groups that serve your clients or your employers or whomever you specifically want to reach. They might also cater to those who serve your target market but don't necessarily compete with you.  By participating in these groups, you can position yourself as a servant of the industry.
  2. General Networking: This category contains everything from the local Chamber of Commerce to various types of "closed" networking groups like BNI (groups which only allow one member from any given occupation).  The good thing about these types of organizations is that it gives you access to a variety of potential contacts.  The disadvantage is that they can sometimes be a little unfocused.  The challenge will be to keep an eye on what you are trying to achieve as a member of the group and to communicate that to those around you.
  3. Colleagues: Associations and special interest groups which cater to your occupation make up this category.  These organizations are great in that they give you access to others who have experiences similar to ones you might be facing.  Here you can find advice, social contact, and possibly subcontractors to help you when your networking really begins to pay off.  Prospects, however, are rather unlikely.
  4. Social or Interest-Based: No matter what you like to do for fun, there is probably a group out there which supports it.  Skiing, knitting, clog dancing, whatever.  There is probably at least one group in your area. The good thing about these groups is that you are already going to have at least one thing in common with the other members.  They also make excellent social outlets.  The downside is that as far as making business-related connections, they are even less focused than the "General Networking" groups mentioned above.
  5. Charities: Similar to the Social or Interest-Based groups, Charities provide you an opportunity to connect with people who share your interest in a cause.  Also, the folks who sit on the charities' boards are often remarkably well-connected people.  This makes the group particularly beneficial if you are trying to meet a specific person.  While all that is true, you should never join a charity unless you both have a passion for the cause and are willing to act upon it.  Anything else is coming from a place of insincerity and you will be found out eventually.
Once you have figured out in what category the organization belongs, then you can decide whether it will meet your needs -- whatever they might be. You can also use this breakdown to determine if one of your existing groups is still meeting your requirements.

In tomorrow's post, we'll take a look at some of the other issues you should consider before committing yourself to a networking group.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Attending vs Participating

Becoming part of any social or business organization is a great way to accelerate your networking.  You get to see the same people on a monthly or even weekly basis.  You quite often share a common interest with them.  You might even get a discount or two on goods and services that you use.

Now for the big question:

What do they get out of it?

Before you say anything about the money you pay for membership or to attend the events, let me just stop you right there.  Most of the time, that money is just about enough to support the continued activities of the group or to pay for the lunch you ate while the presenter of the week was speaking.  What I want to know is how are you making that group better?

Let me break it to you.  If you are merely paying your dues and showing up for the events, you are largely replaceable.  There are any number of other members, both current and future, who can do the exact same thing.  If you stopped showing up, chances are, no one would even notice.  So, how are you going to make yourself truly memorable?


Volunteer to help host an event.  If you are so inclined, offer to speak.  Take part in the planning.  Become an officer for the group.  Talk to the event planners and offer to take photos.  Share your expertise.  Roll up your sleeves and get to work.  In general, follow The Reluctant Networker's Rule for joining groups: Only join if you have something to offer.

Those who serve the group are remembered.  Those who spend their time and effort in addition to their money are the ones who are remarked upon.

Guess what else?  The people you meet while serving the organization are also going to be top-notch networkers and will be the ones most able to help you in the future.

And are they more likely to help someone who's just attending or someone who's participating?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Plan with Calendar in Hand

The gatherings and events put on by the different organizations you belong to are the bread and butter of the networking process. Going to the Chamber lunch or the local Business Leader after hours is a great way to make the initial contacts that will eventually lead to a stronger network. So, how many did you attend last month?

More importantly, how many will you attend next month?

This is where that calendar thing comes in. Personally, I like my Google Calendar for its flexibility and the fact that it ties in directly with my cell phone. You choose whatever works best for you, whether it be your day planner, PDA, or wall calendar that you received from your insurance agent. Go pull that out right now.  You'll also want to grab the event schedules for all of the groups to which you belong.

Now, transfer all of the event information from the schedules over to the calendar. This is where the electronic ones tend to shine. It's a lot easier to add a repeated event to Google calendar than to anything on paper.

After you've transferred the events, try to look at the next month as a whole. Start asking questions. Do I have enough events? Too many? Are there gaps that will need to be filled or is it OK to have gaps? How many one-to-one's with new people do I want to have each week? Will I be able to meet enough new people? If I do want to fill the gaps, what sort of groups should I consider? Where does my target market congregate?

The answers to these questions will be different for each person. For some, they need to attend four events a week and meet enough new people to generate ten new one-to-ones for the same time period. For others, one or two events per month is more than sufficient to get the two new contacts they need in their network.  Keeping track of your behavior and its results will be the information you need the next time you sit down to plan with calendar in hand.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Long-Legged Level Jumper

This is the second in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: The Long-Legged Level Jumper

Environment: Anywhere there is someone to impose on.

Behavior: The primary behavior of the Level Jumper is the request for activities which correspond to a relationship level higher than they have currently achieved.  This can include sales, but is not limited to such.  They may ask for donations to their favorite charity.  They may include you on their mailing list.  They may ask you to refer them to your network.  They view anything as a reasonable request, but those around them will feel imposed upon and will start to avoid the Level Jumper like the plague.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Don't propose marriage on the first date. Good networkers know that relationships have to go through many levels. Asking for behavior that is above the current level would be just like the aforementioned premature marriage proposal.  It serves only to put the other person on the defensive and will poison what might have been a productive and mutually beneficial relationship.

Counter-Measures:  In this case, there are a number of things you can do.  If you have just met the person, you may decide that in order to protect yourself and your reputation, you won't continue with the relationship. Don't call them again and if you see them, be cordial, but not encouraging.  If you've got a little more invested in the relationship and you wish to continue to grow it, despite this gaffe, you might say something like, "I'd be glad to help you out in some way.  Perhaps we can schedule a meeting so you can tell me a little bit more about this opportunity to invest in Alaskan alligator farms."

How We Can Help:  In this case you almost have to lead by example.  Let them know that you aren't quite comfortable with whatever they are planning without intentionally crushing their spirits.  Personally I would say something to the effect of, "Wow, I would love to help out, but I'm not sure how best to help you.  Could we take some time to get to know each other better?  I would hate to do anything that would end up only wasting your time."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Googly-Eyed Star Spotter

What follows is the first in a series of posts about the limiting networking behavior that I witness at the various events I attend.  With these it is my goal not to ridicule those who exhibit these behaviors, but rather to point out areas where we all have to be careful and also to suggest possible counter-measures which may allow us to help those who don't realize that there might be a better way.

Name: The Googly-Eyed Star Spotter

Environment: Near the most powerful/famous person in the room.

Behavior: The Star Spotter is always looking for someone better to talk with.  Because they are afraid that they might miss out on one of these opportunities, they are constantly looking over the shoulder of the person with whom they are currently speaking.  Different individuals of the species will exhibit this behavior to different extremes.  Some only occasionally glance about.  Others don't even bother to pay attention at all and will occasionally flap their arms up and down while emitting their signature call "Yoo-hoo!  Yoo-hoo!"

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Be with the one you are with.  Constantly looking past and not paying attention to the person in front of you is just plain insulting.  Our goal as good networkers is always to make that other person feel like they are the focus of our complete attention.  Always honor that other person with active listening and interest in what they have to say.

Counter-Measures: When you realize that you are in a conversation with a Star Spotter, the only thing you can do to prevent them from wasting your time is to exit the conversation gracefully.  "I'm sorry that I've monopolized your time.  I'd better let you get back to your networking." is usually a fairly safe mechanism to get clear of these folks.  If you really want to continue the conversation, you can throw in "May I have one of your cards?  Would it be OK to give you a call so we can set up a coffee?"

How We Can Help:  Helping the Star Spotter is fairly problematic.  Only a trusted friend can tell them that their behavior is inappropriate.  The only other possibility would be to physically maneuver yourself so that there is only a wall behind you, giving them nothing to distract them from their conversation with you.  Even so, keep the conversation relatively short and decide quickly whether you wish to continue a relationship with them in the future.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sitting and Waiting

You see them whenever you attend a networking event. They lurk at the back of the room.  They're the first ones to the buffet line. They pick a table which has no one sitting at it. They eat their food, listen to the speaker, then are the first ones out the door.

You might wonder to yourself what they are doing.

They're waiting.

They're waiting for someone to come over and say hello. They're waiting for their clients to walk up to them. They're waiting for this whole painful networking thing to be over.

They're waiting for "networking" to happen to them.

So at this point, two Rules should be coming to your mind:

  1. Don't be them. Control your own networking destiny. Seek out the people you want to talk with.  Make plans to meet tomorrow or the next day. Sit at the table that has only one or two seats left. First, accomplish your networking goal. Then sit and relax.
  2. Help them. There's a good chance that the "sitter" is a new networker. They don't know that they need a networking goal. They desperately want someone to rescue them. Help them out. You will be a superhero in their eyes.
Sitting at a networking event is fine during the presentation (if there is one) and up to ten minutes before. Otherwise you should be on your feet making connections and meeting new people. Don't be the person who walks out of the gathering saying to themselves "What a waste of time. I couldn't find anyone good to talk with", when in fact you never looked in the first place.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Beware the Gaps

I just sent out my bi-weekly e-newsletter.  This is the first one I've sent out in about five months.  Things kind of lapsed about the end of September last year.  Between travel with my family and my business getting completely out of control, I just let an issue or two slip.  OK, maybe it was more like ten issues.

This underscores a challenge with networking.  The best networkers have made networking a consistent and regular practice.  Every day they take time out to make their connections.  Networking is no longer just something they do.  It has become a part of their life.

In trying to emulate this behavior, though, we discover that every once in a while life throws us a curve.  Maybe we catch a cold.  Maybe we go on vacation.  Maybe our networking pays off to such a degree that we temporarily don't have time to network.

I'm here to tell you that this is the most dangerous time for your success as a networker.  These gaps break up your consistent behavior and before you know it, you've allowed your networking practice to lapse for weeks, then months, then years.  The challenge is that networking has a certain momentum to it.  If you miss a day, or maybe even a week, you won't see any immediate downturn in your results.  Just like eating one cheeseburger isn't going to destroy your health.

The long-term results of skipping longer and longer periods of time, though, are that you will eventually see your network begin to evaporate.

If you would like to avoid that, then I have one bit of advice.

Never miss your networking.

Even if you just make a single call or send one email.  If you just post an update on Facebook or read the updates message from LinkedIn.  Do something.  Record it in your networking log (you do maintain a log, don't you?).  Never miss a day.  Make the practice not just something that you do, but an integral part of who you are.

That's the way to become a truly great networker.  One day at a time.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Finding Mary Poppins

As we all know by now, networking is one of the best ways to develop our business relationships.  Clients obtained by word of mouth are quite often the best ones we've ever had.  They require far less work to sell to and sometimes even show up at our door, signed contract in hand.

But what about the personal side?

For Lisa and I, we got to experience this aspect of networking about two years ago.  We were in deep trouble.  Our daughter Kaylie was only a few months old.  The nanny we had lined up prior to Kaylie's birth had emailed us one week before she was supposed to start to let us know that she had decided to take a job elsewhere.  Going through Craigslist, we found another (the only acceptable one in the batch) who then promptly let us know that she had decided to stop being a nanny.

Sleep-deprived and at our wits end, Lisa and I didn't know where to turn next.  Then one day I mentioned our troubles to a networking acquaintance at my sales training class.  He said to me "I have someone I'd like you to meet."

Not long after that, his daughter-in-law, Beth, came to work for us as our new nanny.  She has been a godsend. While Kaylie was very young, Beth taught her some basic sign language so she could tell us when she was hungry or tired.  As Kaylie got older, Beth took her to play groups and doctors visits.  She walked her to the library and the local petting farm.  In short, she's our very own Mary Poppins.

Lisa and I often joke with each other that you can tell we are good parents because we hired only the best to raise our child.  Kaylie's happy demeanor and fearless curiosity about the world show that we obviously made a good choice.

But we never would have had that choice had it not been for a little bit of good networking.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Small Talk That's Not So Talky

OK, let's admit it. To many of us, making "small talk" with strangers is a painful and awkward task that rates somewhere around getting our teeth cleaned at the dentist on the "Things We Like To Do" scale.  Unfortunately, it is also a necessary skill when it comes to networking -- especially at an event.  The alternatives are to either sit silently or to try to sell, neither of which are likely to achieve our ultimate networking goals.

So, what's a reluctant networker to do?

Here's the trick: Let them do all the talking. Your goal is just to learn a little bit about them.  To achieve that, you can use just one or two parts of the INFER process.  Ask a few questions and then you only have to listen.

Interests: So, what sorts of fun things do you like to do when you aren't selling insurance?
Networks:  I'm new to this group. Do you have any recommendations on how to make the best of it?
Focus: So what sort of exciting things do you have planned for the upcoming year?
Epic Journey: I've always been interested in accounting.  You've been in it for a while.  What do you see as the most important differences since when you started?
Resources: You're refurbishing your barn?  What are your plans for it?

Now, the funny thing is, the folks you chat with will likely be absolutely tickled that you are asking them questions.  It gives them a chance to be the star.  Paradoxically, despite the fact that you will be saying very little, it's highly likely that they are going to think that you were one of the most interesting people they met at the event.

Of course, you should answer any questions they ask you (and if they are good networkers, they will).  After all, in an ideal world, the conversational break-down should be right around fifty-fifty.  Don't sweat it, though, so long as you aren't the one who is speaking ninety percent of the time.

Remember, your goal here is just to make the contact and learn a little bit about them.  You should leave going deeper into the INFER process for a one-to-one meeting after the event.  Keeping that in mind, though, you will find that asking some of these simple questions will make networking a lot more fun and interesting.  Certainly a lot better then a thirty minute conversation about the weather!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What INFER Implies

Yesterday we talked about INFER, an acronym to help you learn more about another person in the context of a one-to-one meeting.  The thing is, gaining information is fine, but it's what you do with it that makes all the difference.  Now that you've gleaned all of this data, what does it imply?

Well, first (and I know I don't need to tell you this, but just in case), the Hippocratic oath applies here:  Do no harm.  You must not use any of the information they have shared in order to take advantage of them.  If you do, I can only assume that there is a special place reserved for you in Hades -- right next to the people who talk on their cell phone in the movie theater.

OK, now that's out of the way.  Here are a few ways you might be able to help based upon what you may have learned.

Interests:  This is the big one, because this is what makes them human and it is quite often the passion that drives them. Once you know this, you can keep your eye out for articles or events that feature their interests to pass along.  You might even find a common interest and be able to share with them on occasion.
Networks:  If you belong to a group which might fit their needs, either personally or professionally, you can invite them as your guest to one of its events.
Focus:  If you help them to achieve their goals, you become a part of their success.  Of course, this has to be done properly.  If their goal is to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle, they probably wouldn't appreciate your solving it for them.  Offer to help, but nothing further without their request.
Epic Journey: From this you may learn what awards they've received and further what ones they may deserve.  Nominating someone for recognition can be a terrific way to cement a relationship.
Resources: You might have some recommendations on organizations who are looking for such resources.  Perhaps you can nominate them to be on a board or committee based on the skills they can bring to the table.

If you take the time to learn more about another person, using that information to help better their lives is the logical next step.  If you just learn about them without doing anything, then you might as well have not wasted anyone's time in the first place.  No one has room for that in their schedule.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One-to-One's: What You Can INFER

[UPDATED 8/21/2012]

Getting together for a "one-to-one" with another person is a good way to start the "Relationship" step of the ART of Networking process.  Whether it's a coffee, breakfast, or lunch, it's just a good time to sit down and learn more about each other.  As an aside, I do not recommend trying to do a one-to-one at a networking event. The format of these events is not at all conducive to an earnest conversation.

So, the biggest challenge many people have is worrying about what to talk about.  Spending your entire lunch hour in a conversation about the weather with a stranger is a sure way to turn you off networking for good. It's certainly not likely to develop the relationship any further.  So what should you talk about?

In a word, them.

To help out with that process, I've come up with an acronym to give you a variety of topics about your one-to-one partner.  It's called INFER:

Interests: What do they like to do when they aren't working?  If they have a family, this is a good time to take note of the family members and any special characteristics they might mention.
Networks: You may have met them at the Chamber networking lunch, but are they a member?  What other groups do they belong to?  Would they recommend them?
Focus: What are they working toward?  What are their personal/business goals?
Epic Journey: How did they get to where they are today?  What awards or accomplishments are they proud of?
Relationships: Is there something you can do to help their family or close friends? If you can, then you become family. Be careful, though, this is probably the most powerful information and the one that most people want to protect until they get to know you better.

Now you have a tool that you can use to help direct the conversation. Please remember though, this is only a tool.  It is not a form to be filled out.  Let the conversation flow naturally.

One-to-one's are a great way to start developing a deeper networking relationship with someone.  Following the INFER guidelines can help you find ways of helping each other which will further develop the relationship -- eventually to the level of "Trust".

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hungry for Networking

Maybe you've never said this to yourself before, but I think I do it every time I step on the scale to weigh myself.

"I've got to go on a diet."

The funny thing is, from everything I've read and experienced, a "diet" just doesn't work.  The mindset of depriving ourselves of food in order to lose weight is doomed from the start.  We won't be happy, and even if we can force ourselves to follow a diet and exercise regimen to the point where we achieve our goals, as soon as we start thinking we can go back to our old lifestyle, things will return to the way they were (or worse).

Really, the only way to achieve long-lasting results is to change our lifestyle...

... permanently.

So, what makes us think that we can successfully use the "diet" mentality when it comes to networking?

Just as the person who wants to lose weight has to start making healthy food choices and exercise part of their everyday life, so, too, do we need to make networking part of ours.

In this most recent economic downturn I noticed that, almost universally, those who were inveterate networkers -- the ones who attended the events, who always looked to increase their network, who looked for ways to serve and connect other people -- they were the ones who were having the least trouble.  In fact, many of them even grew during the hard times.

So, when you come to the place where you recognize that you have to "start networking", also realize that some of the best questions you can ask yourself are "How can I make this a part of my life?" and "How can I make it fun?"

That's pretty much the only path to long-term success.

So, how have you incorporated networking into your lifestyle?  Is it something you plan on maintaining?

Monday, February 8, 2010

That's a Good Question

One of the best things a good networker can do is to come up with an arsenal of useful questions.  These should be the ones which help you learn more about the other person and perhaps discover ways in which you can help each other.

One of my favorites, and one which gets an inevitably interesting response is:

"So, if I'm chatting with someone, what might they say or do that would tell me that they are the perfect client for you?"

I've found that this is a lot better than simply "What is your target market?"  In answering the question, the person you are talking with will tell you how to find who they really want.  For example, if they told you that they wanted people with back pain, well, you might be able to pick up on that.  If instead they say to listen for the phrase "I was out golfing this weekend and, boy, am I sore!" you are much more likely to pick up on that cue or something similar.

One caveat with this one:  Most folks haven't thought about their business this way and they may be a bit flummoxed as to how to respond.  This would be a good point to give an example from your own experience. I might say something like "Don't sweat it.  I had to think about this one a bit at first, too.  I came up with:  If you are at a networking event and you hear someone say 'I don't know why I bother coming to these things.  I never get anything out of them'.  They would probably be a good person for me to talk with."

You should, of course, already have your own answer for this one, because it's highly likely that they will turn it around and ask you (which is what you want anyway, right?).

So, how would you respond to the question?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Paradox of Networking

Why do we network?

Fundamentally, at the bottom of it all, at the very secret place deep within our hearts, we know that we are doing it for our own personal gain.

We want to extend our network to improve our chances of landing the job, or landing the client, or getting a good deal, or giving us the ability to get more things done.  We want to increase our power and control within our world.

Now here's the paradox.

In networking, we can only do that by first serving other people -- by giving them control and power within their world.

Strange, right?  In fact, if we try to approach networking from the perspective of "What's in it for me?", other people quickly discern that we are "users" who are not to be trusted.  We try too hard to sell, to arrange, to schmooz, to manipulate.

Ironically our own attempts to control are what make us lose control.

If, instead, we just look for ways to help others achieve their goals, suddenly and almost as if by magic our goals start being met.

And the odd thing is?  It's a heck of a lot more fun to help another person succeed rather than try to force the world to bow down and meet our needs.

So, how have you helped yourself by helping others?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Are Your Challenges? How Can I Help?

One of the strange side effects of networking in the business world is that many of the folks you talk with are going to assume that you are trying to sell to them.  Even the simple phrase "Let me know if I can help out with anything" takes on a meaning that you might not have intended.  On more than one occasion when I used those words or others like them, I've had my networking contact tell me that they don't have any work for me.

So, I've been trying to figure out how I can short-circuit that particular pattern.  Here's what I came up with.

First ask the question, "So, what challenges are you running into in your business right now?"  Depending on the ART level you have with this person, you could even extend the question to their personal lives.

(By the way, I don't recommend you ask "What's your problem?"  While it might seem semantically similar on the surface, apparently this is yet another question which can be misunderstood.  Who knew?)

Anyway, while you actively listen to the issues that are foremost on their minds, you should also be asking yourself "How can I help?"

You may not be able to help them in a professional capacity.  That's OK.  In fact, this is where the real networking kicks in.  You may know of someone who can help them with whatever the problem is.  Offer to make the connection if they would like.  You'll become the hero to both and then both of them will keep you in mind the next time something comes up which does match your professional interest.

Remember, above all, your goal is to help solve their problem, not sell.

So, have you had any of your networking questions misunderstood?

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Daily Practice

Matt Heinz over at "Matt on Marketing" has an awesome list of networking activities that you can do every day.

Now while all of his techniques are really great, the thing I like most about this post is the idea of a daily practice.  Great networking, as with most things, comes from consistency, not intensity.  Let's face it, you wouldn't save up brushing your teeth to do at the end of the week.  Nor should you attempt to do all of your networking in one day.

To that end, I recommend setting a specific schedule for yourself.  For example, choose three or four activities from Matt's list and every day at 9am, that is what you will be doing.

Actually, let's make it even easier.  Because getting into the habit right now is actually more important than the specific activities, just send out one email message a day at 9am (or whatever time works best for you).  Do that every day for three weeks and you not only will have sent out 21 email messages, but you will also have established a consistent habit for good networking.

So, which of Matt's ideas are you going to try?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

How Long is Too Long Away?

We've all done it.  We start a networking relationship with someone.  We might even have met for coffee or lunch.  We exchanged an email or a phone call or two and then...

... nothing

One or the other (or both) of us forgets to maintain the contact and the next thing you know, two years have gone by and you feel a nagging twinge of guilt each time you see that persons name.

Ah, well, what are you going to do?  It's too late to get back in touch with them, right?

Maybe.  But then again, maybe not.

In reality, it's a lot easier to revive a neglected relationship than it is to start a brand new one.  Putting forth just a little effort on your part now will mean all of your work in the past to develop the relationship will not have gone to waste.

Of course, if you had a valid reason for letting the relationship lapse (such as the other person turned out to be an axe-murderer), then just let sleeping dogs lie.

Assuming, though, that the relationship is worth saving, really all you have to do is call or email and say something to the effect of "Hey, Bob, I was just going through some old emails and I came across your name.  I apologize that I haven't called you in a while.  What's been going on lately?"  Remember, they haven't called you either, so by making the first move, you are letting them off the hook

Nothing like making someone else feel good by letting them know you've been thinking about them.

So, make some time in your daily networking activities to renew some old acquaintances.  You'll never know when one of them will say. "Y'know, I'm so glad you called.  I'm looking at a project right now that we could really use your help on."

So, do you have any connections you could revive?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

You Ought to be in Pictures, Redux

About a week ago I wrote a post about using your camera for networking.  I got a little bit of feedback from some trusted advisors and the general consensus was, well, that it was "creepy".

So, I've thought a bit about what they said, and they do have a point.  Walking up to a stranger at an event and shooting their picture is a little creepy.

And creepiness is not the hallmark of a good networker.

So, I've tried to come up with some situations in which it would be completely appropriate to use your camera:
  1. You are the official photographer.  With this you pretty much have carte blanche. You are just doing your job at this point.  You can even explain that to people and use it as an excuse to get their name.  Heck, this is even a great way to make good connections with the organizers.  Chances are they will be too busy to take photos themselves so your volunteering will give you high marks.
  2. You are running the event.  It's your party and you'll take pictures if you want to.  This would also be a opportune way to to follow up with the attendees afterwards.
  3. Crowd shots.  If you pull out your camera phone and shoot a few general pictures of the networking crowd, you can send the results to the people you know in the photos without them viewing you as a potential stalker.
  4. The speaker.  The people who speak at events are there to be the center of attention.  More than likely, they will actually be pleased to get photos of themselves in action.
  5. Friends and family.  OK, so this rarely happens at a networking event, but I'm just putting this in here to let you all know that I am not giving up my rights to record family events.  So, just stop complaining and giving me dirty looks and covering your face and "flipping the bird".  You can have my camera when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!
Er, um, where was I?

Oh, yeah, so do be careful when using this technique.  If you are obviously making someone uncomfortable, just cut it out and use one of the many other techniques you have at your disposal in order to further your relationship.

So, in what other situations is it OK to pull out the camera?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Follow Through on Follow-Up

One of the fundamental rules of attending a networking event comes into play after the event is over.  If you miss out on it, then you might as well have stayed home and not wasted your time or money.

The rule, of course, is that you must follow up.

Even the best networkers have a few business cards from people lying around that they really meant to get in contact with.  The trick to minimizing that pile is to have a system that you use to follow up.  What you choose should do the following:
  1. Be easy.  If it isn't easy to do, then you will never be able to maintain a habit of doing it.
  2. Be personal.  Doing a form letter or email will actually work against your goals.  Just like resum├ęs, the mechanism must be crafted to fit the individual you want to contact.
  3. Be specific.  If you would like to set up a meeting with someone, just come right out and say so.  Neither you nor they have time to beat around the bush.
  4. Be appropriate.  Likewise, if you want to set up a meeting with someone, probably a hand-written note isn't the mechanism you should choose.  Something more immediate, such as an email or phone call would be more appropriate for the goal.
  5. Be fun.  OK, this is a tough one sometimes.  Often this process feels very similar to cold calling, which nobody likes.  Remember, though, you are contacting them, not to sell, but to see if they would like to be friends.  Maybe you can tie in some sort of small reward for completing the task.
Whatever system you come up with, you must develop it into a habit.  The practice of following up is the only way you can turn those transient meetings into true networking gold.

So, what system do you use to follow up?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Target Market: Be Specific

A few days ago, I mentioned "leftover lovin'" networking, the basis of which is a lack of specificity in what you are seeking.

Let me be clear.

You will never be a truly effective networker until you can clearly state who you serve in the clearest, most detailed manner.

A good understanding of your target market underlies everything in networking.  At its simplest, it allows you to tell others whom you want to meet.  More than that, it will also help define to which groups you will belong, which meetings you will attend, even which networking activities you will pursue.

For example, if your particular target market is national in scope, is it going to make sense for you to look for them at your local Chamber of Commerce networking lunch?  Probably not.

If your clients are primarily construction companies, should you skip the city council meeting focusing on new zoning laws?  Not if you want to be perceived as a valued servant of the industry.

Spending your time working for a charity is wonderful.  If, however, you are doing it also as a networking activity, wouldn't it make sense to know that your target market also feels a passion for the same cause?

We all have only 24 hours in the day.  Focusing our efforts to serve a specific group is the only way to make networking pay off in the long run.

So, what is your target market?