Monday, May 31, 2010

Input and Output

Lisa, Kaylie, and I spent a good amount of time this afternoon out planting the vegetable garden. Turning the soil, edging, marking off the beds, planting the seedlings and the seeds, and watering it all down. It was a lot of work and we still have more to do tomorrow. In the end, though, it will all be worth it.

Now, I know you're expecting another comparison between networking and gardening, and how in both situations you have to plant and then be patient, etc, etc. I'll skip it this time. This time I'm reflecting on how reciprocity plays a role in both processes.

The tricky thing about reciprocity is that people often get it backward. They want the output first and then promise to give the input. My neighbors would probably look at me askance if I told them that I was waiting to harvest some tomatoes and then I was going to plant the garden. Gardening certainly doesn't work that way.

Nor does networking.

Signing up to be in a group is a great idea, but it's just like buying some seed. Waiting for the referrals to start rolling in before you dedicate time to the group makes just about as much sense as my crazy gardening plan. That's putting the output before the input. Believe me, though, I've heard more than one person complain to that effect.

Just as important, what I put in will define what I get out. Planting pole beans seeds and expecting them to produce a bumper crop of cucumbers would be recipe for frustration. Expecting your network to help out with your goals, whether it be referrals or finding a good school for your child, before you help them with theirs is similarly an unlikely harvest.

Remember, what you put in defines what you get out. And it only goes in that order. So if you aren't getting what you want out of your network, don't blame the seeds or the soil.

It's the gardener who's at fault.

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Do Your Homework

In yesterday's post I admitted that I wasn't perfect (and it disturbs me to no end that no one tried to contradict me ;-) ). The nice thing is, others can learn from my blundering.

I'm only doing this as a community service. Really.

So, today's lesson is on the importance of doing your homework. If you are going to an event with a speaker, please, please, please, at the very minimum, do a quick Google search so you know a little bit about that person. Trust me on this one.

On Thursday I attended an event called "The Abundance Forum" put on each month by my sales coaches, Joe Marr and Mike Wynn. They always have a speaker at these events. This time it was Shawne Duperon, a coach who helps people develop relationships with media professionals and, further, present themselves in the best light in the media.

I hadn't done my homework.

When Joe introduced Shawne and me, I completely betrayed my ignorance. Despite the fact that she had a table of her video presentations behind her, I asked her what brought her to the Forum. When I finally realized my gaffe, I blurted out, "Oh, you're the speaker today!"

Yes, truly my finest hour.

Unless you really want to relive my discomfort, the next time you are attending an event with a speaker, take five minutes to get ready.

  1. Do a Google search on them. If they aren't very famous, you might have to limit by geographical region.
  2. If they have a blog, read the most recent few posts.
  3. If they are on Twitter, read their most recent tweets.
  4. If you can find a picture of them glance at it so you will know them on sight.
Fortunately for me, Shawne was quite gracious at my clumsiness -- a sure sign of a great networker. She was also a well-informed and passionate speaker. If you get the chance to see her, be sure to be in the audience. If you get a chance to chat, ask her about her PhD studies -- in gossip! I know I'm looking forward to running into her in the future.

Maybe next time I won't be smacking myself in the forehead afterward.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

News Flash! I'm Not Perfect

When I'm talking to people about good networking habits, I'll often hear them say, "Yeah, it's easy for you. You're a natural networker. You're a real extrovert."

Bzzzt! Thank you for playing. Please try again sometime. Johnny, do we have any lovely parting gifts for our contestant?

I am a computer programmer by training. Almost by definition that means when I am feeling extroverted, I'm looking at your shoes when I'm speaking with you. Now, over time, with practice, I've managed to become more outgoing, but I've never been someone who sought out large crowds of people because I thrive on that kind of energy.

Mostly my success as a networker comes from the techniques I've learned and developed and started to practice. I'm really not imaginative enough to make this stuff up on the fly.

I also don't have this stuff down to the point that I do it every day without fail. Somedays I don't get around to making a call or two. Heck, some days I barely respond to email. Business happens.

Despite that, though, I know that the measure of my success is the level to which I am achieving my networking goals. I know because I've measured it. The challenge is, with networking, there's a delayed response. Skipping a week or two of networking now doesn't have an immediate effect. It might not show up for a months.

The trick I've found with keeping myself on track is to re-affirm those goals each day. Missing yesterday doesn't matter so long as I'm willing to dust myself off and get busy today. For example, if I've fallen behind in my tickler file, all I have to do is re-organize it and I am ready to go again.

Oh, and for those who are wondering, I'm not sure such a thing as a "natural networker" actually exists. At some point in our lives we had to learn to care about other people. Don't believe me? Look at the nearest child under two. They are the centers of their own little universes and no one else exists but to serve their desires.

So, if you've fallen off the networking bandwagon, absolve yourself of your sins and hop right back on. There's always room for more reformed sinners.

And it makes the ride a heck of a lot more fun.

Photo credit: rabble

Friday, May 28, 2010

Share Freely

By the time you read this, I will be back from my first recording session with Lucy Ann Lance and her business partner, Dean Erskine. I'm doing a series of very short radio spots (think two minutes) which will appear on her show over the next month. I don't have the details yet on the exact times, but I will post them on the Reluctant Networker fan page on Facebook.

Now, why would I do this? Is it just so I can hear my own voice on the radio?

OK, I'll admit that's pretty fun, but that isn't the reason.

Is it because I enjoy getting up for a 7am recording session?

Not a chance. 10am is really more my style.

Is it an opportunity to establish myself as an expert in the field of networking and to give away what I've learned to anyone who decides to turn on the radio or check out the archives?

Yep, that's pretty much it. In fact, that's pretty much why I write this blog each day, too.

I've found that the best networkers -- the ones whom everyone knows or wants to meet -- are also the most generous.  They are willing to give away some of their expertise in order to add value to others' lives. Where others hoard their ideas, the great networkers share with abandon.

And somehow discover that they still have more ideas than they could possibly make use of.

So, think about your own niche. How can you give of yourself and your knowledge and make yourself more valuable in the long run?

The answer is what will put you at the top of everyones mind.

Photo credit: Mike Miley

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Confidence of Giving

In a cologne commercial, the actor Jack Palance uttered the classic line "Confidence is sexy, don'tcha think?" While I don't know how accurate that is, the fact remains that folks do prefer to associate themselves with confident people. Those who act as if they aren't so sure of themselves give off an aura of desperation whose stench would quickly overpower the scent of Jack's cologne.

The funny thing is, good networking practice tends to reveal an underlying assurance. Think about it. Passing someone a referral says you are doing so well that you can afford to spread the wealth a little. This holds even if the referral wasn't something you could do in the first place. By corollary, you must have enough work that you can afford to be choosy with whom you work in the future. That makes you exclusive and worth pursuing.

How about treating someone to lunch or even just a coffee? Well, shucks, that means you've got money in the bank. Business must be good!

Then there's the gift of your time. If you are volunteering, are you desperate to get new work into your pipeline?  Nope!  After all you've got time to volunteer for a cause which is important to you. Never mind the fact that you are actually making great connections as a result of being a part of the group -- connections that could easily turn into business in the future.

Now, I don't know if anyone comes to these conclusions consciously. It is definitely true, however, that projecting confidence in yourself and what you do will be far more likely to build the strong relationships you want. It'll do a lot better than projecting  desperation and uncertainty.

After all, who wants to be around someone who's begging?

Photo credit: cogdogblog

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Little Benefits of Vulnerability

Creating good connections requires a certain level of selective vulnerability. Basically you have to let the other person see into some portion of your life so they can get to know you as a person rather than a position. Sometimes just revealing a little about something personal such as your likes and dislikes can reap unexpected returns.

A couple of years ago, when I first became a co-chair for the Leadership Ann Arbor program, I rode up to the opening retreat with the program director, my good friend Lindsay McCarthy. We talked about a wide variety of topics including the kinds of food we like. She knew I was a vegetarian, but hadn't realized that one of the few vegetables I really detest is eggplant.  Apparently the vegetarian option at dinner the next night was eggplant parmesan.

After Lindsay found out about my dislike for the purple vegetable, she made a special call (without telling me) to make sure I had something else for dinner. What a wonderful surprise when the waiter placed a remarkably tasty pasta with morel mushroom sauce in front of me.

Even the meat-eaters were eyeing my plate with envy.

So, let this be a lesson to those who want to play their cards close to the vest. Sometimes a little openness can lead to a wonderfully tasty result. Yum!

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Graceful Exit

One of the challenges of networking at an event is that you will be tempted to spend your time speaking with people you already know. Now, this isn't entirely bad. After all, you should, whenever possible, touch base with your existing connections. The downside is that if you don't meet any new people, you won't be able to extend your network and it will begin to stagnate.

Of course, acquaintances and friends aren't your only challenges in this area. Sometimes you'll meet a new person and hit it off. Then, because they aren't comfortable meeting new people, they will latch onto you and never let go.

So, what can you do to stop this from happening? How do you make the graceful exit? Here are a few ideas.
  1. State your goals. I know you are already setting your networking goals before you walk into the networking event, right? Simply let your conversation partner know about your goal and ask them to excuse you. Assure them that you've enjoyed chatting and you are looking forward to catching up later. Perhaps you could even schedule a coffee or lunch right then and there. This is one of my favorites because it's altogether possible that they might be willing to help you with your goals.
  2. Make an introduction. If the other person is new to the venue and you already know a few people there, go out of your way to introduce them to one of your acquaintances. When they get into a conversation, you can easily excuse yourself. This is another of my favorites because you are really helping out the other people while freeing yourself up for more networking.
  3. Apologize to them. Acknowledge that you may be taking up too much of their time with your conversation. You might be preventing them from accomplishing their networking goals. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them with their networking.
  4. Schedule a one-to-one. If you do want to continue the conversation at a later point, ask them if they brought their calendar and then go ahead and set up the appointment right there. When you are done with that, there's a natural expectation that you will be parting ways for now.
  5. Use an excuse. Here's where you can use the "need to use the restroom" or "need to refresh my drink" explanation. Most people will understand entirely. Of course, you should make sure that the excuse you use is true. Having someone catch you in a mistruth is far worse than being trapped in a conversation that might go on forever.
I'm sure there are many other techniques for gracefully exiting the conversation. The very best of them show respect for the other person and may actually benefit them in the long run. Remember that what you want is to extricate yourself without harming the potential relationship before it's had a chance to start.

Photo credit: heathbrandon

Monday, May 24, 2010

No, Really, Stop Talking

OK, I will admit it. I'm a conversational "cuttinski". When I hear a conversation in the area about which I think I know something, I tend to jump in without being invited. Yes, it is an odious and boorish habit. I'm a "sentence-finisher", too. I've also been known, once or twice, to let my eyes glaze over when the person I was talking with just wouldn't get to the point.

I'll admit it. I'm not perfect. (I know. Shocking, right?)

The reason I'm writing about this is that we need to be aware of our conversational behaviors and take steps to correct those which don't serve us well. There's a reason Mom tried to drum polite behavior into our heads and it wasn't to avoid food-fights during the family meal.

OK, it wasn't only for that reason.

Essentially all of these social rules exist for a single reason -- to show respect for the other person. Breaking them sends the signal that you belief you have nothing to learn from that other person -- that, in fact, you believe you are their superior in every way. Ironically, most of these conversational rules boil down to a fairly simple concept:

Shut yer yap and care about the other person.

I heard about a technique a while ago that I intend to attempt to implement (hey, I said I wasn't perfect). When I'm chatting with someone, I will listen to what they are saying and not simply wait until it's my turn to speak. I will not open my mouth to voice my opinion until they either ask me a question or have stopped for a full two seconds.

Maybe that will help keep me out of trouble. Wish me luck.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Take Them in Another Direction

I think that networking events get a bad rap partially because everyone thinks of the same thing -- a meal and a talk surrounded by general networking. Despite the fact they can be helpful, they often feel like the "same old, same old". Wouldn't it be a lot better if we had a little variation?

Well, we can. Even better, we can arrange things which makes us the center of the networking.

For example, my wife and I just returned from the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum's Family Tech Night event. I ended up with a couple of extra tickets to the festivities, so I invited along some of my networking connections to join in the fun.

Now, the trick to these gatherings is that they cannot be related to your business. If the focus of activity is a presentation extolling the virtues of your product or service, that indicates to your guests only one type of event...

A commercial (and almost everyone has learned how to ignore commercials).

One common possibility is to get together for a game of golf.  Many of us, though, are not golfers (I know, blasphemy!) so it might be good to check into some other options. Here are a few ideas for events you could organize:
  • Dinner and a Movie. Is the newest summer blockbuster coming out soon? Pick a time and date to attend and send out a bunch of invitations to meet beforehand for dinner and then to hit the movie.
  • Museum Tour. Most local museums have guided tours, many of which are free of charge or available for a nominal donation. Afterwards you can all catch coffee and discuss what you saw.
  • Book Reading/Signing. Check out the calendar for your local bookshop. If a popular or local author will be presenting in the future, you might invite the more literary minded of your contacts and colleagues for the presentation followed by dessert.
  • Miniature Golf. Instead of all heading out to the full golf course and all the time and expense that can engender, how about a fun trip to the local putt-putt course. I actually attended one of these and I remember having a great deal of fun and making some good connections between holes.
  • Game Night. Invite your networking contacts and their significant others to a fun-filled evening of games. Board games, video games, card games. Whatever you decide, it's a great way to bring folks together for good conversation.
As you can see, the possibilities are only limited by your own imagination. Invite anything from two to twenty. Bring in new friends and old friends. Whatever you do, be sure to have fun. That's one of the strongest connectors of all.

Photo credit: vomsorb

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Be Interesting

Now, I know I've said all along that in order to be interesting, you should be interested. Asking questions about others is far more important than telling them about us. That being said, though, through the natural course of conversation, the other person is likely to ask you about yourself. If that happens you had better have something to say.

But why would it be important what you have to say? Isn't it enough that you are willing to listen?

Listening is good to be considered a sparkling conversationalist. If you want to make a real connection, though, you really need to find that common point of interest. Of course, you can find some common points with work. After all, we all experience many of the same things over the course of our careers. A better place to find them, though, would be in our interests outside of work.

As an example, early in our friendship, I had the opportunity to go on a four-hour car ride with my friend Lindsay McCarthy (a great networker in her own right). Over the course of the trip, we discovered a number of common threads in our lives. The one that really spoke to me, though, was when she, who appeared to be a completely "normal" person, admitted to loving the television show "Battlestar Galactica".

She was a science fiction nerd, just like me!

Now, I can't say anything on her behalf, but I know that, for me, the knowledge that we share a common heritage of sci-fi has definitely bumped her up more than a notch or two in my book. The more such commonalities a relationship has going for it, the stronger it will be.

So, while you are developing your network, be sure that you are also developing yourself. Read books, see movies, play sports. Whatever it is, it makes you more of a person and gives you more in common with those around you.

And it makes you a lot more fun to chat with.

Photo credit: Marcin Wichary

Friday, May 21, 2010

Where ART Thou?

Show me your Facebook account and tell me that you have a thousand "friends" and I may look at you askance. While everyones favorite social media site has done its share to bring folks together, it does have one sin that I lay directly at its collective feet.

It has butchered the meaning of the word "friend".

If people honestly applied the ART scale (Awareness, Relationship development, Trust) to their list of friends (or "connections" on LinkedIn, "followers" on Twitter, etc), most would barely make it out of the Awareness stage. So, how can we actually check that and keep ourselves honest?

Let's look at characteristics of relationships at each of the levels. If we meet a majority of specifications at a given stage, then we can honestly say that is where we stand with that person. We can also get an idea of how to develop the relationship further, should we desire.

Awareness. These are the folks you just met. In friendship terms, they haven't even gotten to the level of acquaintances. You might know one or two personal things about them, but mostly you just know what they might have on their business card. Chances are, these are the folks you've met once at a networking event, spoken for five minutes, and exchanged business cards.

Relationship Development. In the friendship continuum, these would be anything from recent acquaintances to people whom you might call friends, though they wouldn't be in your inner circle. You've met with them for coffee or lunch. You probably know a fair amount about their personal life including their interests, their immediate family, and maybe a little about their long-time goals. They would probably know similar information about you.

Trust. On a personal front, these would be your true friends. In business, they are trusted advisors and colleagues. These are the people to whom you would lend money or (even more important) lend your reputation. You probably know who their parents are and where they live. You've probably actually met their immediate family. You not only know a lot about their interests, goals, and business, but you've also gone out of your way to pass them information and/or referrals which would help them along in these areas. These are the folks who have passed the very best referrals along to you and act as your ambassadors, always looking out for your best interests.

So, now look over your lists of connections, friends, followers, etc and ask yourself, where do these people fit in my ART levels? Moreover, what will you do to start developing these relationships into true connections and friends?

After all, the strongest and most profitable networks are based on the strongest relationships.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Networking with the Stars

The other day I had a meeting with Lucy Ann Lance, a local radio personality, and Dean Erskine, her business partner. We were talking about working together on a project (which I will talk more about on a different day). The funny thing was, even though I had been on her radio show twice before and knew that Lucy Ann was one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet, I was still nervous to go speak with her. After all, Lucy Ann is a Celebrity.

It's funny how celebrity can put up a wall between us.

Oh, and the "celebrity" doesn't even have to be all that famous. Think about how people react to a speaker at a networking event. There's something about the fact that they're standing up in front of everyone that sets them apart -- never mind that before you learned who they were, they were just another person sitting at your table.

Here's the thing I discovered, though -- and this may come as a shock to you -- with very few exceptions, celebrities are people, too.

I know! Who would have thought?

I once had an opportunity to strike up a conversation with George Takei (the actor who played, among many other roles, Sulu on the original Star Trek). This was a guy who has had a long and varied career, who has numerous causes in which he believed strongly, and who obviously was on a completely different level from me. The weighty matter that was at the forefront on his mind?

Whether or not he was going to be able to make it back home to Los Angeles because of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

Even my brush with celebrity with Lucy Ann Lance revealed more of the same. We were talking about networking events and she told me that even after being the emcee at numerous gatherings, she still feels a little nervous walking alone into a room full of strangers.

So, the next time you have an opportunity, strike up a conversation with a celebrity. Ask about their interests and goals, find out about their epic journey. In short, treat them just like you would any other person.

Because, in point of fact, that's exactly what they are.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Personal Networking: Laura Spensley

I had a very pleasant meeting this afternoon with Laura Spensley, owner and Marketing Manager of SERVPRO of Canton and Washtenaw County. For those who are unaware, SERVPRO is a company who comes in and helps you clean up and restore your home after you've gone through a disaster such as fire or flood.

Laura and I met through the Ann Arbor Chamber. A mutual friend introduced her as one of the most phenomenal networkers he had ever met. Obviously I had to meet with her to find out her secrets.

Tip: Never be afraid of a conversation. Prior to her current position with SERVPRO, Laura was a grade-school teacher. Her first and second grade students didn't exactly prepare her for the world of business nor of business networking. One of the things she realized very quickly was that she had to put herself out there and initiate conversations with other people. Being a bit shy by nature (though not obvious in our conversation at all) this was actually a bigger challenge than it might sound at first.

Technique: Everybody has a story. To overcome some of her shyness, she employed a simple technique of finding out how others came to be where they were in life. By asking questions and being interested, she could let people talk about their favorite topic (themselves). In turn, I'm sure that just about everyone whom she treated this way thought she was the most fascinating person they had met.

Laura had to overcome some of the same challenges that a lot of us reluctant networkers have to cope with. Her current success, despite the challenging economy, tells me that her techniques should work just as well for any of us who would rather be left alone in our caves rather than go out to face other people.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Almost any networker, good or bad, is a connector. We know a fair number of people and what they do and what they need and, wherever possible we try to bring people together because they might be able to help each other.

Then there are the super-connectors. These are the folks who seem to know everyone and whom everyone seems to know. If they call, people answer the phone or return the message. They're the first ones people think of if they need to get in contact with someone or need help with a special project.

Think about those people in your life who are super-connectors. What behaviors do they have in common? How is what they do different from what the rest of us do?

Thinking about the super-connectors I know, from Rebecca Lopez Kriss -- self-described "concerned citizen", to Cheryl O'Brien -- the membership director of the Ann Arbor Chamber, to Derek Mehraban -- CEO of Ingenex Media, they do seem to have one attribute in common. They all organize groups above and beyond themselves.

Rebecca helped found the YP Underground, a young professionals networking group. Cheryl runs the Chamber Ambassadors, a group of Chamber members who act as event greeters and welcome wagon for new members. Derek created the LA2M group, a weekly gathering of business professionals with an interest in marketing.

As Seth Godin would point out, they are all leaders of tribes.

So, if you want to step up to the next level and become a super-connector, you are going to have to push yourself to become something more than just a follower, too. You'll need to go out and give value to a whole group of people. It won't always be easy, but that's why the super-connectors stand out.

They're always looking for ways to serve.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Hunter and The Gardener

Yesterday we talked about one analogy with respect to networking. Today, as I struggled to roto-till my vegetable garden, I remembered another one that I had heard.

Networking is to selling what gardening is to hunting.

While both networking and selling can result in achieving a variety of goals, let's focus on just the aspect of increasing the number of clients or customers who are going to be buying from us.

Is selling like hunting?

Well, in both cases you lie in wait or actively seek a particular target. You try to knock out its defenses until it is vulnerable and you can move in for the kill, er, close. The benefits are that hunting and selling both have a relatively short turn-around time. The downside is that if you sell without concern for the well-being of the customer, then, just like the hunt, that particular individual is dead to you.

What about networking and gardening?

Both require a lot of prep work. In gardening, you've got to prep the soil, plant the seeds, fertilize and water, and be prepared to wait a long time before the harvest. You just can't rush the process. In networking, you've got to meet new people, establish good connections, provide value over what may be a long period of time before they are going to be willing and able to pass business to you. The benefits are that over the long haul, the network you plant will continue to produce for you with only a minimal amount of effort on your part. Downside is that it does take a great deal of time and patience before you are going to see the harvest.

Examining this analogy, it's apparent that both approaches have their merits.  Over the long term, of course, harvesting from the garden requires significantly less effort and can be a heck of a lot more fun than hunting for your next sale. In the short term, though, a little sales is necessary, lest you starve before the harvest comes in.

The trick is engaging in the hunt without killing the crops in the garden.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I know that analogies can be a flawed mechanism to argue a topic, but they can be wonderfully illustrative if they aren't taken too far.  I think of them as the "Dummies Guide" to describing complex or technical topics to those without a technical background. I used them all the time in my Web development business.

They can also be just a heck of a lot of fun. You remember, "apple is to pie as peach is to blank". You get one of those questions on a test and the hilarity would ensue.

OK, yes, I'm a nerd. Stop looking at me like that.

Anyway, one of my favorite analogies in networking has to do with going to events. It goes something like "a networking event is to a signed contract as a singles bar is to blank" Of course, the answer is "a wedding ring".

Of course, as with most analogies, it can work on multiple levels. Just as you are unlikely to walk out of a singles bar with a wedding ring, you are also unlikely to walk out of a networking event with a signed contract. It also signifies that both the bar and the business gathering can be the beginning of a relationship which, over time, can lead to the ring or contract.

Now, if more people would remember that, they might dread the event (and the bar) a little less and have a lot more fun in the process.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

You've done coffees. You've done lunches. You've even hit a breakfast or two. These are all wonderful opportunities to get to know people a little better. Now I'll suggest another one...


Of course you can just meet at a restaurant, but I'm thinking about something a little more personal. Invite your networking contact and (where applicable) his or her spouse into your home to break bread.

Having someone visit you in your home makes you stand out as a person. Whether the occasion is a lavish 7-course affair or a simple barbecue, it leads to conversations which tend to be about what we like and dislike -- more about who we are as people instead of businesses. Inviting someone in to your residence also tells them that you are truly interested in them. After all, who goes to the extra effort of preparing home and dinner for guests they don't care about?

OK, except for those times when you have Great-Aunt Mildred over for the holidays.

Now, this invitation would probably be most appropriate with someone with whom you've already had some connection. They are likely to be already in the "trust" level or at least the latter stages of "relationship development". Invitations to dinner prior to that might seem a little forward. Still, you'll need to be the judge on that one.

Sharing your home and family with someone is a tremendously symbolic gesture. By it, you will be sending the message that you have the other person's happiness and success at heart -- the true foundation of good networking practice.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Expanding Beyond the Home Town

Most successful networking is local. Being there in person is almost always necessary for first-time meetings. That being the case, what if you want to expand into the next town over (or maybe one that is a little further away)?

That requires some strategic planning.

First of all, make sure your existing network is strong. You are going to have to take some attention away from it so you can grow your connections in the remote location. You don't want your home town support to fade while your attention is elsewhere. While you are doing that, put out the word that you are trying to make connections in the new locale. Your network could very well give you some great starting points with personal introductions to boot.

You will probably have to join a group or two in your new target location. Pick these not only based on the other criteria we've discussed in the past, but also you may also want to consider groups which hold networking events on the same day (but not the same time, of course). This way you can double up on any visit.

Once you know what events you will be attending and when, set up additional one-to-one meetings with potential connections in the new town. The goal is to be as efficient as possible about this. Conceivably, you might be able to do a couple of networking events and four or five one-to-ones all in the same day.

Finally, follow up with the potential networking sources just as you would any other. The only difference will be that you may have to make a more concerted effort to provide value to your new contacts. Because you won't be able to have a quick coffee with them at any time, sending articles, newsletters, and making the occasional phone call will have to make up for the lack of proximity.

As with most efforts, calling on your network is going to make your life a lot easier. As you continue to connect with more people in your target area, they will be able to connect you further. It may take a while, but surprisingly quickly your new target city will view you as a native.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gratitude Notes

When was the last time you wrote a "Gratitude Note"?

No, not a thank you note. A Gratitude Note. What's the difference?

A thank you note does just that. It expresses thanks:
Dear Grandma,
Thank you for the sweater you gave me for my birthday. It looks really swell and I can't wait to wear it out sledding. I'll have Mom take a picture and send it to you so you can see how much I like it.
                    Love, Timmy
It isn't a bad little note. In fact, we should be sending these missives all the time. A Gratitude Note, on the other hand, goes one step further. You would send one of these notes to someone who has had a profound impact on your life. This is your opportunity to sincerely express your gratitude for everything they have done for you and to let them know exactly how important the relationship with them has been to you.

The recipient saves a Gratitude Note. Heck, they might even frame it.

Try it sometime. You will probably notice a couple of benefits. The first will be for yourself. By expressing your appreciation for this one thing in your life, you will begin to feel grateful for all of the good things in your life. You'll be amazed at how truly fortunate you are and you will be much less likely to take things and people for granted.

The second benefit will be for the recipient. We all need to feel appreciated at times. Your simple note can truly make someones day, week, or even month. I don't know of anyone who is so confident in themselves that they wouldn't appreciate some recognition of the value they provide.

So, take a few minutes to acknowledge one of the many people who have made your life better in some way. You'll feel good. They'll feel good. It will also go a long way toward building the strongest of connections in your network.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Happy Birthday!

No, it's not my birthday. Nor is the birthday of this blog or of my company (though it might be your birthday and, if so, "Happy Birthday!").

"Happy Birthday" is the subject of my favorite networking calls.

Personally, I think everyone, no matter the age, deserves recognition on their birthday. I know that I often celebrate mine for weeks on end -- usually starting in mid August and going on until early September. I strongly suspect that inside each of us is a seven-year-old who still wants the cake and the presents and the friends and family all around. Oh, we've learned to hide them -- the disappointments of life serving to crush their child-like joy -- but they still want their day to be special.

You can bring someone a lot of joy by just giving that 7-year-old a little bit of fun on their day.

But how can you get their birthday? Personally, I use another old Jedi mind trick...

I ask.

Oh, I ask in a fun way, but I still ask. Usually when I've called just to chat, I tell them that I have a question that I'm required to ask of them for business purposes and I hope they don't mind. Or I might say that I have a somewhat personal question to ask, if they don't mind. Whatever it is, I go with some sort of preparatory remark that has them thinking about what serious question I'm about to ask.  Then when I say "When is your birthday?" they'll laugh and usually have no trouble giving up the information.

If they want to know why, I just tell the truth -- that I like to wish people a happy birthday and I can't if I don't know the day.

Of course, there are other ways. A lot of people list their date of birth in Facebook or one of the other social media sites. You can harvest a number of them through there. I wouldn't go for hiring a private investigator. That would be creepy.

When you do have that information, be sure to add it into your tickler file. I also add them to my Google calendar so that it comes up every year automatically.

Then you just have to call on the right day. Please note that I said "call". Sending an email, or a Facebook "wall message", or even a handwritten card isn't as personal as them actually hearing your voice. Trust me. It will only take a few moments and you may very well make their day.

Maybe almost as much as that new bike they got when they were 7.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Debunking the Myths: Networking is Attending Events

When I first meet with a client I always ask what activities they currently pursue for networking and what they are getting out of each one. Almost inevitably, they list attending networking events such as Chamber of Commerce lunches. They often also say they get little or nothing out of them. That makes it doubly unfortunate that most people believe that showing up for these gatherings is what networking is all about.

In fact, it's only the beginning.

With respect to attending these meetings, the mistake most make is that they think if they go to enough of them, somehow, magically, business will begin to flow their way. They measure their success by the number of contracts or dollars that they get from each one.

In reality, the best measurement of a networking event's success is how many one-to-one meetings you arrange as a result of attending. Events only provide the potential to begin new relationships. Extending and strengthening them happen later, away from the event.

Not expecting a sale every time you walk into an event takes a lot of pressure off. Exchanging that expectation for one about the number of friends you might make will make it a heck of a lot more enjoyable. After all, you'll essentially be playing a game where he who meets the greatest number of new friends wins.

Sounds like a lot of fun to me.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Devil on Your Shoulder

You step into a professional gathering and he starts whispering in your ear almost immediately. "Only talk with people who can buy from you." "Why are you bothering with them? They can't help you." "Can you see anyone more important here?"

His seductive whispers remind you that you have to pay the mortgage next week, that you need to put some food on the table for your family, and you've got that vacation in Tahiti next month. You need to make some money. Don't worry about networking. You can do that next month. Right now, focus on sales. If they can't help you with that, you don't need them.

The most dangerous thing about this fiend is that his whispers ring true for so many of us. Unfortunately, listening to him isn't likely to lead us in the direction we want. Following his counsel will, in fact, turn us into a "limited networker", driving people away from us.

So, how do we withstand his subtle siren song?

The only thing we have is the power of true networking, the angels of our better nature. They remind us that networking is about providing value to the other person. We have a single phrase which, if used often enough, will drown out the subtle devil.

"How can I help you?"

Keep that question always in your heart. Ask it with honesty and with the true intention of providing value to the other person -- no matter what.

Do that and the voices of those who are asking how they can help you will replace the temptations of following a less successful path.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Who and What You Know

I'm sure you've heard the old saying "It's not what you know, but who you know, that counts". Well, they got it half-right.

In reality, both sides of the equation are important. Look at the possibilities.
  • If you don't know anyone and you don't know anything, well, you are largely useless, but at least no one knows about it. You can safely keep your incompetence in obscurity. Congratulations?
  • If you don't know anyone but you are an expert in some line of endeavor, your great knowledge is wasted. You are like the mustard seed cast upon stony ground. You can neither grow nor can any other gain benefit from your abilities.
  • If you know a lot of people, but you are largely clueless, this is probably the worst situation to be in. Basically, you are ignorant and everyone knows it..
  • Finally, if you have both great knowledge and know a multitude of people, then you not only have knowledge, but the network of connections necessary to apply that knowledge to the greatest benefit.
Have both sides of the equation, of course, helps you in other ways. Knowledge expands in contact with others. They help us test what we know to refine and improve it all the time. Likewise, as our knowledge expands, we attract more people to us as we become a more valuable resource to those around us.

Be sure, as you continue to expand your network, that you also expand your value to that network. Your expertise can become one of your strongest tools in your networking toolbox.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

At the Bottom of the Cycle

Our strength and focus in networking runs in cycles. There are times when we are really revving and we'll attend three events in a day, contact thirty people on our tickler list, and throw in a one-to-one meeting or three on top of it all.

And then there are those other times when you just want to hole up in your cave.

I would love to be able to tell you that during these times it's OK to just leave off your networking for a day or a week until you are feeling like it again. Please, feel free to do so...

... if you want your network to wilt and die like a plant left without water for too long.

See, the exact activities aren't as important as the consistency with which you carry them out. Do something -- anything -- every day to feed the network.

Taking a day off won't matter much to your network, but one day can become two, and then a week, and then a month, and then...

And then you will discover one day that no one remembers who you are.

If you are at the low end of the cycle, cutting back is OK. Quitting is not.

Friday, May 7, 2010

First Impressions are Not Unfair

We've heard the statistics. Depending on who you believe, you have between two seconds and a minute to make a good first impression.  Or, more to the point, when you meet a new person, they will make a snap judgment about the kind of person you are within that same amount of time -- good, bad, or other. A lot of people think that's just unfair.

I disagree.

Oh, their first impression might be an inaccurate representation of who you are, but it isn't unfair.

Unfair is when you play a game and someone doesn't tell you all the rules.  In this case, you do know the rule: Everyone you meet will judge you immediately and make a decision about you in the first few seconds. There, now you can't claim that first impressions are unfair.

Now, how are you going to make sure those first impressions match up with who you really are?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why We Do What We Do, Part 4: The Art of the Story

So, we've about beaten this dead horse into the ground now. We've talked about why you should understand your underlying reasons for doing what you do, how to uncover them, and when to use the information you obtain. Now we just need to talk about what form it will take.

Before we go on remember that you should give this story at the beginning of a presentation about you and/or your business. If the talk is informational or educational in nature, let whomever is introducing you tell the group about your credentials. This lets you jump right into the topic.

This story's goal is to bring in your audience by showing that you are human and vulnerable. It is not meant to engender pity. Different audiences are going to have different levels of comfort with what you have to say and how you say it. You are going to have to decide how far is far enough.

That all being said here are a few tips to follow when crafting your tale:
  1. Keep it concise. No more than two minutes. Anything more than that and the emotional impact will be diluted by the sheer length of what you have to say. Imagine telling a five-minute joke. No punchline could ever make up for the weight of the setup. The same holds true for your story.
  2. Make it active. No passive voice. Passive voice is an attempt to distance yourself from the story. Which sounds more interesting "The king was murdered by an assassin" or "The assassin murdered the king"
  3. Make it current. This is a hard one, but it adds an unbelievable amount of power to your personal story. Using past tense again distances you from the story. Making it present tense helps everyone in your audience become a part of what's going on. "I walked through the door" doesn't create as much tension as "I walk through the door".
  4. Keep it simple. Avoid jargon and 75-cent words. Again, these appeal to the intellect and we want to connect with the emotions
  5. Vary your voice. Pretend you are talking to a three-year-old. Voice inflection, volume, tone -- vary them as appropriate to the emotions you are trying to convey. Approximately 35% of your message is the tone you use, compared to only 10% from the words you choose.
  6. Be silent. You don't have to talk constantly. Let the occasional pause come in to emphasize a point. Pauses give the audience a moment to digest what you've been saying.
  7. Practice. Unless you've given the exact same presentation a thousand time (which probably won't happen), if you want to sound natural, you need to rehearse. Practice in front of the mirror. Practice in front of a video camera. Practice in front of your long-suffering spouse or significant other. Just practice.
So, those are a few ideas that might help you tighten up your story. Remember that the goal of this whole activity is to get your audience to like you. Anything after that is gravy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why We Do What We Do, Part 3: Your Emotional Origin Story

In the previous two posts, we talked about why you should know your reasons for what you do and then how to uncover them. Now comes the "what", as in, what should I do with this now?

The underlying emotional reasons are good to use in casual conversation. They reveal that you are a deep thinker and someone who has a passion for what they do. All good things. It doesn't go deep enough, though, for when you are giving a larger presentation.

Many networking groups allow their members the opportunity to give a longer speech about themselves, their business, and the prospective clients they would like to meet. That's all well and good, of course, but if the audience doesn't care about you first, none of the rest of it matters.

That's where your underlying, emotional reason comes in. Or, more specifically, that's where your underlying, emotional story comes in.

That pain we dug down to yesterday you associate with some sort of story in your mind -- an event which formed some of your rules about how the world works. That story, well told, will achieve the ultimate goal of any presentation you make in networking...

... to get the audience to like you.

Suppose you are giving a ten-minute presentation. Make the first two or three minutes your story. Make it emotional. Capture their hearts and their imaginations and they will be willing to listen to anything else you have to say and much more willing to act upon any opportunity to help.

So, now we have this tremendous story that we can tell. How do we tell it in a compelling way that will rivet their attention and make them remember and like you?

More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why We Do What We Do, Part 2: Digging for Discomfort

Yesterday we talked about the importance of knowing why we were doing whatever it is we are doing. Those underlying reasons -- almost always emotional and sometimes painful -- are our human connection to the path we've chosen for ourselves. In sharing these reasons with others, even in part, we allow them to connect with us on a much deeper level which in turn strengthens that relationship tremendously.

So, yes, knowing the "why" is important, but how do we get to the "why"?

Not surprisingly, the question contains it's own answer. We must start by asking ourselves "Why?" and each time we come up with an answer, we have to ask more questions. In the end we want to be asking, "Yes, but how does that apply to me?" You know you are done when you come to an answer that makes you experience emotions which make you uncomfortable. Then you'll know you've reached your true "why".

There's nothing like being your own psychiatrist.

Debby Peters, in her networking classes, helps her students go through this process. On that day, she makes sure that there are boxes of tissues on the desk -- the process can be that painful.

So, we start out. "Greg, why do you want to help people with networking?"

"Because there's a lot of bad information out there and people aren't getting what they need from networking as a result." That's a nice safe response. I don't feel threatened or uncomfortable -- and no one else will feel any emotional resonance with it. So we go a little deeper.

"Why is that a problem?"

"Because they'll be frustrated and never understand why it isn't working." OK, now we're getting a hint of emotion. "Frustration" is still a safe emotion and it's applied to other people, so it's no danger to me. Keep digging.

"How do you know they'll feel that way?"

"Because I've gone through that. I remember showing up at the networking events and not knowing anyone and feeling like a complete outsider." OK, now I'm attaching the emotions to me. That's better. I'm starting to feel a little discomfort now. Keep going a little further.

"So why was being an outsider bad?"

"Because I felt completely alone, like no one understood what I was going through. Feeling alone in a room full of people really sucks." This is actually a pretty good level. Not great, but a lot of people can identify with these feelings. For casual conversations, this is actually not a bad place to go. Of course, I've abbreviated the process for the sake of space. It usually takes a little more effort than just four questions. After all, we usually try to shield ourselves from the answers to the difficult questions.

Now, the best speakers I've seen go one or two steps further. They can relate these emotions to a particular moment in their lives. Often these are painful and personal memories that they share with an audience.

And why would you want to put yourself through this?

Because you are sharing powerful emotions. Believe it or not, most will be touched by your story and drawn to you, which achieves the ultimate goal of presenting in the first place -- to get them to like you.

Is it easy? No. Is it fun? No. Will it make your presentation, whether in normal conversation or in front of a group, more powerful than just about anything else you can do?

You bet.

Tomorrow we'll talk about how to craft and present the story which ties in with your "why".

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why We Do What We Do, Part 1: Why Know Why?

One of the parts of the INFER process is the idea of finding out the other person's "Epic Journey". This is where you get to find out how they got from where they were to where they are now. This is the series of questions you are going to ask which allows them to be the star of the show.

This is also a good question to ask of yourself now and again. Except, in your own case, the "how?" question isn't as important as the "why?"

Now, by "why" I don't mean just "to make money". There are a lot of ways to make money out there and many of them are easier than the one you chose. I also don't mean some sort of sanitized-for-public-consumption version of your reasons -- like the real estate agent who says "I like to help young families get their first home". What I am talking about is the real, underlying reasons. The ones that are in your deepest heart, possibly rooted in pain and loss. The motivating, emotional reason you chose this path and not a different one.

Why would you want to know this?

Well, a the very minimum, examining this will help you ask yourself if you are really doing the right thing. If your underlying reason for pursuing a career in law was because you have a strong sense of justice caused by your family being robbed at Christmas one year, then you may suddenly realize that following a path into contract law may not lead you to happiness no matter how lucrative it is.

Another benefit of having examined this is for motivation when the times are tough. Seth Godin has a concept that he calls "The Dip". It's that period after you start a project, or a career, or a business, when things aren't going so well. Obstacles seem to be hindering your every move and you are tempted to just give up. Truly great organizations and entrepreneurs have to be able to push through that time to reach the success on the other side. Knowing your underlying motivation will help during those dark times.

If you are considering doing any sort of presentation, you not only need to know that underlying reason, but you have to be willing to share. If you've ever seen a really good motivational speaker, they will almost inevitably start their presentation with how they had to go through these dark times -- how those times contributed to wanting to help educate others today. That vulnerability makes them approachable, likable, and authoritative. Cultivating the story behind what you do can do the same thing for you -- even if you only have an audience of two and not two hundred.

So, that's why you should figure out your "why". Tomorrow we'll take a look at "how".

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Two Faces of Networking

Good networkers must almost maintain a dual personality.

The first personality is the strategist and the manager. That personality figures out what the ultimate goal of the networking should be -- more business, a new job, contributions to a cause, etc. It then determines which groups and events to attend based upon these goals. The determination can be because members of the target market will be there, or people who serve the target market, or some other criteria specific to the goals in mind. It sets the networking goals for a particular event. It's also the one that forces us to go to the event, even when we don't want to.

The second personality is the giver -- the provider of value. This one takes over as soon as the activity of networking involves another person. This personality is curious about other people and is always looking for ways to help. It is not concerned with any return on the investment of time and money. It implements the event goals with the idea that the more connections and relationships it can create, the better life will be. This is the personality that enjoys attending events, coffees, lunches, etc, because those opportunities allow it the chance to help more people.

In order to be successful at networking both personalities must be present and acting in the correct sphere of effort. Those who let the boundaries blur inevitably end up unhappy. If the "strategist" personality remains in control when interacting with other people, the result is a salesman with "commission breath" who is trying to wrestle everyone to the ground in order to sell to them. If the "giver" gets involved in the strategy, then they tend to spend too much time networking. They belong to too many groups. They attend too many events. They spend all their time emailing, calling, tweeting, posting, etc.

The only way to have success in networking is to keep in mind that the planning and strategy must be kept separate from the interactions with your network. Good networkers always give without expectation of return. They also expend their energies where they can serve those who are most likely to be able to help them in achieving their goals. Maintaining that division is the real challenge.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Start the Timer!

I've been networking now for more than fifteen years with the goal of increasing my business and I've had a certain amount of success doing it. The question arises, though about how much time I spend actually doing this networking thing on a daily basis. Let's take a look at my activities and how much time I allot for each one.

Phone calls: I usually make one or two phone calls on average per day. I always call to wish someone a happy birthday. Even if I only get to leave a voicemail message, I think it is more personal than a card, email, or Facebook Wall message. I'll also make the occasional "How are you?" call -- usually just enough for a brief conversation. Actual time spent is between five and thirty minutes, depending on whether someone answers the phone and how chatty they are.

Email: I only send out three or four email networking messages per day. These are usually just an offer to get together for coffee or lunch. They don't take too long to craft (though I do personalize each one) so tack on another fifteen minutes a day.

Hand-written notes: These notes tend to take a little longer, so I only send out one or so a week. These are usually my "gratitude notes" which take longer to compose than the average message. Since I'm trying to convey just how important this person is in my life, I spend a little extra time, so I try to schedule about thirty minutes for each one.

Group events: Whether it's the local Chamber lunch or a technical users group, I tend to attend only one of these per week on average. They do take up a considerable amount of time, but I don't count the time I would have been eating anyway, for example. So, a Chamber lunch, which starts around 11:15 and ends around 1:15 only counts for an hour, because I would have taken an hour for lunch anyway. Add in thirty minutes round-trip drive time and it comes to 90 minutes a week.

One-to-one meetings: These are the coffees, breakfasts, lunches, etc where a networking contact and I become better acquainted. It can also be a meeting with a potential client who has been referred by a member of my network. I usually do one of these a day on average. Again, though, I don't count the time where I would have been pursuing the secondary activity (like eating lunch) anyway. With drive time that adds up to five hours a week.

Blogging/Social media: Blogging, e-zines, and other forms of social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be excellent tools for maintaining a low-level connection with an existing network. Blogging takes about thirty minutes a day and, if I'm behaving myself, the various social media sites take about the same. We're not going to talk about how long the social media stuff takes if I'm not behaving. Let's just say the phrase "time suck" pretty much applies here. Being generous, let's say only another hour a day.

So, looking back over these activities and counting on my fingers and toes, it looks like I spend around three hours a day on average. Now that may sound like a lot, but remember a couple of things:
  • If I were trying to direct sell my products and services, I would be spending a lot more than three hours a day to get the same result.
  • I built up my activities over time. If I had tried to go from zero to three hours a day in one fell swoop, I would have burnt out in very short order.
  • My big time expenditures are either very broad (blogging/social media) where I am making a light "touch" on many people, or very deep (having a focused one-to-one conversation with a single person) which increases the strength of that particular connection. Spending a lot of time on email, for example, wouldn't make much sense as it is a relatively light "touch" on only a single person.
  • The results build upon themselves. As the network grows, the results start to outstrip the amount of effort required. This means that, eventually, when I achieve the level of results I want from the existing behavior, I may be able to pull back to a lower activity level.
  • It's fun! I'm making a lot of friends.
Unfortunately, despite the hopes, dreams, and desires of many people, networking is still a process which takes time and effort. Expecting anything else would be like expecting a field of wheat to spring forth from the ground before we've even planted the first seed. Start small. Build a planter box garden, first. Then you can slowly build your systems until you are happily harvesting the whole back forty.