Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Interaction or Interruption

Thinking about it, which do you remember more clearly, the last television commercial you saw (interruption) or the last phone call you had with a friend (interaction)? How about the last billboard (interruption) or the last coffee with a networking contact (interaction)? What about the last piece of direct mail advertising (interruption) or the last handwritten letter from family (interaction)?

In almost every case, those methods which we welcome -- interactions -- made more of an impact than those we are either indifferent or actively hostile toward -- interruptions. In fact, if you believe Seth Godin, interruptive marketing has had one major outcome. It's taught us to ignore interruptions.  Think about it. If you watch TV, any given hour-long episode has about fifteen to eighteen minutes of commercials which comes out to about thirty or so.  Thinking about the last hour of television programming that you might have watched, can you remember even two commercials?

Now, I'm sure that you do get some benefits from interruptive marketing. I don't know the psychology of it, but I'm guessing there have been studies showing that repeatedly blaring out the same message to someone will somehow subconsciously get them to buy your product. Kind of like brainwashing, if you think about it.

Whatever, the relative benefits, I think that interruptive marketing can teach us a couple of lessons about networking.

First, on a per situation basis, interaction is more memorable than interruption. When you have a fifty-fifty give and take interplay between two people, the connection they forge is much stronger than when one is "shouting" at the other. Don't believe me? Quick, what was the name of the last telemarketer who called you, and what was he selling?

Second, interruptive marketing counts on repeatedly delivering a message to a captive audience and getting them to act on it. Networking counts on both delivering your message and, almost more important, receiving the message from those in your network. Since your networking success is dependent on first delivering value to others, you must communicate with them to discover what they hold as valuable. Without the interaction, you are just guessing.

And probably just wasting everyone's time.

Communication, interaction, and the desire to forge stronger connections through mutual benefit are the underlying building blocks of good networking. Any activity which counts on the one-way flow of information from you to the faceless masses really isn't networking. Be aware of it and also be aware that the end result is you just might be ignored.

Image credit: Yamamoto Cortiz

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lose the Jargon

I've mentioned in the past that the best thing about a 30-second commercial is that it's short. You don't run the risk of boring people too much. Personally, for networking events, I prefer something that is shorter than ten seconds. Even keeping it that short, though, won't keep their minds from wandering if you cram that time full of jargon.

"Eschew obfuscation" was the advice from my high school calculus teacher. Avoid confusion. Keep it simple.

I know, I know. The words and phrases you are using are remarkably straightforward and shouldn't confuse anyone. After all, if I say I work on "server-side cloud-based middleware solutions", you'd know exactly what I mean, right? To tell you the truth, I don't either.

Listen. Even the most basic terms in your industry will go over your audience's head. If you are ever in doubt whether a term is too technical, it is. Trust me.

What's the danger in being too technical? If someone doesn't understand, they should just ask, right? After all, you are more than willing to help out. Unfortunately, most people won't ask. Instead, they will feel uncomfortable, because you are making them feel stupid. Even if they are polite, they are really just waiting for you to go away.

Second, you are going to come off as an insufferable snob. It's OK to be knowledgeable, but you need to convey that knowledge in a way that your audience can comprehend. Even if they asked the question, the answer has to be at their level, otherwise it will be useless to them and you will have wasted both your times.

Finally, if they don't understand what you do, even if they are willing to continue to put up with you, they aren't going to be able to refer anyone to you. After all, they really have no clue what you are talking about.

If you want to help by sharing your knowledge, spend a little time using analogies and simplified explanations. If the word you want to use is actually an acronym, you may need to either omit it entirely or work the actual meaning of the acronym into the conversation. Remember, no matter what you do, you always have a secret language of jargon which helps you get the job done.

Unfortunately, it doesn't make for good networking.

Photo credit: Andrew C.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Yes, But What Do You Prefer?

I've talked, repeatedly, about the importance of having a target market. Having a specific target market helps your networking connections help you better. It gives them a mental picture of what and whom you are seeking. It also helps you focus your networking activity to put you in touch with either members of your target market (good) or members of non-competing industries which serve your target market (better).

Now, I'm going to suggest that any networking request benefits from specificity. Remember, being exacting in the description of what you want isn't for the purpose of cutting out opportunities. Instead, it's just letting people know what you would prefer. We've already covered your request for business referrals in some depth before. Let's look at some other requests.

Suppose that speaking engagements are part of your prospecting process. You might ask the various members of your network for speaking opportunities. If you just say "speaking opportunities", though, then you would be happy anytime you are in front of an audience, from a church group, to a trade show, to haranguing passers-by in a public park. Maybe that does work for you, but I'm guessing you actually have something in mind when you are asking for such an opportunity.

  • How big of a crowd did you want?
  • How long did you want to speak?
  • Did you expect to be paid?
  • Should the group serve a particular industry?
  • Are you willing to travel? How far?
How about writing opportunities? How specific could you get with them?
  • Did you want to write for a company newsletter? A magazine? A newspaper?
  • Local? Regional? National?
  • How frequently were you planning on writing?
  • Do you expect to be paid?
  • What topics did you want to cover?
Even personal requests could benefit from a more detailed approach. What if you needed a recommendation for a doctor?
  • Did you need a dentist, an eye doctor, a thoracic surgeon, or something else?
  • Is this for you or someone else in your family?
  • Do you need someone local? Where is that?
  • Which insurance would they need to take?
In networking, specificity is the tool for us to ask for what we prefer. Take a few minutes before the next time you ask, to really narrow down all of the important details. Not only will it help your networking partners think of someone, but it drastically increases your chances that whomever they come up with will actually be the person you want.

Photo credit: Penny Mathews

Sunday, June 27, 2010

You Think You Know Me?

You know? I really love pushy telemarketers. Through their inept efforts at establishing rapport in order to sell me something, I can almost come up with a lesson about good networking practice.

The star of this particular object lesson was "Robert". Robert was calling me because he wanted to sell me some sort of "4G" phone/Internet service (he wasn't very well-spoken, so I wasn't clear on the details). He tried to convince me that I should sign on with them because it would mean I would get faster upload and download rates. That would be fine, except I have Comcast business-class service which means I was getting speeds significantly faster that those he quoted.

I pointed this out to him, he quickly came back with "Oh, but Comcast only promises up to that speed. During the day when you really want to use it, it's a lot slower". Poor Robert. Don't you know you don't win the sale when you are telling me that I'm wrong? I'm a techie and I have actually run the speed tests and -- surprise! -- they were exactly the speeds I told him.

Now Robert might have had a better chance if he'd actually taken the time to find out more about my business and my needs first instead of trying to tell me what my problems were without asking. Maybe there was some aspect of the service he offered that would have been important to me. I'll never know, since I told him never to call me again.

As networkers we have to be careful of this, too. Especially with people we've just met, we must take the time to get to know them and their challenges before we start to try to help them. Even when we think we understand, we have to slow down. Make an offer, but never prescribe. Start with "If you'd like, I could introduce you to...", not "You should talk with..." Remember you are being a friend. Be respectful. Be gentle.

And, only where appropriate, be helpful.

Photo credit: Jacek Obszarny

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Get There Early

I read somewhere about territorial behavior among felines. As I recall, it basically said in cats, whoever is in the spot first, owns the spot. I can see this in my cats. When Luke is lying in the window seat, Ray has to almost ask permission before he's allowed up in the same area. If he doesn't behave, then I'll hear Luke grouching about the whole thing.

So, what does this have to do with networking?

Have you ever just barely made it to a networking event on time? Almost everyone is there. Most of them are already seated. You have to walk into a room of three hundred strangers. It's kind of a nervous-making feeling, isn't it? For some reason, we perceive that everyone is looking at us as we walk in and it's up to us to prove ourselves worthy.

Now switch the situation. Imagine you are one of the first ones there. You walk in, drop your bag at a seat, and you are ready to network. You have time to hang your jacket, get the lay of the room, and maybe even nibble from the buffet table before everyone else starts arriving. Now they are the ones who are walking into the room full of strangers, while you get to be the one who owns the room.

A much better feeling, right?

So, if you often feel a little uncomfortable walking into a networking event, make it your personal goal to show up just fifteen minutes early. You'll be surprised at how much more in control you feel and that can only lead to better networking.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Asking for Referrals, Part 6: Actually Asking

This is the sixth and conceivably final part in this series. Needless to say there have been a few other parts. Feel free to read them if you want, but you won't need them to understand the concepts addressed here.

So, over the last five days we've talked about specifying your target market in order to narrow your requests for referrals. We've also talked about non-business requests and how, for best effect, we should describe them all in ways which evoke an image in the audience's mind. Today we're just going to cover a few last ideas about the proper way to go about asking for these referrals. If done properly it will feel like a completely natural part of the conversation. If done improperly, it could taint or even kill the relationship.

So, let's do it right, shall we?

First and foremost, never request anything which exceeds the level of the relationship. Imagine meeting someone at a party and chatting with them for a few minutes. You're getting along well when suddenly your new friend asks if he can borrow your car for the weekend.

Awkward!

Borrowing your car exceeds the limits of a five-minute relationship. Now, which is more valuable, your car or your reputation? Most people will say their reputation. So, if it's unlikely that your networking contact would lend you his car, just think how likely it is that he will refer you to his network, effectively lending you his reputation.

Worse, by exceeding the bounds of the reputation, you are imposing on them and making them uncomfortable. Establishing a good, strong relationship can be pretty difficult after a faux pas like that.

Now, asking their advice on a situation you've encountered, or asking for their recommendation on some service that you are considering, you can do that at a much lower level. Even a five-minute relationship should be strong enough to support that.

The other issue is how you actually go about asking. Just walking up to someone, even someone you know very well, and blurting out "Hi, Bob, did you know that my ideal client is a couple in their sixties who love to travel and are often away from home more than two months out of the year? Do you happen to know someone like that?" probably isn't going to have the desired effect. In fact they might just back away slowly, trying to keep from agitating you.

A better approach would be to show a sincere interest in them first. Chat with them. Ask them about their interests and business. Ask them who would be their ideal client. Oh, and actually be interested and engaged in their response. Then, when they ask you what you are seeking, then you can tell them about your target.

Remember almost every aspect of good networking is based on the idea of providing value to the other person first. Asking for referrals is no different in that respect.

So, now you know how to ask for the referrals. It may feel a little awkward at first, but with very little practice you should find yourself feeling completely comfortable in asking for what you want or need.

Then watch that networking really start to pay off.

Photo credit: Tom Romig

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Asking for Referrals, Part 5: Making It Personal

This is part five in my series on asking for referrals. I'd recommend that you read the other parts, but you can probably get by without them.

Yesterday, we covered some of the other business referral requests we could make beyond asking for more clients. Today I want to remind you that networking isn't just for business. You can call upon your networking resources for personal reasons, too.

Here are a few ideas.

  • Doctors, Dentists and Other Health Experts. Of course, you can always just pick a name out of the phone book. Wouldn't it be nice, though, to have the recommendation of someone you trust before you open your mouth and say "Ahhh"?
  • Vacation Destinations. I'd guess you have more than a couple of inveterate travelers in your network. If you are planning a trip anywhere, you might mention it to your connections. You might be able to avoid some of the mistakes they made and see some sites you might otherwise have missed.
  • Household Help. Lisa and I lost power over the weekend. It sure would have been nice to know someone in my network who would have been willing to lend us a generator. You know I'll be asking around for next time.
  • Education. Whether you need recommendations for a cooking class for yourself, or maybe your kids need a reference or two to attach to their college application forms, check your network. Remember, people love to help. Giving them an opportunity that doesn't involve becoming your client is a great way to make them feel indispensable in your life.
  • Advisors and Mentors. This could easily have fallen under the business-related category, too. If you are trying to succeed in some goal in your life, whether personal or business, mention it in the course of your networking. Not only will you get the support of all of your friends, but you may discover someone else who has traveled the same path and would be willing to warn you about the challenges which lie in your way.
As with client referrals and other business requests, your best bet is to be as specific in your requests as possible. The more information you can provide to your connections, the better able they will be to help you.

Remember, networking is not just about business as usual. Properly nurtured, it can also be a force in your life which helps you reach your highest potential. 

Tomorrow, we'll have a brief review on some of the techniques of the actual process of asking for a referral. After all, it would be a shame to make a misstep and leave yourself worse off than if you hadn't bothered to ask at all.

Photo credit: Heather Sorenson

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Asking for Referrals, Part 4: How Else Can They Help?

This is part four in a continuing series on asking for referrals. You may want to check out parts one, two, and three before you continue, but that's up to you.

So in the previous parts we spent some time refining our description of our ideal client. We took a look at our former and current clients to help create an archetype and then did our best to evoke an image in our referral partner's mind in the hopes of locating more clients who we would enjoy working with. That's all great, but what if we aren't looking for more clients. What if we want something else?

What??? Why would we create a strong network if it isn't for building our business???

Believe it or not, our networking connections can support us in more ways than just delivering new clients to our door. Let's look at some of the possibilities.
  • New Employees. Whether you are looking for a janitor or a CEO, your network can probably point you in the right direction. It's entirely possible that someone in your network might be looking for the exact position you are trying to fill.
  • New Vendors. Do you need a new cleaning service? A new CPA? Or maybe you just need someone to cater your next party. If the service you seek isn't in your network, then it's more than likely that someone among your connections knows someone who does what you need.
  • New Opportunities. Are you looking for a chance to speak in front of a group? Would you like to publish a regular column in the local business newspaper? Maybe you just want to be on the radio or television. Check with your referral sources to see if anyone can introduce you.
  • Meet Individuals. Maybe you are trying to prospect with a business in the area and you would like a personal introduction to a specific individual within the company. You can always try getting through the layers of gatekeepers between you and your future friend. It might take a while. Or maybe someone in your existing group of friends could make a direct, personal introduction.
  • Job Search. Perhaps you are looking for new career opportunities. Since the network you are building is personal, rather than one based upon a former position, even when you are between jobs, you can call upon them to help out.
That's just a short list of the business opportunities you have. Just as with our previous examples where we were looking for clients, the more specific we can be with the description for the above requests, the more likely we are to get what we want or need. You are looking for speaking engagements? What kind of groups? How large an audience? How far will you travel? How much will you charge (or were you planning on doing this for free)? What topics would you speak on? The more detail, the better.

Tomorrow we'll talk about some possible personal requests you might make.

Photo credit: bgottsab

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Asking for Referrals, Part 3: A Little Specificity, Please

Over the past couple of days we've been talking about measures we can take to help our networking partners help us. To that end we are working on being able to specify our ideal clients. Please note, we aren't talking about the people whom we could help, but rather those whom we prefer to help.

You might want to read parts one and two before reading this one.

So we've talked about taking the measure of those among our current and former clients with whom we prefer to work. Maybe they were enjoyable to work with. Maybe they were profitable enough such that any challenges were more than compensated for. Even better, those who fall into both camps. We asked a number of questions about each client in the attempt to come up with some common attributes which we could then use to specify ideal referrals to those members of our network who took an interest.

Let's look at an example or three for illustration. Which of the following is more likely to bring someone to mind?
  • My ideal client is anyone who needs a home.
  • My ideal client is going to be a couple living in Ann Arbor in their late forties to early fifties who have just finished putting their kids through college and are now considering purchasing the home in which they will spend their next twenty years.
Heck, I would be surprised if the second one didn't bring someone to mind for you right now (though perhaps not in the Ann Arbor area, if you aren't local). By adding details of those whom you are interested in meeting, you help your referral partners draw a picture in their own minds.

How about this one?
  • My ideal clients are people who want to by a new car.
  • My ideal clients are young couples in their late twenties or early thirties who are either expecting or have given birth to their second or third child and are currently driving an older small car.
Now, maybe you can't think of someone who fits the description exactly, but it certainly brings more to mind than the one which just asks for "people". And if the one they come up with is driving a late model small car, you'd probably still be able to help them, right?

One last one.
  • I'm looking for anybody who needs a new website.
  • I'm looking for the owners of recently founded small businesses (usually less than ten people) who have't had a chance to create their website yet. These folks will often not have a website listed on their business card or, if they do, they'll tell you not to go there because the site hasn't been built yet.
I especially like this one because it actually tells you some of the signals you should notice. If you can give people something to focus on -- some tell-tale indicator that they can actually see -- then they are more likely to pick up on a potential referral for you when they meet new people through their own networking.

As you can see, by taking just a little bit of time and effort, you can significantly increase the likelihood that your network will provide you with not only more potential business, but also a better quality of referral as well.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about referrals you might want which don't directly affect your bottom line.

Photo credit: anyjazz65

Monday, June 21, 2010

Asking for Referrals, Part 2: Narrow Your Focus, Increase Your Business

Yesterday we talked about how, when you have the opportunity to express a desire for a referral, a lack of specificity can make it hard for your networking partners to help you. In fact, it might end up being so hard that they decide that the whole thing is just a bad idea and will end up not referring anyone to you after all.

So, how do you make your referral requests more specific? The first thing you can do is focus on your target market. One of the best ways to narrow that down is to look at your current and former customers. Ask yourself a few questions. Who were your best customers? Who were the most fun or satisfying to work with? Who was the most profitable? Make a few lists to answer these questions. If you can find one or two who are on all of the lists, that's even better.

I'm assuming that if you have particular clients who are profitable and/or enjoyable to work with, you might like more who are similar. Start looking at some of the attributes of these folks. Ask more questions:

  • Are they local, regional, national, or global?
  • Are they individuals or companies?
  • Are they non-profits, academics, small businesses, or Fortune 500 organizations?
  • Are they within particular industries?
  • Has something happened to them recently (good or bad)?
  • Is something going to be happening to them soon (good or bad)?
  • What are their short-, medium-, and/or long-term goals?
  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Are they a start-up, growth stage, mature, or declining company?
  • How many employees?
  • How much revenue?
  • Publicly traded? Privately held? Family business?
  • If they are individuals, what is their age range?
  • How many members of their family?
  • Do they own a house, a condominium, or do they rent an apartment?
  • How many cars do they have? What make, model, and year?
  • Do they live in the city, the suburbs, or out in the country?
The more closely you can define what makes your ideal client unique, the better able you will be to describe that client to a networking partner with the purpose of meeting more like that.

Tomorrow, we'll take the answers to these questions and see what a difference a little specificity makes.

Photo credit: aussiegall

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Asking for Referrals, Part 1: Get Rid of "Anybody"

One of the benefits of good networking practice is that, every once in a while, you get to tell someone else about who would be a good referral for you. This is your big opportunity. This is when the work of creating a network starts to pay off.

Don't mess it up.

Often when people describe their ideal client, they make the mistake of using the word "anybody". The problem with that is that "anybody" reminds everybody of nobody. Oh, by the way, the words "somebody", "everybody", "people" and all other such similar words don't actually help either. If someone asks you who your ideal client is and you answer anything that sounds remotely like:
  • My ideal client is anybody who needs a website.
  • My ideal client is somebody who wants a new car.
  • My ideal client is everybody who lives in southeast Michigan.
Then, forgive me, but you are making it too hard for me. You are expecting me to figure out your business so I know exactly who would be good for you. I mean, I'm always happy to help, but I have my own business to run.

If you really want to help your referral partners help you, then you need to start asking some refining questions about your "ideal client".

"Wait, just a minute!" I can hear you say, "I can help anybody who needs a website. I don't want to turn anyone away." Great. I'm happy to hear that. You won't have to turn anyone away. When I say "ideal" client I don't mean who can you help, but rather who you would prefer to help -- for whatever reason.

Tomorrow we'll talk about the narrowing process.

Photo credit: Sreejith K

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Be Open to Receive

Good networking is all about being willing to provide value with no expectation of return. You should always be looking for ways you can help other people with pursuing their passions and goals. That being said, be sure you are giving the other person the same opportunity.

My good friend and now my business coach, Jim Woods of LST Advisors, is a superb example of this. I first met Jim when he gave a presentation at a local networking event called the "Abundance Forum". He had good stuff to share, but we didn't have a chance to connect. I later ran into him again at a Red Cross fundraising where we finally had a chance to exchange cards.

Now, you all know my opinions of the value of business cards. Jim is one of the few exceptions I've found to that rule. He called up not long after and we set up a coffee.

At our meeting, Jim really impressed me by taking an active interest in my life and my business. He managed to walk that narrow line between being interested without being nosy. What's more, he immediately had a few observations about some of the challenges I might run into while growing my coaching practice. He even offered a suggestion or two on how to approach some of the upcoming problems.

And he did all that while never selling his services as a business coach.

After our meeting, he followed up by inviting me as his guest to one of his day-long business development seminars. Again, no pressure, no sales. Just an invitation.

Now, yes, I know that this is all part of his prospecting process. He has enough confidence in the quality of what he has to offer that he knows he can give some away. Still, his process is just good networking. I get the feeling if, after I had taken his seminar, I had decided not to engage him as my business coach, he still would have been a great networking connection.

It's obvious that he cares about others that much.

There are a lot of knowledgeable people in your network -- people who are willing to share some or all of their expertise with a networking connection. So, while you are listening for ways you can help them, be sure you aren't missing the ways they are trying to help you. In the long run, you will both be better off.

Photo credit: Ballistik Coffee Boy

Friday, June 18, 2010

Know Who You Are. Know What You Want.

In this blog you've often heard me talk about the importance of asking questions. Finding out about the other person is a vital aspect of your networking practice. Remember, though, in any conversation, both parties should be talking about the same amount. Of course, you want to learn about them. That's how you are going to find ways to help them. Just as important, though, is that you need to let them learn about you.

Then they can find ways to help you.

In order to do this, though, you need to know what the answers are to a few questions. In particular, the ones you usually ask the other person (because they are likely to mirror the questions right back at you). So, what information should you be prepared to give out when asked? Here's a short list.
  • Who are you? What do you do?
  • Who do you serve? Who are your clients specifically? Local, regional, national, or global? Small, medium, or large? Plastic or paper?
  • What do you want? A referral? An introduction to a specific person? A speaking engagement?
  • What do you enjoy doing? You have a hobby or two, right?
  • Where are you going? What are your dreams? Your goals? Business or personal.
Now, one caveat on all of this. Keep the answers simple -- no jargon -- and keep them short. Pretend you are talking to a seven year old. If they would either walk away in boredom or just look at you in confusion, you need to work on the answer. Save the erudite, polysyllabic responses for your memoirs. Right now you've got at most ten seconds before you lose your audience.

If you want to write out your responses to these questions, be sure to read the answers out loud. There's nothing worse than sounding like you've scripted your responses, even if you have.

Remember that giving is only half of the equation. You must also be willing to receive. In order to do that, though, you are going to have to make sure you know enough to share who you are with others.

Briefly and clearly.

Photo credit: prakhar

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Where's Your Networking Joy?

I've been thinking more about the mindset we need to bring to networking. So many of us focus on the "working" part of it. We have to go to the event. We have to make the calls. We have to go have coffee. What drudgery.

I like Keith Ferrazzi's approach that he talks about in his book "Never Eat Alone". For him, networking, building and maintaining his connections and relationships, is an integral part of his life -- one that he takes great joy in. You can hear it in the stories he tells about being able to help someone reach their dreams, or getting to talk with one of his personal heroes, or even just making someone's day by remembering to wish them a happy birthday. This is an aspect of his life that he treasures.

What if we approached networking like that?

You wouldn't "have to" attend that networking event. You would look forward to it. After all it's a party where you get to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones. You wouldn't "have to" make calls. They would be opportunities either to be inspired or to help. You wouldn't "have to" go for coffee. You would be cherishing a few stolen moments to break bread with a friend -- one who respects your opinion and is looking forward to deepening their relationship with you.

Take a few minutes today to truly appreciate the many benefits you've reached through networking. Approach each connection with a sense of joy and curiosity. Look forward with anticipation to each new networking opportunity, not as an onerous task, but rather as a gift to be opened.

With a mindset like that, you will always be looking for ways to improve every interaction both for yourself and for the person with whom you are trying to forge a relationship.

Which would be a wonderful way to do business.

Photo credit: Tigr

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Having Fun and Networking, Too

I know you've heard this one before: It's called net-working, not net-sitting or net-eating. A lot of people take this to heart and pursue their networking with a business-like zeal. You know what, though? Maybe we've taken this too much to heart. Maybe we need to think a little bit about "net-playing".

I was meeting with a new friend, Lenya Cristiano, the other day. She is an accomplished business analyst who specializes in being a liaison between those of us with technical minds (the nerds) and the rest of the world which has no clue what we are talking about half the time. She is looking for a position in the health care industry where she can apply these awesome skills. We were chatting about networking practice and I asked her to which groups she belonged. The first thing I was expecting her to tell me about was the Chamber or maybe some sort of industry association.

Nope.

She told me about networking with the other parents at her daughter's hockey practice. Huh. Now I didn't see that one coming. If you think about it, though, it's the perfect answer to what we are trying to do with networking -- make friends. She's found a group with whom she already has a common, personal interest. I always recommend finding out who the other person is outside of their business. Lenya already had that one down cold.

And probably is having a lot of fun doing it.

Photo credit: zappowbang

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Black-Belly Abyss

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

Name: The Black-Belly Abyss

Environment: Attending any and all networking events, but nowhere else.

Behavior: The Black-Belly Abyss is a master of disguise. Wherever he appears, everyone assumes that he is a variation of the Golden-Tailed Networker. His behavior at networking events is nothing short of exemplary. He can carry on a polite conversation. He asks questions and takes an interest in his conversational partner. He asks for business cards. He may even offer to make connections at a later date.

Then nothing. He never send that article. He never makes the connection. He never calls for a later meeting. In short, he shows that he can't be trusted and so never makes it into the "Trusted" relationships which bring the most profits.

And wonders why he has nothing to show for his networking efforts.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: You must follow through. The Abyss has forgotten one of the fundamental concepts of networking: All things being equal, people do business with and make referrals to people they know, like, and trust -- with special emphasis on "trust". He may not realize it, but if he doesn't follow through on the little things he promises while waiting in the lunch line, people aren't going to trust him with the bigger things like their money or their reputation.

Counter-Measures: The Abyss is actually remarkably hard to counter as his attack isn't specifically against anyone. His worst sin is that he will waste your time and betray your trust. His faults also are not the result of over-ambition or any attempt to get you to purchase from him. No, his comes mainly from lack time, energy or desire to do as he has promised. The best counter would be simply not to let him monopolize too much of your time. Remember, at networking events, you have the opportunity to meet with many people. If you spend too much time with any one of them, you run the risk of missing out on other connections you might make. If after a few minutes of chatting, you think that it's a good idea to get together later, then get the person's card and/or schedule a future meeting and then move on.

How We Can Help: If you still want to meet or work with an Abyss, then your only hope is to take matters into your own hands. You will have to set the meetings (be sure you always have your calendar with you). You will have to remind them of what they promised. You will have to send the emails and make the calls. Remember, the Abyss does as much or more harm to himself than he does to others. By taking the initiative, you can circumvent his self-destructive behavior. From that point you may be able to establish a connection.

If, however, despite your best efforts, they carry their limiting behavior to the extent of not showing up at all to a scheduled meeting, then it may be time to let the relationship die. Even if they are the nicest person in the world, you can't trust them to treat you or your reputation with the respect you deserve.

Photo credit: Crystl

Monday, June 14, 2010

Good Books: Never Eat Alone

I just finished re-reading Keith Ferrazzi's book, "Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets To Success, One Relationship At A Time". Please note that I wrote "re-reading". The book is that good.

Now, as you probably already expect, this book is full of great techniques and tips about how to get the most out of networking, including a few that seem a bit audacious at first (how comfortable would you be, inviting yourself into a conversation with the CEO?). He goes into some of the theory behind the concepts as well, trying to help his readers understand just why it is they should be bothering with this whole networking thing in the first place.

I like how I felt challenged by some of the activities he suggests. Throwing a dinner party for twelve people? That's definitely outside my comfort zone. By his reasoning, though, I can see the value it would have.

I also, like his commentary on the concept of a "balanced life" toward the end of the book. The general idea is that with the best of networkers, they don't differentiate between "good friends" and "good business connections". The reason they are good connections is because they are good friends. Therefore, time spent with them is just like personal time spent with friends.

Some people would have a hard time with that, but that's OK, too. As he points out, his style of networking is particular to him and may not be right for everyone. The important thing is that we each decide what works best for us in out networking practice.

And then do it.

Now all this stuff is good, of course, but what I love most about this work are his stories. Ferrazzi uses remarkably memorable anecdotes about his own experiences in the world of networking to illustrate his points. The good thing is, he not only talks about his tremendous successes, but also his abysmal failures as well. He has basically scouted the territory ahead for us and is there to advise us not to go into that dark alley ahead.

Go out and get this book if you don't already have it in your library. Read it with pen in hand. Take notes. Apply these ideas to your practice. I'd be surprised if you didn't find at least one new activity that you hadn't considered before that will boost your networking practice up a notch.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Good Things Happen

Every day I espouse the benefits of good networking -- how providing value for others with no expectation of return eventually does provide a return. Still, I'm occasionally surprised when it happens to me.

A couple months ago I was chatting with my good friend Mike Wynn and he mentioned how much he was enjoying this blog. He told me that he and his partner Joe Marr, my first sales coach, had been recording short instructional sales messages for a local radio show, The Lucy Ann Lance Business Insider. He thought that the information I was providing in my blog would make a nice addition to the show.

He then went the extra step of making an introduction to Dean Erskine, Lucy Ann's partner. Oh, and it wasn't one of those simple "name and contact information" type intros. He went into great detail on why Dean and Lucy Ann should be interested in talking with me.

Long story short: Starting Monday, I will have a two-minute presentation that plays three times during the week each week. According to the information I received today, you can hear it at 8:50am and 10:50am on Mondays and at 9:50am on Thursdays on WLBY 1290AM. For those of you not in the Ann Arbor area, you can hear the show streamed on 1290wlby.com. You can also check out the archives on the show's Web page.

Oh, and if you get a chance you should definitely meet Mike Wynn. He is a fun guy and really knows how to network. Did I mention he also connected me with my first client for The Reluctant Networker?

I seriously owe him lunch!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Active vs Passive Networking

One of the mistakes beginning networkers make is waiting for everyone else to take the first step. They hand out their cards and then sit by the phone, waiting for it to ring. Now, it does happen, once in a great while, but, really, the best networking relationships won't happen unless you take the first step.

Let's look at some passive behaviors and their more effective active counterparts.

Passive: Handing out your business card.
Active: Asking for their business card.

Passive: Waiting for them to call
Active: Making the call

Passive: Hoping to schedule a coffee when you get home after the event.
Active: Getting them on the schedule while still at the event.

Passive: Listening for their story
Active: Asking for their story.

Passive: Hoping to meet someone at an event.
Active: Inviting someone to an event.

Passive: Going to an event
Active: Going to an event with a goal in mind.

Passive: Joining a group
Active: Participating in a group

Always remember that active networking has nothing to do with selling. This is about making connections and strengthening relationships.

The good news is with active networking, it's all up to you. Why is that good?

Because you can do something about it.

So go out and get active. Waiting for your relationships to build themselves is not on the pathway to networking success. Putting out your hand and saying "Hello" is.

Photo credit: quinn.anya

Friday, June 11, 2010

Good Customer Service is Good Networking

I have been working on moving one of my Cyber Data Solutions clients to a new hosting service. We had run into a challenge or two. The biggest one was that the domain name, "cellochan.com", was registered with Yahoo Small Business. Unfortunately, while the domain still existed, the account that I needed to make the necessary changes had been deleted years ago. In the process of working with Yahoo to deal with these issues, I ran into some examples of great customer service which work just as well in good networking.

When I first called up, I dealt with a young man who called himself Nathan. He spoke quite clearly and was more than willing to be helpful. Because of the unusual nature of the situation, he came up with a solution that fit the need -- basically I just had to get a scanned image of my client's drivers license and send it to him. At no time did he try to make this situation my fault or tell me that nothing could be done. He obtained all of the necessary clearances so when I did get the scan, whomever I dealt with would be able to proceed immediately.

As good networkers, we need to go out of the way to make the people we meet feel OK about themselves. If they have challenges, they need to know that we are there to help. Even more, in those areas where we can't help personally, we take it upon ourselves to make the connections necessary.

When I called back the second time, I chatted with another gentleman named Robert. Using the case number I gave him, he was quickly able to jump right back into the situation and process the instructions that Nathan had recorded. At this point he had a few questions or me as to what our ultimate intentions would be. Based on the information I gave him, he suggested a course of action which achieved my ultimate goals, despite the fact that it steered me away from a solution that I would have had to pay Yahoo! for.

Good networkers look for the best solutions to the problems faced by the members of our network. Our goal is to, first and foremost, provide value to the other person with no expectation of return.

Of course, it seems like these situations always have one more thing that needs to be dealt with, as was true in this case. So, once again I called up Yahoo!. This time I got "Chris" on the end of the line. Using the case code again, he was quickly able to familiarize himself with the situation. After that, it was only the work of a few moments to complete the final adjustments.

Good networkers have systems to help them remember. What if every time you got in touch with someone they had to tell you their entire background all over again? They might think you weren't paying attention or valuing what they had to say. Not a good way to maintain a relationship.

If good customer service is important to you and you are looking for hosting plan for your small business website, you may want to give Yahoo! Small Business a try. If Nathan, Robert, and Chris are any example of the kind of folks they have working for them, you can bet it will be a service worth every penny. If good networking is important to you, following their lead wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Photo credit: Giorgio Montersino

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Playing Games, Part 3

So a couple of days ago, we started talking about networking "games" that you might sometimes encounter at various professional gatherings. Then yesterday we took a short break to focus more closely on speed networking. Today let's finish up the list of some of the games you might encounter.
  • Business card bingo. This one often happens at trade shows and the like.  The idea is that you are given a blank "Bingo" card (a five-by-five grid with a "free" space in the center). As you circulate around the show, you get a business card and a sticker from each exhibitor. You place the sticker in one of the grid spots. At the end of the day you play a game of "Bingo" where the organizer calls out the exhibitor names until someone gets five in a row, horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Usually there is a prize involved. My only problem with this game is that it focuses on quantity over quality. Also, people tend to focus more on winning the prize than on the networking it is supposed to engender. Just be sure as you are scurrying about trying to get your 24 stickers that you are still engaging people and having conversations that are deeper than "May I have a sticker, please?"
  • Partner introductions. You'll see this one occasionally at all-day or multi-day seminars. One of the first things the host will have you do is pair up and prepare an introduction about the person next to you. You will then each in turn, stand up and present your introduction. Actually, as uncomfortable as it can be to speak in front of a group, I do like this one. Think about it. You are basically required to find out information about the person next to you. Pull out your INFER questions and have at it. I recommend that you each take turns asking questions and you go first. If you are asking the good questions (the ones you want someone else to ask you), there's a good chance that your partner will simply mirror you and ask you the same questions in return. Not only that, they will then announce that information to the room at large!
  • Find your partner. I've seen this one done at large mixer-style events. I really don't care for it much and think it's one of the least successful networking games (at least for the purpose of encouraging networking). The idea is that as you walk into an event, you receive two nametags. One has your name on it as usual. The other has a word or a mark or a paragraph. The idea is that you are supposed to locate your matching nametag. One of the ones I played had words and phrases associated with the sponsor's business and the matching tag had the (sometimes quite long) definition.  OK, first of all, for a long definition to fit on a nametag, the font, of necessity, must be somewhat small. Now imagine that I (a man) have a term for which I am searching for the corresponding definition. On average half of the women at the event will be wearing definitions. Not to be too crass, but the end result is that this game has me walking around staring at women's chests for long periods of time looking for the stupid definition -- not a good way to make anyone comfortable with starting a long-term business relationship. People also have a tendency to rush from person to person looking for their match without actually talking to anyone. Not the result you are looking for.  My suggestion? Get a drink and chat with anyone else who doesn't want to play such a silly game.
Well, that's my list for now. If you've had experience with any others, I would love to add them, so feel free to send them in. In the meantime just remember: No matter what the game is, the winner is the person who develops the best network.

Photo credit: Robert Banh

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Playing Games, Part 2

I love life's little coincidences. Yesterday I wrote about some types of networking games. In particular I mentioned "speed networking" -- a practice where you sit across from someone and in three or four minutes you each try to decide whether you want to continue your networking relationship. Then yesterday evening at the Chamber Ambassadors meeting, we actually did some speed networking. The only bad thing about it was that Cheryl O'Brien, the Director of Membership and the head of the Ambassador Corps, asked me to describe what we were about to do.

While I didn't crash and burn, I don't feel like I did as well as I might have.

I think I mentioned that I'm not perfect, right?

So, before I complete the list that I started yesterday, I'm going to delve a little more deeply into the mysteries of speed networking and what some of the best practices are.

  1. First and foremost, you don't have much time at all. Two minutes (your half of a four minute time limit) will fly by. Don't hem and haw about starting the conversation. Jump in and get going.
  2. Respect the other person's time. If you are a good conversationalist, this might actually work against you. If you just start chatting without a focus, you may run into the other person's time which means that they won't have a chance to learn about you. You wouldn't want that would you?
  3. Respect everyone's time. When the bell or buzzer sounds, you must gracefully terminate your existing conversation (though perhaps with a promise to continue later) and move on to the next person. If you don't, it will cause everyone upstream of you to miss out on networking time with their next person.
  4. Have your questions ready. You probably have time for three questions at most after the introductions. I recommend going with the following:
    1. "What brings you here today?" Notice that I didn't say "Who do you work for?" or "Where do you work?" Sometimes the people who are attending a networking event are not currently employed. The first question avoids any assumptions that might make your conversational partner feel uncomfortable.
    2. "What do you like to do when you aren't working in your business?" This will tell you more about who they are. Remember that despite the short time limit, you want to start developing a relationship. You'll need to know more about them as a person in order to do that.
    3. "If I'm talking with someone, how would I know they are someone I should send your way?" With this question you are showing that you care about the success of their business. Also, they are likely to ask you the same question in return.
  5. Be succinct. You must be able to describe what you do in about ten seconds or less. Make it interesting, make it memorable, but above all, make it short.
  6. Have a pen and paper handy. You will really stand out in the crowd if you take a few seconds to jot down what you learn from each person -- especially if it means that you can help them out at a later date.
  7. Have fun!
Hopefully the next time you have an opportunity to do some speed networking, these ideas will help you make it as productive as possible. As I mentioned yesterday, it's a good way to meet people that you might not normally meet.

And you never know when one of them might turn into your next "golden" connection.

Photo credit: HowardLake

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Playing Games, Part 1

Event organizers try to come up with new ways all the time to help attendees have more fun -- or at least be more effective -- in their networking efforts. While not all of these are "games" per se, they do deviate from the normal mixer-style that most networking events adopt. Are all of them effective? Well, as you might guess, some yes, some no, and many are dependent on who is doing the networking. Let's take a look at a few of them, what they are, and how best to prepare, if possible.
  • Speed networking: Similar in concept to speed dating, you're usually seated along a long table facing another attendee. The actual amount of time can vary, but usually you've got three minutes (90 seconds each) to get to know the person across from you. At the end of the time one or the other side of the table moves one seat to the left (or right). Personally I like this activity because it gives me a chance to meet people who would otherwise associate only with their friends or not at all. In order to prepare, you should have a very brief description of yourself and your goals. You want them to have a chance to get to know you, not just your business. If possible, be the first person asking questions. This allows you to ask the questions of them that you will want them to ask of you.
  • Ten word cards or Pass the mic. This is the opportunity for each person in the crowd to stand up and tell a very brief blurb about themselves. Some events limit it by the number of words, others limit it by time. It may or may not be followed up with mixer-style mingling. This can be a good process if you are prepared. The challenge is to say something meaningful in that short amount of time. To that end, if you know that the event includes an activity like this, always, always, always prepare your statement ahead of time. Unless you are comfortable with improv, at best you can hope to be boring. The worst that can happen is that you start rambling. Breaking the unwritten rule of keeping it short will not endear you to anyone.
  • Scavenger hunt. These activities work to encourage you to circulate around the event and find out more about the sponsor or sponsors of the gathering. While primarily for the benefit of those sponsors, you can use time waiting in line to chat up those around you. This has the benefit that it naturally limits the amount of time you will spend with any given person. Preparing for this is just like preparing for any other networking event. Be ready to ask questions and be interested in other people.
While sometimes these games can feel a little silly or put you out of your comfort zone, participating in them can really help you extend your networking practice -- if you approach them with the right attitude. If nothing else, you should hone your skills at these activities so that the next time one of them comes up, it won't throw you off your game.

Tomorrow, some more games that work and one that didn't work so well.

Photo credit: Mark & Marie Finnern

Monday, June 7, 2010

On Being a Member of a Community

Lisa, Kaylie, and I went to the Ya'ssoo Greek Festival on Sunday. It was at a local Church, but folks were coming from all over to celebrate being "Greek for a day". The music and dancing were a lot of fun and the food (homemade, of course) was fantastic! What struck me most about the event, though, was the sense of community I saw all around me.

We were sitting at one of the long tables watching Kaylie dance to the lively Greek music. I glanced around me and saw families gathering to break bread together. Friends would greet each other with a hug. Laughter and smiles punctuated many a conversation between folks who hadn't seen each other in a while. Why, there were even a few folks who recognized me who came up to say hello.

What occurred to me as I was watching all of this activity around me was how much we all need to be a part of some community. Online "friends" and "connections" attempt to fulfill some of this need, but somehow we really need that face-to-face interaction to make the true relationships happen.

I think that networking within a group should be like this. It should be about the connections, not the contracts. Imagine how much more enjoyable the next networking event would be if everyone viewed it as a chance to come together as a community to renew and strengthen our ties while breaking bread with each other. Heck, without the stress of trying to sell to your neighbor, I bet there would be a lot more laughter, smiles, and maybe even a hug or two.

The connections we'd make would be personal. They would be about who we are, not what business we run. How strange that would be if instead of Bob Jones, Owner and President of ABC Company, we run into Bob, the guy who told the great story about camping in the Rockies. And which person would we be more likely learn to trust?

Is it business? Why not? After all, who says that business can't be personal?

Photo credit: annachok

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Twice Burned

A couple of months ago, my wife, Lisa, and I bought a new elliptical trainer for our home workout area. We'd been saving for it for several years because we believe in getting high quality (because we do use the machines -- a lot). We were pleasantly surprised when, in addition to the workout equipment itself, we also received a complimentary in-home, 1-hour personal training consultation.

Cool!

So, we contacted the training company, American Mobile Fitness, and set up a time for one of their trainers to come out and work with me for an hour to come up with a plan to meet my fitness goals. I set aside the time and waited with anticipation.

And he never showed.

Not only was he AWOL, but he never called to let me know he wasn't going to make it. That kind of irks me. I have a few other commitments in my life and this felt a lot like disrespect.

A few days later, the owner of American Mobile Fitness contacted us to let us know that he had stepped in on the situation. Apparently there was some snafu with the schedule and when they discovered the problem, the trainer in question was unable to contact me because his phone wasn't working properly.

OK. It may have been just a story, but I'm willing to give people the benefit of the doubt.

The owner definitely wanted to make it up to me and rescheduled his trainer, at my convenience, to come out to give me my hour consultation. I wanted to believe that everything would be OK. In fact, I wanted to believe that, despite our initial problems, maybe we might even set up a long-term training relationship. Yeah, everything was going to be great!

Do I have to tell how the rest of the story goes? Suffice it to say that the second visit was remarkably like the first. It didn't happen.

So, what does this have to do with networking?

First, providing value with no expectation of return is one of the fundamentals of good networking. Keep in mind, though, just because you are providing something of value, free of charge, doesn't mean there won't be some costs to the recipient. These may be opportunity costs, attention, time, whatever. Make sure whatever you are providing is worth that cost.

Second, communication is everything. This is something I need to work on, too, but the more mystery you can remove from a networking relationship, the stronger it will be. Meeting someone for coffee tomorrow? Drop them a quick note to confirm. Not sure if a referral is right for a contact? Verify before you pass their name along. Running late to a meeting? Call and let them know. People like to be certain of what is going on in their lives. The more you can provide that assurance, the more they know they can trust you.

Third (and probably most important), deliver. If you promise to send someone an article, do so. If you tell them you'll give them a call, pick up the phone. If you say you're going to be there, show up. Saying you are going to do something and then not delivering tells that person only one thing. You can't be trusted.

And if you can't be trusted, you will never be worthy of the strongest connections and the most profitable network.


Photo credit: Jill Clardy

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Conversational Ballet


Yesterday I wrote about eating dinner at the country club with my friend Andrea and several members of her network. While the fact that they were politicians and captains of industry didn't bother me too much (after all, they are still people), one thing did throw me off a little bit...

The number of people at the table.

At most networking events, you are doing one of two things. First, you are standing up and chatting, which usually means meeting one or two people at a time for short bursts (five or ten minutes at most) before moving on to another conversational partner. Second, you are seated at a large table of eight to ten where you can really only chat with the one or two people nearest you. Similarly, when you meet for coffee or lunch, you're likely sitting with only one or two people (whom you've likely already met). This allows you to talk more deeply about subjects and really get to know each other better.

Now, the strange thing about the other night was that I was seated at a small table with five people including myself. I only knew Andrea. The rest I had met for the first time as I was sitting down. The problem I had was that mostly the conversation included all of us and, like most dinner conversation, it was mainly light-hearted joking and storytelling -- not much for really getting to know someone. Most of the techniques I normally use to get to know people better wouldn't work in this situation. Suddenly focusing on one person to the exclusion of the others would have been rude.

I still had a lot of fun with these folks, but it felt like I wasn't very effective in actually getting to know them better.

I had a chance to catch up with Andrea again today and mentioned my challenge. One of the things she had noticed was that there was a natural ebb and flow to the conversation. While a majority of the time we were chatting as a group, there were moments when the group would naturally fragment into smaller interactions of two or three. When that happened, that should have been my opportunity to get into a slightly deeper conversation.

Of course, this requires a little more conversational awareness and the ability to be light on ones feet. Unlike a regular one-to-one coffee where the focus is on one or the other person, this was a constantly evolving situation that would almost require the timing of a dancer.

As I think I mentioned before, I'm still developing my networking skills, too, and this is an area which will require more practice before I'll be completely comfortable. Still, a good networker should be prepared to make connections in any situation.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go get my dancing shoes on.

Photo credit: dok1

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fame and Fortune

Yesterday evening, my good friend, Andrea Bernardini, treated me to dinner at the Barton Hills Country Club. At dinner, she introduced me to several of the connections that she had made at the club. Seated at our table was a City Councilmember and his lovely wife and a good friend of theirs who had helped found, NanoBio, a successful local biotech firm.

Heady company, indeed. I don't mind saying that I felt just a little intimidated. Fortunately for me, I have been reading Keith Farrazzi's awesome book "Never Eat Alone" and just that morning had read:
Just remember that famous and powerful people are first and foremost people: They're proud, sad, insecure, hopeful, and if you can help them achieve their goals, in whatever capacity, they will be appreciative.
With that in mind, I just approached the group like I would any other. You know what? They were people first an foremost.

I got to hear about Katie and Tony's first grandchild (with pictures, of course). Tony told me about his two Harley-Davidson motorcycles and some of the rides he used to take. They all told stories about the friends they had made over the years and the adventures they had experienced together -- some good, some bad.

The thing that tickled me most, though, was talking with Tony and Ted about the importance of networking. They both agreed that networking was the way that great things get done. Tony's connections help him every day as he serves his ward on the city council. Ted talked about how all of the connections that he was able to call on made starting up NanoBio significantly easier.

Despite our vast differences in experience and in the circles in which we travel, I found kindred spirits among my tablemates. By the end of the evening, we were all teasing and laughing with each other, just like everyone else does.

Imagine that.

Photo credit: danperry.com

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Best Testimony, Part 2

Yesterday we talked about writing the most engaging testimonials for other people. The trick, we saw was to make the testimonial an emotion-filled story (after all, people buy on emotion and justify with intellect) which showed the dire straits we were coping with when our hero came on the scene, what they did to help us, and how much our lives are better now.

OK, so you've written this amazing Oscar-worthy testimonial. Now what?

Now, you just have to deliver it. You can always just send it via email, but here are a few other ideas that might make you stand out a little.

  • Print it up on your letterhead and send it through the postal mail or hand deliver it. Not many people still do this and a signed hard-copy is one of those things that they just might want to frame and display in their office.
  • If you are connected to them on LinkedIn, you can enter you testimonial as a recommendation. As with any of these ideas, this is particularly effective if they don't know you are doing it.
  • If you happen to be a "fan" of their business on Facebook, there's a tab at the top of the fan page which allows you to enter a review.
  • If you really want to stand out, try creating an audio or video recording of your testimonial. If the words you wrote were powerful, then just think how much more they will mean coming directly from you.
You've taken some time to create the best testimonial you can for your networking contact. Make it even more special by putting a little more effort into the delivery. Of course, they will probably want an electronic version of the text, too, so they can put it on their website or include it in their marketing materials. Not a problem as it is probably the easiest thing to do.

Remember, the more ways you can give them to use your sterling words, the more value you are providing them, and the more grateful they are likely to be. Also, the more places they use your words, the further your own name will spread.

Kind of a nice dividend for showing recognition to someone else, right?

Photo credit: vancouverfilmschool

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Best Testimony, Part 1

Everyone loves to hear about how great they are. I can guarantee, if you run a business, the testimonials from your devoted fans are as good as gold. Not only do they validate what you do and give you the warm fuzzies, but it also tells anyone who is considering working with you that you are worthy of their attention and time.

Now, I know you want to know the mystical secret about how to get people to give you the best testimonials, but that isn't what this post is about. This is about giving testimonials to other people.

That's the way to build strong connections for your network.

So, what's the best way to write a testimonial for someone else? Remember when we talked about "gratitude notes"? A testimonial is basically a gratitude note that you are will to share with everyone.

First let's look at a less-powerful statement:
We hired Bob Smith to get our widget processing production facilities up to industry standard. Bob did a great job keeping everything organized. Thanks, Bob!
Yawn. OK, it isn't a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but it certainly doesn't fire the imagination. A great testimonial (one which the recipient will want to include in all of his marketing materials) should describe the problem you were having including the personal emotional toll it was taking on you. It should talk about specific solutions that the person or company provided and then talk about the astounding results that you are now experiencing.
Two years ago our widget processing production facilities were running so far under industry standard that we were on the verge of laying off half of the work force. As the head of the company, I was the one who was going to have to tell those families that there wouldn't be a Christmas. Fortunately, we were able to hire Bob Smith. Bob came in with his 24-Omega process and, over the course of two months, not only saved those jobs, but got our facilities running to 10% over the national average. Wow! Things are going so well that we are going to be putting in another shift. Thank you, Bob, for setting us up as the industry leader!
I think you'll agree that the second version packs a little more punch. In fact, you've probably already noticed that it is in the form of a very short story.

Tomorrow we'll talk about how we can apply our new testimonial skills.

Photo credit: TheTruthAbout...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Is It Coming Back?

You've heard me preach on the benefits of tracking your networking practice. How many calls, one-to-one meetings, events, gratitude notes, etc, did you do today? By measuring, you can't fool yourself into thinking that you are doing more than you are.

Now I'm going to recommend one other measurement

Track your results.

Some of us already do track our sales results -- how much we sold last month, how many contracts signed, and so on. We should all be measuring this and more. By doing this, we can compare to our metrics for networking and we'll know if what we are doing is getting the results we want.

So what sorts of things might we record? Much is going to depend on our goals, but here's a short list:
  • Number of sales
  • Value of sales
  • Number of sales calls
  • Number of referrals received
  • Number of unique referral sources
  • Number of hours worked (this could be a positive or negative depending on your goals)
  • Number of people in your network
  • Number of employees
  • Number of current projects
  • Number of unique clients
I'm sure you might have some specific metrics in your business to tell you how you are doing at any given point in time.

Now, here's the trick. If you ever notice an unusual dip in your "results numbers" (one not associated with a regular industry cycle), check back about three to six months in your networking measurements. See if there's a corresponding dip. If there is, pat yourself on the back. You've just discovered your "networking latency" -- the amount of time it takes for your networking efforts to bear fruit.

Remember, as with everything else, those things that are measured are those things which get improved. It might take you an extra five minutes each day, but the information gleaned will give you a tremendous amount of power in the long run.

Photo credit: kevinzhengli