Saturday, July 31, 2010

No Such Thing as Nothing to Offer

I was inspired by Todd Smith's blog post tonight about being careful with how you treat everyone in your life, because it all reflects on your reputation.

I'm sure you know the old saying about telling how good a person is based on how they treat someone from whom they have nothing to gain. While that is certainly true, the good networker knows that, really, there is no such someone. You might not recognize it right away, but you always have something to gain. Not only does this mean that you should treat everyone with decency and kindness, as Todd said in his blog, but also be willing to recognize that each person you meet can be a part of your team -- can be one of your ambassadors.

For some of us, that linkage is a little more obvious than others. What does a children's book publisher have to gain from an association with a commercial real estate agent? Obviously, the real estate agent isn't going to be stocking shelves of children's books. The local bookseller, whom he helped find a new location for their shop, probably does, though. Wouldn't that introduction be helpful?

Other linkages might not be so obvious. What benefit could a web designer who works from his home office get from having a commercial cleaner in his network? He can't use the service himself, after all. True, but he might know someone in his network who can (and good networkers are known for the success they bring to their connections). It might be something more subtle, too. Maybe the cleaner's wife is on the board of a local private school which the web designer's brother is trying to get his kids into.

The point is, until you are ready to consider every person you meet as a potential member of your network, you will never learn enough about them to know how you can help them and then be helped in return. Never turn up your nose because you think they have nothing to offer. The truth is, you just never know.

Photo credit: Shlomit Wolf

Friday, July 30, 2010

Be Ready to Tell Them What You Want

Picture this. You're out having lunch with one of your close networking connections. You've been having a great time catching up and learning more about each other. Then there's a pause in the conversation and she asks, "So, how can I help you?"

Usually at this point, the limited networker stammers something about wanting to meet people who want to buy his widgets. What a waste of an opportunity. One of the major reasons to build your network in the first place is to have an army of ambassadors who are looking for ways to help you. If you can't tell them exactly what you want when they ask, then what did you go through all of that effort for?

Before you find yourself in a networking moment like this again, take a few minutes to come up with an answer or two to the question. Your answer may differ depending on who your audience is.

  • A close networking contact in a one-to-one setting. If you've already laid the groundwork and built the relationship to the "Trust" level, this is when you can ask for some specific assistance. Ask for that referral (remember to be specific!). Ask for that introduction. Ask for the speaking opportunity. At this point in the relationship, they wouldn't be asking if they didn't want to help.
  • An undeveloped connection in a one-to-one setting. You haven't developed this relationship to the point of Trust. It really isn't the appropriate time to ask them to lend you their reputation. This might be a good time to ask for a recommendation. Would they recommend any networking groups in the area? Which is their favorite place to meet for coffee or lunch? Which blogs, magazines, newspapers, books, etc do they read and would they recommend them?
  • At a new networking event or group. Ask who they think you should meet. If they recommend someone, they are likely to be one of the better connected people there. You could also just ask them if they'd be willing to get together for coffee since one of your goals is to extend your network.
Notice at no time did I suggest that you should ask them to buy from you. Even if they look like the perfect client for you, resist the temptation. Let them come to the realization themselves.

"How can I help you?" is the question that every good networker loves to hear. It tells you that all of your efforts to build a strong network are beginning to pay off. All you have to do is be ready for it when they ask.

Photo credit: Dimitri Neyt

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Be Known for Something

If you were to ask the people in your network, what would they say you are famous for? What is your unique skill, topic of expertise, or character trait which comes to mind for them? Whatever it is, that is the reason people will be contacting you.

My brother, Andy, loves to go out camping with his family every chance he gets. He and his wife, Debbie, bought a camper a couple of years ago and they are definitely getting their money's worth. They often meet up with friends at the campground and if anyone is missing anything, they know Andy is the guy to talk to. Once, one of his friends approached him and asked if my brother had a metal detector in the camper. Andy's response?

"You mean you don't have one??"

Those of us in any kind of computer-related field know the mixed blessing that knowledge is. I have friends who've almost gotten to the point that they won't take phone calls from family members. They know it will be a long frustrating conversation about why email stopped working and what they have to do to reboot the Internet. By the way, for those who find themselves in this category, have all of your friends and family install the Crossloop program. It will make your life a lot easier.

Among other things, my mom, Debby Peters, is known as a straight shooter. No one ever walks away from a conversation with her saying "I wonder what Debby meant when she said that?" Because people can trust that about her, if anyone wants an unvarnished opinion about any plan that they might have, they know that she is the person to ask. And ask they do.

Now, the strange thing about this phenomenon is that if you are the one saying it, by and large it isn't true. If you tell people that you are a straight shooter, or a computer expert, or whatever, it will have minimal impact. Tell by doing. Your goal is to have other people talking about your finer points. When that's happening, you won't have to brag.

And that's when people will start calling you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reaching Out to be Top of Mind

In order for word of mouth marketing to work, you've got to be top of mind. It won't matter at all that you've met with hundreds of people in the last year, if they don't remember you, you might as well have stayed home. So, what can we do to keep ourselves fresh in their memories?

Here's a short list, but notice that most of these are meant to provide value to the other person. Remember, money is the echo of value.
  1. Connect on your favorite social media site. Make sure your communications (whether they be updates, posts, tweets, or whatever) contain useful or insightful information. No one cares what you had for lunch or that you found a sad cow in Farmville.
  2. Write a blog. While I do recommend that everyone should have a blog in order to establish themselves as an expert in their field, the challenge is that most of the time you are counting on them to seek out your words of wisdom (not likely to happen). Check out auto-posting tools such as dlvr.it or twitterfeed which can take your blog posts and copy them to one or more of the social media sites.
  3. Write an e-newsletter or e-zine. Of course you'll get the permission of your contacts before you add their name to the list, but even if they don't read every one you send out, they will see your name on a regular basis. Just remember that this is an informative, educational, or humorous newsletter. No advertising!
  4. Call them. It's not a sales call, nor does it have to be a long conversation. Just check in with them now and again to see how things are going in their lives.
  5. Email them. Same thing as the call in #4. You are just making contact. You are never, ever selling.
  6. Write them. Thank them. Congratulate them. Inform, amuse, or educate them. Send them a note or a card. Send them an article. Anything that comes through the mail (with the exception of -- need I say it? -- advertising), they will open.
  7. Remember them. Remember who they are and what they do and, especially, who or what they are seeking. If you keep them in mind, you can bet they will be likely to reciprocate.
Come up with your own unique way to stay in contact. Remember that they can only recommend you if they recollect you. Keep the gentle light touches going out on a regular basis and they won't be able to help keeping you in mind.

Photo credit: Charlotte Na

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Myth: The More You Meet

There's a myth in networking that goes something like "The more people you meet, the more referrals you get". This would be technically correct if you added "All other things being equal" to the beginning of the sentence. Of course, the statement says nothing about the quality of those referrals. Nor does it say anything about the actual number of referrals either.

So, if you've met a hundred people and you are currently getting one poorly qualified referral a month, then it stands to reason that if you meet another hundred people (and treat them the exact same way as the first hundred), then you can expect to receive two poorly qualified referrals a month. I don't know about you, but that doesn't exactly motivate me to head out for the next Chamber lunch.

The other problem with this is that even if you treat your connections poorly, you've simply got a limited amount of time for them. Eventually you will hit the limit on the number of people with whom you can maintain even a bad relationship. At that point you can't increase the number of stinky leads you are getting each month.

So, what's the trick then?

Focus on fewer but higher quality connections you maintain in your network. Of course, increasing the number of connections will increase the number of referrals. If you want those referrals to be good ones, however, it's the quality of the relationships which really matter.

Here's your choice: Maintain four hundred weak connections in hopes of receiving four or five referrals which may or may not apply to you. Of course, you'll be spending a lot of time adding new connections to the list as the old ones drop off (since you have nothing to offer them that will keep them around). The other option is to maintain four or five really strong, inner circle connections each of whom might deliver one or even two well-targeted, pre-qualified referrals a month. Of course, to do that, you'll be spending time with folks you know, laughing over coffee, sharing your dreams, doing favors for and referring to them.

So, which would you prefer? Take your time and think about it.

Photo credit: Andrew C.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Referrals, By the Numbers: 38:40

You've probably heard that getting new business through referrals is a Good Thing. I never really understood how good until I attended an educational preview class for the Certified Networker training program down in Toledo, Ohio on Friday. The presenter, Debby Peters (also, my mom), had a great visualization to put everything in perspective.

I'll do the best I can to recreate it without the whiteboard.

Imagine you have a line marked out with the numbers from zero to ten. Zero corresponds to someone whom you have just come in contact with who has no knowledge of you, let alone any trust in you. Ten represents a level where they are ready to make a decision about your product or service. In other words, they know and trust you.

Of course, actual numbers will vary from individual to individual. For purposes of this example, however, imagine for every notch you move someone along that line, it takes an hour of your time.

Now, you meet someone at a networking event, or make a cold call, or run into them at the gym. They've just met you and have no trust in you. They are at a zero. You now have your work cut out for you. It's going to take ten hours of your time to get them to the point that they are ready to make a decision.

Let me ask you this: After all that work, is every person you get to that decision stage actually going to buy from you?

Probably not. Let's face it. Most of us would be pretty happy to have even one in four agree to close a deal. Assuming that's the case, again, for purposes of this tutorial, it will take, on average, about forty hours of work to make a single sale.

Now let's take a look at referrals.

When I say referrals, I'm talking about well-qualified recommendations by people who are in your inner circle. They themselves know and trust you and know your business so well that they know who your preferred clients are. In short, the referral isn't "You should talk with Bob Smith. Here's his number." This is more along the line of "I talked with Bob Smith yesterday and, after hearing some of the stuff he is dealing with right now, I told him that he really needs to work with you. Let's set up a meeting so I can introduce the two of you."

With such a well-qualified referral and a personal, face-to-face introduction, where do you think you will start on that scale of zero to ten? I'm thinking closer to nine. That means it will take about an hour of your time before they will be at the decision point. Also, since your referral partner has already discovered that this person has a need for your services, you are probably much more likely to close a deal. I'd say closer to three out of four.

That means, on average, you'll work for an hour and twenty minutes per sale when you are prospecting through referrals from your inner circle.

So, what could you do with the other thirty-eight hours and forty minutes?

Maybe work on building your network?

Photo credit: Yaroslav B

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Your Outer Circles

Yesterday we talked about your networking inner circle -- those folks whom you know, who know you, and with whom you can exchange referrals regularly. They're the ones you should be spending a lot of time working with and cultivating.

Great. So what about your "outer circle"? Should you just ignore them?

Of course not. While your inner circle is what provides the depth, your outer circle provides breadth. Your outer circle is what make you into someone to know. If you have hundreds or even thousands of people in those outer circles, then you have a vast plethora of people whom you can refer to your inner circle and vice versa.

So, how do you develop your outer circle?

This is where attending several events a month (or even several a week) comes in. This is where you are going to meet the new connections. Then comes the one-to-one get-togethers -- the coffees, lunches, and breakfasts. This is where you strengthen the relationships and move them along the ART continuum.

Your outer circle will have multiple rings. In the very center is you and immediately surrounding you is your inner circle. Just outside of them will be those folks whom you have known for a fair amount of time. They will definitely be somewhere in the "Trust" level. They may even have passed you a great referral or two, but for whatever reason they just can't make it into the inner circle. For example, they just may not have time to refer business to you regularly or you might trust them for the most part, but you know that they aren't terribly reliable in their business.

Further out will be those whom you've met once or twice for coffee. They may have connected you with a lukewarm lead, but they don't really know who your ideal client is. Before you can really say you Trust them, you'll need to know them a little better.

Beyond that ring are those whom you've just met. You have a name and contact information, but other than that, you might not recognize them if they walked up to you on the street. Finally, beyond this ring are all of the people whom you've not encountered yet.

Relationships being what they are, they can stall at any point in the continuum. Whether for lack of time, lack of interest, or just general incompatibility, they naturally stop progressing inward and find some equilibrium point further out. It's not a bad thing. Really, we can have only so many people in our inner circle. Just like we can have only so many close, personal friends.

Remember, though, that you can't ignore those people who aren't in the inner circle. It's the outer circle which makes you a valuable person to know.

Photo credit: Svilen Milev

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Your Inner Circle

I've often said that good networkers have to be strategic. With only a limited amount of time to network, you have to put your time and energy where it will do the most good. That being said, not all networking connections are equal. You will need to focus more of your effort on your "inner circle" than one those who are more peripheral to your networking practice.

If you think about it, this is definitely true in your personal life. How many close, personal friends do you have? How much time do you spend with them as opposed to how much time you spend with that guy you met at the party last week? Now, that guy might be a perfectly decent human being and you might even associate with him on a casual basis, but you aren't likely to spend more time with him than with your friends whom you've known for years.

In networking terms, your inner circle are likely to be those with whom you've shared many a coffee or lunch. You each know a lot about the other -- so much that you've already been able to pass referrals to each other. Oh, and those referrals? They're not just "You should talk with Bob Smith". They're more along the lines of "I was speaking with Bob Smith the other day and he really needs your services. Would it be OK if I set up a meeting for the three of us so I can introduce you to him?"

Your networking inner circle is always looking out for you and you should always be looking out for them, too. You need to know who they are, what they do, and why. You need to know their challenges, their achievements and their goals. You should also know who or what they are seeking, whether it's their perfect client, a connection they want to make, or an opportunity they would like to take advantage of.

Remember, your networking inner circle is only going to have a few people -- probably less than ten. These will be the best networkers you know and those most likely to be able to help you. When you discover them do everything you can to value them.

Because they are the ones who will help you succeed beyond your expectations.

Photo credit: Svilen Milev

Friday, July 23, 2010

Centers of Influence

I always recommend that if you are joining a large organization, to find a way to be a part of a smaller group within the organization. If you attend an event be sure to chat with and thank the organizers. If you are invited to a charity gala, do more than attend, volunteer.

Now, these are all great things to do in general, but they all have a specific networking goal in common. They all bring you into proximity with people who are centers of influence. The small groups within the organization? The members usually know a significant number of the other members. The event organizers? They probably know the faces and names of pretty much everyone at the event. Volunteering at a charity gala? That gets you close to the organizers, but also brings you into contact with most of the attendees as well.

Now, of course, you should still be willing to connect with just about anyone who shares your networking values. You really gain nothing by being a snob. By connecting with centers of influence, though, you magnify the power of your own network significantly. That gives you even more ability to find ways to serve those whom you meet every day.

Remember, though, that the folks who are centers of influence are still people and you are going to have to prove to them that you have their best interests at heart (and not just that you want to sell your product to their network). You still have to develop the relationship. You still can't ask for anything which exceeds the level of relationship that you've achieved with that person.

Still, if you treat them as you would any other valued member of your network, if you help them meet their goals, overcome their challenges, and make their dreams a reality (with no expectation of anything in return), soon you'll find them willing to help you succeed in business and in life.

And you'll be surprised how fast you'll become a center of influence yourself.

Photo credit: barunpatro

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bringing Yourself Up a Level

I had breakfast this morning with a great new friend, Fritz Seyferth. Fritz has a business coaching practice where he helps companies improve their practices by helping them discover their underlying team identity and then helping to get the entire team working toward common goals. If you ever get a chance to chat with him, please do. He's had a fascinating history, including working for Bo Schembechler, the late great coach of the University of Michigan football team, for several years.

Fritz told me one of the biggest challenges to getting his clients to succeed is to get the individuals to start seeing beyond themselves and to realize that they stand the most to gain by just helping the team succeed. He broke it down into several levels of behavior which actually map remarkably well into a successful networking mindset.

Level 1 -- Feeding yourself. This person is only concerned with what they can do to bring benefit to themselves. In networking they're the ones who don't think networking is worth their time. They can do for themselves and don't need anyone else to help.

Level 2 -- What's in it for me? At this level, someone is willing to be part of a team if they can see some direct benefit to themselves. In networking, this would be characterized by the transactional networker. They only want people in their network who can buy from them directly or who can refer business to them. For them, networking is all about taking.

Level 3 -- Working as a team. This is the minimum level that the members of the team should reach. This is the point at which they are working for the benefit of the team. Ironically, according to Fritz, team members at level 3, looking out for the team, benefit more than those at level 2 where they are looking out for themselves. In networking, level 3 folks would be those who recognize that they need to provide benefit to those in their network without any expectation of getting something in return.

Level 4 -- Working for a legacy. This highest level is for the team who is not only working for the benefit of the team, but also for some higher purpose which may not even happen in their own lifetimes. Networkers at this level are doing the exact same thing. They've built a powerful network and turned it to purposes which benefit everyone.

So, could you help your own connections to aspire to higher and higher levels of networking. Would you be willing to inspire them with your own example? Imagine what you could create with a network full of like-minded friends and colleagues.

Now, go out and do it.

Photo credit: extranoise

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Limits of Social Media Sites

Which feels more connected, shaking hands and looking each other in the eye, or "poking" them on Facebook? Which feels more powerful, sitting down to coffee or sending a LinkedIn message? Which feels more emotionally intimate, giving your child a hug (even if he's an adult) or sending him a tweet?

I'm not against social media sites, in general. What I'm against is the proposition that social media sites can replace real, face-to-face interaction. With the sole exception of convenience, handshakes, coffees, and hugs beat Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter every time. There is no replacement for being there.

These services do have their use as tools in the good networker's repertoire. They serve, like an electronic newsletter, as a means to maintain a low-level of connection with those folks with whom you've already established a strong relationship. They are the gentle touches which let them know you are still alive and doing well.

Beyond that, though, there's a danger in the overuse of social media sites -- the atrophy of face-to-face social skills. Not long after my last post about social media, my friend (whom we'll call "Mary") send me the following:
Oh boy did THIS ever hit home!

I went to a local Tweet-up last night with a colleague. The venue was amazing. There were drinks and appetizers.

So we got there and nobody talked to each other. The organizers made no effort to actually hook us up with any of the people who were already there and introduce us around and they only talked with each other.

I can introduce myself to others quite well so I started "working the room" but everybody was on their handheld devices busy tweeting that they were at the Tweet-up!

At the end of 2 hours, I had connected with one new person and reconnected with one person I had met at a tweet-up a year ago.

I felt like I had wasted 2 hours of my time.
How can you engage with someone -- how can you initiate a new relationship when they are too busy sending out notices to people who aren't even there? In one of my "Field Guide" posts, I talked about how rude it is for someone to be looking over your shoulder, hoping for someone more important to come along.

How much more rude is it for them to ignore you in favor of an audience with whom they can't even shake hands?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Networking with the Same Old Crowd

It can happen to any of us. You show up at the monthly networking lunch and you suddenly realize that you know everyone there. In fact, you don't remember seeing a new person at the event for the past couple of times. Maybe it's time to leave group and search for some greener pastures.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Before you hit the road, you might want to consider a few ideas.
  1. Are you still meeting your networking goals? For example, if the desired outcome is to build your business and you are getting plenty of referrals from this group, wouldn't you have to be a fool to leave?
  2. Are you bringing in new members? Bring a guest to the next event. They may not be new to you, but the other members will appreciate a chance to meet someone new. They might even learn from your example.
  3. Do you really know the other members? Meet with the other regulars for coffee or lunch. Until you know their goals and dreams, how can you really say that you know them?
  4. Why don't you have any new members? Is the group not approachable? Is it part of a natural cycle? Approach the group's leadership to find out which it is and offer to help either way.
  5. Are you willing to put in the time needed to network in a new group? It probably took you six months to a year before you started seeing some benefit from being in the current group. It will probably be the same in any new group. That being the case, would it be just as easy to stick around and help your current group through the difficult times?
Remember that good networking in a group requires time and patience. When the group seems to be stagnating, unless you honestly think there's no reason to stay, you are usually better off rolling up your sleeves and helping out. Not only will the existing members appreciate the contributions you make, they are far more likely to remember you and be willing to help you out in the future.

Photo credit: Matthew Keogh

Monday, July 19, 2010

Remind Them of Us

We already talked about how important it was for us to remember the people we speak with at a networking event. Using their name and, in particular, the name they choose to go by, will really help us stand out amongst the networking crowd.

So, here's another quick tip: Help them remember us.

We've all been in the situation where someone walks up to us and acts as if we've met them before. Unfortunately, our brain doesn't click in with the name or any other identifying information and we end up either grinning like an idiot while we wait for the person to stop talking and leave or swallowing our pride and admitting that we've forgotten their name. That never feels good, right?

So don't make someone else feel that way if you can help it.

When you follow up after the event, give them a little reminder as to who you are. "Hi, Bob. This is Greg Peters. I sat next to you at the Chamber lunch on Wednesday. We had that great discussion about your upcoming travels in Thailand."

If you bump into them at a different networking event, again, help them out as much as you can. The more specific you can be about the details, the likelier it will be that they will remember you.

You are not trying to get them to remember your business or your product or even that they said they had a million dollar contract for you. Your goal is just to make them feel a lot more comfortable to be around you. The rest of that stuff will take care of itself. Suddenly, you aren't that guy who looks kind of familiar, but rather you are a close acquaintance who is well on the way to becoming a friend.

Now, are you going to be able to do this every time? Not likely. Heck, I'd be telling a real whopper if I said I remembered every single person I ever met at a networking event. Even so, the better you can be at this, the faster you can grow strong connections within your network.

And strong connections are what leads to success in business and in life.

Photo credit: Henk L

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Networking Partners: Who Should We Bring?

Yesterday we talked about the many benefits of inviting a partner to attend a networking event with you. From keeping each other accountable to helping out with introductions, the combination of your networking skills will be much greater than the sum of the parts.

So, now that I've (hopefully) convinced you of the value of the practice, let's talk about who would make a good or bad partner.

  • First of all, make sure the partner fits the venue and vice-versa. You want the experience to be valuable for the other person. If they are trying to focus on international import/export firms, probably the local Chamber won't be as useful for them as it is for you.
  • Choose from your networking connections with whom you've had at least one or two one-to-one meetings. If you haven't met with them at least a couple of times, then you won't have enough familiarity with their networking goals to know if the venue is appropriate.
  • Choose from your connections whom you have worked with or met with recently. You're goal is to work together as a team to meet other people. If you haven't spoken in a while, you will be tempted to spend all of your time chatting with each other and catching up instead of making new connections.
  • You'll definitely want someone who shares your networking beliefs. If you are both working toward the same ultimate goal of extending your network through serving others, you are likely to find success. If your erstwhile partner is looking to land a signed contract, you might be better off working alone.
  • You must be able to trust them with at least the little things. Now, your relationship may not have progressed to the point where you are comfortable lending them your car, but you at least need to know that you can trust them to show up on time and be presentable.
Remember that most of the time you will only attend one or two events with a given partner. These are going to primarily be for the purpose of one of you introducing the other to a new networking venue. Conceivably, though, there is nothing standing in the way of having a regular networking partner. They could help you keep on track with your networking practice, just as you might have a workout partner to help you keep on track with your fitness goals.

Now you just have to look through your address book and send out an invitation or two to plan on tackling the networking world together.

Photo credit: Horton Group

Saturday, July 17, 2010

You Don't Have to Network Alone

A lot of people have a hard time walking into a networking event all by themselves. To them it feels as if all eyes are upon them and they are vastly outnumbered. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to walk in with a friend instead? Suddenly you aren't in a room of strangers. You'll always know at least the buddy you walked in with.

So, why not do that?

Actually, networking with a partner can have a variety of benefits, if done properly. The main thing to remember is that you and your friend are not their to network with each other. You could have done that at the coffee shop you saw on the way to the event. Instead you are there as a team to augment each other's already stellar networking talents.

So what sorts of benefits could you gain from having a "wingman"?
  • Moral Support. OK, let's face it. It is a lot easier walking into a crowded room with a friend than it is walking in alone.
  • Accountability, part 1. If you plan to attend a given event, you are far less likely to blow it off if you know your buddy will be there waiting for you.
  • Accountability, part 2. If you share your goals for the event, you can each report to the other as to how well you did.
  • Education. An experienced networker can teach the novice a lot about good networking practice by merely being a good example.
  • Coverage. With two of you working separately you can cover more of the room and have the opportunity to meet more people who would be good to add to your networks.
  • Introductions. Where one partner has attended this event in the past, they will be able to introduce all of the people they've already met to their networking partner.
  • Relationship Strengthening. Working together as a team will strengthen the ties between partners, despite the fact that you won't be directly networking with each other.
With all these benefits it almost doesn't make sense to ever attend an event along. So, take a look at your calendar and see what events you'll be attending in the upcoming weeks. Then take a look at your address book to see who would benefit from attending with you.

Even if they decline, they know you were thinking about them and their success. Chalk one up in the "win" column for you!

Photo credit: Steve Ford Elliott

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Lurking Silent Sitter

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

Name: The Lurking Silent Sitter

Environment: Attending a networking event, usually seated in the corner and hating every minute of it.

Behavior: The Lurking Silent Sitter is often a newcomer to networking. She feels uncomfortable with the whole process and is only doing it because she "has to". As a result of this, she tends to go through the motions of networking without any real desire to help or even talk with anyone else. She will show up at an event, usually right when it starts or even a little late. She quickly heads to the buffet line, grabs her food without making eye contact with anyone, and then claims her seat near the edge of the room. She doesn't attempt to draw anyone into conversation and would be just as happy if everyone ignored her. It's not that she actually dislikes people. She just doesn't know what to do and feels so uncomfortable in the situation that all she can do is wait for it to end.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Talk with strangers. The Silent Sitter desperately wants the benefits of networking without actually having to network. Especially at events, people have to step out and make themselves approachable. It's the only way to make the initial connections which turn into powerful networks. Unfortunately for the poor Sitter, the only people who are likely to walk up and engage her in conversation will be someone like the Slimy Strong-Arm Salesman -- something which is likely to make the Sitter hate networking even more.

Counter-Measures: The Silent Sitter doesn't really require counter-measures. She doesn't force herself on others nor does she have any of the active negative behaviors of the other Limited Networkers. She is, in fact, her own victim and her own worst enemy. That being said, even the best networkers can occasionally find themselves emulating this nervous bird. Anytime you walk into a new networking venue full of strangers, you can feel a little bit of the old "Don't talk to strangers" pattern trying to take hold. It's far too easy to succumb to that feeling and hide out in the back of the room waiting for the event to conclude. Be aware of your feelings in these cases and realize that as a Successful Networker, you can walk into the thick of any group and make connections right from the start.

How We Can Help: While Silent Sitters think they don't want to talk with anyone, in reality, just like most of us, they just don't want to have someone selling to them. Given a good conversational partner, they can easily come out of their shells and become great networkers in their own right. If you should see someone off to the side trying to avoid contact, make a point of going up and introducing yourself. Don't be surprised if they act a little shy at first. Ask your feel-good questions. Get them talking. Be interested. Ask them if they would like to be introduced to anyone. Mostly just make them feel welcome.

Before you know it, they can become a powerful member of your network and your generosity in coming to their rescue will pay dividends in the long run.

Photo credit: Mireque Kodesh

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Where Do You Sit?

With your networking practice, are you building a front porch or are you building a deck?

One of my favorite authors, J. Michael Straczynski, claimed that people building decks were the beginning of the downfall of our society. Where before we would sit out on our front porch in the evening and greet and know our neighbors, now we hid away in our private world, never interacting with anyone around us.

Whether you believe that's true or not, the concept of building front porches does apply to networking. In order to create a strong network, you need to make those around you welcome in your world. In other words, you need a front porch big enough that you can invite people up for a lemonade and a long chat on a hot summers day.

So, what makes a big front porch?

First of all, you've just got to be willing to reach out. At an event, you've got to be standing until they tell you to sit. Reach out to others with a firm handshake and a smile. After the event, make the call to set up a coffee. Beyond that, make a point to stay connected.

Second, help them get in the conversation. Ask them questions about themselves and be sincerely interested in their responses. Ask for their advice or recommendations.Be interesting by being interested.

Third, be ready to share. You've got to make yourself selectively vulnerable in order to maintain the conversation and thus the relationship. A conversation where only one person is giving information is called an interrogation. Really, you're probably better off if they aren't getting uncomfortable thoughts of being waterboarded when they are talking with you.

Remember, sitting on your deck is no way to build your connections. You've got to put yourself out there and set up shop on the front porch. Only then will people be willing to stop by for a spell to visit, to share, and to connect.

Photo credit: Loretta Humble

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Personalize Your Networking Style


In the martial arts we have a general training concept which goes something like:
  1. Memorization: Learn the techniques
  2. Practice: Fine-tune and perfect your execution of the techniques
  3. Personalize: Adapt these techniques to fit your personal style
Networking is much the same. I've written a lot about specific techniques, from setting the goals before going to an event to asking for referrals in a way most likely to get results. At first all you can do is just learn about them. Your first attempt to use them is likely to feel awkward. As time goes on, though, and you keep using them, you will become more comfortable. Finally comes the time to personalize the techniques to fit your networking style.

So, what could you do to make your networking practice more "you"?

Communication: Do you prefer to send email, post a letter, or make a call? You should be proficient with all of them and any others you can think of (and use the mechanism that the recipient would prefer most), but if you have one that you like more than the others, take some time to make it stand out a little. What if you attached a different short inspirational quote to each of your email messages? Perhaps you could send your letters on personalized stationery. How would things change if every time you called your connections you asked them what the best thing that happened to them in the prior week was?

Introduction: Of course you are going to be making referrals. What if, instead of sending an email to both parties, you took an extra step and invited them both to coffee so you could make the introductions in person? Would that be a more powerful way of showing your style?

Appreciation: Thanking people who've helped you out is an area that just screams for personalization. Of course, you should send a gratitude note. What else could you do? Invite them out to their favorite restaurant? Send them a gift basket? Send them a new business book or even a fun novel that you recommended at some point?

These are only a few of the possibilities of the numerous techniques in networking which you could adapt so people will always know it's "you". The only caveat with this is be sure that no matter what you decide to do, the ultimate benefit is to the other person. Never let your style diminish the underlying substance.

With that in mind, though, now you can go out and really "wow" them with your networking style.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does Your Network Make You Indispensable?

I've been reading Seth Godin's newest book, "Linchpin". In it he talks about the value of being indispensable. Basically, if you aren't, you'd better watch out, because there are a lot of people out there willing to do your job for cheaper.

Now, whether you are indispensable in your business or job is up to you to determine. One of the things that can help you, though, is a powerful extended network.

When a new project is starting in your department, do you know who would be valuable to have on the team? When you want to break into a new market, do you know people who live in the region who would be willing to help out? When your company is looking for a new supplier, do you know who they should call?

The more people you know and the more information you can bring to the table, the more valuable you are to everyone. The trick is this: You must be willing to share. A network is valuable only in its use. Hoarding your relationships is like refusing to pick the fruit from the tree. Sooner or later everything begins to spoil and no one gets any benefit from that.

Having skills that other people need is a good start, but it's only a start. Unless you can set yourself up as being completely unique, it's highly likely that someone else will be willing to do your job for less pay. Your network, though, can't be duplicated. It's strength and the people and resources you can call on through that network is what can really set you apart.

Photo credit: Patrick Hajzler

Monday, July 12, 2010

Share Your Excitement

Lisa and I went to a Mud Hens minor league baseball game tonight down in Toledo. It was part date and part networking (the U of Toledo Alumni Association organized the event). We met a number of lovely and interesting folks including one gentleman named Bob.

Bob was a lot of fun. He had retired about a year ago after forty years of work. You may have heard of those folks who retire and then get bored.

Bob is not one of them.

He now views his life as "seven days of weekend". He's doing all the things he always wanted to do but never had the time for.

He taught himself to fly fish -- including tying his own flies. He talked about his yard and his gardens. He told us about going to the museum to learn how to paint watercolors. He's travelling a lot more now, too, going out west to see his sons in California and Oregon.

Now the interesting thing was, he never spoke about his old job, he just talked about all of these new activities he was pursuing. Not only was he talking about them, his eyes almost glowed with excitement as he extolled the joys of each new thing. We joked that he had the energy of a teenager.

What he really had was a rare passion for life.

It reminded me of how much fun it is to listen to someone who is truly passionate about something. That emotion is contagious and can't help but infect those who witness it.

So, no matter where you are, if someone asks you about your business, your family, or any other aspect of your life, speak about it with passion. Be the inspiration to those around you and help them find the passion for life within themselves.

Because those are the kind of people you want in your network.

Photo credit: Eric Lubbers

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Golden Rule in Networking

If you think about it, good networking really comes down to the Golden Rule (you know, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"). If you are contemplating doing something in a networking venue, how would you feel to have that same thing done unto you?

Would you like to have a business card shoved in your face? Do you like to be "sold" to? Do you want someone looking over your shoulder to see if a better conversational partner has walked in?

Or

Would you like to be remembered on your birthday? Should people do what they said they will? Would you enjoy having clients referred to you -- clients who actually fit in your target market?

As a great networker, it's up to you to exemplify the behavior you want to see in the members of your network. Then let them turn around and mirror that behavior right back at you.

Photo credit: Bartek Ambrozik

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Keeping It Upbeat

You probably know someone like this. You say hello. They say hello. You say "How are you?" They proceed to tell you exactly how miserable their life really is. At first you have sympathy for them. Then you desperately try to change the subject, which just reminds them of something else which is going wrong in their life. Finally you are reduced to chewing off your own leg to escape the litany of despair and depression.

Don't be that person.

I know this might come as a shock, but most people actually prefer to be around folks with a positive outlook on life. Emotions are contagious. If you don't believe me, try smiling and saying hello to someone you've just met. They will probably smile right back.

So, here's my advice. If someone asks you how you are doing, focus on the many blessings you currently enjoy in your life. Is your business doing well? Talk about it. If not, then talk about your plans to turn things around. Are you planning a fun vacation? Tell me more! If not, what fun things are you doing instead? What was the best thing that happened to you in the last week? Something good, not just something less bad. Share it with those around you.

It may seem silly, but when someone asks how I am, you'll almost never hear me say "fine", or just "OK". I'm almost always doing "fantastic!" and I'm aspiring to be "outstanding!". Why? Because I've noticed that more people want to talk with me when I keep my internal compass focused on what makes my life "fantastic". It certainly makes it a lot easier to expand my network.

We have enough doom and gloom going on around us twenty-four hours a day. But we also have just as much or even more joy and light. Don't ignore the darker part of life, but just acknowledge it and move on. Why let even a moment more of your time be spent there than is absolutely necessary?

I've heard that you bring into your life that which you focus on. I'm thinking I want to bring more blessings and fewer curses. How about you?

Photo credit: Billy Alexander

Friday, July 9, 2010

Business Cards -- Why They Are Important

OK, some who've been reading this blog for a while might be under the impression that I don't think business cards are important. That's not true. I just don't think they are important for the reasons that everyone else thinks they are important.

Most people think that business cards are designed to bring in business. The whole reason people hand out as many as possible at a networking event is so that one or two people will be motivated to call them. The cold, hard truth is, in general, that's just not going to happen. Really, the most important card is the other person's. You need to get it so that you can make future contact with them.

So, why should you bother having your own card? Two reasons that I can think of.

  1. Expectations. Most people think if you don't have a business card, then you aren't a serious business. Lacking that little slip of paper with your name on it, they can't believe that you are for real and so they are going to feel completely justified at dismissing you out of hand.
  2. Connections. Every once in a while you are going to run into a real networker. These are the folks who actually do something with the cards they receive. These are the people with whom you really want to connect. Make sure they have the means to do so.
OK, I can think of one other reason to have your own cards: You can drop them in the fish bowl with the other business cards at restaurants and trade shows in the hopes of winning a free lunch.

So, do go out and get your business cards. Just keep in mind why you have them and don't place too much significance on the fact that someone asks for one. They're probably just being polite.

Or they just might be that million-dollar connection you've been trying to make all along.

Photo credit: Brian Lary

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wear Your Flair

OK, for those of you who are fans of the movie "Office Space" will chuckle at this idea, but wearing a little "flair" can make attending events a little more fun. If you also have a hard time starting conversations, a little flair can help break the ice.

Now, I do not recommend wearing suspenders with 37 different flashy pins and pennants. Usually something small and relatively innocuous will do just fine. A friend of mine attended an event the day before he was to head south of the border on vacation. Instead of his name he wrote "Costa Rica" on his nametag. His wife said that he was surrounded the entire evening by people who wanted to hear more about his plans.

I'm sure you've met someone and commented on a particular piece of jewelry they were wearing. My wife still gets this regularly when she happens to wear her engagement ring. It makes her day and serves as an easy opening for conversation with the interested person.

Personally, I almost always try to snag an extra blank nametag and write some kind of superhero name on it. I've had "Springtime Superhero", "Shoveling Superhero", and, once, when Kaylie was a little baby and not sleeping through the night, I was "Somnolent Superhero". No matter what I chose, it was sure to elicit a comment and usually resulted in that person and I rapidly finding out some personal common point of interest.

Heck, even my company's name, "The Reluctant Networker", acts as a bit of flair, since most people can't believe that I'm all that reluctant.

Shh. Don't give away my secret.

Could you find a way to wear a little bit of fun on your lapel? It doesn't have to be way out there -- I wouldn't recommend one of those hats made out of fruit, for example -- but it should be something that will pique their curiosity and make you more approachable. When they feel comfortable walking up and starting the conversation with you, you get to sit back and spend your time just making friends.

Photo credit: gniliep

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Remember Them

OK, this is an easy one.

When you meet someone at an event, remember their name. Specifically remember their name as they gave it to you, not necessarily as it is on their name badge. If he introduces himself as "Bob", then call him "Bob", not "Robert". If she says "Elizabeth", don't assume she responds to "Liz".

"But I'm horrible with names!" I hear you say.

That's fine, but it's no excuse. Get better. If you think about it, during any given event, you are only going to meet four or five people. At first, just focus on getting those first names. Almost anyone can remember four or five first names. Repeat them to yourself. Repeat them out loud. Do whatever you need to do, just remember them.

Then as you get more comfortable, throw in the last names. Maybe include their company name. How impressed would they be if you remembered what they told you about their perfect client?

I've heard there are books and other programs out there that can help with memory. A lot of them. Get one. Study it. Use it.

Now, when you see them again at the event, say hello and use their name. Just that simple action will make you stand out and go a long way toward establishing a strong relationship right from the start.

Photo credit: magerleagues

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Associate Good Feelings

When someone decides to use a networking event for selling, one of the things I will often see them do is use an "elevator pitch" to ask probing questions designed to uncover specific needs. The problem with this is that it is effectively asking the other person: "So, tell me about this pathetic excuse you have for a life."

Now, maybe that works for some people. It won't work for a networker. Remember that our goal is to find ambassadors and friends (and let them find clients for us). With that in mind, when we meet someone for the first time, probably the best course of action is not to have them associate us with feelings of inadequacy.

Instead, your goal should be to link yourself to their vision of themselves as a success.

To do this, focus conversations toward where things have gone right in their lives, past, present, or future. Try out these questions:

  • How did you decide to start selling widgets in the first place?
  • In your opinion, what makes a successful widget salesman?
  • Where do you think the widget industry is headed in the next five years? How are you planning on taking advantage of that?
  • What sort of changes have you seen in the widget industry since you started? How did you adapt?
  • Who have been your best customers? Why?
  • What sort of fun things do you have planned outside of work?
  • When you aren't selling widgets, what do you like to do? Tell me how you got into that.
Asking these types of questions and others you may come up with lets the other person talk about their successes over the years, their passions right now, and their goals for the future. The neat thing is, while they are reliving all of their great moments, you are standing right their, along for the ride. Even though it doesn't make sense, they will begin to associate you with those positive views of themselves.

And who would you rather be friends with, someone who makes you feel proud about yourself? Or that guy who helped you to realize what a miserable existence you've led?

Photo credit: Susan Tito

Monday, July 5, 2010

Targeting a Community

We're visiting my folks up in Manistee, Michigan for the Independence Day holiday. This town really does it up right for the Fourth of July. In fact, they have a full insert in the paper with the schedule of events from Thursday through Sunday. I want to draw you attention to one of the activities that my dad and I attended: The classic car show.

Now, what fascinated me most about this gathering of automobile aficionados was not the variety of lovingly maintained vehicles (though they were a treat to see). For me, the interesting thing was observing the community which surrounded this hobby. Looking around, you could see people wearing auto-related t-shirts, reading "Hot Rod" magazine, and having deep, passionate discussions with those around them.

What a cool, focused community. They have a shared culture, lifestyle, and language which is all there own. I also realized that if anyone wanted to target this particular group, they had better learn about and live just as the hobbyists do. Really, how could you say you specialized in serving this group, in whatever field, if you didn't know a carburetor from a camshaft.

And then I thought about other focused communities like this. Could you serve the science fiction community if you didn't know Star Wars from Star Trek? Could you serve the chess community when you don't know who Kasparov or Fischer are? Could you specialize in the dog show industry if you didn't know a Greyhound from a Keeshund?

Targeting a tight-knit community is a great idea. If you can serve the particular needs of even one person in that sector superlatively, you will become known to everyone in that field with relatively little additional effort on your part. To do so, though, you must obtain at least an amateur's knowledge of the field. Without that knowledge and a sincere desire to become a servant of that group, your actions will reveal you for what you are: A user whose sole interest is in lining his wallet.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Who's Your Next Golden Connection?

See if this scenario sounds familiar. Not for you, of course, but I'm sure you can think of someone to whom this applies.

You are attending a networking mixer. You've already figured out that your target market is real estate agents in the local area (within 30 miles). You have a service that could really help these folks. You are chatting with Bob. Bob owns a small shop on Main Street. He is not in your target market and can't even peripherally use your service, so after a few minutes you wish him well and start a conversation with Mary. Bob walks off and chats with someone else, too. No hard feelings. Whew! You just saved yourself a lot of time. Congratulations!

Except.

Except Bob's wife is the president of the local Women Realtors Association, a group which counts its members in the hundreds, possibly thousands. Wouldn't it have been nice to have Bob introduce you to her?

Don't worry about it, though. I'm sure you'll have another opportunity like that in no time. Right? Hey, why are you crying?

Seriously, though, never assume that the person you are talking with isn't someone that you should have as a part of your network. Almost anyone you speak with will either be able to help you directly or can improve your reputation by helping someone else in your long list of connections. Remember that the more people you know, the more powerful your network becomes, the more you become that person who knows everyone and whom everyone wants to know.

Now you'd better go chase after Bob and find out how you can help him succeed. Let me know how it turns out.

Photo credit: TheTruthAbout...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Money is the Echo of Value

More golden nuggets from the Bob Burg "Endless Referrals" event on Wednesday. Bob had a great saying: "Money is the echo of value." Value is the lightning, money is the thunder. You can't get the thunder to show up before the lightning.

For us, "money" is any benefit we hope to gain from networking. Whether it is a new client for our business, an introduction to a potential employer, or even a recommendation for a caterer for our wedding, we have to realize that we are trying to get something out of a relationship. To grab another metaphor, we're attempting to withdraw from the connection bank account. Before we do so, we'd better make sure we've made a deposit or two.

Can you make a referral to them? Can you make a recommendation? Is there someone in your circle they would like to meet? Can you set up a speaking engagement for them? Would you invite them to an event (and pay their entry fee)? How about treating them to lunch or a coffee? Can you help them achieve a life's goal? How about just a monthly goal? Weekly? Can you even help them knock off something from their "to do" list for today?

Look for ways to make that lightning strike. The value you give doesn't always have to be grandiose or expensive, but it should always show you care. Remember, the strongest relationships are forged through the smallest kindnesses performed consistently.

Photo credit: Thomas Bush

Friday, July 2, 2010

I Have a Networking Dream

While this post is a bit tongue in cheek, I hope the underlying goals still speak to your heart.

I have a dream. It's not a particularly grandiose or profound dream as some others you might have heard. Still, someday, I hope this dream comes true.

This is a networking dream.

I have a dream that someday I will walk into a networking event and no one will try to force their business card on me. I will look about and each person will be fully engaged with those around them and no one will be looking for someone better to talk with. Where once the conversations would revolve solely around what each person does for a living, now they would revolve around common points of interest outside of business.

The dream would continue after the event. No more would I hear of attendees being cold-called or email spammed just because they decided to show up. Instead those who met at the Chamber luncheon would now follow up for coffee or lunch to better learn about each other. They would forge fast friendships which would ultimately bring more profit than any single contract would have in the past.

In my dream, those who request referrals, both professional and personal, would be so specific and clear that their networking friends could not help but know the shortest path to the desired outcome. Ask and you shall receive, be asked and you shall give would be the law of the land. And never would a request exceed the level of friendship thus far developed.

It is a lofty goal I seek, but I think it would be a worthy one for us all to pursue. Imagine a world like this where we would all look forward to attending a networking event as would a small child anticipate a play date with his dearest friends. I tell you that we can achieve it. We have only to decide today so that tomorrow will dawn on a new and glorious networking day.

Photo credit: Gravity X9

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Social Media as a Crutch

Lisa and I attended Bob Burg's "Endless Referrals" presentation in Southfield on Wednesday morning. As usual, Bob put on an amusing and educational show. He has a polished repertoire and rarely did his commentary fall short of expectations.

I thought one of the points he made was particularly important. He was talking about social media -- Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. He said that he thought they were important tools for networking, just like email and handwritten notes. They were no replacement, however, for actual honest-to-goodness, face-to-face interactions.

Amen, Bob.

The challenge with social media, as I see it, is for a lot of people, they pursue their social media contacts to the exclusion of any other kind of connection. They kid themselves into thinking that by tweeting or posting their status regularly, they are maintaining good networking connections and the skills necessary to nurture them. Unfortunately, the first time they have to step away from the monitor and keyboard, they discover that the skills don't translate into the face-to-face world.

In the social media world, you succeed by talking about yourself and what you know. When you are face-to-face, asking about the other person and taking a sincere interest in them are the skills needed. On Facebook, you can carefully craft each message until it is perfect. At the Chamber lunch, active conversation means you have to be fast on your feet and brief but clear in your communication. Online, you have only the text to convey your meaning. Offline, you have tonality and body language to change the meanings of those carefully chosen words.

By all means, continue using your social media tools in your networking. Be aware, though, that they are nowhere near the only, nor even the most powerful tools in your toolbox. Just as even the finest, most expensive hammer is largely useless when driving screws, so, too, the social media sites have their limited use in your overall networking strategy.

Keep that in mind the next time you have an invitation to coffee. It's the face-to-face that will forge the strongest connections.