Thursday, September 30, 2010

Saying Goodbye

Ray: I don't care what it's for. It's soft. I'm on it. It's mine.
We've shared our house with a pair of cats for over twelve years now. Ray and his brother Luke have been sweet and (in general) pleasant companions on the road of life. Sadly, Ray developed cancer about six months ago and on Wednesday afternoon we finally had to let him go. His once solid sixteen pound frame had shrunk to only eight. When he couldn't even muster the interest to eat his beloved tuna, we knew it was time.

Thinking back on my time with him, I realize that Ray had a lot of lessons to teach about networking, if we only had paid attention.

Like most cats, Ray believed himself to be an independent iconoclast -- going his own way without a care in the world. Of course, when mealtime came, it was up to us to make sure that bowl had lots of kibble. Oh, and, servants, my litter box needs cleaning! Yeah, he was "independent". We entrepreneurs and networkers have to remember the same thing. We count on others to achieve our successes. Clients, vendors, employees, doctors, lawyers, accountants, insurance agents -- the list goes on and on -- these are the folks we need to have in our network.

Unlike many cats, Ray was almost aggressively friendly. He liked most folks and would quickly flop over on his back to have his tummy scratched. You could usually hear him purring from across the room. People loved him almost immediately. He had discovered a secret that's still hard for a lot of networkers: In order to build strong relationships, we have to make ourselves a little vulnerable. Are you willing to share some details of your personal life so that people will see you as a person instead of a position in a company?

On cold days, Ray would camp out on the heat registers. His self-satisfied smile said that he knew where the best seat in the house was. For as long as the warm air was flowing, that was where he was going to be. It never occurred to him that he should wait for the heat to come to him somewhere else. Similarly, networkers need to remember that they are the ones who are going to have to reach out to create the connections. They have to go where they can meet people and they have to be the ones to follow up. They can't afford to think that others are going to come to them.

One lesson Ray never picked up on, but it was only because he was such a lover. He assumed that everyone would love him. Unfortunately, this included a number of people who had horrible cat allergies. He just assumed that the more time he spent with them the more they would love him. As networkers we do want people to like us and want to make strong connections with everyone. Sometimes, though, the chemistry just isn't there and we just need to move along. Remember that for every one person who doesn't want to connect, there are probably four others who are ready and waiting.

I'm going to miss Ray. He was a sweet spirit who shared our lives for all too short a span. At times he could do the silliest things that would make us laugh and laugh. At others he could be solemn and almost compassionate. I've seen him curl up in the laps of more than one person who has been feeling a little down, almost as if he were lending some moral support. He brought a lot of joy to this household.

Wherever he is now, I hope there's lots of catnip and sunbeams.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Good Manners

Walt's unique dining style didn't score any points at
the Chamber lunch.
It's the small things which tell others whether or not they want to be associated with us. Oh, OK, if you are an axe murderer or have recently had to make a "perp walk" after bilking retirees out of their life's saving, that will definitely have a negative affect on your networking ability. In general, though, it's the small stuff.

Stuff like good manners.

Have you ever been around someone who was lacking in the manners department? I'm not talking about someone who doesn't know which fork to use for salad at a state dinner. I'm referring to those who don't bother to say "please" and "thank you". The folks who are disrespectful or who gossip about others behind their backs -- and I'm talking about the hurtful kind of gossip here. How have you felt about even being near them?

A little embarrassed? Maybe uncomfortable that others might think you exhibit the same manners?

Now extend that a little further. How would you feel if you referred that same less-than-polite person? Would you worry about the stain that might get on your reputation? Remember the old saw about being known for the company you keep.

I think one of my Karate instructors put it best. I'm paraphrasing him, but Master Clarence Slay said, "We don't treat others with good manners because they are ladies and gentlemen. We treat them with good manners because we are ladies and gentlemen." All other things being equal who is going to get the referral? The gentleman who remembers to thank his host or the other guy, picking his teeth with the fork?

Photo credit: Flickr user abbynormy

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good Old What's-His-Name

If only remembering their name was this easy.
I saw a Facebook update from Shawne Duperon where she talked about what to do if you have forgotten someone's name in a networking situation. The first thing, of course, is not to be too embarrassed. Unless this is the third time that you've had to ask the same person for their name, forgetting a name or two is rarely seen as an unforgivable breach of etiquette.

I remember seeing Bob Burg do his amazing memory trick. This is where he asks everyone in the audience whom he has met for the first time that day to stand and he proceeds to name every single one of them. OK, even he admits that he usually misses one and at the event I watched he missed four -- still a remarkable feat, if you ask me. The point is, that he has trained himself and practiced to be really good at remembering names and even he misses one now and again.

So, what can you do if the person walking up to you knows your name and, while maybe they look familiar, you are drawing a complete blank on what their name is and maybe even how you know them? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Check out their nametag. OK, this might seem a bit obvious, but sometimes the name isn't enough and you need their company name in order to get the association.
  2. Ask them where you last saw each other. You can tell them that you're trying to remember the event. Sometimes that's all you need to trigger the memory. Of course, the danger is if you just saw them, say, yesterday, they'll probably guess that you haven't a clue who they are.
  3. Introduce them to someone you know. If someone you know approaches, take a moment to introduce that friend to your unknown conversation partner. Something as simple as "I want to introduce you to my good friend, Bob." is all that's really necessary. The unknown person will usually say, "Hi, Bob. My name is Clarisse." Now, it is slightly rude to exclude Clarisse's name, but you'll have to decide if that embarrassment is worse than admitting not knowing her name in the first place.
  4. Ask someone else. If you notice someone whom you recognize, but can't remember their name, find someone who will know. Often the event organizer will know the names of most of the people attending, so you might approach one and ask. Alternatively, if you see the person talking to someone you know, you can always ask them. Of course, this method doesn't work when they are standing directly in front of you with their hand out in greeting.
  5. Admit it. This was Shawne's solution and I think it's a good one. Almost everyone is going to understand that if they only met you for five minutes over a week ago, it may be that their name didn't make it into long-term storage. One way to mitigate the situation is when they remind you, if you do remember any details of the conversation, bring it up immediately. "Oh, Bob! That's right. We had that great conversation about sailing. How is that new boat doing, by the way?" This tells them that, while you might have momentarily lost their name, you didn't forget them.
When you are in the moment, forgetting someone's name can feel like the most dire insult you could bring to a new relationship. Be honest with yourself, though. Has anyone ever forgotten your name? Did you assume that they were an awful person who didn't deserve the time of day? Probably not. In fact, I would almost wager that you probably supplied your name and didn't give it another thought. Give them credit for being at least as understanding as you are. Move past the moment and start making friends.

Photo credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Monday, September 27, 2010

Leaving a Message

Just a quick one today.

You know how sometimes when you are making your networking calls, you occasionally might end up talking to a machine?

OK, first. Leave a message. They know you called. Almost everyone has some sort of caller ID which will show that you did call. If you don't leave a message, they won't know if it's an emergency or not. I mean they'll probably know it's not an emergency, but just do them a favor and tell them so.

Second. Leave your number. Twice. Leave it once at the beginning of the message and then once more at the end. At the very least, leave it at the beginning. That way, when they try to write it down, they don't have to wait through the entire message a second time to make sure that they got it right.

Just a couple of ideas that will hopefully make the calling process a little more productive. I'm not saying that leaving your number twice is going to make the difference in whether you get that referral or not, but it might make the difference in whether they call you back at all.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user kgreggain

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Double up on One-to-Ones

Yesterday we talked about some ways to be more efficient with our networking time. One of the methods I listed was doubling up on your one-to-ones. This would be the practice of setting up a coffee or lunch with more than one person. Now, you don't want a whole horde at the table, but one additional person can be very workable.

Of course, you'll also want a reason to bring these two other people together. You can't just pick two people at random from your network and expect it to be a productive gathering. So, what are some of the reasons you might set a one-to-one-to-one?

Referral. If one of your networking contacts has a need that another one can fulfill, then it might be good to get them together. Of course, you don't want to turn it into a sales meeting. That would be uncomfortable for all. Instead, you might ask the knowledgeable contact to advise the other person on how to select a professional to meet their need.

Secondary knowledge. This is similar to the "Referral" reason in that you are hoping that one of the contacts can help the other. In this case, though, the need might be in an area which isn't directly related to their business. For example one of the guests might be a world traveler and might be willing to give some advice to the other guest who is planning his honeymoon in Europe.

Common target market. If the two guests have businesses which serve the same clientèle, but they don't compete, then they should definitely get to know each other. Each can be a good source of referrals to the other. A great example of this would be almost any two people who serve the wedding industry. Introduce the photographer to the florist and they can help build each others business.

Introduction. This one is a little different. In this case, you are asking one of your connections to introduce you to one of their connections. In this case, you are definitely going to be in your connection's "Trust" circle. This will definitely be them lending you their reputation. You have to be careful that the reason you are doing this isn't purely a sales call, but that the meeting would result in some benefit beyond you. For example, perhaps you would like a particular member of the community to serve on the Board of a charity that you support.

I'm sure there are other good reasons for bringing three people together over lunch or coffee. The best of them, of course, are where all three gain some benefit from the new association. So, start looking through your address book. Find those connections that you can initiate. Not only will you extend their networks, but you will also strengthen the ties you already have with them.

Sounds like a win all around.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lightening the Networking Time Load

One of the challenges of networking is that it can be very time consuming. Attending events, making calls, chatting over coffee -- they can all add up to a lot of time if you aren't careful. The problem is, making friends does take time. Trying to shortcut it in business has about the same chance of success as trying to shortcut it in your personal life. Sooner or later you will ask more of the relationship than it can support.

So, given that it does take time, what are some techniques that you can use to make your available networking time more efficient? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Double up on your one-to-ones. No one ever said that you have to spend your coffee time with only one other person. In fact, adding another to the mix can make the process even more enjoyable. Pick the others with an eye toward making a good introduction between the two. When you try to set up something like this, you should have a good reason for bringing them together.
  2. Tighten up your downtime. One of the big time-wasters that I've had is just the amount of time between my networking. Usually this is the result of having to drive from one location to another and means adding a half hour of relatively non-productive time to any hour spent with a connection. You can reduce this to some extent by trying to schedule your meetings in the same location.
  3. Set up specific networking days. Anytime you are leaving the office for networking, you are taking a time hit with travel to and from the meeting or meetings. In addition, you take an additional hit just with the process of switching between the work on your desk and the act of connecting with others. To minimize this, designate specific days of the week as your "outside networking" days. The other days will still have some networking components, but will also be primarily focused on getting your other work done, too.
  4. Work from a list. Before you start making your calls and sending your emails for the day, take a few minutes to make up a list of the people you intend to contact. Similar to setting a goal before you walk into a networking event, working from a call list will let you know when you are done.
Take a few moments to look at how you spend your time networking. Try to find ways that you can either remove wasted time -- travel, for example -- or use it for something more productive such as making a call or two to other members of your network.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Venue Review: Whole Foods Market

OK, I'll admit that this one took me by surprise. Leave it to my good friend Megan Torrance of TorranceLearning to teach me something new. We met this morning for coffee at the grocery store -- Whole Foods Market. OK, it's a high-end grocery store, but it's still a grocery store.

So, what did I think? Here's the review:

Name: Whole Foods Market
Type: Grocery Store/Coffee Shop
Pros: Remarkably quiet. Wide variety of foods from which to choose. Lots of parking. Free wi-fi. You can do your shopping after your one-to-one -- convenient!
Cons: During lunch, after work, and on weekends the noise levels are likely to be appreciably higher. Waiting behind people who are buying a shopping cart full of food in order to pay for your coffee would be a pain.

When Megan suggested it, I thought, "Networking at a grocery store? Really?" Let me tell you, though, this is a great place to meet someone. We met at 8:30 in the morning, but even by the time I left at 10:30 (I did a little grocery shopping after Megan left), the tables were still only sparsely populated.

I'm not a coffee or tea drinker, but it appeared that they had a fairly wide selection at the coffee bar. Of course, you could also get lunch at the deli case or at their pizza counter. I think the only downside of the whole thing would be having to wait in line behind the grocery shoppers to pay for your coffee. My experience in the past, though, is that Whole Foods does a pretty good job of maintaining enough open cashier lines to prevent there from being too much of a wait.

Now, of course, I was in the store during non-shopping hours. I'm guessing things pick up around lunchtime and after work. Still, I can't imagine the lunch crowds being any worse than any other restaurant in the area. While we were there it was pretty quiet with the exception of the occasional announcement going over the PA system.

So, for me anyway, the upshot is that Whole Foods Market is a great place to meet for coffee or lunch. I guess the ironic thing about it is that in ages past, the market was the center of the social community. It's where people would go to meet and get the latest gossip. Looks like Whole Foods decided to take a step back to yesteryear so we can make the connections to secure our futures.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Livescribe Echo Smart Pen: Networking Tool?

When I am at a one-to-one meeting with a networking contact, I often take notes. My memory isn't bad, necessarily, but when someone starts rattling off a list of people in their target market, I usually can only remember one or two. The problem is that in the heat of the conversation, taking notes still only allows me to grab two or three points, usually requiring that I ask for repetition. Wouldn't it be cool if you could replay that part of the conversation later rather than interrupt them now?

The Livescribe Echo smart pen does exactly that. Using special paper and a built-in audio recorder, the pen allows you to take notes which can then be transferred to your computer and records the speaker at the same time. The neat thing is that you can later just tap your pen on a section of the notes and it will start playing the audio that it was recording when you were writing those notes.

This feature is particularly useful in lecture-style presentations or in client meetings when you want to capture everything that's going on without interrupting to retrieve something that you might have missed. The microphone and speaker on the pen are just good enough to record and play back the other person speaking. It does pick up all of the ambient noise in the area, though, too. You can even usually hear the sounds of the pen writing. I don't view this as a problem as, really, the recording is just for information purposes, not for creating a perfect audio copy suitable for burning to CD.

While the technology is fairly sophisticated, the real challenge to using the Echo is more of a social one. Especially in a one-to-one setting, you really have to ask the other person's permission to use the pen's audio recording function. Most people won't say no, but it may make a lot of them uncomfortable -- at least until they forget that it's recording.

The other minor problem is that sometimes the ambient noise can get to be a real problem. The recording option becomes largely useless in a loud restaurant at lunchtime. Fortunately, even if you aren't using the recording feature, the pen will still record your handwritten notes which you can then upload to the computer.

My final assessment? The pen is really cool. The social issue is the challenge, but as technology like this continues to expand into the marketplace, people will become more and more comfortable having their words recorded for posterity.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What if They Don't Want to Play?

You go to a networking event and meet some really cool people. You get their cards and when you get home you enter them into your contact system. The next day, you give them a call to set up a coffee or lunch. Your goal is only to get to know them a little better.

They blow you off.

Maybe their receptionist takes the message and they don't get back to you. Maybe they promise to get back to you, but never call. Maybe they just tell you that they're busy and to call them back another time. For whatever reason, the connection is weak and there's a good chance of it disappearing entirely. What should you do?

With the exception of some very rare situations, just let it go. I know it might be hard, but let's look at the possibilities.
  1. You left a message and they didn't receive it. Either they didn't check their email, or their receptionist's message slip got lost in the pile on their desk, or their answering machine burst into flames. Something got in the way of them knowing that you had contacted them. You can try calling them again in a week or so, but by that point, you are almost moving into "cold call territory". They may vaguely remember meeting you, but unless you have something specifically that they can latch on to, you might as well have picked their name out of the phone book.
  2. You left a message and they did receive it. For whatever reason -- they didn't have time, or they didn't like you, or they just don't remember you -- they didn't get back to you. You have to ask yourself at that point, if they aren't good at returning messages to you, will they treat the referrals you give them the same way? Also, if you try to contact them again, you may come off as pushy or desperate or both. Never a good way to start a relationship.
  3. You get through to them and they can't spare a moment for pleasantries, but tell you to call back next week. It's likely that they don't remember you and think you are a cold caller. This is probably them trying to blow you off, politely. Of course you can call them back next week again, but the familiarity level won't be any better for a week of waiting. Also, if they are blowing you off, they aren't in a mental place right now to be a good networker.
It's hard sometimes to let go of the potential that every new acquaintance represents. Still, the best thing you can do is try to make the connection and then let them do what they will. Remember, for every potential connection that falls through this week, there are four more at the next networking event who will love to be a part of a network as powerful as yours.

And who knows? One of those four might be one of your past "failures" who's now in a better place to network.

Photo credit: Radu Andrei Dan

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What is Their Expertise?

Is this your insurance agent?
When I met with Lois Weinblatt, Lead Concierge of Zingerman's Professional Presents department, we got to talking about cheese. Now, I am not a foodie. I enjoy good tasting food, but for me to pick out a one-year versus a four-year aged cheddar would be a bit beyond my abilities. Nonetheless, while I sampled one of these one-year aged cheddars, she was telling me about their local "cheesemonger" who would go all over the world looking for the best cheeses for Zingerman's. He had the experience to know not only which cheeses were best, but also when was the best time to get them.

Wouldn't he be a fun person to travel with?

This got me thinking about the last part of INFER, the "Resources". This has always been a funny one because it sort of encompasses a lot of concepts. Most people focus primarily on the material end of things. Does their networking contact have a cabin on the lake or a yacht that they might be willing to lend? If someone needed a barn in order to put on a show, would your network be able to provide it? What if someone just needed a training facility to put on a monthly class? Does anyone have such a beast?

There's another side to the "Resources" -- the skills.

Maybe your networking contact is a programs computers for a living, but he is also a gourmet chef. Perhaps that marketing director also performs in the community theater. Have you talked with your accountant lately? It turns out that he is an expert on traveling in Europe. Many of these skills might be associated with their personal interests, but it might also include incidental items such as knowing how to make the very best macaroni and cheese.

The expertise aspect of Resources is usually going to be more on the personal side. Ironically, it's also much more likely that they are going to be willing to share these skills than they are the ones that are of a more material bent. Think about it. Your financial planner drives a nice sports car and is also a great golfer. Is he more likely to be willing to lend you his car or meet you at the local driving range to give you some pointers on your swing?

There's also the added benefit that by asking them to share their skills, you are acknowledging them as an expert. Very few people would be unhappy to appear in that spotlight.

When you are meeting with someone in a one-to-one, of course, be ready to ask about their interests. Go a little further, though, to find out some of their special skills, beyond the office. No matter what they reveal, from amateur carpenter to part-time event planner, you're almost certain to find someone else in your network who needs access to that expertise.

Be the person who makes that connection.

Photo credit: Ricardo Vasquez

Here's where it becomes more personal and, at the same time, easier to call on.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Professional Presents, Personal Touch

Just one of the possible gifts from
Zingerman's
I had a wonderful opportunity the other day to sit down with Lois Weinblatt, the Lead Concierge of the Professional Presents department at Zingerman's mail order here in Ann Arbor. Lois and I met at a networking event where I had actually won a gift basket that she had put up as a door prize. We had gotten to talking about professional gifting and she offered to give me a free consultation to show me some of Zingerman's reasonably priced gift options.

First of all, let me tell you that Lois is an amazing networker. She was genuinely interested in me and asked a lot of questions -- and, no, they weren't of the "probing for need" variety. She just likes to find out about people and what they do.

Second, one of Lois' skills is she really knows how to make you feel completely unique and special. In fact, after our meeting I had to ask if my experience was typical or if I had received special treatment as a prizewinner. She assured me that, while she does cater to the specific needs and desires of each client, the level of service that I experienced was what she strives to give every person with whom she works.

Finally, the gifts. I had specifically told her that I was interested in some of the lower cost offerings. For those who aren't familiar, Zingerman's is known for their high quality foods and that quality does cost money. My concern was that their gift offerings would be outside the price range which most small business people can afford to spend.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Lois brought in a couple of their "off the shelf" gift baskets, running between $35 and $40. She also made up one custom arrangement in the same range. We discussed the options and she often had stories behind the individual items -- ask her for the story of the crates in which they ship the coffee cake. Then, of course, she also let me taste anything that I thought was interesting.

Let me warn you. Don't do this.

If you fail to heed my warning, then don't come crying to me when you can't eat the food out of the supermarket any longer. I wash my hands of the whole situation.

In the interests of complete disclosure, anything we opened for me to try, I took home the leftovers. Apparently they aren't allowed to sell half a cookie at the counter. Who knew?

Some of the things I tried:

Moon Pies: These are not like the marshmallow filled "confections" you can find on the grocery shelf. They actually remind me more of those "Ding Dongs" snack cakes. The only difference here is that these were "Ding Dongs" that angels would make -- by hand. Chocolate cake and buttercream frosting dipped in chocolate. OK, yum.

Palmiers: Not being a true foodie, it's kind of hard for me to describe these, but they kind of reminded me of a cross between a croissant and shortbread. Buttery, flaky, melt-in-the-mouth sugary. I liked them, but Lisa loves them, especially with tea.

One-year Aged Cheddar: OK, the above warning goes double here. If you are happy eating your store-brand block of cheese, do not taste this. I am not a cheesemonger, but it seemed like every bite of this stuff had a slightly different sensation. At first it was buttery and smooth, then I caught the sharpness you'd expect from cheddar. In fact, I think I'm going to have to go try it again. Excuse me, won't you?

What I'm trying to convey here is that even if the recipient isn't a food connoisseur, they will still love getting a gift from Zingerman's. Lois is experienced in selecting gifts for just about anyone from complete neophyte to gourmand and can even adapt the offering depending on whether it is going to a large group at the office or a single person in their home.

One, caveat: As of this writing, the winter holidays are fast approaching. If you would like to have a consultation with Lois, contact her for an appointment now. Not surprisingly, November and December are her busiest times of the year, so if you are interested in her personal touch with professional gifting, get in while you can.

Everyone on your list will certainly appreciate it.

Photo credit: Stuart Spivack

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What's All the Excitement?

"We lost power." or "Ooo, pretty!" -- you decide.
If you listen to the radio or open the newspaper (or your favorite electronic equivalent), it seems like the world is full of bad news. Disasters, calumny, scandal, economic catastrophe, and crime seem to be all that we hear about. My Karate instructor, Grandmaster Hafner refers to this as the "24-hour news problem". There are so many news stations and outlets now that everyone is competing for our attention by trying to deliver the scariest sounding news as often as possible.

How about we, as good networkers, don't contribute to the negative noise?

I'm not saying to go all Pollyanna or anything, but when someone asks you what's been going on in your life, hit a few of the high points first before you start in on your challenges. What are you excited about in the future? What are you proud about? C'mon, you've got to have one or two things that are going right in your life.

Starting out conversations in the positive tends to keep them in the positive -- in the realm of hope and possibilities. Shape the interaction with the questions you ask. "What sort of exciting things are going on right now?", "Do you have any fun plans for the upcoming year?", "What have been your proudest moments in the recent past?" Then when they turn around and ask you the same, be prepared to tell them something great!

Maybe I'm being naive, but I think if we had enough of these conversations, people would begin focusing on their abundance rather than what's going wrong in their lives. Then, who knows? Maybe by focusing on the positive, we'll start seeing the opportunities available all around us.

I know it would be a shame to deny the news agencies their daily quota of doom and gloom, but I'm willing to take the chance. Are you?

Photo credit: Thomas Bush

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Finding the Shortcuts

Did someone push the "up" button for the elevator?
OK, I know you might be getting tired of these posts, but I was boring someone to tears with my stories of Dragon*Con the other day and another networking concept popped into my head. Bear with me. I'm sure that I will work this out of my system in another week or so.

This time I was thinking about the stairs.

No, really. See, the thing about getting around at Dragon*Con is that there are usually around twenty to thirty thousand other people trying to get to the same places as you. The stairs, elevators, and escalators tend to become a little bit of a bottleneck. In fact, the hotels stage security at all of these locations to make sure no one blocks access.

Now, those of us who've been here a few times know that there are back staircases and hallways that get you where you want to go without having to fight the crowd too much. It saves a lot of time and frustration in the long run. Those who are new to the event just don't have these resources at their disposal and have to do things the hard way.

We can experience a similar concept in networking. When we first start out, we have to start getting to know people. In order to evolve the relationship to the "Trust" level, we need to spend a lot of time with a person. We'll probably have numerous lunches, coffees, emails, and phone calls before we reach the goal of a strong networking relationship.

Now let's see what happens when we are a bit more experienced. We'll already have developed numerous strong relationships, many of whom will be well-connected. Suddenly they can become our shortcuts when it comes to developing new relationships. People whom we meet for the first time may already have heard of us. Moreover, our existing connections will be willing to introduce and vouch for us to their contacts -- an immediate jump on the process of developing the relationship.

What this means is if you are just starting out on the path to great networking, understand that these first connections are going to take a lot of work. Persevere. The effort you put forth right now will be the staircases and secret passages tomorrow which will get you to your networking goals before anyone else even gets to take the first step.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Art of Gifting

One of the assumptions that beginning networkers have is that giving gifts to people in their network automatically builds a stronger relationship.

Maybe.

True, if done correctly, giving presents can be a valuable part of good networking practice. Done poorly, however, the best you can hope for is that it won't have any effect at all. Let's take a look at some of the do's and don'ts of the art of gifting.

Don't go generic. Sending a generic corporate gift has about the same power as sending an email or making a call to someone. It's not special and doesn't tell them that you were thinking of them. In fact, if it's anything with your logo on it, it only tells them that you are thinking about you.

Do know the recipient. For the highest impact send a gift that they actually might want. This means that you need to get to know them, to know about their interests, their families, and their goals in their lives -- essentially to know who they are as people. This gift tells them that you are really paying attention.

Don't give them something that they don't want. This is a corollary to knowing the recipient. Don't give wine to someone who is a recovering alcoholic. Don't give candy to the guy with diabetes. Skip the flowers with the person who has severe allergies.

Do give at a level appropriate to the relationship. If you just met someone, even just the gift of buying lunch might make them uncomfortable. Always take into account how far the relationship has progressed. You never want your gift to place a burden of obligation on the other person.

Don't gift out of a sense of obligation. Obligation won't result in a gift that is truly from the heart. Gift only when you feel a sense of true appreciation for the other person and for everything they've done for you.

Do surprise them with your timing. Almost everyone who does gift, tends to give around the winter holiday season. The downside of this is that, first, some who are not of the Christian faith will be offended. Second, your gift will be lumped on a table with a bunch of other corporate gifts. It will be terribly difficult to be remarkable. Sending someone an Autumnal Equinox gift, however, will definitely make you stand out.

Keeping these rules in mind, gift giving can become a powerful part of your networking skill set. Using gifts to show your appreciation, when done with the recipient fully in mind, can cement and reinforce an existing connection and let the other person know that you are not only aware that they have helped but that it has also had a significant impact on your life.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user canna_w

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fixing What Went Wrong

Dragon*Con line. It's hard to see here, but the attendees
enter the hotel near the white van at the bottom of the
photo. At the top, just under the trees, you can see the
line extends out of sight.
OK, it's another story about my visit to Dragon*Con and the various networking concepts I uncovered there. For those who haven't been following along, Dragon*Con is a four day science fiction convention held each year in downtown Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. It is almost universally a heck of a lot of fun. In fact, there's only one significant dark spot in an otherwise fun-filled weekend.

The pre-registration line.

For those of us who signed up months in advance, there was a three to five hour wait to get our badges, depending on what time we got in line. According to the convention staff they tried some new things this year in hopes that they could alleviate these long waits, but some of the new measures just didn't work.

My buddy Tim and I were talking about this the other day. One of the problems the organizers have is that they have no real way to test their potential solutions until next year. That means that they only have one chance per year to improve and that's when everything is on the line.

So, how does this apply to networking?

We've talked about a lot of techniques you can use in your networking practice. One of the areas we've focused on, for example, is what techniques will help us succeed at a networking event. Of course, anyone who tries the new techniques will feel a little awkward at first and may not be entirely successful. Success and skill comes with practice.

Now imagine that you only attend a networking event once a quarter or even only once a year. Now you are trying out these new networking concepts when you also have a lot of pressure on you to deliver.

Do you think you'll see a lot of success?

Part of becoming a networking professional is just lots and lots of practice. The more events you attend, the more one-to-ones you arrange, the more phone calls you make the better you will get and the more natural it will feel. So, to become a better networker, err on the side of too much networking rather than too little. It give you the chance to practice the skills without the added pressure of having to make your attendance pay off.

After all, nothing can drive away potential networking connections faster than the scent of desperation.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Remember, It's About Them

Not long ago when I was speaking at a Chamber event, one of the audience members asked me about the best way to communicate. She was interested in particular in the difference between electronic and handwritten media. I told her then -- and I still believe -- that a handwritten note is more meaningful than an email. There's just something special about putting pen to paper that I think conveys a deeper emotional connection than any electronic medium.

Well, I was wrong.

Well, actually, I wasn't so much wrong as I was answering the wrong question. For me, a handwritten note is most meaningful. That may not be true for everyone. As with most things in networking, it's not what we prefer that's most important. It's the preferences of those with whom we are trying to connect that we need to consider.

Do they prefer electronic or handwritten messages? Would they rather have a phone call? Which number should you use, cell, work, or even home number? If you do call, what time of day is best? How often do they like to have contact? When you get together in person, would they like to meet for breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, or a leisurely drink after work?

The more you can meet your contact's needs and preferences, the more they are going to see you as being respectful of them and their time, and the stronger a connection you'll be able to make. Since stronger connections are what make the most profitable networks, in as much as possible, make the extra effort to focus on them first.

Photo credit: Stephanie Hofschlaeger

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Schmoozer vs The Networker

Someone recently asked me what the difference was between schmoozing and networking. Could you do one and not the other? Was one better than the other? It was a great question, so I thought I would address it here.

Looking at the actual definitions of each, schmoozing is a Yiddish word meaning the act of light, friendly conversation -- basically chit-chat or small talk. Following this original definition, a schmoozer is the person at the party who can talk with anyone. People are comfortable in his presence and feel like they can open up. The schmoozer never feels out of place in a roomful of people because he can chat with anyone.

Now on the other side of this discussion, we've talked about the many definitions of networking, but the one I like the best is "the process of developing long-term mutually beneficial relationships". That makes the networker into someone who follows up after the event, someone who connects. Everyone knows her as someone who knows everyone. The networker never feels out of place in a roomful of people because she probably already knows almost everyone there.


Unfortunately, both roles have gotten a bad rap over time. The problem is those who use these tools as a means to manipulate others. Their goal isn't to create and develop great relationships, but rather to take advantage of other people for their own benefit while doing nothing in return. Instead of fun conversationalists, they are slick talkers. Instead of connectors, they are users.


So, neither role is really better than the other as each fulfills an aspect of good networking practice. Without the art of schmoozing, a networker will have a hard time starting relationships at all. Without the long-term promise of developing great relationships, schmoozing is nothing but empty chatter. In the end, both concepts make the networking road easier and more profitable to travel.

Photo credit: Danielle Scott

Monday, September 13, 2010

First Things First

Lisa and I were having a discussion today about how we were going to approach clearing out our basement. We're contemplating having some work done down there and we need to move out everything we can. The thing is, as with most homes, taking stuff out of one location means making room for it in another. It can almost lead to an infinite regression of "OK, we put that in this room, then we have to move this other object somewhere else." How do you ever decide where to start?

There's a similar dilemma when it comes to developing a good networking practice. What should you focus on next? Do you work on your thirty-second commercial? What about your business cards? Which events should you attend? Which groups should you join? What sorts of systems should you set up to get the best of your networking efforts? Let's face it you could spend so much time preparing (and preparing to prepare) that you might never actually get around to networking.

If you are the kind of person that likes to get off to a quick start. You might consider choosing your next networking task based on your current skills. Here are a few ideas.

  • You've never networked before. Jump in and get your feet wet. Find a local Chamber or other general networking group and start attending events. It won't be as focused as it could be, but you need to start practicing the skills. You can fine-tune later.
  • You spend a lot of time networking, but you aren't getting the results you want. A lot of times this is because you aren't focused on a particular target market. Take some time to get specific about who you are trying to reach. Then start talking to members of that group and find out how and where to meet more of them.
  • You are networking, but the results you are getting are uneven. Set up and maintain a networking scorecard. Remember with the scorecard, the number of points you receive in a given week are neither good nor bad. It just gives you a feel for "how much" networking you are doing compared to other weeks which then helps you decide whether you are doing enough.
  • You are attending events, but aren't doing a lot of one-to-one meetings. One-to-ones are the activities which really strengthen the relationships. That's what will take you to the level of trust where you will start to receive the referrals you were hoping to get. In order to get there, you need to be the one who is making the relationship work. I recommend that you set up a system for following up after events and a tickler file for continued relationship development.
  • You've tried all of these things before and they never stuck. This is always a challenge. We have so many other things to do in our lives that it's easy to have these day-to-day activities slip by the wayside. If this is a challenge for you, then I recommend finding an accountability partner. Now, this can be either a formal coaching relationship or an informal one with someone from your network. Either way, you are looking for someone to help keep you honest in your networking pursuits.
Just like our efforts on our basement, if you try to focus on every area of your networking practice at once, you are putting way too much pressure on yourself. If you can pick a single prioritized area, however, you are far more likely to meet with long-term success and have to deal with a lot less frustration to boot. So, pick the area that seems to be the highest priority for you and just get busy. Your success is waiting.

Photo credit: Flickr user Redvers

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Party Guest List

My good friend Angela Kujava of Logic Solutions sent me a note not long ago about an experience she had regarding her company's recent anniversary event. They had invited a number of their customers and encouraged them to bring along anyone they wanted as guests. The resulting guest list included the original customers, business partners, spouses, students, and probably even next door neighbors.

Now, of course, the hope of the organizers is to have their customers introduce them to potential new customers. Nothing wrong with that, and there may well have been some of that going on. More important were just the number of relationships which developed during the course of the event. This benefited Logic Solutions and its employees, but it was also a fantastic opportunity for the guests and those they invited. Each had not only had a chance to meet new people in a social setting, but also were able to strengthen the existing relationships over drinks and hors d'oeuvres.

Basically the company did the right thing by treating their customers, not as customers, but as people and friends. Good networking dictates that you first find a way to be of benefit to others without expectation of immediate return. That party they threw made those customers look good in the eyes of the friends and colleagues whom they invited. Believe me, making someone look good is definitely a benefit that others will appreciate.

So, will those intangible benefits pay off in the end? Angela related that she was approached by one of Logic Solutions' clients toward the end of the evening. He had obviously enjoyed to party and just had to let her know that "You are so smart. No other company is doing this, and this type of event is exactly what works."

Do you think that's a loyal customer?

Photo credit: Michaela Maslarska

Saturday, September 11, 2010

So, Why Should I Go?

Probably not a good group for supervillains
(for those who are unaware, these are all superheroes)
By the way, did I mention that I went to Dragon*Con over the Labor Day weekend? I just wanted to make sure that no one missed out on that subtle detail. I know I may only have mentioned it once in passing so some folks might not know about my trip down to Atlanta to commune with 40,000 of my fellow geeks.

In all seriousness, in addition to just having a lot of fun, I did discover a number of networking concepts operating in the wild, so to speak. For example, one evening, my buddy Tim and I were hanging out at the hospitality suite just doing some people watching. With the number of people wearing costumes, we could almost have spent the whole weekend just doing that.

Tim mentioned that he had talked about the convention with a friend of his and the friend just didn't understand what the attraction could be. Tim had tried to explain, but for some reason it just didn't strike a chord with this guy. It just didn't match up with a compelling reason in his life.

The same thing happens in more traditional networking venues. I might be a member of a group in long-standing. For whatever reason, this group just works for me. It works so well, that I might recommend it to other people in my network. This is where I really need to be careful. I need to know both the group and my networking contact well enough to know that they will be a good match.

If my friend's business focuses on international trade, no matter how much I love it, the local Chamber of Commerce probably isn't the best match no matter how much I recommend it. Similarly if my friend is a restaurant owner, they probably won't be interested in the local tech users group. Of course, maybe I know them so well, that I know that one of their driving passions outside of their business is learning about all kinds of technology. In that case, maybe they're a good fit after all.

The point here is, before you recommend that someone join a group or even invite them to attend a meeting, make sure that you've done your homework to verify that they are a good fit. It will show that you really do know and care about their success if you don't waste their time with a venue that just really isn't appropriate for them.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Dangers of Culture

One of these things is not like the other...
Dragon*Con was a great experience as a vacation, but also as an example of how the concepts of good networking can play out in the real world (or at least as real as an event which involves people dressing up in costume can be). One aspect of networking which I got to observe in particular was the world of subcultures and how members of one perceive the members of another.

Dragon*Con has a variety of "tracks". They represent various subcultures within the overarching culture of science fiction fans. There were tracks for fans of Star Wars, Star Trek, and StarGate. There were those which supported the fans of science, space, and skeptics. They had tracks focused on costuming, writing, and even film-making (plus around a dozen others).

The danger with these subgroups is that, unintentionally or not, they can be unwelcoming to outsiders. If you don't know the in-jokes or the cultural rules, then you can find it difficult at best to attend the events associated with that subgroup. Worse, sometimes these groups can foster a culture of superiority over the others. As a result, some tracks are viewed with a certain level of disdain -- creating a much higher perceived barrier to entry for any potential newcomers.

This behavior isn't limited to the world of spaceships and laser blasters. It crops up in the world of networking, too. I've seen members of one networking group view other groups as being "second-rate imitators" without having actually attended a single meeting. I've seen otherwise good networkers hold low opinions of whole industries and thereby miss out on some of the strongest connections they might be able to make.

Of course, the solution just comes down to keeping an open mind. View each person you meet as a person, separate from their subculture. If they invite you to an event in their group, accept with an attitude of curiosity and a willingness to learn. After all, if this other person has dedicated themselves to that group, then maybe, just maybe, there's something there for you.

Even if the group doesn't turn out to be a culture that fits in with your style or needs, you will at the very least be better informed and better able to recommend the group to someone else for whom it might be a better fit. You'll also be able to warn them of any potential landmines presented by the group culture.

Like discussing who was a better starship captain: Kirk or Picard.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Feeling Comfortable with Your Alter Ego

This guy not only stole my look, but his networking
skills needed a lot of work, too.
While my friend Tim and I were down in Atlanta for Dragon*Con, Tim happened to strike up a conversation with one of the locals. This gentleman told my buddy that he actually looked forward to this annual congregation of geeks -- all 40,000 of us. He said that it did make things busy, but that we all seemed to be just there to have a good time. He particularly enjoyed the attendees who actually dressed up in costumes. He said that for many of them, it seemed like it wasn't just a costume, but rather an alter ego that they assumed for the duration of the convention. More importantly, it was an alter ego that they felt comfortable with.

What a great concept for networking!

Many of us show up for networking events feeling ill at ease and out of sorts, but what if we dressed up in our "Super Networker costume" and assumed that alter ego? Why, suddenly we would look around for the new people with the goal of making them more comfortable. We would leap small talk with a single bound and use our X-ray vision to find those connections which would benefit both parties in the long run.

What about after the event? Why, Super Networker would never let those cards languish on her desk. With her cape billowing in the wind, she would reach out to build those networking connections, making them stronger than steel.

And when it came time to sit down across from that potential connection, would the Super Networker spend that time trying to sell his widgets? Never! He would call forth the power of questions and take a true interest in how he could help that other person, even if it meant sending them to his competition.

So, the next time you are approaching your networking practice, shed your everyday persona and don your Super Networker cape and tights. Let the superhero that you carry in your heart define your approach to the needs of others. Let him leap the tall buildings and bring back the connections that will lead to your long-term success.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Networking: Sometimes You Have to Give It a Rest

I don't think they want to network.
I just got back from my annual pilgrimage to Atlanta for the Dragon*Con Science Fiction Convention. Just me and around 40,000 of my best geek friends having a lot of fun and meeting the folks who bring us all of the wonderful stories that we enjoy so much.

As an aside, the next several posts will be touching on some of the networking concepts I ran into while on my little break. Bear with me and I'll try not to bore you with the nerdy details.

At any rate, on the flight down to Atlanta, I was seated next to a gentleman who was in all ways a respectful and polite fellow traveler. He just preferred not to talk. Oh, I said "hello" and made a very short attempt to start a conversation, but, while he was in no way rude, he clearly didn't want to chat.

And, you know what? I was fine with that.

I've heard a number of "networkers" saying that they love networking on the airplane because they have a captive audience who has nothing better to do than to chat.

Says who?

As with all things having to do with good networking, the best results are when we keep the other person's feelings in mind. It's up to us to be aware of when we should take off our "networking hat" and just enjoy a companionable silence. Here are a few things to watch for that might tell you that they might not appreciate your efforts.

  1. They have some other means of passing the time. This is especially important on the aforementioned airplane trip. If they pull out a book, or some paperwork, chances are that's what they want to be doing at that moment.
  2. They are asleep or are trying to sleep. OK, this should go without saying, but pretend that the person you are focusing on is a two-year-old. Waking them up or preventing them from sleeping when they need it will lead to no good.
  3. They are otherwise distracted. Chatting with someone who is trying to get their work done, or is anxious about some upcoming event, or who is trying to deal with an overactive two-year-old probably won't garner the results you would like. Wait for them to complete whatever it is before you try to make the connection.
  4. They are talking with someone else (sometimes). This is one where you need to be aware of body language. If heads are leaning toward each other or the body positions are "closed" (either squared up with each other or facing away from the rest of the room), then you will be intruding, not interacting. If the grouping is shoulder-to-shoulder and facing outward, then that's an "open" position and it wouldn't be remiss to join in the conversation.
  5. You are talking with someone else (sometimes). Be with the one you're with. If you are having a conversation with someone, then don't be looking around the room for someone else to speak with. If, however, someone does approach your grouping, feel free to include them in the conversational circle.
Notice, none of these reasons include anything about whether you feel like it. If you are supposed to be networking, then you find some way to network. If you have the option, then say "Hello", ask a polite question or two. If the other person isn't receptive, just smile and move away. There will be plenty of time later. In the meantime, catch up on your reading.

Photo credit: Flickr user Efil's Good

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Did You Ask?

Yesterday we talked about some of the options you have when you want to help a networking partner, but can't for whatever reason refer actual business to them. Among that list we had ideas such as volunteering your time or inviting them to an event. What happens, though, if none of those ideas seem like they'll work. Then what?

Well, one option would be to locate Kreskin the Magnificent, Mentalist to the Royalty of Europe, enter into an apprenticeship with him for a number of decades so you, too, can have the psychic powers necessary to discern your connections' needs from a mere handshake.

Or you could just ask them.

You could ask them where they hope to be in the future. Maybe one of their goals is something with which you have experience or know someone who does.

You could ask them what challenges they have right now, business or personal. Do you know someone who can help out with whatever they're facing?

You could just ask them how you can help them.

However you ask, remember that your goal is to find a way to help them, not find a way for them to help you. Your goal is not to ask "probing" questions to discover their needs so you can sell to them. You are simply asking them how you can help, whether it be through your business or through connecting them to one of your contacts. Be sincere in your desire to help and they will be looking for ways to help you.

They might even ask you a question or two.

Photo credit: jaci Lopes dos Santos

Monday, September 6, 2010

What Can You Do?

I've chatted with a lot of people about good networking practice and one of the questions that pops up quite frequently is: "I would really like to help other people, but I don't know anyone who needs what they are selling." While, it's true, referrals are a great way to help your networking partners, it certainly isn't the only way. Let's take a look at a few other options.
  • Nominate them for an award. If you discover an award for which they would be suited or if they mention one to which they aspire, do a little research. What are the nomination requirements? How does the application process work? They don't have to win the award in order to feel appreciative toward you for helping them achieve this recognition.
  • Volunteer your time. Do they have a project they are working on which could use your expertise? Offer to help. Oh, and what you offer doesn't necessarily have to be related to your business. Heck, maybe they just need someone to help them move or perhaps they are going on vacation and could use a friend to take care of the house while they are gone.
  • Give them advice. If they mention that they are having trouble with their computer and you just happen to be an IT wizard, you can give them a pointer or two on how to get their systems marching in line. Of course, you'll need to decide at what point your friendly advice becomes something for which you should be charging, but at least for relatively small things, the goodwill you purchase with your advice will make it all worthwhile in the long run.
  • Invite them. If you are attending an event which might suit them, extend the invitation to attend as your guest. I wanted to emphasize that last part there. If you invite, it is your responsibility to take care of any cost for entry. You might check with the show-runners. Many groups give free passes to invited guests. You'll also look good to the event organizers since guests often become new members.
  • Get them a speaking opportunity. Many people prospect for new business through presentations. They are always looking for the chance to speak to an existing organization. Are you a member of an organization who makes use of outside speakers? If it's appropriate, make the connection between your networking partner and the event organizer. They're both likely to thank you.
  • Connect them with some other media opportunity. Radio, TV, newspapers, etc -- depending on your networking partner's desires, they are all great options for prospecting. If you know someone in one or more of these industries, you might find out from them for whom they are searching right now. If you know someone who fits, be sure to make the connection.
I'm sure there are hundreds more options for helping out your networking contacts. Take some time to think through as many different opportunities as possible. The more you have in your repertoire, the more likely it is that when the question of helping them comes up, you'll be ready and willing.

Of course, I'm sure they won't mind if you happen to connect them with a little bit of business, too.

Photo credit: Tomasz Szkopiñski

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Venue Review: Panera Bread

I've decided to start a new series for this blog which takes a look at different venues for networking and talks about some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. My goal is to help people make good choices on where they can meet for one-to-one chats. Sometimes the location can make a big difference in the relative success or failure with one-to-ones.

For today's review, we'll look at the perennial favorite spot for networking -- Panera Bread.

Name: Panera Bread
Type: Restaurant
Pros: Free wi-fi, located all over the country, comfortable seats, decent food.
Cons: Can be quite crowded during peak times (immediately before and after work and during lunch), can also be loud enough that conversation becomes difficult.

Panera Bread restaurants are just about everywhere. In the Ann Arbor area, there are four within easy driving distance and several more within twenty minutes. If you don't have specific needs for a networking meet-up, then Panera works very well. It has counter service for pastries, bagels, coffee, and soup and sandwich style lunches. It has a few breakfast offerings, too. It even has a few drink options for those of us who are not coffee or tea drinkers (I love the low-fat Mango smoothie).

If you are planning on meeting someone at Panera, I recommend setting a time during their non-peak hours. If at all possible, try to snag a booth, too. During their peak times (lunch and immediately before and after normal work hours), the place can be quite busy, to the point of there not being any tables available. It can also be fairly loud, making it a bit difficult to hear your conversation partner.

Panera, in general, is as good a place to meet someone as any. It's not terribly exciting, but it does the job. Try to avoid the peak hours and you shouldn't have any complaints.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hitting the Wall

It's hard to network though a wall
Every once in a while you run into someone who just doesn't seem to want to play. You've got your networking hat on and are ready to start forming a strong friendship, but all they do is throw up a wall.

A little while back, I had an opportunity to chat with a gentleman whom three different people had told me I should meet. I was told he was easy-going and a real networker. I was really looking forward to that meeting.

And I'm still looking back and scratching my head, trying to figure out what went wrong.

At his request, I met him at his office (about twenty-five minutes from my place of work). I had invited him to coffee and I assumed that we would go to his local beanery from there. When I arrived, though, he shook hands with me and gestured for us to adjourn to the conference room.

The conversation that followed involved me asking questions and him giving minimal responses. I asked about his personal history, what aspects of his job were the most exciting, and where he was going to have some challenges in the coming year. Nothing. The entire time, his body language was completely defensive (arms crossed and seated way back in his chair). I will admit that when I walked out of the meeting after only half an hour, I couldn't understand why he had agreed to meet with me at all.

Maybe he was just having a bad day.

I guess I don't have any helpful hints on how to deal with this one. Every once in a while you'll have a one-to-one which just fails to gel. For some reason you and the person across the table just don't have the right chemistry together and the best you can do is thank them and move on. It's not that either of you is a bad networker. It's just that your networking styles may be at cross purposes.

My advice? Let it go. Move on and know that the techniques you've developed will work in general. They just won't work with everyone all the time.

Photo credit: ScooterZen

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Eternally Overdue Late Bird

"Here I am! Did I miss anything?"
This is the another in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: The Eternally Overdue Late Bird

Environment: Running to their next appointment

Behavior: The Overdue Late Bird is a close relative of the proverbial Early Bird. The main difference is that while the Early Bird always gets the worm, the Late Bird almost never does, and often doesn't even know that the worm exists. The Late Bird is always running late for every appointment, meeting, or event. He doesn't mean to be late, but, somehow it always seems to work out that he is strolling in five to ten minutes after everything is supposed to start.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Early is on time. The competent networker knows that the best time to arrive for any networking activity is early. Those who arrive early get extra time to make connections. They get to meet the best networkers in the group (who are also there early). They get a jump on accomplishing their networking goals and they get to own the room. They also establish themselves as someone who can be trusted to do what they say they will do.

Those who are chronically late show a disregard for other people's time. They come across as disorganized and ultimately untrustworthy. They are far less likely to get referrals (because who wants to lend their reputation to a disrespectful, disorganized person?) In short, their tardiness severely limits the strength and reach of their network.

Counter-Measures: One of the biggest challenges of dealing with the Late Bird is during a one-to-one meeting. At events, you have plenty of people to connect with, but with a one-to-one, well, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango and with a Late Bird, you'll often be left without a dance partner. If you think you might be dealing with a member of this species, be sure to be prepared. Always make sure you have something productive to do in the time while you wait for them. With today's smart phones, of course, you can do a lot of your simple office tasks, such as email and scheduling, while you await your partner.

There may come a point, though, with the more egregious of these folks, that you just have to get up and walk out. You'll have to decide what your own policy is, of course. You'll also want to be aware that the person you're meeting may normally be quite punctual but may just have had a bad day. Be sure that you have given them your contact information, just in case.

How We Can Help: Unfortunately, the very nature of the Late Bird's behavior makes it difficult to help them. Short of actually driving them to their appointment, there's not a lot you can do to get them there on time. In some cases your only option is a bit of tough love. Set a policy and let them know what it is. "OK, Barbara, we're scheduled for 1pm on Thursday. I'm really looking forward to seeing you. Just so you know, I've got several other things to get done that day, so if I don't see you by 1:15, I'm going to have to go ahead and run those errands. If that happens, I'll call you later to reschedule."

If they just can't amend their behavior, you are going to have to decide if you can continue working with them on a professional basis. If you refer them to someone, are you going to be comfortable with them showing up late all the time?

It's only your reputation, after all.

Photo credit: Ahmed Rabea

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Business Card Shuffle

So, you've gone to an event. You've met and chatted with some remarkable people. You asked for and received their business cards.

Now what?

Well, I know for me, for many years, those cards would eventually end up in a messy pile on my desk that kept getting deeper and deeper. Eventually the clutter would drive me nuts and I would have to clean off my desk. To my horror (OK, maybe that's a little dramatic) I would find that I couldn't even remember ninety percent of the people represented by those slips of paper. I would reluctantly throw them in the trash and save the remaining ten percent to start the new pile.

The problem was that I didn't have a good system for processing them -- one that helped me achieve the results I wanted from my networking efforts. Over time, I finally came up with something that worked for me. It's a fairly simple system, otherwise I would never use it and we would go back to the "messy pile" plan.

First, I took a small box. I had one that I had received with a very small order of my business cards. I used some old business cards to create three divisions. As soon as I return from a networking event I empty all business cards into the first slot -- my "to contact" file. Then, each day, when I sit down to make my three to five calls or emails I would grab a card or two from that slot.

If I wasn't able to reach them, but did leave a message (or just sent an email), they would go into the next slot, the "awaiting response" area. Sometimes folks get back to me and sometimes they don't. If they don't, I have to decide whether they go back to the first slot or if they go into the trash. Sometimes that depends on the impression I received when I first spoke with them, other times it's how many I already have in that first slot, and sometimes it might have to do with whether I'm in a grouchy mood.

Hey, I'm not a saint.

Finally, the third slot is for anyone with whom I was able to reach and schedule a one-to-one. This is the "add to long-term" slot. Now, they can still find their way into the trash from here, but it's pretty rare. Standing me up for our meeting or trying to use that meeting to sell to me might send them right to the circular file, but that's a pretty rare occurrence.

Once a week or so, I take the information from the cards in the final slot and add it to my tickler file. This ensures that I will be doing my part to maintain the relationship over the long term.

That's about it. It's not rocket surgery and you may already have a system that works better for you. For those of us who are still flapping our wings down here with the rest of the flock though, you might want to give this process a try. It may help you renew and extend the connections in your network. Something that can only bring your more success in the long run.

Photo credit: bargainmoose

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Efficiency

One of the challenges of networking is just the amount of time it takes. Also, since you can't hire someone to build your network for you, it's your time that it takes. So it behooves us to be as efficient as possible in our networking efforts. Let's take a look at a couple of behaviors that will help us get the most out of saying "Hello".

Follow up. If you took the time to attend the event, take a little more time to follow up with the people you met. If you don't, if you just drop their card on your desk and never contact them again, then you have just successfully wasted whatever time you spent at the event.

Set a goal. On those occasions when you do go to an event, have a plan walking in. This goes double for events which have no other purpose but networking. Finish your goal and then you have the choice of leaving. Without a goal we tend to just hang around without actually achieving anything -- more wasted time.

Schedule. If possible, I recommend that you pick one or two days a week for your one-to-one networking and stick to it. You still have other things to accomplish and interrupting them in the middle of the day for a coffee forces you to spend a lot of time switching between tasks.

Schedule, part 2. On those days when you are meeting people for coffees and such, try to select a single location and stay there for the entire time. This way you avoid the time traveling between locations (usually at least thirty minutes per meeting). You can probably increase the number of people you can meet by fifty percent by scheduling them back-to-back.

Double up. If you know a couple of people in your network would benefit from getting to know each other, schedule a coffee forth all three of you. You not only get to speak with two people during the time when you would only have spoken to one, but you get credit with both of them for having expanded their network.

Pick a target market. Focusing your attention on a very specific category of prospects will help to narrow your networking and will make it easier for people to help you. You'll also be able to reduce the number of groups you participate in. At the same time you will be able to deepen that participation which makes it much more likely that you will benefit from the group.

I'm sure there are many more areas where just following good networking practice will help you become more efficient with reaching your networking goals. So go out and make those connections and develop the relationships. Just make use of the systems you learn and develop so you can enjoy more in the long run.

Photo credit: Pedro Simao