Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gifts and the Scorecard

We're moving into the gift-giving season for many of us. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not and whether it's fair or not, this is the time of year that a lot of folks send out their corporate gifts. Here's the thing, though: If you are sending out the generic corporate gifts to everyone on your list, then it doesn't count for much more than an email or a phone call on your networking scorecard.

( For those who still don't keep a networking scorecard, I hope you still understand the dilemma)

The thing is, if a gift is largely interchangeable, then it doesn't do much to strengthen the connection between you and that other person. The gift doesn't say "I was thinking of you in particular and I sent you this gift because I knew that it would have a special meaning to you." Rather, a generic gift says "Happy non-denominational end-of-year holiday to you, whoever you are". Let's face it, you could do that just as easily with an email.

For a gift to count as more than just a light touch -- for it to deepen and strengthen the relationship, it must be personal. It has to tell them that you are thinking of them and that you wouldn't give this to anyone else but them It says you went to the trouble to pick it out based on who they are (which you know because you asked questions and paid attention to what they said).

Now, don't get me wrong, gift-giving is a wonderful practice. I encourage it, especially when I'm the recipient. Just be aware that, while it's the thought that counts, the substance makes it count for more.

Photo credit: Ian Barnard

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thinking About Yourself

This post is not about focusing on your needs to the exclusion of and/or cost to others. No matter how you cut it, that is just bad networking. In this case, I am referring to the idea of using yourself as a yardstick to measure your networking behavior.

Let me explain.

In networking as with most things, your optimal path is to follow the Platinum Rule -- treat others as they would wish to be treated. That's all well and good. Unfortunately, it really only works with people you know (and usually know well). What about the folks you've just met? Obviously a five-minute conversation isn't enough to say you really know someone well enough to know how they want to be treated.

That's when you have to fall back on assuming they're like someone whom you do know well:  Yourself.

So, if you are thinking of changing the way you approach people at a networking event, first ask yourself how you would feel if someone else approached you that way. If you are considering handing out two business cards and telling the other person that you'd like their help growing your business, think about your own reaction if someone else made the same "great" offer to you.

Ironically, you can even use the same technique to encourage yourself to adopt more productive behaviors.. A lot of people have a problem asking even their strongest connections for a referral. If you share that discomfort, simply put the shoe on the other foot. If that friend approached you asking for a referral, would you go out of your way to help him out? If so, then it's a good chance that you have nothing to fear.

We're really talking about the Golden Rule here. We're doing unto others as we would have done unto us. While Gold might not be quite as effective as Platinum (ask my wife about that sometime), it will certainly do in a pinch.

Photo credit: Brian Giesen

Friday, October 29, 2010

Inevitable Delays and Stale Business Cards

This morning we launched the newest version of BiblioBouts in the classroom. BiblioBouts is a web-based game which attempts to teach students good research skills. It's a project I've been on for a couple of years now as a part of my old business.

Now, I don't know if you've been part of a project launch, but the amount of work left to do seems to increase as the number of days decreases. As a result, I've basically been living in my office in front of the computer for about the last four weeks. I haven't had much sleep and my networking time has slowed to a crawl. Oh, I still do it every day, but I couldn't keep up with the new business cards that I had received. Now that I've freed up my time, guess how I'm going to reconnect with those folks whom I really meant to call when I asked for their business card?

In truth, I probably won't.

Oh, I'll look through them and depending on how old the card is, how much time I spent with the person, and how much time I've known them already, I may still try to contact them. I'm afraid though that most of those cards have gone stale.

You see, the business cards you ask for are like loaves of fresh bread, they have a "sell by" date. My completely unscientific rule of thumb is that for every two minutes you spend with someone at a networking event, you've got at most a day to contact them before they don't remember you well enough to think of you as anything other than a cold call -- not that there is anything necessarily wrong with cold calls, it's just difficult to start a networking relationship that way.

Think about the last event you attended. That person you spoke with in passing as you were hanging your jackets, are they going to remember you much beyond tomorrow? How about that guy you waited next to in the buffet line? If it was a long line, you might have two or three days before you become a faded memory. Do you remember the person who sat right next to you at lunch? You had a lengthy conversation about her passion for fly fishing. You've probably made a pretty good initial impression, but if it takes more than two weeks to follow up, you might as well forget it.

They aren't bad people for forgetting us. After all, there were probably people at that same event who didn't get stuck in your long-term mental storage. We aren't bad people for not calling them. After all, they didn't call us either. What it comes down to is being aware of the limitations of that brief first meeting. Trying to connect with them after the card has gone stale is a lot like making a sandwich with that loaf of challa that's been out on the counter a day or two too long.

It'll be dry and tough and, in the end, it probably won't be worth the time to make it

Photo credit: Jana Kollarova

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When?

Practice, practice, practice
The techniques we talk about here only work if you take responsibility and use them -- and use them frequently. Most of them are pretty simple, but not always easy to force ourselves to do.

So, when is the next time you can practice your networking style?

Will it be in two weeks when you attend the Chamber lunch?

How about next week when you meet Bob Smith for coffee?

What about on Friday at your daughter's Karate class, sitting with the other parents?

Could you practice anything today when you take a few minutes to make some calls?

Or in the next few minutes when you and your family sit down for lunch?

Really, any time you are dealing with another person you can practice your networking techniques. After all, most of networking is just focusing on the other person.

Is there any time when that wouldn't be a good thing to practice?

Photo credit: Kym McLeod

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pay Attention!

Luke: Pay attention to me!
As I wrote, a few weeks ago we had to say goodbye to our cat Ray. It was sad for us, but it's been even harder on his brother Luke. They weren't completely inseparable, but they were very close and Luke is feeling the absence. This has made him a little needy. It doesn't help that we are also having some work done on the house, so thing are just not right in his domain.

And he certainly lets us know it.

If he starts feeling neglected he'll meow for attention. If that doesn't work, he'll start putting his front paws on my lap. Eventually, he jumps up on us so we can pay proper attention to him and his needs. If we continue to neglect him after that, well, let's just say that things go downhill rapidly after that and no one ends up happy.

Too bad our networking connections don't behave the same way (at least up to but not including the destruction of furniture).

If you neglect your connections, unlike Luke, they are not going to go to increasing lengths to get your attention. In fact, most folks aren't going to make much of an effort to maintain a relationship anyway. If you ignore it, so will they. Without really trying (which is the point here) your network will evaporate from neglect. And guess whose fault that is?

OK, technically it's both of you, but since they aren't going to do anything about it, the responsibility is all on you. This is why a tool like a tickler file comes in handy. It helps you give your network the attention it needs to thrive and develop.

Fortunately for us, networks require considerably less attention than my cat. Most of your connections won't need to have their ears scratched on an hourly basis. In fact, once you've put in the groundwork, a light touch once a month or so will probably be sufficient to maintain most relationships.

It's a good thing, too. You have no idea how much a case of catnip mice costs!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

[Updated] Event Review: Early Edition (formerly Morning Edition)

[Update: The name, location and pricing has been updated]

I got some good response from my reviews of potential networking venues, despite the fact that the locations are fairly local to Ann Arbor. So in a similar vein, I am going to do the occasional review of repeated networking events. I will focus on those events which happen at least monthly throughout most of the year. Since this is the first one of these I've done, please do let me know if I'm leaving out any vital information.

For my first review, let's take a look at one of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber's premier monthly events, Early Edition.

Name: Early Edition (formerly Morning Edition)
Organization: Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber (aka A2Y Chamber)
Location: Kensington Court, 610 Hilton Blvd. Ann Arbor, MI. 48108
Date: Usually the third Wednesday of the month, skipping July, August, and December
Time: 7am-8:45am
Format: Open networking, meal, speakers
Size: 125-200
Attendees: Usually business owners or company officers -- the "suit set".
Cost: $25 for Chamber members, $45 for prospective Chamber members

Happening once a month, Early Edition is probably one of the best of the A2Y Chamber events to attend to meet the movers and shakers in this area. The folks who show up tend to be the show-runners for their businesses and are attending to find out more about what's happening in and around the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area. The speakers (usually four or five) can range from the CEO's of large corporations, to politicians and candidates, to some guy who thinks he knows something about networking. Usually what they have to say is fascinating or important or both.

If you do attend, I recommend that you get there just five or ten minutes early. The networking is mixer style with no formal introductions (i.e. if you want to get anything out of it, you can't be hiding in the corner). Open networking runs until around 7:30 when the breakfast buffet opens. Technically it continues past that point, but at that time of the morning a lot of people are hungry so they start getting their food and finding their way to the tables. I recommend that you continue the "standing and talking" part of the networking until around 7:45. Then get your breakfast and head for your seat. While you eat, be sure to continue your networking with your tablemates.

At around 8 or so, the more formal part of the event begins. The host, Russ Collins, the Executive Director and CEO of the Michigan Theater, is a lot of fun and keeps things rolling right along. His introductions are often amusing and/or thought-provoking and are designed to relax potentially nervous speakers who are occasionally more comfortable behind a desk rather than behind a podium.

They've been doing this for a while, so the show tends to start and stop on time. People do tend to hang out for a few minutes of networking after the event, but most head out pretty quickly in order to make it into the office by 9, so be sure that you've met your networking goals before the presentations start.

If there is a downside to Early Edition, it would be contained in the name. If you aren't an early morning person, getting yourself out of bed and over to Weber's Inn so you can do some networking can be a little bit of a challenge. Fortunately, the hotel staff keep the coffee well stocked, so if you can keep your hands from shaking long enough to pour it, you shouldn't be in too much trouble.

Now, here's a secret for those of you who've read this far: If you've never attended any A2Y Chamber event, you can get a guest pass for one gathering. Just contact Cheryl O'Brien at the Chamber offices and she can set you up. Just tell her that I sent you.

Hope to see you at the next one (provided I can get myself out of bed in time)!

Photo credit: Lindsay McCarthy

Monday, October 25, 2010

Friends and Family

My family: Who are these people?
We focus so much on using our networking skills to make our business lives more successful. We choose our groups and events to put us in a position to connect with our clients or (even better) those who would put us in touch with our clients. We make our calls and emails to extend those relationships. We hope when someone calls us that they might have a good referral to bump up our bottom line.

Hey, using your network for business is just fine. In fact it's one of the most powerful ways to grow your business. Remember, though, that your company or your job is only a portion of your life. Hopefully you have something more to look forward to each morning than just how many contracts you'll sign.

It's called a personal life.

Believe it or not, the same skills that develop your business connections will stand you in good stead with those who are closest to you in your life. Let's look at some applications.

Would it boost your personal relationships if you made contact a little more often? Why not add them to your tickler file? If you use that tool regularly, you'll never have to feel guilty again that you've allowed six months to go past without calling to say hello.

Now ask yourself about some of those people close to you. Do you know what your brother does when he isn't managing the auto parts store? Do you know what groups your dad belongs to? Do you know what life goals your adult children hold close to their hearts? Whether you use INFER, FORM, GAINS, or some other acronym to remind you to ask, finding out more about your loved ones can only bring you closer.

Plus it might help you find that "perfect" gift when it comes to birthdays, Christmas, or whatever other gift-giving holidays you might celebrate.

Now that you've found out the information, wouldn't it make sense to record it somewhere? Make a special category in your Outlook/Gmail/other CRM system for your friends and family. Track what they tell you so the next time you call you can ask them for more details about something you've already discussed or even find something new to talk about.

Remember that networking builds relationships of all kinds. Some will be for business, some for personal reasons. Some of the very best may even straddle the line. In the end, they all contribute to the richness which is our life.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

See You Tomorrow?

"I'm at the park. Where are you?"
I had a big client meeting this morning. This was a site visit with the funding agencies for a project I am working on through my old business. I was to be there at 10am to help with any technical issues that might/always do crop up when you demo a system for a funding agency.

So, I arrived at the building this morning right around ten, only to discover that the building was locked with only card key access for the outer doors. I'm nothing if not persistent, so I eventually found a path through the cafeteria to the elevators -- which were also locked out with a card key reader. Not to be put off, I headed for the stairs.

And the floor I needed to reach was also locked.

Of course, by this time I was beginning to get a bit frantic. Fortunately, a very kind gentleman who had a card-key helped me get to the third floor -- where I discovered that the meeting had been moved at the last minute with no information as to where.

So, what does that have to do with networking?

It's all about communication. Oh, and I'm as much a sinner in this area as anyone. It's on my list of habits to acquire, though. Some of the information I want to make sure I convey to those I am planning on meeting:

  1. The fact that we are meeting. I'm going to drop them an email or give them a call to verify time, date, and location -- the business day prior to the event.
  2. What I look like. I don't know if you've ever had this situation: You show up at the coffee shop to meet a new person referred to you by one of your connections. At that moment you realize you have no clue what they look like. I try to give people a brief description of myself or point them to a picture of me online.
  3. How to contact me. People occasionally have last-minute emergencies. How painful it is for everyone involved if they have no way to contact me.
  4. Request their contact info. I need this just in case it's I who have the difficulties. I probably should get this from them when we set up the appointment in the first place.
  5. Homework. If we are meeting for a purpose which requires preparation from either or both of us, I had better make sure that we both remember.
Now, of course, not all of this stuff is necessary. If the person I'm meeting is a long-time friend, then I probably don't have to let them know what I look like. In all cases, though, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to verify that we are actually having the visit. Taking that little extra time will take a lot of pressure off everyone's minds.

Oh, to finish the story, yes, I did finally get to the meeting. When I couldn't get through to anyone via cell phone or text messaging, I finally emailed all of the participants in the site visit, assuming one or two would have gotten bored and started checking their messages.

They rescued me five minutes later.

Photo credit: Tomasz Piskorski

Saturday, October 23, 2010

But What Have You Done Lately?

I bet he's got a story or two
I know I've said over and over that you should always be focusing on the other person. You should ask them questions and be interested in their responses. You should look for ways to support them in both their personal and professional life. At the same time, when it comes down to it you owe them one more thing.

You should be a good date.

OK, I don't mean that you bring flowers and pay for dinner. What I mean is that you have to be ready to provide some interest for them, too. Imagine this scenario: You've just asked them about their interests. They've told you about their recent white-water rafting trip in Idaho, about how great it was to eat out under the stars and the excitement of shooting the rapids with a bunch of their friends. Then, as often happens, they turn the question around to you. What sort of exciting stuff have you been doing lately?

If your answer is a breathless description of how you finally finished watching all seven seasons of "West Wing" (with the commentaries) on DVD. Wow, I can imagine how breathlessly they'll be listening to your every word.

Or maybe not.

Now, I'm not saying you have to go out paragliding or bungee jumping or anything that has "extreme" in its name. I'm just saying that you need to have parts of your life about which you feel truly passionate. Exploring those aspects are what will create the stories that won't bore your coffee partner to tears.

So go out and ride bikes with your kids. Take a vacation with your spouse. Heck, read a truly great book. Anything that broadens your horizons will make you a better and more interesting networker.

It just might make your life a little more fun, too.

Photo credit: Lars Sundstrom

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Dangers of the Sales Mind

Watch out for this common trap
So, you're at a networking event and find yourself chatting with two people. One of them is a perfect client for you. Oh, they don't realize it yet, but with a little careful questioning, they'll discover that they need about a hundred of your widgets. Wouldn't that be a great contract? What about the other person? Well, he seems nice and all, but really doesn't have any use for widgets.

So, who should you focus your attention on?

Oh, did I mention that the second gentleman is married to a corporate buyer who is looking for a supplier who can provide one thousand widgets per month for the next five to ten years? Does that change your answer?

One of the most common traps in networking is to get caught with our sales hat on at a networking event. Maybe we haven't made our quota this month. Maybe we haven't made it for the last three. Whatever the reason, we walk through the door on the hunt for clients and prospects, forgetting that we should be looking for ambassadors and friends.

I know I've done it on more than one occasion.

So, how do we avoid that trap? How can we network and not sell? For me, the best technique is to take just a few seconds before I walk in the door to remind myself of what my goals are. Usually I just want to meet two or three people with whom I feel a connection and get their cards so I can contact them later. Taking that extra moment helps me to recenter my focus on the reason for showing up at a networking event: Meeting new people.

Remember: If you focus on building good relationships, finding prospects will take care of itself.

Photo credit: Kriss Szkurlatowski

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Future Focus

It had to grow this big.
 It didn't start out this way.
Today I was working with my friend and business advisor, Jim Woods of LST Advisors, LLC. I really enjoy my sessions with him. For a couple of hours, I get to set aside the day-to-day requirements of working in my business in order to spend some time working on my business. Jim has a remarkable skill to help his clients focus on the big picture for a while -- to try to understand why it is that we do what we do so that we can make sure we design our business to support those high level goals.

Well, today we were talking about my BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal). As he puts it, this is the concept which will inspire me when the hours get long and the demands grow seemingly without bounds. It's that shining future that I want to bring into being through the process of growing my business. Needless to say, figuring this out is going to take a lot more than fifteen minutes of brainstorming.

Still, in our work today, I did come up with a few ideas that showed me some glimmers of the future I want to realize. One of them was simply to change the way people think about networking. Right now, many folks think of networking as just a fancy way of saying "sales". They attend events solely for the purpose of schmoozing for clients. These are the folks who give networking (and sales, for that matter) a bad name.

My goal would be for people to want to network because they want to build powerful, interconnected relationships with a wide variety of people. People would create a network the same way they would seek an education -- with the idea of creating success for themselves (both in their personal and business lives) and in the communities to which they belong. For them, their network would help them create a profitable business almost as a side benefit.

So, how will I know when I get there?

I'll know when a prospect for my coaching business approaches me and says "I want to grow my network" and stops there instead of adding "so I can grow my business". I'll know when the phrase "He succeeded because of who he knew" is a compliment instead of a criticism. I'll know when I address an audience and tell them that "networking is important to achieve success beyond just your business" and they look back at me, stifling a yawn, and say "but, of course!"

This could take a while. I'd better get busy.

Photo credit: Bert van 't Hul

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Be Curious, Be Observant

Bill's choice of "flair" was bound to prompt some questions.
For some folks, starting a conversation with a stranger can be almost as painful as hitting their thumb with a hammer -- though perhaps with a bit less cursing. How do you break the ice and go from two people just standing next to each other to being two people starting a long-term profitable relationship? My personal choice is the old stand-by, "Hello", followed up with "What brings you here?" For those who aren't up on that advanced technique, you can always look for things that will help you get started.

Watch for common points of interest, especially those about which you can ask questions. Here are a few ideas:

Flair. We've talked before about wearing our own flair -- something distinctive and sure to prompt a question or two while still being appropriate for the venue. Now we just need to be observant enough to see the flair that other people are bringing to the party and be curious enough to ask about it. Someone wearing a Mickey Mouse lapel pin is hoping that you will ask him about being a fan of Disney.

Reading material. This is especially true for one-to-one meetings. If they have a book with them, be sure to ask them about it. What they are reading and how they react to it can tell you a lot about them. It can also lead into a great conversation about their other interests.

Location. Whether it's part of a networking event or some other social situation. Asking someone what made them decide to attend today can lead to discussions about topics of interest or goals for themselves and their businesses. "Oh, you're here having coffee while your son is taking his Karate class downstairs? What do you think of them? I've been thinking of signing up my daughter."

Apparel. I guess this might kind of fall under the "flair" category. This is a bit less personal. Telling someone that you really love their jacket and asking where they purchased it might be the beginning of a conversation about the relative benefits of the various shops in the area.

Electronics. For many people, other than the people in their lives, there is almost nothing more personal than their choice of electronics -- cell phones especially. If you happen to have the same brand as they, congratulations! You now share in the Secret Fraternal Order of Droid. If you are considering purchasing their brand, ask them about their experience. You've just made them the expert.

Not everyone is going to be comfortable talking about all of these areas. The important thing is to be aware of the people around you and watch for those little things that will make it easy to break the ice. It does require that you focus on them more than on yourself.

But that's what truly great networkers do all the time.

Photo credit: William J Sisti

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Venue Review: Marnee Thai

I met a new friend, Ted Belding of Belding Consulting, Inc, for a one-to-one lunch today. We met at one of my favorite downtown restaurants, Marnee Thai. Ted is pretty much a certified genius. I mean, he and I both cut our teeth in the Computer Science Department at University of Michigan. I'm no slouch at this stuff, but the things he told me that he works on for a living sound like something out of a futuristic science fiction novel. As near as I understand it, he uses genetic algorithms and techniques derived from the swarming behaviors of ants and bees in order to optimize processes in all kinds of industries.

Like I said, he's a certified genius.

Anyway, we had a great chat over lunch talking about his work, starting a business, and the challenges of explaining what he does to a non-technical audience. Lunch was tasty, too. But, did Marnee Thai add to the success of the lunch or could I have found a better place to spend our time? Read on.

Name: Marnee Thai
Type:  Restaurant
Pros: Tasty food, pleasant decor, relatively quiet, even during height of lunch hour. They even have free wi-fi.
Cons: No free parking. Service is relaxed.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Marnee Thai had recently had some renovation done. About half of the tables with hard wooden chairs had been replaced by booths with cushioned seats. This had the double benefit of being a lot more comfortable to sit in for long periods of time and the soft surfaces cut down on the noise levels even during the busiest part of the lunch hour. I'm getting to "that age" and I'm starting to find it a bit difficult to hear my table companions when the ambient noise gets too loud.

The food is always tasty, but be warned: Unlike places like McDonalds which does everything the same way every time, Marnee Thai has different chefs on any given day which means that the food, while always yummy may taste a little different every time. If you prefer your food predictable, consider yourself forewarned. The manager, Kurt Burke, is always friendly and willing to help out however he can. His staff never tries to rush you. Some might confuse this with being slow, but the food is always at the table quickly and the waters are always full. They just don't try to clear you out at the end of the meal. Much appreciated.

About the only real complaints people might have about the establishment are the same ones shared by almost any downtown Ann Arbor location -- the lack of free parking. There is a pay lot right across the street, but for some people, this would be a deal-breaker. Theirs is the loss.

With the exception of those two minor issues (which aren't even a consideration in my book), I'd say Marnee Thai is almost the perfect place to do your lunchtime networking. Between the delicious food, pleasant atmosphere, and friendly staff, you could certainly do a lot worse if you found yourself in downtown Ann Arbor looking for a spicy networking lunch.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Networking Event Toolkit

A few days ago I wrote about having rituals which would support your networking practice. One of the things we mentioned was setting out the material you might need for a networking event the night before -- your networking event toolkit, so to speak. So, what sorts of things should (or could) be included in that pile?

  1. Business cards. We've mentioned that business cards are important before -- and not for the reason that most people think -- so, you wouldn't think you would need this reminder. I will admit, though, that on more than one occasion I've showed up without mine. Don't tell anyone.
  2. Business card holder. I like making us of a card holder just because it makes it easier to separate my cards from those that I receive. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, you could even use a large paper clip or a rubber band in a pinch.
  3. Extra business cards. Because I only hand out cards when someone asks for one, I rarely run out of business cards. When it does happen, though, I can always pull out the ones I keep stashed in my wallet for just such an occasion. This also helps when I am someplace where I didn't expect to need cards.
  4. Pen. If you find you are having a hard time remembering where you met people, jotting down a quick note on the back of their card can help. Of course, if you are going to do it in front of them, it's always polite to ask permission. I have yet to run into someone who minds, but it's always nice to show that little extra respect.
  5. Notebook. You never know when you are going to want to take more notes than will fit on the back of their business card. Also, networking events often include a presentation which may have an idea or two that you want to record.
  6. Calendar. If you can plan your next meeting with someone before you even leave their presence, that saves you one more step in the networking process. Many people carry their schedule with them these days, so it makes it pretty easy to set up that coffee or lunch without having to make that extra call when you get home from the office.
  7. Nametag. If you have a permanent nametag that you like to wear, be sure that you get it on the pile, too. Also, some groups actually require you to use a specific badge, especially if you are helping to host the event. Don't be that guy who forgot his.
  8. Mental materials. Be sure that you've prepped for the event. Look up the speaker. If you have to present something, even if it's only a ten-word introduction, you're better off preparing it before you actually get to the event. Oh, and don't forget to set those goals!
Creating an actual physical toolkit for attending networking events can make it a lot easier to feel comfortable when you eventually walk through the door. On top of that, you'll save time in the long run since you won't have to scramble around at the last minute trying to get everything together. Take a few minutes now to make sure you are more effective networker later.

Photo credit: Flickr user skistz

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Ever-Evolving Networker

Some habits you should break.
Others you want to establish.
We've covered more than a few techniques, systems, and behaviors over these many months. Some of these you are probably already doing and feel quite comfortable with. There are probably one or two that you aren't doing, though.

So when are you going to give them a try?

One of the traits of the great networkers I've spoken with is that they are always looking for new ways to make their networking practice more effective and efficient. They've long come to the realization that they only have 24 hours in the day. If they want to improve their results, then they need to improve their process, because they don't have time to work any harder.

Now, just as with any other area of our lives, change is a process. Supposedly it takes 21 days to establish a new habit, working every single day for just fifteen minutes. Of course, that means focusing on one habit that you want to achieve not five of them. So what habits might you want to start making a part of your practice? Here are some general areas:

Metrics and Records: Pick one new thing to measure or record on a daily basis. Are you going to maintain your scorecard? How about checking your results? Perhaps you would prefer to update your tickler file or set up your daily networking log page. Whatever it is, remember that what gets measured, gets improved.

Behavior: Maybe you are good about sending email, but you don't make that many phone calls. Maybe you'd like to send more hand-written notes. How about making a greater effort to find referrals for your network?

Technique: When was the last time that you asked someone about their interests as opposed to what they do for a living? Maybe you'd like to try describing your business in a new way. Could you come up with a more specific and clear way of telling someone about your target market? Could you practice it daily?

Information: Are you known as an expert in your business? Are you providing some of your information for free? How about a daily writing practice? Could you spend time on a daily basis preparing new presentations to give to interested groups? Here's an easy one: Look for an article each day to send out to some member of your network.

The cool thing about consistently practicing a behavior on a daily basis is that after about three or four weeks, it is easier to continue following the behavior than it is to stop doing so. I know what I'm talking about here. I have been writing every day in this blog since January. Now the thought of missing a day doesn't even enter my mind. Each night I sit down at around 11pm, open up my list of topics that I have with me at all times, and let the ideas flow into the computer and out onto the 'Net.

It's not always easy, and certainly not always good, but it's definitely worth every moment I spend.

Photo credit: Chris Chidsey

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It was Only a Joke

Humor has its place in networking. After all, no one wants to be around someone who always has a dour look on their face. That being said, though, we have to make sure that our attempts at humor don't violate what our networking partners would consider acceptable.

Some of this is pretty obvious. Obviously, racial, ethnic, crude, or off-color humor doesn't have a place in networking. Even if the person with whom you are speaking doesn't mind, there may well be someone else listening who does. Likewise, anything which includes profanity should probably be avoided for the same reason.

Those are the obvious ones. Be careful, too, of any humor which has a real person as the butt of the joke. The only time this can be safely ignored is in the use of self-deprecating humor. Even that should be used in moderation. A big gotcha here is the kind of talk that sometimes starts up in same-gender groups, called "Stupid Spouse Stories". You'll know these because they almost always start out with "You think that's bad? You should hear what my husband did!" While it may seem harmless at the time, it can come back to haunt you either when the story gets back to your spouse or when the person you are talking with starts to wonder what you might say about them behind their back if you talk about your wife this way.

Some people might argue that this is just how they are -- that this kind of humor is a part of them and why should they have to change? Well, I would never tell someone that they had to change a fundamental part of their identity. At the same time, that person needs to know that their behavior may drive away potentially valuable relationships. The choice is theirs. Clean up their act or maybe watch a million-dollar connection walk out the door.

Image credit: Florin Florea

Friday, October 15, 2010

Personal Networking: Bruce Webb

I had coffee with a new friend today. His name is Bruce Webb and he is a Real Estate Consultant at Coldwell Banker Preferred Realtors.

He's what you'd call a mega-networker.

He runs not one, but two different monthly networking events in the Plymouth/Livonia area of Michigan. He also maintains a huge list of small businesses which provide services in that area. That way when he helps people move into their dream home, he is ready to provide them with access to any service they might need in order to feel more at home. I've got to imagine that anyone who works with him will be ecstatic with the results -- at least if his skills as a real estate agent match up with his skills as a networker.

In the course of our talk he told me about one of the networking techniques he uses regularly. I thought it was a neat variation on some of the things we've talked about in the past. So, with his permission I am passing it along. It's called a "Buddy Lunch".

We've talked about doubling up on our one-to-one meetings -- where you invite two people to join you for coffee or lunch. Buddy lunches are similar. In this case, it starts with you and your "buddy" -- usually someone in your network who is either at or very close to the "trust level" with you. The two of you decide on a day to get together for lunch. Then you each find a guest to bring to the lunch whom you think the other would benefit from knowing.

Of course, you need to communicate to try to avoid bringing two guests from the same industry to the table. Other than that, though, the buddy lunch gives you an opportunity to further strengthen your ties to the two people you already know and get a chance to meet a new person who you are likely to want to meet. Also, with four people at the table, any given person will already know one other person there so they can avoid the discomfort of eating at a table of complete strangers. You're also a lot less likely to have an uncomfortable lull in the conversation.

Personally I can't wait to try out this technique. The chance to build new relationships and strengthen old ones make this a remarkably effective networking opportunity. I'll let you know how it goes for me.

Thanks, Bruce!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Being a Good Steward

I was down at Keith Hafner's Karate tonight. We were having our monthly meeting of the student assistant teachers. Grandmaster Hafner often touches on a variety of life lessons in these meetings. Tonight we were talking about money and how it can be a powerful force for either good or ill. One of the points he brought up was that if you are a good steward with your money, then you will get more. The opposite is also true.

This has application for almost every area in life. Networking is no exception. I've talked to a lot of people about networking and many of them would like to grow their network. My question would be, "How are you treating the one you have?"

You see, if you aren't making the effort to maintain and deepen the relationships in your network, they will begin to fade and evaporate. The only benefit you will get from trying to grow a network like this is that the new contacts will replace the old ones. That means that it will never actually increase in size and for the most part it won't have any relationships that go to the "trust level".

Fortunately, it is fairly simple to maintain these relationships. On average, it only takes an email or a phone call every couple of months and a face-to-face meeting once or twice a year. Set up a tickler file so you don't have to worry about forgetting anyone. Then set up a regular practice of staying in contact and you should be golden for a majority of your network. Of course, if you find opportunities for them or information of interest that you can pass along, that can only serve to strengthen your ties.

Remember that, despite the fact that it's made up of friends and acquaintances, your network is like any other resource or tool in your life. It must be maintained in order to remain useful. If you can put in the work now, you won't have to worry about it failing you when you do need it somewhere down the line.

Photo credit: David Davies

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Networking Rituals

Networking rituals don't have to be this complex.
According to the online Mirriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definitions of the word "ritual" is "an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner". Could employing some networking rituals make us more effective at developing good relationships?

Maybe.

People employ rituals in all aspects of their lives. Some have a practical intent: Pilots have a ritual preparation before each flight. The practical application is to make sure that the aircraft is safe and will successfully arrive at the chosen destination. Others are primarily to prepare a person psychologically for some upcoming event. Think of the athletes who turn their socks inside out before the big game. It probably doesn't change their physical ability to play, but it may play a big role in how they approach the game mentally.

The best networking rituals will do a little of both. For example, the night before an event you could select and lay out the clothes that you'll wear to the Chamber lunch. Mentally, it can help get you focusing on what you hope to achieve and how you will behave to accomplish those goals. It also has the practical application of letting you know if you need to do a quick load of laundry.

What materials will you need for an event? Your business cards? A name tag? Perhaps a pen and notebook. How about your calendar? It's hard to schedule a later telephone call or coffee if you don't have your calendar handy. When you have it all assembled, perhaps you could lay it out in a particular pattern or put it in your briefcase in a particular configuration. If you always use the same pattern, it will become much more apparent when you might be missing something.

Rituals don't have to be limited to preparing for a networking event. You could also use them when you return to your office. What if you had a set ritual to follow with the cards you received at the event. Wouldn't it be far less likely that you would forget to make the connection later? How about a ritual to prepare for your calls and emails for the day? You could review yesterday's efforts, total your networking scorecard, and consult your tickler file to select your contacts for the day. Until you actually complete that ritual, you aren't ready to start making any calls, emails, coffees, or events.

If you think about it, for networking, a ritual is just a system of doing things in a consistent and precise manner. The more you adhere to such systems, the easier is to improve them and thereby improve your results: -- creating a powerful and empowering network of contacts and friends who want to help you succeed in business and in your personal life.

Photo credit: Flickr user jimg944

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Addressing the Envelope

I mentioned not too long ago that I had visited with my new friend, Lois Weinblatt, Lead Concierge at the Zingerman's Professional Presents department. Lois is an amazingly accomplished networker -- able to make anyone she meets feel special and appreciated. She showed that when, not long after my visit with her, she sent me an invitation to the Zingerman's Mail Order open house.

Yes, of course I went. I'm not stupid.

What made the invitation special was how she addressed the envelope. She had written it out to "Greg Peters, Cheese Lover & Superhero-In-Residence". It was a little thing. She remembered that I enjoyed their one-year aged cheddar and that I had "Superhero-in-Residence" as my title on my business card. Still, such a little thing meant that she was sending the invitation to me, not just to one more person on her mailing list.

It's amazing how much those little things can help strengthen the relationship. To that end, we should be looking for opportunities to show our connections that we care through those small actions. A distinctive address is only one possibility. If someone is visiting you at your office, you might make a point of having their favorite coffee available. Maybe you could suggest you meet at their favorite restaurant for your next one-to-one. Remembering birthdays, anniversaries, names of spouses, children, and pets -- these are all great opportunities to show that you are aware of and interested in them as a person.

Keep your eyes open for the opportunities and let your creativity find the form. You'd be surprised how much something as simple as an address on an envelope can mean.

Sometimes the littlest things carry the greatest weight.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Other Nine Lepers

Lisa, Kaylie and I went to church at St Francis of Assisi this morning. The homily was about the passage in Luke regarding Jesus healing the ten lepers. According to the story, after he had healed them, Jesus sent the ten to the priests so that they could see what had happened. Only one of the lepers returned to show his gratitude. In the homily, our priest, Father Jim McDougall, told short vignettes about what might have happened to each of the other nine.

Each goes on his way and forgets about the miracle that happened to him. One goes on to live a successful, if ordinary, life. One seeks revenge on all of those who slighted him in his illness. One lives in fear of what is to come next. One decides to celebrate and parties until the wine is gone and he is left alone. Only the one who returns and shows his gratitude and leaves himself open to what his new life might be gets to carry the true joy of the miracle in his heart.

As I listened to the homily, I realized that the concepts here apply to good networking practice as well. Many of us receive the blessings of referrals. Someone is symbolically giving us a piece of their reputation and trying to make our lives better. Of course, we get the immediate benefit of the referral. We get the contract or the personal introduction or the information about a good babysitter. If we forget to show our gratitude, though, the referral becomes a forgotten moment in time, never to be experienced again.

Often the problem isn't that we don't want to show our gratitude. Instead, we allow the day-to-day issues of our lives distract us from that important act. Maybe the referral turns into business -- so much that we don't have time to think. Maybe we go off on vacation and by the time we get back we've forgotten that we were supposed to thank someone. Maybe we get sick or someone in our family is in need or maybe we just dropped the ball on this one. Whatever it is, we lose the chance to show that referral source just how important they are.

We need to go back to our source. We must clear out the clutter of the everyday and acknowledge what they've done for us. While no one is saying that you should become their disciple, keeping them in mind in the future to return the favor wouldn't be at all inappropriate. In fact, it would make the "miracle" of that first referral into a long line of similar events where both of you will benefit.

So, remember and recognize those who have helped you on the way. Maybe next time it will be your turn to perform a "miracle".

Photo credit: Flickr user edenpictures

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nothing to Show

You aren't getting any referrals.

Oh, you are doing a lot of networking. For some reason, though, all the work you are putting into strengthening your ties with your connections doesn't seem to be paying off. What's the point of all of this networking stuff anyway? Sometimes you think it would be better to take out an ad in the newspaper!

Maybe the problem isn't so much how much networking you are doing. Rather the problem may just be in one or two small areas of technique. Maybe you just need an engine tune-up. Let's look at some of the possibilities:

  1. Not long enough. Networking is a slow process. At first nothing seems to be happening. Eventually, though, as your name becomes more top of mind, the referrals (or whatever you want to achieve) will begin to grow until they almost seem to take on a life o their own.
  2. Not consistent. Showing up for several weeks or months in a row and then disappearing for that same amount of time before returning again makes it difficult to establish yourself as a serious networker in others minds. Showing up regularly means that you get to continue a relationship, instead of re-introducing it.
  3. No target market. If you don't have a specific focus for your efforts, your network will have a much harder time referring to you. "A couple in their thirties living within fifty miles who are expecting their second or third child" is far more memorable than "Anyone who needs a new house".
  4. Connecting in the wrong places. Once you've figured out that target market you've got to make sure that you are making connections in the right places. You should be looking for groups which have your target market as members or who have members which serve your target market (and don't compete with you).
  5. Not telling. Of course, you have to do this strategically, but if your networking connection asks you how they can help, you have to be brave enough to admit you can use their help and ask them for what you need. Again, you must be as specific as possible. Don't expect your connections to figure out your business for you (unless that's the help you need and they can provide it).
  6. Not thanking them. If someone passes you a referral, whether or not it is perfect for you, you absolutely must thank them. Ignoring your referral sources is a good way to make them go away. You can also thank them by just keeping them up to date on the progress with the referral, successful or not.
  7. Not passing referrals. You must exemplify the behavior you would like to receive. If you are a generous and giving person when it comes to providing opportunities to the members of your network, they are far more likely to reciprocate.
  8. Not enough effort. If nothing else seems amiss, then it actually might be just how much time and effort you are putting in. This is the point at a networking scorecard will really help out. If you can track your behavior over a few weeks, you might have a better idea of exactly how much effort you are currently expending and how much you will need to ramp up your performance.
If you think of your networking as your car and those referrals as your eventual destination, sometimes you can't get there because the engine needs a tune-up. Sometimes you're just headed in the wrong direction. So, just pick up the wrench or check your map. Then get out on the road and drive.

Photo credit: Geri-Jean Blanchard

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Have a Plan for Every Networking Encounter

One of the basic rules of networking at an event is to have a goal when you walk in. Having one helps focus your efforts. It tell you what you will accomplish so that showing up isn't wasting your time. It also tells you when you are done networking and can go home (or head over to the buffet line to fill your plate). Having plans and goals isn't just for events. Almost every aspect of your networking practice can benefit from applying these techniques.

Let's take a look at a few:

Daily goals. How much networking are you going to do each day? Are you going to call three people whom you know and like for a chat? Are you sending four email messages to people in you network? Are you having two one-to-one meetings with new contacts from the last event? Just as with your goals at the event, having daily goals will tell you when you are done. After all, despite how much fun it is, we can't spend all our time networking.

Scorecard goals. Did you have a good week of networking? How do you know? Keeping a networking scorecard and tracking the points over the course of the week will tell you exactly what you did. You can also use the points to give yourself something to target. Maybe your goal is to make fifty points per week. If Thursday rolls around and you only have twenty-five, you'd better step it up a notch in order to make your goal.

Technique/Behavior goals. Maybe you'd like to practice using the INFER questions in your one-to-one meetings. Perhaps you want to get into the "Gratitude Note" habit. Maybe you just want to get into the practice of leaving your telephone number at the beginning and end of a voicemail message. Whatever it is, track set a measurable goal to help you track how well you are doing at that particular behavior.

One-to-one meetings. So you're meeting with a new person. Probably your goal is to find out more about them. Could you be more specific? What about them would you like to learn? Maybe you want to learn about their hobbies or where they are planning on traveling next. Maybe you just want to learn more about their business and how they got into it. Try to pick a few areas to learn more about so you don't spend the entire conversation talking about the weather. If the person has been in your network for a while, maybe your goal is to ask them for some help on an area in your life. Whatever it is, you need to have it in mind so you don't look back with regret at having wasted any opportunities.

Group goals. You are probably the member of a number of networking groups. So what would you have to achieve as a result of being a member in order to make it worthwhile for you to remain a part of the organization? Is it the number of one-to-one meetings that result from the events? Is it the number of referrals? If you are shooting for a goal, what are you going to have to do differently as a member of the group that will change the results you are getting?

The more you can set measurable targets for each aspect of your networking practice, the more likely you will be to achieve success in those areas. The challenge is that it's easy just to float along and hope that things will turn out the way you want. The best networkers, though, make it a point be as systematic and goal-oriented as possible.

That's why they succeed for themselves and the network that looks to them.
Photo credit: Flickr user jayneandd

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Garden Past Its Harvest

I look out the window at our vegetable garden. From here I can see a single tomato starting to ripen. It's October and this is the only real tomato that we've seen this year (those cherry tomatoes don't really count). I remember past years when that garden would produce a counter full of vegetables, especially tomatoes. We had so much produce that there was just no way we could use it all. We would often end up passing along the excess to friends and family.

This time it wasn't us. We put in the work to prepare the soil and plant the seeds and seedlings. We staked and nurtured the growing plants. The problem is that the environment has changed. The mature trees have grown larger each year, blocking out the sun more and more until now the short time it smiles on the garden isn't sufficient to bring forth any produce.

It looks like we just can't count on this particular garden to produce vegetables anymore. We can use the space for a shade-loving perennial bed, but if we want produce, we are going to have to look elsewhere. It will be hard to put in all of the initial work needed to make a great vegetable garden, but in the end it will be worth it again.

Or we can look at it in a different way.

Looking back on your membership in your networking group over the last year, you realize that you've only received one halfway successful referral. The ones you once received (with the exception of little things that almost aren't worth the effort) have really started to dry up. You are still participating in the group, making the effort to meet new people and develop the relationships, but the group itself has changed and, for whatever reason, it just isn't as productive anymore. It's a shame, too, since you once received so many referrals that you couldn't keep up with the work and had to farm out the opportunities to other folks in your network.

Oh, you'll still have a soft spot in your heart for the group and you will probably continue to attend the occasional meeting. Now, though, you'll be treating it as more of a social group than a real networking opportunity. It will require less effort and should continue to work as such despite the change in the culture.

For your referrals, though, you are going to have to look for a new group. It will be hard having to establish yourself as a strong member of the new group, but the effort will pay off in the long run.

Sometimes in networking, as in gardening, despite all our efforts, the venue that once produced in abundance changes and now produces only sporadically or not at all. When that happens, we sometimes just have to have the strength to cultivate a new area and let the old one transform into something more suited to its nature. If that describes you, it's time to pick up the shovel and get busy.

Photo credit: stockxchng user jarsem

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How Fast do You Go from Zero to Sixty?

Networking at a snail's pace is a good way to limit your success. Waiting to call or write or meet for coffee mainly only accomplishes one thing. It helps them forget you. In fact there are a number of areas in your networking practice which benefit from prompt action. Let's take a look at a few examples.

Follow-up after a first meeting: You've attended the event. You've asked for and received a few business cards. Now you just have to follow up. Put them on the list to call in the future and you are ready to go, right?

Maybe.

The thing is, putting them on "the list" may be no more effective than putting their card in the pile on your desk. You need to commit to follow up and to follow up promptly. Too long a gap between your initial five-minute conversation and the telephone call to set up a coffee and they will have forgotten who you are. You will essentially be making a cold call. One solution to this would be to make the appointment while you are still at the event. Barring that, you need a system which prompts you to be in touch within the next week at the latest.

Follow-up after a coffee. Everyone enjoys a quick thank you note or email acknowledging that they spent some valuable time with you. Even more important, if you promised information or a contact to the person you met, be sure to provide it as soon as you can -- definitely within the week.

I know I've been guilty of not consulting my notes in a timely fashion and neglecting to send some desired information. I know I've mentioned before that I'm not perfect, right? Now, there's a good chance that my connections didn't even remember that I had said I was going to do anything. It's unlikely that they'll hold it against me. The downside here is that I'm missing out on a chance to make myself indispensable and someone whom they keep at the top of their mind.

Follow-up on a referral. OK, this one might seem amazingly obvious, but believe it or not, there are people out there who don't respond to a referral immediately. They let it sit in their email inbox or in a pile of papers on their desk. When and if they eventually follow up on the opportunity, they discover that the chance has gone cold. Then they can only complain that they never had a chance.

And guess how likely it is that the same person is going to pass them any more referrals?

In a similar vane, follow up with the person who passed the referral. Let them know if it was a good one. If it turns out to be a great opportunity for you, the follow up should include some aspect of thanks -- maybe lunch on you?

What it all comes down to is constant, timely communication. Like a good joke, you have to have your timing just right. Mess that up and no one will be having any fun.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user Daino_16

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Venue Review: Graham's Restaurant

I met with my new friend Audrey Wong Chung today. She and I spoke at Morning Edition, The Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber's breakfast networking event last month. She is the founder and CEO of Beliza Design, a fashion company that specializes in luxury goods for men and women (yes, I stole that from the website). Basically, from what I could see, she designs and sells beautiful jewelry and other accessories made out of some unusual materials. You might want to check out her site to see what they have to offer.

At any rate, I thought I would try out a new location for coffee today -- Graham's Restaurant -- a restaurant located in the Kensington Court Hotel here in Ann Arbor. For a dinner date or a meal when you are staying at the Kensington, Graham's is quite good. How does it stack up as a spot to do networking? Let's see.

Name:  Graham's Restaurant
Type: Restaurant
Pros: Food is good. Relatively quiet. Free wi-fi. Booths are relatively secluded and there are a number of separate sections to the restaurant. It also has an excellent location for those coming in from out of town.
Cons: Some limited hours. If you are a fan of the fancy coffee drinks, this may not be your cup of tea.

I thought it might be good for Audrey and I to meet at Graham's partially because it was roughly between the two of us and partially because I wanted to introduce her to a friend of mine, Erin Cebulski, who is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Kensington Court. I'd been there before for dinner a while back, but hadn't had a chance to meet someone there for coffee.

I arrived a little before Audrey and camped out on one of the loveseats in the common lounge area. They had the fire lit in the fireplace which felt quite nice as the day had that crisp feel of early autumn in the air. I pulled out my netbook and was pleasantly surprised to find that Kensington had free wi-fi available. I was able to check and answer some emails before Audrey showed up.

When she arrived we moved into the main seating area and found an unoccupied booth. We were scheduled to meet at 1:30 -- well after the lunch crowd had departed, so finding a seat wasn't difficult at all. The wait staff was attentive and didn't seem to have a problem with us just getting coffee (or lemonade in my case). The seating was comfortable and given that there were few others in the restaurant, conversation was very easy.

Probably the only minor issues with the place were that, first, if you are a big fan of the complicated beverages that you might get at your local coffee shop, you are going to be out of luck here. Second, the restaurant is closed from 3pm to 5pm to prepare for dinner. Make sure you plan any visits accordingly.

With the exception of these two caveats, though, Graham's would make an excellent place to meet for coffee or lunch. It has the added benefit of being right off the highway, so anyone coming in from out of town doesn't have to try to understand the occasionally confusing streets of Ann Arbor. That's one less obstacle to making connections that count.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

So, Where Do I Start?

Many of us who have been networking for a while already have a fairly large tickler file. We never have a hard time filling up our networking time with telephone calls, email messages, coffees, lunches, and even the occasional breakfast. What about those who are just starting out, though? For them, the idea of having to send even one email a day could be pretty stressful since they don't have anyone on their list to send things to. What should they do?

For those who might find themselves in that situation, let's make a list. This is just something to get you started until you're attending those regular networking events that are going to be filling up that tickler file quickly.

OK, so do you have that pen and paper handy (or the electronic equivalent)? Add any names you can think of from the following groups.

  1. Clients and customers. Add from both past and present. Remember these are the folks who liked you so much that they were willing to pay you for your skills and experience. They are a great core of people to use as the core of your network.
  2. Co-workers. Now, if you are an employee, these can be your traditional co-workers or they can be anyone from the company -- including your supervisor and your subordinates. If you are an outside contractor, you still have no real excuse not to invite your contact(s) and/or any other contractors out for coffee on occasion.
  3. Friends. Remember that your network is not only for business. When was the last time you got together with a friend to find out more about how you can help them succeed in their lives? Do you even know what their goals are?
  4. Family. Your brother-in-law may always have seemed like a bit of a goof to you, but maybe the guy has some unplumbed depths. Could he use some of your help? Or does he maybe know your next million-dollar client?
  5. People in your address book. There was a reason you put them there in the first place. Go through your previous contacts and anyone where you say "Oh, yeah. That guy. I wonder what he's doing now?" Put them on the list.
  6. People who've sent you email. Look through your old email archives and add in anyone with whom you had a significant or memorable email correspondence.
  7. People in your photo album. These folks will probably be more personal contacts, but anyone whom you can look at in the picture and actually remember their name is probably a good candidate for adding to your list.
According to the old saw, everyone supposedly knows around 250 people who would come to their wedding or funeral. Are all of these folks going to be great networking clients? Maybe not, but you'll never know until you actually take time to re-acquaint yourself and find out more about them. In the meantime, you'll have the opportunity to practice your good networking techniques.

And you never know when one of them will turn out to be your goose that lays the golden eggs.

Photo credit: Kevin Jarrett

Monday, October 4, 2010

Who Do You Serve?

We've talked many times before about developing a specific target market to help focus our networking. With a target market we can more easily determine which events to attend and which groups to join. The more tightly defined that market, the better our network can refer us. That being said, we have to be careful of falling into the trap of thinking of our target market as our "prey" or even a crop for us to harvest.

They are the people we serve.

We always have to keep that in mind. Our goal must be to make their lives easier in some way. No matter what that means for us, our focus must be on them. As soon as we try to focus on ourselves and the benefits we hope to gain, the relationship will falter.

So, how can we serve our target market?

  1. The products and services we provide. This is an obvious one. If this isn't the case, then we had better find a different target market -- one which actually needs what we have. If we don;t then we're being more than a little dishonest about the benefits we provide. In this case, we are definitely viewing our target market as prey, led to the slaughter.
  2. The advice we provide. Going beyond the level of just a vendor, we can actually become a trusted advisor. This is fairly common with various professional fields -- lawyers, accountants, etc -- but, with a strong enough network to call upon, there's no reason that anyone couldn't become the "go to" person for any needed advice.
  3. The connections we make. Even more than advice, your network can be a resource to the group you serve. Do they need an intellectual property lawyer? What about a cleaning service for their office? What if they are looking for a private school for their kids? Do we know a school administrator for them to talk with?
  4. The knowledge we share. How valuable would we be to our market if we took time to study their particular needs and concerns? Sending them a timely article about a piece of legislation that might affect their business would probably stand us in good stead. The information doesn't even necessarily have to be about their business. Maybe one or two individuals in our target market are deep sea anglers. If we found out about an opportunity for discount fishing excursions in the Caribbean, they would probably appreciate a heads-up.
  5. The voice we raise. What about that legislation we mentioned. Sure we could just let them know about it. We could also take action in the form of a letter, white paper, or presentation about how this ill-considered statute would have unintended consequences for the people you serve.
Remember that the better we serve them and the more we devote ourselves to their success, the more likely we are to succeed ourselves. We must go out of our way to stand out as a champion for their causes. When we've done enough to show ourselves as more than just another salesperson, that's when things will start flowing our way.

Photo credit: Karl-Erik Bennion

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Finding Mentors and Coaches

I had a personal victory this morning. I stepped on the scale and discovered for the first time in about a decade my weight was below two hundred pounds. This has been on my goal list for at least the last five years and each year I seemed to be getting just a little further away from my goal. In fact, in January of this year I was at two hundred thirty pounds.

Now, I didn't just miraculously wake up thirty pounds lighter. For some reason, I had been having almost no luck with the "miracle" plan. Instead, this time I found a coach to help me -- my Karate instructor, Grandmaster Keith Hafner. He helped me come up with a system that worked for me.

And now I need a new wardrobe.

This has made me reflect on the importance of coaches and mentors in our lives. These are the folks who have been where we want to go. They've already blazed the trail and marked all of the obstacles. Now, if we just followed their advice, I think we would be surprised at how much more we could achieve. But where do we meet these leaders?

Well, I think if I were you, for something as important as this, I would be looking through your network -- and your network's network. For example, are you trying to prepare for a physical challenge, such as a triathlon? You might want to talk to that personal trainer you met at the Chamber lunch. If you didn't meet him, you might want to ask your network who they would recommend.

I know in my life, I met my sales coach (Joe Marr), my Karate instructor (Grandmaster Hafner), and my business advisor (Jim Woods) through networking. Could I have just looked them up in the phone book or on the Web? Sure. But would I have been able to commit to their advice without the personal recommendations of those I trust? I don't know. Certainly not as quickly or as easily as I did.

If you have particular goals you want to achieve, you could do worse than finding a coach to get you pointed in the right direction. I know as entrepreneurs we tend to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, but here's a secret: In general, you don't get extra points for wasting your time re-inventing the wheel. Find that person who's already done it and you don't have to make all the mistakes that they did.

Just open up your contact list and make the call.

Photo credit: Asif Akbar

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Be Friendly

Sometimes it just a matter of
giving them a big smile.
Not long ago, Lisa and I were out running errands. This wasn't long after I had visited my friend Lois Weinblatt over at Zingerman's Professional Presents, so I still had that marvelous experience in the back of my head. We had stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple of things. While there, I can only say we were underwhelmed by the level of friendliness we received from the staff.

Now, I don't mean that these folks were incompetent or anything. They certainly seemed to know their jobs. The thing was, they just didn't seem to want to go out of their way to be friendly -- or deal with us at all. It was almost as if it were just to much work for them. It kind of left us with a bad taste in our mouths for the rest of the day.

This same issue crops up in networking, too.

You can use all of the right techniques. You can ask questions, you can set the goals, you can get their card. If they don't get that sense of friendliness from you, though, they aren't going to want to continue the relationship. After all, the basis for almost all good networking relationships is a personal connection -- and friendliness is the beginning of that connection.

In fact, I would go so far to say that if you can't generate that attitude of friendliness, then you might just as well stay home. Friendliness is what makes you approach that guy standing off to the side. Friendliness is what will help you be interested in their needs. Friendliness is what will make you follow up with them in order to deepen the relationship.

The next time you are going out to network, whether it's an event or a one-to-one, pretend the next person you run into could be your next best friend. It's just up to you to make it work.

Photo credit: Rick Hawkins