Friday, December 31, 2010

Listen for the Why

What's my motivation?
My wife taught me this one. She uses it a lot in business meetings, but it works just as well in lectures, one-to-ones, or any other situation where we are listening to someone else speak.

The challenge is that most people will listen to what the other person has to say -- and that's all. Now, do't get me wrong, we should definitely have our ears open to the content of the other person's discourse. To be truly great networkers, though, we need to go beyond just the words and listen for the reasons behind what they are saying, because that's where the real person lives.

So, they're telling us about a new product that their company is marketing. Great! This is good information. Now, why are they telling us about this? Are they trying to understand their target market? Do they need reassurance that the product is valuable? Are they looking for a referral? For what? Are they looking for clients or business partners? Do they need an introduction to someone who can help out in any of these areas?

Of course, since we aren't The Amazing Kreskin, we should go beyond attempting just to intuit their underlying motivation. Instead we should actually question them about it. If we think they are trying to hash out their target market, we might be able to help them along by just asking who would benefit from such a product or to whom they would prefer to sell it. If we think they are looking for reassurance, we might ask about people who love the product already.

If we show a level of interest beyond simply information gathering -- if we ask about more than the product -- then they will know that we care about them and their success. We are genuinely interested in them and aren't merely waiting for them to stop talking.

And when we show that level of care, we shouldn't be surprised when they respond with a similar level of interest and respect.

Photo credit: Flickr user photogirl7.1

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Make Them Special

I've had a couple of instances in the last few of weeks reminding me of the importance of keeping the focus on the other person. The first was Shawne Duperon's presentation at the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber's lunch event, "Networks!". During her speech, she talked about looking for the person in the room who the others seem to be avoiding. Maybe they're dull. Maybe they're pushy. Whatever the reason, as good networkers, we should make it our goal to focus our attention on them. She says it's amazing how these people will suddenly transform just because someone is actually paying attention to them.

The second reminder came about when I was reading Keith Hafner's blog. He was writing about how with troubled kids, sometimes it just takes one person to pay attention and value them for them to really turn their lives around.

The funny thing is, the folks who most need our help in a networking situation do tend to be the ones who aren't included in conversation. They're the ones standing off to the side. They're the ones who don't know who to talk with or what to say. They're also the ones who might not come back next time if someone doesn't rescue them.

And they're likely to be the ones most grateful if you do.

So, maybe the next time we go to a networking event, we should adapt our normal goals just a little bit. Instead of just "meeting two people", perhaps we could "make two uncomfortable people feel more welcome and help them be a part of the group."

Who knows? They might just end up joining the group in hopes of establishing a deeper relationship with us.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Awkward New Tools

Apparently I was a good boy this year, because Santa left me a very fun gift under the Christmas Tree -- an iPad.


I'm using it right now to write this post. Of course, the challenge is that it's a completely new platform for me and not all of the tools that I'm used to using are available on this cool new tool. This means that I'm struggling a bit right now as I try to learn new techniques and adapt old ones. It's difficult, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.

The same thing happens to us when we try out new techniques and systems in networking. We feel awkward and unsure of ourselves. We question whether it's worth it. Basically we just have to force ourselves to do it until we get used to it. Eventually that does happen and soon it's just like second nature for us.

Unfortunately, we just have to go through the rough part. Not much of a way around that.

So, what new networking habits would you like to adapt? Here are a few that I recommend if you aren't doing them already.
Remember, at first these behaviors are going to feel a little awkward. Keep forcing yourself to practice them, though, and soon you'll be reaping the rewards of your efforts.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feeling Guilty

In the past we've talked about re-connecting with members of our network whom we haven't seen in a while. I've always maintained that your feeling guilty about not having been in touch shouldn't be an excuse for not contacting them. You really have no reason to feel guilty. After all, they haven't contacted you, either.

That being said, there is a point at which you should feel rightfully guilty. That's when the last time you spoke with the person in question, you promised to do something for them...

...and you didn't do it.

In this situation, it's completely understandable that you would feel uncomfortable talking with them. I mean who really wants to have their failures thrown in their face, after all? And, guess what?

You have to contact them anyway.

In networking, your reputation is everything. If you don't get in touch with that person and follow up like you said you were going to then that person can't trust you with anything more important -- like their own reputation. That would basically remove one of the major reasons for networking, right?

So, here's what you are going to do:
  1. Call them up.
  2. Apologize.
  3. Tell them how and what you are doing in order to make things right.
Believe it or not, admitting you are in the wrong is fairly easy and painless. You might even make more "points" for whatever it was that you promised than if you had done it right away from the start (not that I'm advising screwing up intentionally).

Bottom line? If you are in the wrong, suck it up, admit it, and make it right. The strength of your network will thank you for it.

Photo credit: Bob Smith

Monday, December 27, 2010

When Gray Skies Loom

I know we entrepreneurs have to be our own best cheerleaders. When the tough times come, we have to have the strength of our convictions to help us muscle through any obstacles.

What rot.

OK, it's not completely wrong. It is true, in general, that we have to have self-confidence in order to start and run a business, but, as with everyone, there are times when our plans take a left turn that we don't expect. It's not usually the big crises. Those we seem to be able to rally against. For most of us, it's the little niggling issues that slowly erode our positive nature until suddenly we're doubting the value of what we've chosen to do.

And that's where a strong network can step in to help.

  • They'll be the sounding board that helps us re-examine all of our assumptions.
  • They'll advise us about similar situations they've faced.
  • They'll put us in touch with others who might be able to help.
  • They'll remind us of the challenges we've overcome in the past.
  • They'll help us brainstorm new approaches to our problems.
  • They may even point out when we are deluding ourselves -- in a kind and supportive way.

In my time as an entrepreneur I've experienced a lot of challenges and just like everyone else, I've had one or two (or more) occasions of self-doubt. Every time it's happened, though, it seems like my closest connections are there to point out the rainbow hiding behind the clouds. In a very short while, I'm back on my feet and ready to get back into the fray.

All because I have people in my corner looking out for me.

Photo credit: Dimitri Castrique

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Joyful Gatherings

I'm upstairs getting changed for Christmas dinner. Down below I can hear kids laughing and screaming. The adults are chatting and catching up on the latest news. My mom is working in the kitchen, as usual, but there are many hands to help out.

I pause a moment and reflect on how happy this boisterous family hubbub makes me feel. It wouldn't be Christmas without the noise and craziness to enhance the love we all share.

And without the crowd -- without other people -- none of this happens.

Now you, too, take a moment and reflect. How many of your happiest moments -- the ones that tell you that you've had a wonderful life worth living -- how many of them have happened only because you've had friends and family around you?

I think in many ways, this is the underlying reason for networking and establishing relationships: It brings more joy to your life.

For those who celebrate, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Let's all look forward to a prosperous new year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Children's Prayers

We went to the Children's Christmas Mass at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church this evening. Our Pastor, Father Jim McDougall, has a tradition each year where he asks all the children to come up and sit around him in front of the altar. He incorporates them into his homily and everyone has a good time.

Then comes my favorite part.

Father Jim asks the kids for whom we, as a congregation, should pray. I love it because you just never know what the kids will say. Oh, we get the expected prayers for parents, grandparents, friends, and pets. Of course, we almost always prayer for Jesus and Santa Claus (not necessarily in that order). Then we get a few from out in left field. One year I remember we prayed for "SpongeBob" and this time around we offered up our intentions for sheep and candy canes.

You just never know.

And that brings me to a point about networking, because, well, you just never know. You never know exactly what's on the other person's mind. You never know the goals they're seeking. You never know the successes they've had. You never know the pain they are in. In short, you just never know what you can do for them.

Unless you ask.

And when you get a response, like Father Jim, you have to figure out what to do with the information. With him, instead of "sheep" the prayer is "for all those in our care" or "candy canes" become prayers of thanks "for the abundance in our lives". In our case, whatever our connections needs might be, we have to decide whether we can help or if we know someone who can. We might even only be able to help by spreading the word to our own networks to seek a solution to the problem.

Whatever the case might be, the process starts by s showing a genuine interest and concern for their needs.

A stronger network goes on from there.

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Networking

'Twas the night before networking
And all through the town,
The networkers were stirring
All moving around

They set out their toolkits
Preparing for lunch
When connections they'd make
Gath'ring cards by the bunch

Business cards and holder
A notebook and pen
And especially their schedule
For you never knew when

That person you met
While waiting in line
Might be that connection
To business, so fine.

They lay out their clothing
With clean shirt and shoes
They made sure nothing was missing
Lest opportunities they lose.

"Now, how do I get there?
Which turns do I make?"
Check the address once more
"How long will it take?"

"Connectors" show up
Before other folks do
They scope the location
And offer help, too.

One last thing to prepare
'Fore they call it a night
They plan out their goals
Their target in sight.

When tomorrow arrives
And they head out the door
They'll know what they're doing
And they'll know something more:

They'll spend their time wisely
And when the people they've met
Reach the numbers they wanted
And the goals that they set,

That's when they'll sit back,
Chat with old friends, and eat --
Still allowing the chance
a new contact they'll meet.

And before they walk out
From a successful event
They'll schedule more meetings,
Glad that they went.

As they walk to their car
Their joy at a peak
They'll wave and call out,
"See you for coffee, next week!"

So take a brief lesson
From this networking rhyme
And find your success
While networking next time.

Photo credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What You Can Learn

I stopped by Best Buy today to pick up a mounting bracket for our new TV. On the way through the checkout line I struck up a brief conversation with Lori, the cashier. With a few questions and in a surprisingly short amount of time, I found out quite a bit about her, including her home town, her plans for the holidays, some of her family history, her upcoming work load, and her preferences with regards to animated television shows.

Not bad for the five minutes it took to ring up my sale.

Now imagine what we should be able to do with a full hour with someone else.

This is why one-to-one meetings are such a valuable part of our networking practice. It really is a wonderful opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with members or potential members of our networks.

And we won't have to worry about the folks waiting behind us in line getting upset about us taking too long.

Photo credit: By U.S. Navy Journalist 2nd Class Jim Williams. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Networking Group Overload

Not long ago I wrote about dealing with networking overload, especially during the holidays. One of the things that can lead to this condition is over-committing to the number of groups in which we participate. I've spoken with people who are members in five, six, or even more. All I can think is "How?"

We all know that in order to benefit from networking in a group, we have to do more than just sign up. In fact, we have to do more than show up. We must actively participate in the group -- donate our time and effort to make the group better for everyone else. We must continue to meet new members, establish relationships, and maintain existing ones. How could we possibly do that with five or more groups? There aren't enough hours in the week -- not if we want to do our jobs and have a personal life, too.

The best rule of thumb I've seen is to associate with no more than three groups. Of course, the makeup of those associations will depend on our networking goals, who our target market is, and what opportunities we have available to us. If someone is new to the idea of networking, I usually recommend a good first approximation is:

  1. A general networking group like a Chamber of Commerce
  2. A closed networking group such as BNI
  3. An association which supports their target market
No matter which groups we join, though, it always has to be because we have something to contribute -- not because we think the other members will pay for our services. As long as we keep that in mind, the benefits of group membership will flow our way.

And the sales will be a nice side effect.

Photo credit: Svilen Milev

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Working Your Goals Through Your Network

We're coming up on the time of year when people start thinking of resolutions. The new year always seems to be an opportune time to consider how we want to live our lives in the upcoming year. Personally, I don't like to think of resolutions so much as goals. In fact, today Lisa and I went to a goal-setting workshop put on by my good friends, Joe Marr, Mike Wynn, and Rich Austin over at our local Sandler Sales Institute.

Goals are good on a variety of levels, but are especially important for those of us who own a business. Far too often we get caught up in the day-to-day fire fighting and never get an opportunity to see how that fits into a larger picture. Ironically, it's that larger picture which can help us get through the short-term crises.

That all being said, though, one of the main reasons for setting goals is, of course, to bring good things into our lives. To that end, after you've decided on a goal to pursue, you might want to talk about it whenever you can with the members of your network. Here are some of the possible benefits:

  1. Cheering section. Yes, it's likely that whatever the goal is, we are doing it for our own benefit and we often have to be our own cheering section. Despite that, it certainly wouldn't hurt to hear someone saying that we're doing a good job.
  2. Experience. Maybe our connection has had experience doing whatever it is that we are trying to do. If they have a plan that worked for them, it would be kind of silly for us to ignore that information.
  3. Experience, part two. It's entirely possible that the person with whom we are talking doesn't have personal experience with the goal we've chosen. It is also possible that they know someone who has had that experience. Ask for an introduction.
  4. Sounding board. Sometimes we just need someone to listen while we try to describe whatever we're trying to accomplish. The very act of verbalizing the goal might not only help us work through some of the obstacles we've encountered, it might also help to cement our goal in our own minds.
  5. Accountability. Setting the goal is one thing, but committing to it in front of someone else is something completely different. The latter forces us to take our goals more seriously. After all, if we share our goals with a large enough crowd, we can't hope but to have someone periodically asking how things are going.
  6. Celebration. While you don't need to rent a hall, the opportunity to share your victories with an appreciative audience can make those achievements all the sweeter.
Of course, setting and attaining our goals is all on us. We have to do the planning and we have to make the effort to achieve what we want. If we involve the folks in our network in almost any capacity, we'd probably discover how easy it is to make and accomplish those goals which will make our lives all the sweeter.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Merry Christmas" Follow-up

Yesterday, I wrote my opinion to the "Happy Holidays" vs "Merry Christmas" controversy. When I referred to it as "world-shaking", of course, I was engaging in a bit of hyperbole. There are those who want to avoid giving offense (almost impossible these days) and so they stick with "Happy Holidays". Then there are the folks who say to heck with the PC-police, they celebrate Christmas (whether as a religious or secular holiday is irrelevant) and they want to wish other people a "Merry Christmas".

And, you know what? Either way, that's fine.

I mean, really, let's look at the numbers. According to my in-depth research (I did a Google search), between eighty-five and ninety-five percent of the population of the United States celebrates Christmas. They obviously won't be bothered in the slightest by someone wishing them a Merry Christmas. I'd guess a good ninety percent of the rest will take the greeting in the spirit it's given. Still no problem here. Of the small remainder who actually might take offense, I'm guessing for most of them it will be only a minor irritation. The very small group remaining who are actually going to make a federal case out of it, well, I guess those are the chances you take.

For most of us, the one tenth of a percent chance that we're really going to tick someone off is worth it in exchange for the joy we spread.

So, as controversies go, this is more of a molehill than a mountain. At least on a personal level.

I think most of the controversy happens when a business has a policy to use one over the other. In fact, as far as I can tell, businesses -- especially large chains -- are pretty much damned if they do, damned if they don't. With the nature of the echo-chamber that is the Web these days, those vanishingly few people who are outraged one way or the other can make their presence known far and wide and disproportionately affect the public perception of the business.

I guess I don't have an answer for that one.

My main point to the whole "controversy" is this: At least with networking, it should always be about the other person. The best thing to do would be to establish a relationship with them, at least to a point where you know, one way or the other, what holidays they celebrate.

Almost no one is going to get upset if you greet them "incorrectly", but they will get a thrill if you get it "right".

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays"?

Every year about this time I get a message or two in my inbox about this world-shaking controversy. Should we say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas"? Now, please feel free to do whatever you want, but here's the way I see it from the perspective of a networker.

It's always about them.

Until and unless you know otherwise, "Happy Holidays" is the way you should go. Is it "PC"? Yep! Does that make it wrong? Nope.

Of course, in the course of chatting with them, it wouldn't be unusual to ask if they have any plans for the holidays. Then you are likely to find out what holiday they do celebrate and you can wish happiness, merriness, enlightenment, or whatever is appropriate for the season.

And that's the ticket here. We are wishing them a happy celebration. It's not about us or our beliefs. It's about telling them that we care about them and, further, that we know about them and what's important in their lives..

And so I say, "Happy Holidays", "Merry Christmas", "Happy (belated) Hanukkah", "Joyous Yule", "Gladsome Tidings for the Solstice", "Happy Diwali", "Happy Kwanzaa", and "Blessed Festivus" to each and every one of you.

And a Prosperous and Well-Connected New Year, too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What If They Don't Like Me?

Some people just hit it off. Others just don't
see eye-to-eye.
Ever since we started kindergarten, this has been a worry for most of us. It probably plateaued around the time we started going to junior high/middle school dances and hasn't faded too much in the meantime. Everyone wants others to like them. We worry about how we look, what we do, what we say, all in hopes that anyone we meet will like us. It's a lot of pressure and I have a few (OK two) words of advice:

Lighten up.

If you want to be successful at networking, you cannot expect everyone to like you. Sometimes, two perfectly wonderful people simply aren't going to be compatible. Trying to force a relationship just makes us look desperate. If there's anything that will throw a monkey wrench into any potential connection it would be when one party appears desperate.

Many times when this happens to someone, it's because they've decided that the person they're speaking with would be a good client. Even if there's no chemistry, they keep trying to engage their quarry. One of the big reasons we should avoid the "sales mentality" is to prevent ourselves from falling into this trap. Focus first on whether you enjoy being with this other person not whether they need and can afford your services. Remember, they might not be a good client for you, but they might know your perfect client.

The next time you find yourself talking with someone at an event, ask yourself this question: Do I like chatting with them enough to want to spend another hour doing this? If the answer is "yes", then get out your schedules and plan a coffee. If the answer is "no", then politely end the conversation and move on. There are plenty of other opportunities for making connections. There's no reason to waste anyone's time on a relationship that's likely not going any further.

Photo credit: Pascal Vuylsteker

Friday, December 17, 2010

Remember the Reason for Networking

My mom, Debby Peters, founder of Connext Nation had a great article in her last newsletter about the idea of networking events versus networking relationships. Check it out to read the whole article.

The point that really got me was when she was talking about whether we needed to attend a networking event -- especially when our time was unusually limited (as it is for so many of us at this time of year). What she wrote made me pause. She said events are primarily mechanisms to initiate new relationships. If we aren't seeking to meet new people, we would be better off devoting our available networking time to other networking activities which would strengthen our existing relationships.

The funny thing is, I think a lot of us get that backward. When our time becomes limited for whatever reason we usually cut out the one-to-one meetings -- the coffees and lunches -- and give ourselves the rationalization that at least we're still attending the events. The thing is, though, the events are largely wasted if you can't make the time to follow up with the people you meet.

After all, people do business with people they know, like, and trust -- and we're hardly likely to get there speaking with people for five minutes at a time at a networking event.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

7 Networking Ideas for When You're Feeling Lame

My new friend, Lynda Gronlund, certified personal trainer and owner of Balance Point Fitness, commented on yesterday's post. You can read the full comment elsewhere, but the important part was that she was feeling lame for skipping a weekly networking event because she just wasn't feeling up to it. Then she asked:
... How do you get yourself psyched up when you're not feeling like you can put on a smile and tell a million new people about yourself, ask them about their lives and businesses, and generally put yourself out there when you're not the most outgoing person in the world??
This is an excellent question, especially for this time of year. Let's face it, for those of us who celebrate the season, this can be a crazy, hectic time. We might already be spending so much of our "people energy" on friends and family that it doesn't feel like there's anything left for networking with strangers. So, what can we do to get past the "networking doldrums"?

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Fake it. Yes, sometimes when we just don't feel like networking, all we can do is muscle through. The funny thing is, sometimes just showing up is enough to get us into the spirit. So, paste a smile on your face and just do it.
  2. Examine your intent. One of the things which leads to networking reluctance is putting too much pressure to sell -- either ourselves or our product. Remember that the goal of the event is starting relationships, not making the sale. Be aware of your "internal game" it's unfortunately easy for us to slip into an unproductive focus on sales as a purpose instead of a side-effect.
  3. Reset your goals. Another success-limiting practice is setting goals which are too difficult. While I do recommend having goals which challenge you as a networker, you have to be aware of your capabilities in the moment. I you are tired or stressed, you might have to adjust your goals accordingly. Maybe instead of meeting three people, you should only plan on meeting two.
  4. Set "fun" goals. I did this the other night at the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber's Year Ender party. I was running later than I should have been and feeling completely stressed out about going to the event (I almost didn't go). So, instead of setting my usual "meet new people goals", I decided to simply show up, eat the food, and chat with some friends. It ended up being a wonderfully productive networking event and the food was delicious to boot!
  5. Leave early. In concert with setting an easy-to-achieve goal, give yourself permission to leave as soon as you accomplish it. Skip the lunch. Skip the speaker. As with exercise, consistency is far more important than intensity. Even if you only show up for five minutes and chat with two people, you've still done your networking. You can go back to attending the full events after life gets back to a routine.
  6. Do something else. Again, remember, it's not attending the event that's important, it's the people you meet and the relationships you strengthen and extend. If you don't feel like going to the event, instead call someone in your network just to see how they're doing. Wish them "Happy Holidays" and brighten the day for both of you. It's still networking.
  7. Skip it all. If, in general, you are hitting ninety percent of your networking obligations, skipping an event now and again probably won't destroy your networking practice. Give yourself permission to just sit back and relax. Just commit to the next one. Maybe you could even invite a guest, to make sure you've got added incentive to show up next time.
Looking back at this list, I find it kind of amusing and ironic that a lot of these ideas are similar to what any personal trainer or coach would tell their clients -- regardless of whether they're working on fitness, developing a business, or working on creating a powerful networking practice. What it all basically comes down to is to listen to yourself -- mind and body -- and adapt your activities to challenge you, but not discourage.

If you can do that, you'll end up happier and more successful in the long run.

Photo credit: Steve Knight

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Are You Standing in the Parking Lot?

I gave a presentation at the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber last week. It was a good crowd and they reacted well to what I had to say (meaning no one threw anything at me). One of the points I made has to do with the nature of joining any networking group. I made it in the form of an analogy involving Disney.

Honestly, I don't know why Disney's on my mind so much recently.

The point went something like this:

Joining a networking group is kind of like taking a trip to Disney World. You've paid for the airplane trip to Orlando and the hotel room and, of course, your Park Hopper tickets. You and your whole family are standing in the parking lot (or you just got off the resort bus). The kids are excited and everyone is ready for some fun.

OK, got the picture?

Now imagine walking away without actually entering the park.

That's pretty much the same thing as joining a networking group and not participating -- not showing up for the events, not volunteering to support the group. Listen, no one would expect even as magical a place as Disney World to be fun if you didn't actually go in and ride the rides. Why would anyone think they would get real networking benefit from just signing up for the group?

If you are a member of a group -- if you've paid your dues and your name is on the membership list -- you're standing at the gate of what might be a magical (and profitable) experience. Make the decision now to walk through the gate and hop on the first carousel that crosses your path.

You won't regret it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

6 Networking Goals for Other People

We've talked on numerous occasions about the importance of setting goals in our networking practice. From short-term goals, such as the number of people you plan on meeting at an event, all the way to long-term goals such as your ultimate target for your networking, whether it be growing your business, finding employment, or supporting a charity.

While we're setting these goals for ourselves, we should also consider setting a few goals for other people. No, I don't mean set goals for them to achieve, but rather set goals which we will achieve for them. Remember that great networking is about helping other people. So what sorts of things could we set as goals for ourselves to show that we are supporting the folks in our network?

Here's a short list:

  1. Make a referral. It doesn't necessarily have to be to a specific person, though if you are close networking partners, you may indeed need to set a specific goal for them. Even if you set the goal to connect at least one person per month with a potential business opportunity, you will begin looking for those chances whenever you are in a networking situation.
  2. Make an introduction. One of the most generous things you could do would be to help another person extend their network. Which members of your network could stand to meet each other?
  3. Extend an invitation. Of course, since you are an amazing networker, you attend a lot of events, but maybe not everyone in your network has developed that far yet. Extend the invitation and help them out.
  4. Send an article. Read with other people in mind. Whether it's a blog post, a magazine article, a podcast, or a newspaper clipping, as you read, think to yourself "Who else might enjoy this article?"
  5. Write a Gratitude Note. Let them know you think they're great.
  6. Write a testimonial. Let everyone know you think they're great.
Set these "other people" goals, just like you would those for yourself. Pick one, set a number and set a date. Work at achieving that one goal. Then pick a new one and repeat. The intent here is to incorporate these goals gradually into the ones that we're trying to achieve for ourselves already. With enough practice, people will begin to see us as a generous person who is always looking for a new way to give back.

Not a bad reputation to have.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Not What You Do

Today was our annual Christmas cookie baking day with my mom. Every year, usually on the second Sunday of December, my mom hops in her little yellow Mini-Cooper and drives up from Perrysburg. We spend the whole day baking batches upon batches of cookies. We managed nine different kinds this year. We hit a lot of the traditional ones for our family -- cut-outs, thumbprints, and almond crescents -- and we tried a new one or two.

We chatted and Grandma got to play with Kaylie and teach her how to cut out the sugar cookies. My wife, Lisa, whipped up a delicious lunch of open-face egg salad sandwiches and tomato soup. Mom told us about how my grandma and Aunt Mary would bake 144 dozen cookies at Christmas when my mom was a little girl. Oh, we had the occasional incident of dropped cookies or spilled milk, but we all laughed about it and just had a great time together.

"OK, Greg", I can almost hear you thinking, "Sounds like you had a great time, but what does this have to do with networking?"

Well, we would have had fun with my mom whether we were baking cookies, going for a walk, seeing a movie, or catching lunch together. It's all good and it all contributes to strengthening our relationship. The same thing holds true for networking. So many people worry that they can't go out for coffee all the time or don't have many opportunities in their schedule to join someone for lunch.

You know what? It doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter what you do. It only matters that you do something. Can't make coffee? Here are a few other ideas:

  • Breakfast
  • A morning networking event
  • A quick telephone call
  • Take a short walk together
  • Lunch
  • Send an email
  • High tea
  • After work drinks
  • Dinner
  • Share a movie, concert or sporting event
Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure with a little creativity, you can think of many more. Just remember, the activity is not the important part of the activity. You taking the time to spend with the other person is.

That's how we make friends.

Photo credit: Konrad Mostert

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Give Feedback

Our nanny, Beth, is currently in training to become a massage therapist. For homework she was required to give thirty hours of massages to friends and family, but no more than three sessions for any one person. Of course, I volunteered, because I'm that kind of "giving" guy (what can I say?). Sadly, today was my final session.

There was a bright side to it, though. Beth told me that she would like to continue to practice on me because I gave good feedback. Apparently, some of the folks to whom she's given massages would just lie there silently not letting her know whether what she was doing was working at all.

If you think about it, this has applications in networking, too. The folks in our network need to know that the efforts they've gone through on our behalf have not dropped into an abyss. So here's a list of situations which should result in feedback.

  • You got the job. Your connection gave you a referral for a potential job and you hit the jackpot. Let them know that you loved it and would love to have more like it.
  • You didn't get the job. You really appreciate the fact that they sent you a referral. Unfortunately, it didn't work out this time. Let them know that you still appreciate it.
  • The referral wasn't quite right for you. For whatever reason the job wasn't right. Maybe the prospect wanted to use Windows in their server and you only use Linux. Maybe the prospect needs a commercial cleaning service and you only do residential. Whatever the reason, you need to let your networking partner know so that they can do a better job next time.
  • You hired a vendor that they recommended. If things went well, let them know. If things didn't go well, let them know that, too. Remember that a recommendation is the same thing as lending someone your reputation. Your connection is going to want to know if someone is treating their reputation well.
  • You referred them to someone else in your network. If you hear back from that someone else, be sure to let your networking partner know what their opinion was of their service.
  • You took their recommendation on anything. Did they give you the name of a book, restaurant, musical group, hotel, car, vacation destination, banquet hall, etc, etc, etc? If you follow their advice, be sure to let them know how things went.
When we take the time to let our contacts know the results of how they tried to help us, we let them know that we valued the time and effort that they expended to help us. In so doing, we are more likely to see a repeat performance in the future.

Photo credit: Dominik Gwarek

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Being a Disney Hero

Will the real Cinderella please stand up?
I may have mentioned before on one or two occasions that I have a three-year-old daughter. She loves pretty much all things Disney. As a result, I get to watch a lot of Disney movies -- repeatedly. After a certain amount of time, you begin to recognize some common themes.

One in particular worked its way into my consciousness the other day. If you think of all of the Disney protagonists (and I'm focusing primarily on the animated films), you can see that they all have these amazing adventures -- some even accomplishing legendary acts -- all the stuff of heroic fantasy. Now notice something else: They never do it alone.

Whether it's a firefly and a jazz-playing alligator, a trio of wise-cracking soldiers and a spirit dragon, or a coterie of woodland creatures and a family of diminutive gem miners, each protagonist has a group of characters surrounding him or her without whom most of the heroes would have been a tad less heroic.

Isn't it funny how art mimics life?

Think about your own life. Think of your greatest accomplishments. How many of them did you achieve with no outside help? Now, maybe instead of animate gargoyle statuary, you had a teacher who put you in contact with your first job. Instead of a singing candlestick and preening clock, you had a networking contact who steered that huge contract your way. Instead of a troupe of circus performer insects, you had the daughter of a friend of a friend who found a program that helped your family pay for your cancer treatment.

When we begin to recognize how much our success is dependent on the relationships we've cultivated, we begin to understand just how powerful the act of networking can be. So, pull out your sword and shield and prepare to face the dragon. Your network of woodland creatures is standing by to help.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Good Predator

Ironically, both "white hat" and "black hat" networkers have similar mindsets. They both think like wolves. Wolves, when hunting, target the weak, and sick members of the herds. Networkers look at the attendees at networking events in the same way.

OK, they aren't targeting the sick and weak, but they do look for those people who are standing or sitting off by themselves. Usually these are inexperienced and/or socially unskilled networkers. The "white hat" folks will seek them out in order to make them feel comfortable and to help them be more successful in their networking. The "black hat" variety try to go after that same group in order to sell to them. After all, this group usually includes people who haven't developed any defenses against predatory networkers.

Unfortunately, if a networking neophyte runs afoul of the more unscrupulous networkers, they can end up developing a bad impression of what networking can be. On the other hand, an encounter with a good networker can help them learn to appreciate the power of developing great connections. If we want to help out the cause of good networking, maybe, in addition to other goals we might have, we should add "rescue a newbie" to the list.

It really doesn't take that much effort, and the relationship return might well be worth your time.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user echiax

Thursday, December 9, 2010

First-Timer Mistakes: Business Card Expectations

At least he took a shot!
Before I try something new, if possible, I like to find someone who has done it before and ask them how to avoid the "first timer" mistakes. I figure if I can call on someone else's experience, I've got a better chance of succeeding earlier than if I try to go it alone.

Networking, like so many other pursuits has its own set of first-timer mistakes. If you are new to the practice, watch out for these misconceptions and you'll end up having an easier time of it. Today's mistake? Unrealistic business card expectations.

When I first started networking, I would show up at the event -- the Chamber networking lunch, for example. I would do the best I could, mixing and mingling with the other attendees. I would get so excited when, after chatting for a few minutes, someone would ask me for one of my business cards.

Of course, I would present them with my card (sometimes two!) and then I would return home with the glow of success all about me. Yes, sir, things were really about to take off! For the next several days, I would look forward with anticipation to their call.

Of course, no one ever (and I mean ever) called.

Unfortunately, truly great networkers are fairly few and far between. These are the folks who, when they ask for your card, actually will do something with it -- and I don't mean just putting it in the pile on their desk. Their actions align with their intent and they have a system to support it.

The rest of the folks who ask (about 99%) may or may not intend to call you. They may only ask to be polite or they may just want to give you one of their cards. Either way, handing them a card is a lot like throwing it away (what they will eventually do when they can no longer remember where they got it or who you are).

Instead of depending on the kindness of strangers, if you find someone with whom you would like to continue the conversation beyond the event, you ask for their card. Then -- and here's the mark of a true networker -- you take the initiative to contact them in order to learn more about them and, ultimately, develop a long-term, mutually-beneficial relationship.

Heck, even better, ask for their card and before you walk away from each other, schedule your next meeting. Then you don't need to worry about contacting them later.

Remember that the most valuable card at the networking event is the one you get from someone else. Then it's up to you to to turn that brief connection into something more.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user ilco

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More Master Mind

Yesterday I wrote about the type of Master Mind group that I started. Essentially it is a peer-counseling style which allows those of us who belong to call upon the wisdom of the other members in dealing with any challenges in our lives, either personal or professional. This certainly isn't the only type of Master Mind group you can be a part of (or start on your own).

I'm actually in a different Master-Mind-style group which my good friend and business coach, Jim Woods, started. He calls it Business Leadership Network and he charges people to be a member -- which tends to keep people focused. In his meetings, which happen once a quarter, we meet from before breakfast through early afternoon. In the morning he brings in a guest speaker to talk about challenges that we might be facing as entrepreneurs and some possible solutions. After the morning break, he then gives a presentation on developing a business. After lunch we move on to peer counseling -- similar to what the group I started does. He also provides the meals.

I've visited different groups where the focus is on business referrals and networking. In this case, the different members give presentations about their businesses in order to educate the rest of the group about possible referral opportunities. Then the second half of the meeting is an educational piece about some networking techniques that might help make the referral process go more smoothly.

I've also heard of Master Mind groups which act as a sort of business book club. Each month the group picks out a new business book to read and discuss. In a similar vein, I've heard of groups where each month a single member reads a business book and then reports on it to the rest of the group.

Of course, each group has it's own frequency for meeting (most monthly, but some quarterly as well). They also have different preferred sizes (from six to thirty members). Some have fixed locations, others travel from place to place. Some meet in conference rooms, others in restaurants. Really, the only limitations are the ones set by the members themselves.

If you've got an idea for a Master Mind group, start talking about it with the members of your network. If you can find enough people who say "That's cool! Sign me up!", then you might just have a Master Mind group on your hands.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Using the Master Mind

Not that kind of Master Mind
I've written before about how some super networkers have gone so far as create their own networking communities. Hundreds of people are familiar with these folks because of this. The only problem for less experienced networkers is that starting a networking group can be a bit daunting. How do you get enough people interested? Where can you hold events? How do you book speakers? Maybe it would help to start out a little smaller. A Master Mind group -- a group of like-minded people who are dedicated to each other's success -- might just fit the bill.

I've seen and read about a couple of different styles. The one that I am currently using is a peer-counseling model. We've got about six people in our group and we get together once a month at various locations -- sometimes someones office, sometimes at our local Chamber's offices. Our meetings last between one and two hours and follow a fairly straightforward agenda.

First, we go around the circle and each person gets to talk about something good that has happened to them in the last month. The rest of the group cheers them on and gives congratulations as appropriate. We try to allot about two minutes each for this, though it will occasionally go on a little longer.

On the second pass around the circle, each person takes about ten minutes to present a challenge that they are having. The purpose is so that the other members of the group can make suggestions from their own experience. Sometimes there are offers of referrals and introductions, but there is no expectation that this is going to happen. Really the main benefit we gain is having access to the accumulated wisdom of the other members.

In the final pass, we each announce to the group some goal or goals that we intend to complete before the next meeting. We also review the goals that we each set at the previous meeting in order to see how successful we've been. Goals seem to have a much better chance of getting done when you've got someone looking over your shoulder.

That's pretty much it. The victories, challenges, and goals can be personal or professional. They can also be of any size. We all realize that there are some months that setting the goal of "just getting through it" is all you can hope to do. Oh, and, of course, the other rule is that anything said in the meeting stays in the group unless the person in question specifically tells the group that it isn't confidential.

We've been meeting now for about two years and we've seen each other through some good and some difficult times. They are some of the closest members of my network and I've really come to respect the amount of knowledge they've amassed over time. They've helped me out on several occasions and a lot of my success can be measured on how much I followed their advice.

Photo credit: John Manoogian III

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Wisdom of Crowds

Your network can be a real lifesaver
One of the many benefits of having a strong network is that, no matter what challenges you might currently be experiencing, there is a remarkably high chance that someone in your network somewhere has experienced something similar and figured out a solution. Again, a high percentage of the time, they are more than willing to share that solution. All you have to do is ask.

Master Mind groups thrive on this particular concept. The group I belong to has helped me out with numerous quandaries in both of my businesses and even some issues that have come up in my personal life. Of course, for such a group to work, the members of the group have to be at a "trust" level with each other. Once the members have established that connection, though, the sky's the limit.

If you need another example of this power of networks, just look at the phenomenon of the Internet in general and the Web in particular. This evening, when we returned from our family holiday gathering in Manistee, I discovered that I couldn't access the Internet from any computer in my home. Using my cell phone, I did a quick search on "Comcast outage" which connected me to an article written by one of Ann Arbor's mega-networkers, Ed Vielmetti. Following the instructions in it, I was able to get everything in our household back up and running in jig time.

Whether your problem is a clothes dryer that's on the fritz, a search for a reputable mechanic, or a recommendation on the best local source for maple syrup, a great place to start is with your networks. You'll be amazed at how much information is stored out there in someone else's head.

Photo credit: Sheila VooDoo

Sunday, December 5, 2010

You Can Do What?

A Disney parade can certainly make
you feel special.
The last letter in my INFER acronym stands for "Resources". Unfortunately, it's one that seems to be difficult to explain. Essentially, this represents all of those things about another person -- skills, personality traits, possessions -- which don't necessarily relate to their passions in life or their job.

It's kind of the "other stuff".

Now, why would this other stuff be important in networking? Well, you just never know.

I saw a great example of this when we were down at Disney World recently. We were waiting to see the parade in the Animal Kingdom, limed up along the parade route. The cast members (people who work for Disney) were walking back and forth chatting up members of the crowd. One of the cast members discovered that a group of guys who were standing near us were French Canadian. These guys were having a great time and were obviously a playful group.

After chatting with them for a few minutes, the cast member moved on to another section of the crowd, only to return a few minutes later with a young lady in tow. It turns out that it was birthday that day. The cast member prevailed upon the French Canadian group to sing "Happy Birthday" to her in French -- which they were only too delighted to do.

After that several more people received the "French Birthday" treatment -- and all of them were quite pleased with the unusual attention. Now, the cool thing about this was that, for these guys, the ability to sing "Happy Birthday" in French was wholly unremarkable. To the cast member, though, that ability was an opportunity to make a lot of people feel special, including the guys doing the singing.

As you chat with members of your network, be sure to keep your ears and mind open to the possibilities that even your connection's most innocuous skill might provide. That knowledge might just help you make someone's day.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Season for Networking

Manistee Christmas
We're visiting my folks up in Manistee this weekend. It's become an annual tradition for us to come up for the first weekend in December for the town's Victorian Sleigh-bell Festival. It's a ton of fun with a craft fair, a hall of trees, a little bit of shopping, and all culminating in the Sleigh-bell Parade where a team of horses hauls the town Christmas tree through the streets while vendors dispense free hot cider and roasted chestnuts.

For us it's the beginning of the Christmas season.

The funny thing is, none of this would be nearly as much fun without my parents. In fact, if you think about it, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or the coming of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, almost all events surrounding this time of year involve getting together with other people and reconnecting.

We attend parties and dinners. We send gifts and cards. We reach out with phone calls and emails. The entire season, regardless of its sacred or secular roots, has the trappings of a giant networking festival. The problem is, come January most people will squander all of that opportunity. We'll send the card or gift. Maybe we'll make an appearance at a party or two, but after that we tend to hole up for the remainder of the winter. Come the Spring we're no further along in our efforts to create a strong network than we were before we ingested an entire turkey by ourselves at Thanksgiving.

In keeping with tradition, maybe we need to make that New Years resolution to touch base with all of those people again in January and then again in February. Let them know that, while the season may be over, you are still keeping them in your thoughts.

There's another tradition around this time of year and that's the reading or watching of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. (Spoiler Alert!) At the end of the story, Scrooge has become transformed. He is suddenly this new man whom everyone loves. What happened? He resolved to keep Christmas in his heart the whole year 'round.

Let's take a page from Ebenezer's book and keep networking in our hearts the whole year, too.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Goal-less Networking

I think I could "network" here.
This evening I attended the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber's Year Ender networking event. This is usually a huge blow-out. I don't know how many people were there this year, but I know we've easily hit over seven hundred in previous years. Lots of great food and refreshments and lots of great people to help me make my networking goals for the evening.

If I had set any.

Yes, I will confess right now that I walked into that event without a single networking goal in mind. It had been a long day and when a phone call that I had thought would take only thirty minutes ended up taking over ninety, I was walking into the party more than a little late. So, for a change, I decided that I was just doing this one for fun. I know a lot of people in the Chamber so this one was going to be just a great social occasion for me -- a chance to catch up with some old friends.

OK, so, yes, that is technically a goal. It's just not my normal goal to meet and connect with two or three interesting people and get their cards so I can contact them later. In a way, I was setting the bar low enough that I was bound to succeed.

As an aside, don't let my behavior in this one instance be any indication that I think this is a good idea in general. In general, I recommend that part of attending an event be setting serious goals which will help you extend and strengthen your network. Grabbing a handful of cookies from the buffet certainly does not fall under that category.

Then a funny thing happened: Networking.

I connected with people whom I knew and chatted briefly. Some I hadn't seen for a while and didn't know I'd started a new business. Some I had seen more recently and I got to hear about the successes they'd been having. Others introduced me to people I'd never met before. With some of those folks I exchanged business cards. I even made a couple of introductions myself.

All in all it was a remarkably successful networking event.

So, what's my take-away on this one? I guess it would be that sometimes, just sometimes, if you've established yourself in your network and you have an otherwise regular networking practice, you can attend a networking event "just for fun".

And the cookies were remarkably tasty.

Photo credit: Jungle Jim's International Market

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Meeting More than Once

Yes, you guessed it. It's another networking lesson from my daughter and her adventures at Disney World.

As I mentioned yesterday, if you were to look through my photos from this trip to Disney, you would notice a theme of my daughter hugging and posing with the various characters at the different parks. This was the year that she met Goofy for the first time.

She loved him.

We were over in the Animal Kingdom and Goofy was dressed in his Santa costume. When it was her turn, Kaylie did her usual running hug with him and then posed. She hugged him several more times (which Goofy didn't seem to mind) before thanking him politely and saying goodbye. Now, this was all well and good.

Then we went to Epcot. They have a whole pavilion devoted to the classic characters. Mickey, Pluto, Minnie, Donald, and, you guessed it, Goofy. Well, of course we had to get in line to see her friends. and, once again, she hugged them all with all the love in her heart. Once again, delightful.

The next night, our last at Disney, we once again found ourselves at Epcot. By this time, my daughter has become a savvy fan of the House of Mouse and knew exactly where that pavilion was located. As I waited in yet another line for her to go through her hugs again, I reflected on the lessons I could learn from her behavior. I realized that, for her, this wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime event, meeting these characters. For her this was a chance to reconnect with friends.

Applied to our networking, this means that to create great connections with our networking contacts, it's not enough to meet with them just one time. We need to take the opportunity to meet or communicate regularly with our network. Put another way, how many of your good friends have you met only one time in the course of your relationship?

I've made this mistake in my early networking career. I met someone at a networking event and then had a good sit-down with them over lunch. I thought we had established a good relationship, so I put their name and number in my contact list and did nothing further. After all, they would probably contact me eventually, right? Well, about six months later, I thought I would give them a call. There response?

"Now who are you again?"

So, take another lesson from my daughter. The strongest connections require regular maintenance. It's not enough to run up and give them a handshake (or a hug) just one time. We've got to maintain a regular practice of saying hello and reconnecting through phone calls, email messages, coffee, and lunch.

Hopefully, Goofy will remember her next time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Giving Them a Big Hug

Kaylie melting (the Queen of) Hearts
More networking lessons from my daughter at Disney World.

If you looked through my photos from our trip to Disney World, you might notice a theme or a pattern, if you will. It usually involves my daughter running up to some sort of fictional character -- cartoon, princess, or other -- and giving them a big hug before posing for the camera. Now the posing part is secondary to my point here. It's the hugging part that I want to talk about.

After the King Louie incident on our first day, Kaylie decided that every character deserved the same level of attention. She would literally run into their arms with such an expression of joy and adulation on her face that the folks who were playing those parts were quite touched. At one point we happened to bump into the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland in a back hallway heading offstage. She and the March Hare stopped to greet Kaylie. Kaylie was dressed in her Cinderella costume and she and the Queen spent a few minutes curtsying to each other (after the requisite hugging, of course). After the interlude had ended and the Queen had retired to the backstage area, her handler came back out to tell us that the Queen had really loved seeing Kaylie and that she had really made her night.

I'd have to imagine that this is pretty rare with these folks who see lines of children of all ages all day long.

Now, I'm not telling you this story in order to brag about my child -- or at least not just to brag about her. The point I want to make is what if we applied this same level of enthusiasm to our own networking? Oh, I don't mean to go up and hug everyone we meet, but what if we actually treated them as if we were happy to see them? Even better, what if we actually were happy to see them?

So many people view networking as a task to be accomplished -- and the sooner the better. Here's the thing, though: If we actually take the time to enjoy it and treat those we meet as true friends whom we are overjoyed to see again, networking would be, first, a heck of a lot more fun to do. Next, it would also tend to be a lot more productive. Treating other people as valued members of your life endears them to you and makes them a lot more likely to be looking out for your interests -- especially since you will also be looking out for theirs.

Take a page from my daughter's book. Dig deep and imagine what you would have felt as a child meeting one of your idols for the first time. Now take that emotion and apply it to the connections you make through networking. You'll be amazed at how much further it takes you.