Monday, January 31, 2011

The Failure of Prioritizing Behavior

Do you spend your time on networking or
work-working?
One of the challenges of networking in a business context is trying to prioritize where we devote our time. Which is more important, the networking or the work? To solve this quandary, many folks try to prioritize their behavior. Now, I think that prioritizing is a great practice in general, but it kind of fails in this instance.

The problem is that neither working nor networking has a definable end point, so whichever you place first tends to take up all available time leaving nothing for the runner-up. Let's say we focus on networking. Great! By attending those events, forming the relationships, and being of service to others, eventually those referrals and contracts start pouring in. Unfortunately, because we are spending all of our time networking, the work tends to fall to the wayside. You know things are going south when the people calling you aren't asking you to join them for coffee, but rather are complaining about how long it's taking you to get their project done.

This is pretty much the "crash and burn" plan.

If we focus on the work first, then we have a different problem. We work to complete those projects which we have, promising that we will do our networking "when we get some time". The problem is we don't have any spare time until the work is complete and we've been paid. Then we have all the time in the world for networking because we don't have any work at all. Also, since networking takes a while to build the relationships, it actually takes quite a while before those next projects start showing up at our doorstep. In the meantime, we might get kind of hungry.

This is the "feast or famine" plan.

The thing is, for business success, we really need to focus on both activities. The best way is to devote a certain amount of time each day to both. The easiest area to limit is networking. All we have to do is maintain a networking scorecard. If you've never done this before, the networking scorecard just helps you keep track of your networking activities throughout the day and assigns a numerical score to each activity. In order to constrain the amount of time spent on networking, we just need to pick a particular numerical score for each day or week. When we achieve that score, we're done networking.

Now, of course, over time we need to keep track of our scores. We need to verify that the scores we are achieving will lead to the future we are trying to attain. Still, whether we raise or lower them, we must still set that limit. That tells us when we've done enough and it's time to focus on the fruits of those efforts.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user RAWKU5

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Networking Focus

I've been training in the martial arts for about thirteen years now. In that time I've learned a thing or two. Sometimes that lesson happened at the same time as someone's foot connecting to the side of my head.

If you can avoid lessons like that, I highly recommend it.

One of the hardest things for new practitioners to realize is that, when you are sparring, you don't watch the other person's hands. Their hands can lie to you. While you are focusing on them, their feet are probably preparing to do something relatively unpleasant (see the above-mentioned lessons to avoid). For the same reason, you don't want to focus on their feet or even their eyes. They can all lie to you and lead you into an "unsuccessful" sparring round.

The best spot to rest your eyes is usually somewhere between the shoulders and the solar plexus (that soft spot right below your sternum). Almost every action they will take shows up there first. All of the power they will wield in their extremities comes from that core.

So, what does that have to do with networking?

When inexperienced networkers first practice the "art" of networking, they tend to focus on the "extremities". They try to get a referral or a sale when they attend the networking event. They focus on what they are going to say or do. That focus tends to bring "unsuccessful" results. Just as in sparring, the successful networker focuses on the core...

...the relationship.

In networking everything extends from the relationships we build. The referrals and sales, the introductions and recommendations, they all first start with someone saying hello and then showing they truly care about the people around them.

So, while a poor focus at a networking event is unlikely to result in a boot to the head, it also won't result in us scoring any points toward our long-term success. If we focus first on the fundamental of relationship development, the desired results will follow naturally.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Event Review: Lunch Ann Arbor Marketing

A lunchtime one-to-one had to cancel suddenly this week. That left an opening between two meetings with nothing to do. Fortunately, it was Wednesday and I was in downtown Ann Arbor. That meant Lunch Ann Arbor Marketing (LA2M) was about to start. Here's a quick review.

Organization: LA2M
Location: Conor O’Neill’s Celtic Room, 318 South Main Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Date: Every Wednesday
Time: 11:45am-1pm. People usually start showing up at 11:30
Format: Open networking, speaker, introductions
Size: 50-90
Attendees: Marketing professionals and those interested in topics in that field
Cost: Free (suggested $3 donation). $10 if you want lunch.

LA2M started out in January of 2008 as a small group (five attendees at the first meeting) of marketing professionals who gathered once a week to discuss the issues and challenges they experienced in the pursuit of their businesses. Over time it grew until today when every Wednesday sees seventy or eighty professionals from a variety of industries crowd into the Celtic Room at Conor O'Neill's on Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor. Most show up for the topic of the day, but for many this is also a great social and networking outlet.

You'll see people start to gather for the event at 11:30 or even earlier. Word to the wise: Get there as early as possible. Depending on the topic, the seats can fill up fast and the prime seats are largely gone by the official start time of 11:45. General mixer-style networking goes on until noon when Derek Mehraban, one of the founders, calls things to order. After covering a bit of business and passing the hat (there is a recommended $3 donation) he introduces the speaker for the day.

Derek Mehraban introducing
Rob Goren from Google
While I don't have the opportunity to attend as often as I would like, the speakers and topics are almost always top-notch. I've seen presentations on sales, asking for referrals, and general marketing. I've seen more technical talks about social media, website development, and this week one on using YouTube for marketing your business. Back in October, they even scored a real coup by securing Mike Tirico, Play-by-Play Commentator, Studio and ESPN Radio Host.

After the presentation, the last fifteen minutes or so are for doing introductions by passing the microphone. While a lot of folks will leave right afterward, quite a few stick around for a few minutes more of chatting and networking. If you do attend, just be ready to stand and give your introduction. A little bit of practice will make this easier.

I really should attend this event more often. For me it has a great mix of people who are new to me and those whom I've known for a while. I've noticed that, in general, the people here really understand good networking practice. I rarely see some of the more egregious behaviors which can mar some of the general networking events around town.

If LA2M has any downside it would probably be found in its own success. I've attended several of these which were standing room only (as was this weeks). The venue, while relatively spacious, can get so crowded that it's difficult to move around and meet people. The seating is also set up on both sides of long tables which hold eight. This means that half of the people either face the speaker or face their lunch (assuming they choose to order) -- yet another reason to show up early.

Speaking of the food, lunch is optional. LA2M has a deal with Conor O'Neill's. The restaurant provides a limited menu (about eight items as I recall), mostly Irish fare. For $10 you get an ample entrĂ©e and beverage and it covers the tip for the server, too. I quite enjoyed my vegetarian "boxty", which was a potato pancake sandwiching grilled vegetables and included a side salad.

If you just can't make it downtown for the event, while it isn't networking, you can tune into most of the presentations via a live feed during the event or at any other time through the archives on the LA2M website. You won't get the benefit of meeting all the great people who tend to show up on a regular basis, but you can at least gain the benefit of the information presented.

After attending this last one and remembering how informative and conducive to good networking they are, I've resolved to catch many more of these this year. Hope to see you there.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Someone Like Me

Networking is all about creating connections. We seek out commonalities in order to bridge the isolation that almost everyone feels at one time or another. In fact, some of the best event techniques involve asking questions in order to find those common points of interest. As a result, we end up with a strong, supportive network which can help us survive our darkest times.

One organization that makes use of this concept to a noble end is Ele's Place. They support grieving children (and their families) who've had to deal with the death of a parent or sibling. I learned a lot about Ele's Place this afternoon from the Managing Director of its Ann Arbor office, Wendy Brightman.

Wendy spoke at this month's Abundance Forum. She painted a compelling picture of the need for their supportive programs in our community. One point she made in particular really struck home for me. She said that one of the challenges that these kids face is the feeling of being completely alone -- of being different from everyone around them. Very few, if any, of their classmates have experienced a similar loss. That isolation can cause profound problems in the child's life if left unattended.

Ele's place provides a venue where these youngsters can connect with others who have experienced similar trauma. Because they all have this shared experience, they can feel safe to explore their own feelings around each other. Unlike their school or church, they are surrounded by other kids who understand. This gives them the support they need to not only survive, but start the healing process that will help them find a new sense of "normal" in their lives.

As good networkers we have to take responsibility to support those in our network. Connecting them with the resources that might help them succeed goes beyond just success in business. If someone in your network is struggling with the loss of a family member, tell them about the good work done by the dedicated folks at Ele's Place. You'll have the satisfaction of not only building stronger connections, but of having a profound and positive impact on someones life.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stand Up and Speak (Well)!

I was at a great networking event today (more on that at a later date). As a part of this event, we had a "pass the microphone" segment. A lot of events do this -- with or without the microphone. For some reason I got caught up in watching the various behaviors as each person in turn got their chance to address the crowd. Here are the different approaches I noticed.
  • Practiced and to the Point. These folks either knew they would be doing this -- and had prepared accordingly --  or were good at preparing their introduction on the fly. They were clear, brief, and occasionally even funny. Several had specific requests they presented to the crowd.
  • Unpracticed. Whereas the previous group were prepared and comfortable, this group showed clear signs of nervousness. Most of them covered well by simply delivering their name and address. They'll improve with a little bit of practice.
  • Unprepared Ramblings. Some of the "Unpracticed" folks tried to cover their discomfort by going on and on about their businesses and what they had to offer. While it was good that they were willing to get up and speak, they would benefit greatly from taking some time to figure out the message they want to convey and then practicing it so that it comes smoothly. This is one of those occasions when the "10-second commercial" actually is helpful.
  • Skipped Past. These folks I had a hard time understanding. When the microphone landed in their hands, they immediately passed it to the next person without taking a turn. Maybe they were unbearably shy maybe they didn't feel like it was worth the trouble. Whatever their reason, the impression they gave was that they didn't feel they weren't part of the group -- not really a good way to get what they might need from that same group.
  • Skipped Out. If I think the previous group hurt themselves by not choosing to take their turn, this group was a complete self-sabotage. These folks actually left the meeting as soon as the host introduced the introductions part of the proceedings. Now, I know that everyone has the occasional scheduling conflict, but when the introductions started, we were still well within the advertised time for the event. By leaving early they missed out on even listening to see if anyone else was a good possible connection for them.
If we are attending a networking event which has a "pass the microphone" segment, it behooves us to prepare ourselves for the opportunity. The more clear, concise, and to the point we are, the better our chances of a good result will be. If we aren't sure of such an opportunity, this would be a great time to contact the organizer to find out the details.

Is our performance in such introductions going to result in someone rushing up to us with checkbook extended? Not likely. But it may result in people being interested enough to let us start the process of creating a great relationship.

Which might result in the checkbook being extended sooner than we think.

Photo credit: Michal Zacharzewski

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Knowledge versus Belief

Who else is behind this
victory?
One of the challenges of networking for a lot of people (including myself at times) is the old knowledge versus belief problem. We know that the best long-term strategy to succeed in our business and personal life is developing strong relationships through networking. The problem is we don't always believe it. What else could cause us to try to sell at a networking event, despite the fact that the numbers don't support it?

OK, so most of us aren't that blatant about it, but sometimes when we're talking to someone we hear that voice in the back of our heads saying "This guy is never going to need my widgets. I should go talk with someone else."  We're ignoring the fact that, while he doesn't need our product, his sister very well might -- and we're never going to discover that until we learn more about him and who he is.

So, how do we embed this belief into our hearts? Maybe it just takes a mental exercise.

You've probably heard about keeping a "Victory List". For those who haven't, the idea is to make a list of all of the victories you've had in your life. Then you periodically look back on it to give you confidence that you can achieve even more in the future. This is a great practice and I definitely think everyone should maintain such a list. Here's the twist on it, though. Each night when we do our networking scorecard, or do our planning for the next day, or even just after we turn out the lights, we should take something from that list and reflect on how many people helped us get there.

Who were the teachers who gave us the knowledge? Who were the coaches who pointed the way? Who were the friends and family who supported us? Who were the heroes who inspired us? Who were the partners who contributed their effort? Who were the connections who made the introductions? Who were the advocates who went to bat for us?

In short, who made it possible for us to succeed?

If we do this exercise just a few times, it quickly becomes apparent how much more important the relationship is than the sale. If we do it daily for a few weeks, we'll be a lot less likely to slip into "sales thinking" and be a lot more likely to look for ways to connect which each new person you meet.

Photo credit: Fernando Mengoni

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Their Favorite Words

I think I'm on page 3
My good friend Sandy Pirwitz, Assistant Director and Trainer for BNI commented on my post of a couple of days ago regarding other networking opportunities afforded by the various social media sites. Her whole comment is great, but there was a specific part that stood out to me. She said:
...For example, promoting or recommending your BNI chapter members' products or services on your wall may generate referrals.
This brought to mind one of the best ways to let people know that you are keeping them in mind: Use their favorite words. And I don't mean "Abracadabra", "Presto-change-o", or even "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious".

I mean, of course, their name.

In general, people love to see something complimentary written about them. If there's a chance that they might be in a multi-page article, they will likely scan the whole thing first looking for that brief mention before returning to the beginning and reading the whole missive (if they even bother with that).

So where are some areas where we can make out connections into the center of attention?
  • Mention them in your Facebook status. This applies to any of the other social media sites, too. Facebook even has a nice feature where you can type "@" followed by their name in your status and it will automatically notify them that they were tagged. 
  • Recommend them on any of the social media sites. LinkedIn is especially good for this, but Facebook fan pages also have a "Review" tab that can serve the same purpose.
  • "Retweet" them on Twitter. If one of the people you follow on Twitter mentions something particularly profound or helpful, retweet it to all your followers.
  • Talk about them in your blog. If they are doing something cool or different, or particularly effective, talk about it. Mention them by name. Link back to their site.
  • Write about them in your newsletter. Whether it's electronic or an old-fashioned dead tree edition, they will know that the recipients probably saw that article about them.
I'm sure there are more opportunities out there. Keep an eye out for any chance to bring them out front and center. Oh, and don't be surprised if they start looking for opportunities to do the same for you.

Photo credit: Matt Callow

Monday, January 24, 2011

Setting the Example

We can only point them to the path.
They have to walk it themselves.
I was speaking to a friend of mine a few months ago about networking. We were talking about an event he had attended recently. He had walked out feeling frustrated because, as he put it, "no one knows how to network right." He'd had people shove their cards in his face, interrupt his conversation in order to tell him about their business, and one guy even made fun of my friend's business name.

So, what's a good networker to do?

We talked about it and came up with a few ideas.

  • Ignore them and refuse to deal with them. We should probably limit this only to those who are being actively offensive. Most folks aren't trying to insult anyone, they just haven't thought through how others might interpret their behaviors. Some people, though, are just jerks. If this is the case, we probably aren't going to be able to establish any sort of productive relationship with them.
  • Interrupt their pattern. When the other person tries to overstep the bounds of a new relationship -- by asking for a referral or trying to make a sale -- we can redirect their focus by stepping out of their script. Ask them about other groups they belong to or what they like to do on the weekend. We could even ask about their business, but only in the context of their personal experience (how long they've been doing it, what got them into it, etc).
  • Offer to help. If they are seriously trying to sell, we can tell them that, while we aren't interested at this time, we would like to find out more. Perhaps they'd be interested in getting together for coffee so we can see if there are any opportunities where we can help each other.
  • Ask about their target market. I love asking this question. I usually do have to explain that I'm curious about who they would prefer to serve, since most folks say they can help anybody. I might even ask them "If I'm chatting with someone, what might they say that would tell me I should send them to you?" This definitely forces people to stop and think. They also occasionally turn the question back on me -- information I am glad to provide.
  • Tell them they are networking wrong. This is a path I definitely don't recommend. Doing this is about as likely to improve their networking practice as the act of telling them that they are being rude will do anything to improve their manners. In this case, the only thing we can do is set the good example.
The more networking we do, the more bad networking we will witness. I wish it were otherwise, but that's just the way it is. Always remember that, for the most part, the folks who practice limited networker techniques are not actually trying to offend. They are networking in the best way that they know how. It's up to us to help them see that there's a better way to go. Who knows? With enough of us spreading the good word through our actions, the Deck Dealers and the Strong-Arm Salespeople might become endangered species.

Photo credit: Brian Stansberry

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is Facebook Networking?

I just finished with my nightly forays into the world of Facebook. I usually spend fifteen or twenty minutes checking in on what my friends are doing and seeing if anyone else has "liked" my Reluctant Networker fan page. The question remains, though, can we consider Facebook (or any of the social media sites for that matter) to be networking?

I'd say it's a qualified "Yes".

Let's be a little more clear on this, though. By networking, I mean the process of developing long-term mutually-beneficial relationships. To the extent that our activities on Facebook support this goal, Facebook is networking. So, what activities are and aren't a part of that? Let's take a look.

  • Posting our status. Hmm. Maybe a little bit. This is essentially an undifferentiated broadcast -- all of our friends get to see what we write about, whether they are interested or not. In some ways it allows them to see an aspect of who we are, so to that extent it might deepen a relationship, but it's pretty weak in that respect.
  • Commenting on another person's status. This is more like it. We are interacting with that person. We are also likely to be talking about something of interest to them. This probably has almost the strength of an exchanged email on the networking scorecard.
  • Posting a link or other informational piece. This is kind of a mixed bag. If we are posting it on a fan page which is dedicated to this kind of information (and it isn't essentially an advertisement), then this definitely counts as good networking. People see us as supporting that community of which they are a part. Bonus points if we respond to any comments about our posting. On the other hand, if this is only a general post to all of our friends, or the post is only of general interest (a joke or general news item), or it's a (shudder) advertisement, then it has the same effect as a blanket email message to our entire email address book -- not much and possibly a bit to the negative.
  • Suggesting a page to a specific friend who might actually be interested. Yes, definitely, especially if we include a personal note as to why they might be interested. Note that this is to a specific person.
  • Suggesting a page to all our friends at once is definitely not good practice. I know I've received suggestions to things that just weren't me (such as a fan page for a nail salon in a different state). That pretty much told me that they didn't really care about me except as a number to add to the "fan list".
  • Sending messages to a specific person. Yes. These are basically the same as sending emails to individuals outside of Facebook. They don't count for much on the networking scorecard, but they are points of contact.
  • Sending "friend" requests. If they are to people we already know, then yes. Sent to people we've never meant, not so much. Once again, when I receive such a message, all I can think of is that this person just wants to increase the number of "friends" they have, not really to make friends.
  • Playing games. No. No, dear God, no. If you enjoy playing Farmville, or Mafia Wars, or Werewolves and Vampires, or any of the other ninety bazillion games on Facebook, that's awesome and more power to you. Doing so, though, does nothing to establish or strengthen our relationships with our FB friends. Also, depending on the patience level of our friends, the constant chatter that these games generate can actually alienate some of our friends.
So, if we are using Facebook as one of the tools in our networking toolbox, that's great. It can be as useful as email and conceivably a great deal more convenient. No matter how much we want, though, it cannot be the whole of our interaction with the outside world. Just as with email, it's strength lies in the light touches which can help maintain an existing relationship. Similarly its weakness is that it doesn't do as well with creating new connections nor is it particularly efficient with deepening existing ones.

Image credit: Flickr user benstein

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What's in a Name?

I had to go in for a root canal today.

Now, I know for many of us the words "root canal" bring up images of profound torture -- of agony and vulnerability which sear the soul and bring grown men to tears.

And a good many of us have never had to go through the procedure.

So you can imagine that I was feeling just the tiniest bit nervous as I sat in the endodontist's chair waiting for him to come in and take up the tools of his foul trade. While we waited, his assistant got the room organized and made sure I was as comfortable as possible. I was trying to take my mind off the impending procedure so I struck up a conversation with her. Then something happened which rather surprised me.

I asked her what her name was and she told me it was "Laurie".

Suddenly, she was no longer just "the assistant", but she was "Laurie", a caring, devoted professional who only wanted me to enjoy continued dental health with a minimum of discomfort. It made a huge difference in my own attitude. While I wasn't dancing a jig by any means, I suddenly didn't feel nearly as worried as I had when I first walked in.

Obviously, it wasn't just knowing her name that made the difference, but rather the idea that I suddenly had this much more personal relationship with her that helped relieve some of my fears. How often does that happen in our own line of work?

No matter what we do, if a client has never experienced it before, there is a certain amount of nervousness associated. By becoming a person in their eyes, and not just a business, we can help relieve a lot of that discomfort. If they've never had to purchase a furnace before, are they going to be more comfortable dealing with the ABC Furnace Company or with their new friend Mike who happens to work at ABC? I think the same holds true for medical procedures, buying a car, or getting a massage. If they know the person with whom they are dealing, it takes away from a lot of the stress that they might feel about dealing with the unknown.

This is why referrals are such a powerful thing. We can recommend a business, but we refer a person. We are essentially telling someone who trusts us, that we trust this other person to take care of them.

So, when it comes to networking, remember that we are more important than our brand. Our network will be with us no matter what company we currently serve. They know and trust us, and only through us do they trust the company.

Oh, and the root canal turned out fine. Maybe I'm unusual, but I experienced less pain during and after this procedure than I did the last time I had a tooth filled. Still, I recommend you avoid it if you can. No amount of personal relationship can make it a truly enjoyable time.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user sardinelly

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sales, Marketing or Networking

When attending a networking event we have three basic attitudes we can adopt. Each has its own advantages. Sometimes, though, the disadvantages of an attitude should steer us in a different direction (especially when we evaluate them from a "golden rule" perspective). Let's look at the three approaches.

  1. Sales. We advertise our services and look for people to buy them. We define success by the number of clients we can rope in.
    Advantages: Well, assuming we can actually close a sale during the event, we do walk away with money in our pockets.
    Disadvantages: Almost without fail, if someone can close a sale on such short order, they are probably using "hard sell" tactics. No one likes to have this done to them. Not that people will run screaming from us, but they probably will run silently.
  2. Marketing. We spend our time chatting with people and educating them about what we do. We hand out as many cards as possible in order to spread our brand far and wide.
    Advantages: We certainly won't drive away people like the "Sales" guy does. Some people might be interested and may even be able to refer us to others.
    Disadvantages: They probably won't. Most people aren't that interested in us and our products. Our card will end up in the pile on their desk or in the garbage can on the way out the door. While we may not offend anyone, we certainly won't excite them either.
  3. Networking. Our conversations with the other attendees are for the purpose of finding out about them. We ask for cards where we think we could create a good mutually beneficial relationship. Advantages: We don't have to worry about what we are going to say, because we are going to be asking questions. Instead of clients we are gaining ambassadors who will look out for our interests because they actually like us. Connecting with the purpose of developing these relationships is the best way to have them pass referrals to us.
    Disadvantages: We almost never walk away from the event with a sale nor are we spreading our message to everyone at the event because for the most part, we aren't talking about ourselves. Developing relationships can take a long time before they begin to turn into referrals.
Really, the choice is ours. We can take the approach that might generate some short term benefits at the cost of long term good will. We can choose the path that might spread our message to the far corners of our community, but probably won't. Or we can go with the long, slow process which may net us the greatest rewards in the long run.

Ask yourself this: If you chose an event where each of the attendees followed the same one of the above approaches, which one would you prefer? I'm guessing everyone else would choose the same.

Image by: Matt McIrvin

Thursday, January 20, 2011

You've Got to have Chemistry

We've all run into this situation. We meet someone. On paper we have everything in common. We should hit it off right away. For some reason, though, we just don't click. The chemistry isn't there. Our personalities clash for some reason and sometimes you don't even know exactly why.

OK, sometimes the guy is just a jerk, but you get the idea.

The same thing can be true of the networking events we attend. We carefully select the event. The people who go there are either our target market or serve our target market. The location is near our office. The timing is a perfect fit for our schedule. It even has the style of networking we prefer.

And for some reason it just doesn't work.

Now, sometimes it's just a matter of time. We think it's not working, but we actually haven't put in enough time to allow people to get to know us. Sometimes we're not really participating. It's our effort we need to improve. Sometimes, though, it's just the "personality" of the event. For whatever reason, maybe something we can't even put a finger on, we just never feel like we fit in.

When that happens, we should probably look for a new event to attend. If we aren't making the connection to the folks at this event, no matter how hard we've tried (and we have to be honest about how hard we're trying), then the event isn't doing anything to help us extend our network. If it isn't doing that, then we are wasting our time and money -- both better spent at a different venue.

If you've been attending a particular networking gathering for a while, and you aren't achieving the goals you set for the event, maybe it's not you. Maybe it's not the event either. Maybe there's just no chemistry.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user 123dan321

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Toward Successful Networking

I was cleaning out my office tonight when I came across a small book of quotes by the inestimable Jim Rohn. I was flipping through it and reading a line or two at random when I came upon this one:
Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.
How wonderfully true that line is in any area of our lives, but particularly so in the case of networking.

Networking is all about the relationships we build. That development must happen over time. I don't care how skillfully or intensely you practice your networking techniques, you just cannot achieve the "Trust" level in the first meeting. That result comes only after consistent interaction over the course of weeks or months -- maybe even years.

In fact, think about how you would feel if someone tried to make "instant friends" with you. Would you feel like they were imposing on you? Would you respond positively? Probably the best they could hope for would be your pity, because they are obviously desperate.

And desperation is rarely the basis for a strong relationship.

So, as good networkers, we need to practice our skills every day. Even if we're overwhelmed with work -- even if we aren't feeling well -- we still need to do some little thing so that we never have gaps where we aren't working to help our network succeed -- or at least taking an interest in who they are and what they need.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Good News, Bad News

This path goes on forever
First the good news.

If we want to build a powerful network, we can. There are systems and techniques galore to help us succeed. We can attend the events, make the calls, meet for coffees, send the notes, pass the referrals, and, in general, keep an eye out for the people in our network. In return we will build that web of interconnecting relationships which will allow us to succeed in our lives both personally and professionally.

Now for the bad news.

It never ends.

Anyone who wants to become a good networker has to realize that creating a strong network is a journey, not a destination. This means that all of those activities I mentioned? They have to continue for as long as we want to have our connections. By choosing this path, we are choosing a fundamental change in our lives for the long term. As long as we are comfortable with that, we can continue to succeed.

Photo credit: Patrice Dufour

Monday, January 17, 2011

Conversations, not Pitches

Why won't they just follow the script?
My good friend, Jeff Morris, president of CallYourHelpDesk.com and our local Cartridge World franchisee, sent me a link the other day to an article on Huffington Post written by Michael Port. In the article, Port talked about how most people don't like to listen to or give the dreaded "30-second commercial" or "elevator pitch" that has become such a staple of modern networking. He makes an excellent point that the best way to convey information about our business and our needs is in the course of normal conversation.

Shocking, right?

It's a great article and goes into some of the history of the practice and why it is wholly inappropriate for most networking purposes. Go check it out yourself.

This points to a more general concept regarding networking techniques and it's something I touched on briefly in yesterday's post on being genuine. All of the networking techniques we've ever touched on are meant only as guidelines. We should never, ever use them to force our interactions with others to fit a specific mold. Most people will not respond to this. Why? Because it's not a natural way to develop a relationship.

Let's look, as an example, at the INFER technique. This is basically a mnemonic designed to remind us to ask questions about different areas of the other person's life. If we are chatting with someone companionably and there aren't any lulls in the conversation, probably one of the worst things we could do is stop the communication cold so that we can fill out the "INFER form". I can almost hear the exchange now:

"... So, there we were, trying to get our phones back online, when, in fact, it was the donkey all along!"
"Oh, very funny! But this isn't helping me fill in my INFER form's Future Focus section. What goals do you have for the upcoming year?"
"What??"

Of course, if there's a gap in the conversation, then we can use INFER as a tool to restart things and maybe find out more specific information which will help us strengthen the relationship, but we should never assume that we can force a natural, friendly chat to follow a scripted path meant to make finding out about another person as efficient as possible.

As I said yesterday, at the base of everything in networking is the relationship. If what we do strengthens it, then it's good networking practice. Trying to force an interaction to follow a script that we've created probably doesn't fall under that rubric. So let's leave the scripts to actors and instead, just be real.

Photo credit: Flickr user binkle_28

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On Being Genuine

Some folks just set conversational snares
I've said in the past that truly great networkers almost have to have a split personality. They have to position their networking in a strategic way to bring themselves into contact with their target market and those who serve that target market. Then, when the relationship building part of networking starts, they have to forget about that "strategic" part of the process and just be genuinely interested in the people they meet.

They basically have to be willing to give of themselves with no expectation of return.

The problem a lot of new networkers (and those who are just plain ineffective) run into is that lack of expectation. I experienced this the other day at an event I attended. It was toward the end and most of the other guests had left. I and a long-time acquaintance were chatting and catching up a little. One of the other stragglers walked up to us and introduced himself. I don't have any problem with that. He then asked about our lines of work. This is still a good thing to do, but something felt a bit off about it. Then I realized what it was.

He was "technique-ing" us.

He had learned about the technique of mirroring -- the conversational behavior that causes most people to ask the same questions of you that you asked of them. He was using it to get us to ask him about his business. I actually recommend this as a general skill to develop. The part that he lacked was a genuine interest in us. It made the whole process feel fake -- or like a trap -- which it was.

No matter what networking skills we learn, we must always remember that the underlying purpose of those activities is to develop strong relationships. If we try to use them to push our own agenda, our victims will recognize it and start steering clear. I hope that young gentlemen we spoke with learns that soon or he may be in for a relatively unhappy time in his networking career.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Event Review: Networks!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I attended the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber's "Networks!" event on Thursday. Thought I would do a quick review.

Introductions at the Corner Brewery
Name: Networks!
Organization: Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber (aka A2Y Chamber)
Location: Various hotels, banquet halls, restaurants, golf courses, and country clubs around the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area.
Date: Usually the second Thursday of the month, skipping August
Time: 11:30am-1pm
Format: Open networking, meal, introductions, power-mingle, speaker
Size: 50-90
Attendees: Usually small business owners/sole proprietors, individual sales representatives/brokers
Cost: $25 for Chamber members, $45 for prospective Chamber members

The Chamber of Commerce Lunch is the archetype of the networking event and is largely the image people have when they are talking about such gatherings. The Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber (A2Y Chamber) wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't have their own version of this venerable institution. The nice thing is, they throw in a twist or two, just to keep things fun.

In general, starting at 11:30 or a little before, they have mixer-style open networking. Nothing particularly unusual here. As with most networking events, you'll have your mixture of effective and ineffective networkers. Not long after that, the lunch buffet will open. Networking continues at the tables until around noon.

Most of the time, this is when each person gets their moment in the sun.

Mike Wynn introducing himself
Each person in turn gets to stand and introduce themselves. These are very limited introductions. With between fifty and ninety attendees, they can't allow everyone to talk for five minutes. (As an aside, if you want to do that, talk to the Chamber about sponsoring the event.) Each participant stands and is allowed to say their name, their company name, and ten additional words about what they do or who they are seeking. I would recommend that anyone planning on attending should spend some time before showing up to figure out exactly what they want to say.

By the way, never try to just "wing it" on this. People who do, inevitably just start talking and then get nervous and talk some more and then realize they've talked too much and feel bad and then apologize to everyone, but as long as they are apologizing they had one more thought that they just needed to say and then they have to apologize again for going on so long, etc, etc, etc. This is your chance to look poised and confident. A little bit of practice will go a long way toward giving everyone the right impression.

After the introductions, the host, almost always Tom Denk of Thomas Denk Financial Services, starts the "Power Mingle" portion of the lunch. This is essentially more open networking, but since we've just heard who all the attendees are and what they do, we can focus our attentions on those with whom we might have something in common. Depending on how long the introductions took, the Power Mingle can last between ten and fifteen minutes.

After everyone takes their seat again, they move on to the formal presentation. The most recent speaker was Steve Sarns of NuStep, Inc, talking about NuStep's "Home Grown Stories". In the past they've had other local business people talking about their experiences, local celebrities, such as the University of Michigan Athletic Director, Bill Martin, speaking about topics near and dear to their hearts, and business coaches and instructors, such as Joe Marr of Sandler Training, Ann Arbor, who give mini-workshops to provide the attendees with some new tools to improve and increase their businesses.

Every once in a while, the folks who run Networks switch things up. We've had a couple of speed networkings. They've tried having designated "assistant hosts" read the introductions. They've even had a game show instead of a speaker on occasion. If you do plan to attend, you have to be ready for just about anything.

One helpful hint I have for attending Networks is in your seat selection. I recommend that you find a seat on the edge of the room, facing the podium. If you end up in one of the center tables, when it's your turn to introduce yourself, you will always have half the audience behind you.

If your target market is small businesses/sole proprietors or the people they serve, Networks is a great venue for networking. Show up early, be prepared to tell everyone who you are and then get ready to begin making good connections.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Targeting Success

I've been thinking a lot about target markets lately. They are such an important aspect of networking that it's almost impossible to develop a good networking practice without spending some time focusing on exactly who you would prefer to serve. We've spoken before about the various benefits of a tightly specified target market -- most notably focusing our networking to those locations which are associated with that target and making it easier for our network to refer prospects to us.

Despite these advantages, a lot of people have a hard time deciding on their target. They feel like they are leaving work on the table -- work they desperately need.

Which is why it was so refreshing today to listen to the lunchtime speaker at the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber's "Networks!" event.

The speaker was Steve Sarns, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at NuStep, Inc. NuStep is a home-grown Ann Arbor company. They invented and produce the NuStep line of recumbent cross trainers (think of a combination of a recumbent bike and an elliptical trainer and you'll sort of have an idea. Check out their website if you'd like to see what I'm (inadequately) describing.

What really struck me was when Steve was talking about their early years. He specifically gave credit for their early successes to one thing: They chose a target market. In this case, they specifically targeted the cardiology rehabilitation market (sounds pretty specific to me). Of course, they didn't turn anyone away, but they focused all of their marketing, sales, and advertising efforts to capture this one market.

And, apparently, they pretty much did.

Then he said something else interesting. He said, while they still serve the cardio rehab market, they are starting to look around at new possibilities. One of the ones they are thinking about in particular is helping seniors maintain good health which would allow them to stay in their homes longer.

What? They're changing their target market? But I thought that when you selected one, that it was your target market forever and ever, amen!

Nope. That's just not the case. A target market is just that. It's just a target -- something to aim for. Good businesses can change that target when it makes sense. Maybe they feel they've accomplished all they can in that market. Maybe the conditions in that market have shifted so it is no longer optimal. Heck, maybe they just chose poorly. Provided there is a good enough reason, it's perfectly acceptable to aim for a new target.

So, if we've been putting off thinking about our target market. Now would be a good time to start. After all we have NuStep's example to follow.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

All New Networker for the Brand New Year

Don't try to lift too much with any of
your New Years resolutions.
It's a whole new year and it's time for the resolutions. Some folks are going to lose some weight. Others are going to read more. Still others set goals to call their mom more often. I'd imagine there might even be a few out there who are resolved that this year they were going to get their networking act in order.

So, they start attending events every week. They join six new networking groups. They get their LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook accounts up to date and check in on them three times a day. They schedule nine one-to-ones in the upcoming two weeks. They set a schedule to call five people a day from their network. They start a blog and an e-newsletter.

And it lasts about a week.

Listen. Networking is about consistency, not about intensity (as are most things in life). We'd be better off to do ten minutes of networking every day than to attempt to do eight hours once a week. We talk about this phenomenon down at the Karate school all the time. In an attempt to get in shape, people will plan to get up every morning and run five miles. It might even work for a day or two, but it almost inevitably fails. The problem is they are trying to do not one, but two difficult things. First, they are trying to run five miles. Second, they are trying to establish a daily habit.

Yes, that last part is really quite difficult.

The challenge is that we all have established set patterns in our day -- patterns which we have practiced for months, years, even decades. Changing that pattern requires an act of sustained willpower. We only have to consider how difficult it is for us to change our eating habits to understand that difficulty.

So, my recommendation to those wanting to step up their networking in the new year is, first, change your pattern. Establish a new practice of doing some kind of networking once a day for even just five minutes. Doing it at the same time each day would be even better. Here are some activities which you can pursue during your "networking time".

  1. Call one friend just to say hello.
  2. Send out an email to an acquaintance asking them what they've been up to lately.
  3. Write a quick note to someone.
  4. Send an article to someone.
  5. Read and respond to a blog post in your industry.
  6. Go on your favorite social media site and update your status.
Pick only one activity to do during your networking time. Now do it for three or four weeks without missing a day. Soon it will seem strange not to do your networking. When that happens you can consider extending the amount of time you spend and adding a new activity.

Establishing a networking practice is no different from cultivating any other habit in your life. It's mainly just takes consistent activity and time. So, Happy New Year and happy networking.

See you at the next Chamber lunch.

Photo credit: Brian Lary

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Look for Friends, Not Free Advice

Sometimes you just have to pay
I was reading a post over on the Motivated Networker blog. They talk about a recruiter's difficulties with people who probably thought they were networking, but in reality were trying to get free advice and work without bothering to even establish a relationship first. This is a danger for every networker. After all, we're supposed to be "making friends", right? And friends do favors for friends, right?

Yeah, well friends don't take advantage of friends, either.

So, how do we make sure that we aren't one of these -- let's call it for what it is -- users? Here are a few rules for our first meeting with another person, whether it's at a networking event or a one-to-one:

  1. Don't lead with your need. Unless someone referred us to this person because we have a need that they can meet and we are sincerely interested in paying them for their services, our initial conversation should be about them and their needs.
  2. Ask about their business, not for their effort. Asking them about their experiences as a tax accountant is an entirely acceptable path for the conversation. Asking them for advice about our particular tax issue is not.
  3. Person before business, not the other way around. Remember that, though we might need tax advice, we are still speaking to a person. If we are only chatting with them because they are a tax accountant -- unless we know we can refer paying business to them -- then our motivations are suspect (and they will know).
Even after we have an established relationship, we have to be very careful about asking for advice (or effort) which might fall under the umbrella of Things They Do For Pay. There are only a few ways which I know of to be sure on this.
  1. They offer to help. Even if this is the case, be very careful not to exceed the level of the relationship.
  2. We ask permission and acknowledge the imposition. I would recommend something like "Bob, I know this is a terrible imposition, but I have a few questions about my tax situation. If this is something that I need to pay your for, please tell me right away. Our friendship is far more important to me than getting some free advice." Make sure they know you mean it.
  3. We agree on some sort of barter. Perhaps we are running a business where we can be of service to Bob. If that's the case, and Bob is amenable, then trading services can work. After all, we are trading value for value.
Most folks are generous with their time and effort and most are more than willing to dispense advice or even a little bit of effort gratis. Where we have to be careful is making sure that we aren't cultivating the relationship solely for our own benefit and that we aren't asking for more than the existing level of the relationship can bear.

Photo credit: Charlie Ambler

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Being Present

My lovely wife Lisa loves to observe human behavior around her. Being a scientist, she attempts to draw conclusions based on those observations (and then test those hypotheses and, eventually, write up a lab report). I learn a lot from these observations as she often notices patterns I don't always see. The other day she pointed out something that she had noticed. She said that, in her experience, the most successful people with whom she had spoken were always completely present.

They weren't checking emails while listening to a speaker. They weren't wearing their bluetooth earpiece when they were in the middle of a conversation. In fact, their cellphone was never in evidence, let alone sitting in plain sight on the table. When you spoke with them, they never looked over your shoulder seeking a "better" conversation.

They were always there in the moment, as if what they were doing was the most important thing in the world.

Now, maybe they had "people" to take care of these things for them, but I prefer to believe instead that they have learned something about the petty distractions that modern life has thrown in our path...

...and they've rejected them.

This is something I know I struggle with. While I'm pretty good about maintaining my focus when I'm chatting with someone, I do have my Droid phone with me almost always. It's so easy in a quiet moment to pull it out and just "check the email". You know, just in case there are any emergencies. Guess what, though. On those extremely rare occasions when something has come up, there wasn't much I could do until after whatever it was that I was already doing had ended. The only thing that reading the email did for me was make me distracted for the remainder of the event.

I've spoken before about keeping our focus on the person we are with. Looking around for someone more important" doesn't impress anyone. It's certainly not going to lead to any stronger relationships.

Now, I'm not saying there aren't emergency situations which justify our having the phone on hand. Lisa and I are expecting our second child at the end of February, so you can imagine that my cell is always charged and at my side. If we're honest with ourselves, though, 99.99% of the time, we are using these bits of technology to escape the now. Oh, and the whole "looking over the shoulder" thing? I can't think of a single good reason for that behavior.

So, for me, one of my goals for this year is to be present in every networking situation. Of course, as I've mentioned, I'm nowhere near perfect. If you should happen to see me being distracted, call me on it.

After all, isn't that what friends do for friends?

Photo credit: Mykl Roventine

Monday, January 10, 2011

Another Kroger Revelation

I was at Kroger again tonight and while I was pushing my cart around the store, gathering the ingredients for this evenings dinner, I was thinking about my other posts regarding the difficulties we'd been having developing an attachment to this new store and how that struggle mirrored similar struggles in networking. Then, as often happens, life handed me a nice big lesson without my even having to ask.

And this time it's my fault.

More accurately, it's my fault that we aren't developing closer ties with the folks who work at this Kroger.

You see, this is a much more recently renovated grocery store than the one where we used to shop. I'm sure there are numerous improvements which I haven't noticed, but the big one that comes to mind is this store offers "U-Scan" checkout lanes. For those who've not experienced this, these are checkout lanes where you do pretty much all the work for yourself -- scanning, weighing, bagging, paying -- only rarely interacting with one of the store personnel. Even on those times where you do need them, you only see them for a few seconds (they're usually taking care of four to six different U-Scan lanes).

So, where I was decrying the lack of connection I felt for our new grocery store and blaming them for it, now I see that at least half of the problem lies at my door.

But what does that have to do with networking?

Simple. On the rare occasion where we walk out of a networking event feeling like it wasn't worth our time, we really need first to examine our own behaviors. Did we show up early or wander in a few minutes late? Did we have a goal or were we networking aimlessly? Did we act like a host or wait to be served? Did we stand and chat or sit and eat?

Joe Marr, my sales coach once told me that the measure of our success is often how much we take responsibility for our own results. If you think about it, if we blame everyone and everything else, then we don't have to do anything because we are helpless to change things. If we lay the responsibility at our own doorstep, then it's up to us to find a way to make things better.

So, remember, creating and maintaining great relationships is what we do. All the benefits of a having a strong network are what we get for taking that responsibility.

Photo credit: Dave Di Biase

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Prevent Reverting with Results Tracking

My daughter, Kaylie, turned three a few months ago. I can't believe how tall she's getting and how much of a big girl she's become. "Sesame Street", which used to be the center of her life has been replaced by other things -- mostly singing and dancing to her latest favorite movie ("Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang" as of this writing, though Disney's "Aladdin" is a close second). Still, there are times, especially when she's feeling insecure or scared when she reverts to a younger age and just wants her pacifier and blanket.

Believe it or not, a similar thing happens to us in networking.

Good networking -- the kind that develops long-term relationships -- takes a certain leap of faith. It's a long process and there are times when it feels like it's going nowhere. Also, focusing on relationships means we have to make ourselves a little vulnerable to other people. We have to open up at least some small part of our lives to them so they can feel a connection to us. It's no wonder we start feeling a little uncertain.

Unfortunately, that insecurity can lead to us reverting to an old style of networking. Instead of asking about them, we start talking about ourselves. Instead of taking their cards so we can call them, we hand out our cards, hoping they will call us. Instead of forming relationships, we start trying to sell. So, how do we avoid that insecurity and the relatively ineffective behaviors that can result?

The challenge we have is that networking success is a very gradual thing. Our network's strength increases by almost imperceptible steps with each coffee, lunch, and phone call we make. We can't see the changes in the short term. This is why it is so important to track our results. Now, over the long run, all we need is to track the big stuff. Looking back over the course of a few years, taking a look at the number of contracts signed, or the monetary value of those contracts, is a great way to see the gradual improvements from networking.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work as well in the short term. For that, we really need to track the "small" results. Maybe we look at the number of referrals we've received. Perhaps it's the number of sales calls we make. Heck, maybe it's even something as simple as the number of lunch invitations we receive.

Whatever the case, we need to track the results of all of our networking efforts so we can see the almost inevitable upward trend in our success. If we can keep that vision in front of us, we're a lot less likely to go back to having "commission breath".

Saturday, January 8, 2011

When They Ask, Tell!

I had something kind of amusing happen last month. As many of you know, I spoke at my friend Bruce Webb's Educational Breakfast. As a part of that presentation, I had the audience work on specifying their target market. We went through a process of examining their current clients and from that determining a specific segment of the market who they would prefer to serve. Then I did something which apparently baffled the whole crowd.

I asked if anyone would like to share their target market with the room.

Well, you could've heard a pin drop. Finally I had to remind them that, in order for it to be effective, we must communicate our target market to those around us. Of course, there are good and bad ways of doing so, but when someone actually asks us, we pretty much can't go wrong.

This also goes for someone asking us who we'd like to meet, what we do, why we do it, and where we see ourselves in five years.

It's funny. When a lot of us started networking, we tended to be so nervous about the process that we ended up talking almost non-stop in order to hide our discomfort. As we became more adept, we begin to focus more on the other person -- which is great. Unfortunately, some people take that a bit too far and end up revealing nothing about themselves.

Those of us who've gone that far need to bring that bubble a bit more toward the center. Remember that networking is about relationships. Relationships cannot flourish without communication which goes both ways. So, the next time someone asks about you, whether it's your target market, your history in the business, or your favorite Thai restaurant, let them see a little bit of you.

You've nothing really to hide and everything to gain.

Photo credit: Streuli Silvan

Friday, January 7, 2011

Event Review: Abundance Forum

I've been meaning to write up this event for a while now. The last time I attended the Abundance Forum was back in October. I decided to wait until now, though, as Joe, Mike, and Rich decided to take a hiatus over the holidays. Now that the new year is here, I'm assuming they are ready and raring to go with a new gathering.

Name: Abundance Forum
Organization: Sandler Training Center - Ann Arbor
Location: Sandler Training Center - 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, 48108
Date: Usually the last Thursday of the month, skipping November and December
Time: 3:30-6pm
Format: Open networking, snacks, speaker, more open networking
Size: 20-40
Attendees: Business owners who aren't whiners
Cost: Free, but by invitation only

Joe Marr, Mike Wynn, and Rich Austin run a great business helping frustrated entrepreneurs approach the sales process with a lot more success. I can say this because I am a lifetime member of their Presidents Club. That said, they also put on an awesome networking event.

The Abundance Forum is a networking event where the rule is "no whining". The folks who they invite to attend have decided not to take part in any of the economic misery that surrounds them. They are also all entrepreneurs who are responsible for the success of their businesses. As you might imagine, with those strict entrance requirements, the resulting crowd tends to be remarkably upbeat.

As far as I know, they always hold the Forum at the Sandler Training Center -- and why wouldn't they? The location is perfect for a relatively small gathering like this. There's plenty of room to walk around and chat. Then they have plenty of seating for the formal presentation portion of the afternoon. Also, Theresa Hunt, their  office manager keeps things humming right along.

The speakers can be inspirational, educational, or both. In prior Forums, I've seen Marilyn Suttle, co-author of "Who's Your Gladys?", Shawne Duperon, 6-time Emmy winner and founder of ShawneTV, and it's also where I first met my business coach, Jim Woods, of LST Advisors.

Kevin Gillespie captures the crowd with
another great story
This most recent gathering included a presentation by Kevin Gillespie, an inspirational speaker who talked about the tools we find in our mental and emotional toolkit. Kevin was a lot of fun to listen to because he did what many of the best speakers do. He told us stories. In fact, one of the titles on his business card is "Griot" which is an ancient word for "storyteller". If you get a chance to see one of his presentations, you really should check it out.

I've often said that networking events are basically just parties in disguise and the Sandler folks definitely believe the same thing. They have plenty of food and refreshments to help along the convivial atmosphere. With the optimistic aura and great guests, don't be surprised to walk out of there feeling revved up about your business. You'll probably also walk out with a number of appointments for future one-to-ones with the other attendees.

Be sure to bring your schedule.

The Abundance Forum is invitation only. If you are a business owner and are interested in attending, just contact them and let them know. If you've got a positive attitude, I'm sure they would love to have you.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rewarding Referrals

A few days ago I talked a little bit about rewarding referrals with gifts or some other sort of acknowledgment. Of course, the point I wanted to make was that these were gifts only if they weren't required or expected. That being said, what sort of things could we use for gifts or rewards and how much should we spend? Let's tackle that second question first.

Thinking back, it's been my experience that on those occasions where I've felt truly thanked, the value of the gift was around one percent of the monetary value of the referral -- more or less.Of course, it's often the case that the more time and effort we put into selecting a gift especially appropriate for the recipient, the less actual money we need to spend. We can see this in our personal lives as well. If we find that signed first edition of the book that Aunt Sally has been looking for, it doesn't matter if it only costs $10. If we end up buying her a gift card for the local bookstore, we feel cheap if it's for less than $50.

Same rule applies in networking.

Now as to some ideas for actual items, these are some that I've seen given, I've received, or I've given myself.

  • Food. OK, let's face it. Food almost always works, provided you know what the other person likes. It also has the benefit of not cluttering up their office and depending on your food purveyor, you can usually find gifts that range from $10 to $1000.
  • Books. Especially if you've discussed a particular one or recommended it to them. Of course, business book are always nice, but if you discover that they have a particular passion (especially one that you share) finding a book on that subject will tell them that you really were thinking about them.
  • Tickets. Concerts, movies, plays, etc. Again, especially if you have a mutual interest in some area, that's a perfect gift to reward and thank them for their help.
  • Travel. Depending on the size of the referral, this might be an appropriate level of appreciation. I've actually been on the receiving end of this one. Very nice!
  • Clothing. Jackets, shirts, scarves. Do be careful with this one. If you don't know what size they are, this gift can end up backfiring if you have to guess. Unless you know them well, stick to items that don't have sizes.
  • Time. Sometimes the best way to say thank you is just to spend time with them. Treat them to coffee or lunch. Catch up on what's going on in their life.
Whatever gift you do decide to give, no matter how much you actually spend, don't go cheap. Pay attention to presentation and quality. Nice wrapping paper can make even a plain gift into something special. Remember, you want them to think of you every time they see or think about your gift. If you go cheap, that's how you'll be remembered.

Photo credit: Nataly Aks