Monday, February 28, 2011

Missing the Finish Line

I attended one of my favorite networking events last week, the Abundance Forum. I try to hit this one every month because it's usually chock-a-block full of good information (which will help me succeed in my business and personal life) and good people (who pretty much do the same thing). This time, though, I walked out disappointed.

Oh, not because of any problem with the event. Joe Marr, Rich Austin, and especially Theresa Hunt still know how to throw a great shindig. They still had a fascinating speaker and the crowd was no less upbeat than ever. No, for me, I was disappointed because I didn't complete the networking goal that I set for myself before I walked in the door.

Now, this is going to happen occasionally. It's better to set the goal and miss it than not set it at all. If it happens a lot, though, especially with a specific event that you attend on a regular basis, it's time to ask some questions to make sure that you aren't wasting your time.

  1. Does it happen often? Do you meet your goals most of the time and this was just the one instance where it didn't work out? Or does this happen all the time. If it's the former, then don't worry too much. If it's the latter, then it bears closer scrutiny.
  2. Was it you? Sometimes, as in my case, we just aren't staying focused and doing what we know we are supposed to do in order to complete that goal. My goal was to meet two new people and get their business cards so we could get together later. There were definitely new people at the Forum, but I ended up talking with people I already knew.
  3. Was it the goal? This is something that happens to new networkers all the time. They set their goals a little too high and end up failing just because they don't yet have the skills to reach that far. I know a few people who can set a goal to meet at least five new people and make a substantive connection. For me, if I tried to do that, I would feel like a failure more often than not.
  4. Was it the event? Was the goal appropriate for the event? If you want to meet new people and the event doesn't attract that many, then you either need a new goal or a new event.
  5. Why did you start attending this gathering? Is that reason still valid? Maybe your needs have changed. Maybe the event has changed. Either way, maybe it's time to consider pulling back on your attendance. Before you do though, ask yourself...
  6. Are there other compelling reasons to continue attending? Maybe the group has become an excellent social outlet for you. Perhaps every time you show up, you walk out with business in your pocket. Maybe you just like the snacks. If you do decide that this group is still worth it, then you need also to decide how you can change your networking goals to better fit your expectations of the group.
  7. Are you doing your part? Even if you decide to stay (but definitely before you decide to leave), you have to ask yourself if you've done everything you can to hep the event organizers. Have you spread the word about what a great opportunity it is? Have you invited any quests personally? Have you offered to help plan and run the event? Make yourself part of the solution before you make yourself scarce.
In networking, as with most parts of life, when things aren't going as planned, then it's time to start asking some good questions. Sometimes the answers will confirm that we are doing the right thing at the right time and might just need to tweak our technique a little or they might lead us to drastic change which completely upends the way we go about our lives. Whether it's one end of this spectrum or the other or someplace in between, our success as networkers will be dependent on how well and how often we ask those questions.

Photo credit: Dru Bloomfield

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Difference

Friend or networking connection?
I've noticed that a lot of people get confused by the difference between friends and strong networking connections. Let's compare them side-by-side so the difference is clear.

Networking connections:
Develop over months or years
We help them without expectation of return
They know about our goals and dreams
They want to see us succeed and will help whenever possible.
We call or meet them periodically in order to maintain the relationship
We like them.

Develop over months or years
We help them without expectation of return
They know about our goals and dreams
They want to see us succeed and will help whenever possible.
We call or meet them periodically in order to maintain the relationship
We like them.

Wait a minute.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What We Have to Give

Eleni Kelakos
The next time you are wondering how you can help out one of your networking sources, of course, first ask them what they need. Then give them one thing more.


Or acknowledgment, or recognition, or hope. Let them know that you believe in them and their dream. 'Cause we all know just how hard it is to hold on to a dream, whether it's a happy, healthy family, a prosperous career, or a cabin in the woods. We all run into moments of darkness when we can momentarily lose sight of those inspirations.

I experienced this not long ago with my good friend Eleni Kelakos. Eleni is an amazingly accomplished person -- actress, singer, speaker, and trainer. She teaches people how to be confident on stage and she's also the President of the Michigan Chapter of the National Speakers Association. She has experienced some truly amazing things in her life. Offer to buy her a cup of coffee sometime. You'll be glad you took the time to get to know her.

After hearing me speak at our Chamber's networking breakfast event, she made a point of getting together with me. Over hot beverages at the local Borders coffee shop, she took the time to encourage me in pursuing speaking as at least a part of my future career. She even gave me some great advice on what my next steps might be.

I will admit, even with the amount of speaking that I've done, I still occasionally walk away wondering if the audience was just being polite. Were they clapping because I had reached them or because they were glad I was leaving the stage? When someone takes time out of their schedule to tell you that you did well (and, more than just that, they tell you what you did well), that can light the path for a long time when you are chasing your dream.

Yes, I know, as entrepreneurs, we all have to be our own best cheerleaders. That's OK. I just think it's a lot better when you aren't cheering alone.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Giving Write Back, Part 2

Yesterday we talked about some of the writing styles we could practice in order to give back to our network. Of course, the four I mentioned were only the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few more, several of which can help make stronger connections with specific individuals in addition to making more general contact with the wider audience.
  • Philosophical: This is your chance to talk about the theory of what you do. This is more than just the raw definitions and facts. This is what you believe the underlying meanings and motivations are. It's your chance to project forward in order to see where we might be going. It's helping people get a deeper understanding of the big picture.
  • Responsive: Those of us who focus our writing on a particular topic often read material from other authors who write about similar things. One great option is to use your venue to comment or respond to content elsewhere. Let the original author know that you have done so and you might even have the beginnings of a valuable relationship.
  • Interview: A little closer to the person involved. This is an article about them and what they believe. If you have a regular item like this, you can quickly develop a series of connections with the movers and shakers in your particular field of interest. Almost no one minds seeing something complimentary written about them. You may even get to the point where people are contacting you hoping for an interview.
  • Guest Author: With this style, you don't even have to write anything. You provide a venue for other authors to address your network. Not only are you giving your network a wider exposure to thought leaders in the field, but you also get a chance to establish relationships with those leaders.
Again, I am sure that there are a number of other styles that we as networking writers can pursue. The most important thing to remember is that our efforts in this area are a service that we provide to others. From this attitude will come the benefits of greater connection.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user asafesh

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Giving Write Back, Part 1

One of the underlying precepts of good networking practice is the understanding that our success in our life is dependent on how much we can help others to succeed in theirs. While, of course, this includes making referrals, recommendations, and introductions in order to help our connections directly, we also have numerous opportunities to give back more indirectly.

One of the ways we can all do this is through the written word. Blog posts, news articles, white papers, e-zines, etc, etc, etc. They are all great mechanisms to show yourself as a servant to your target market and build a reputation within your network as an expert in your field. "Oh, but no one would want to read what I write!" I can hear some of you saying. I think you'd be surprised. There are aspects of what you do, who you are and what you know which are mysteries to other people. Take the time to show them a little bit of your world.

Here are some styles you can try out:

Educational: This is pretty straightforward. Whatever you do, there are mysteries for the uninitiated. Think of all the jargon you had to learn in order to do your job effectively. You could start a blog to explain some of the technical issues in your field in terms that a non-expert might understand. Remember, analogy is your friend.

Personal: Expose some small pieces of your personal life in your writing. A few years ago I sent out a biweekly electronic newsletter in which I talked about cool stuff I found out on the Web. The introduction to the newsletter always included a short story about life in our family -- usually starring our daughter Kaylie. Ironically, most of the comments I got after sending out the newsletter were about the personal story, not the well-researched and carefully crafted review of some piece of software. People respond to us when we are open and vulnerable about our personal lives.

Review: While my example above might make you think otherwise, reviewing books, techniques, audio/video programs, tools, systems, seminars, etc, etc, etc, can be a tremendous benefit to your network -- especially if the topic of review happens to affect their bottom line.

Reporting: Are you in touch with the newsmakers in your field of choice? Could you be? Set up a Google Alert for some of the terms in your industry and check out the results when they come in. Find out those new trends before they hit the mainstream and let your connections know what's going on.

Tomorrow we'll cover a few more styles you could pursue -- even a few which work to strengthen specific connections. In the meantime, start looking at the possibilities. Giving back through your writing can not only serve your target market with all the information you can provide as an expert in your field, but it can also help to let them know who you are as a person.

And that's a good way to strengthen the relationship

Photo credit: stock.xchng user Mattox

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Good Networking Behavior is about Us

Don't blame him for being a bad networker.
At the end of each class down at Keith Hafner's Karate, we get to listen to the lesson of the week. Now, in general, these are lesson that all adults (should) know -- goal setting, making friends, conquering fear. I always love it when the topic of good manners comes up. One of the points that the instructor always makes is that good manners are what we expect from ourselves, regardless of how other people act.

The same thing holds true for networking.

I've been fortunate to teach about good networking practice in the past. My students really love the tactics for being a good networker at an event. Then they go to an event hoping to practice what they've learned.

Not long after that I often hear that they feel a little let down. Apparently they run into a lot of other people who don't practice good networking. My hopeful students suddenly hate being the target of sales pitches, conversation hogs, and business cards forced into their hands.

So, how should we, as good networkers, deal with the fact that not everyone has progressed beyond a sales mindset when it comes to networking?

  1. Good networking practice is what we do. Pointing out where someone isn't behaving in accordance with the Rules of Networking ranks right up there with telling someone that they are being rude. It's unlikely to draw you closer. Focus on your own practice.
  2. Correct with subtlety and finesse. Develop techniques to deal with specific bad practices. Most of these involve breaking the pattern. For example, if someone tries to sell at you during an event, stop them by saying simply, "That's all good, but who is your target market for this product?" or "So, if I'm in a conversation with someone, what might they say to tell me that I should send them to you?".
  3. If they make a mistake, forgive. If they hand you a card without your asking, they aren't trying to be rude. It's probably just how they learned to network.
  4. If they can't/won't make a connection, let them go. Not everyone is a good connection. If they don't return calls or emails, you wouldn't feel comfortable referring them anyway.
  5. You are responsible for the relationship. If you find you are hitting it off with someone, the relationship is your responsibility. If we were living in a fair world, then of course they should be responsible for coming half way. Since we aren't, though, we have to make it our business to maintain the connection.
How we deal with bad networking is a measure of how far we've come as good networkers. In a way, we can look at that person trying to sell to us as an opportunity to see how far we've come.

It's a lot better than getting upset about something we can't do a thing to fix.

Photo credit: Gareth Weeks

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Sales Superstition

I've always been intrigued by B. F. Skinner's experiments with pigeons to try to replicate the process of developing superstition. The experiment is remarkable in its simplicity. Basically, the pigeon is fed at completely random intervals. Neither the bird nor the person running the experiment have any control over when the pellet will drop. What ended up happening was the pigeons started associating whatever behavior they were doing at the time the food appeared with the fact that the food showed up at all. The pigeons would then continue to perform that behavior and, sure enough, sooner or later a pellet would appear.

Ironically, I think this explains some of the sales-oriented behavior we see at networking events.

A new networker chooses to focus on selling at the event. Maybe they took a class or maybe their boss told them to do it or maybe they just didn't know any better. Now this practice probably didn't work so well for everyone. In fact, a lot of folks probably either got discouraged and stopped attending events or they realized that they needed to come up with a different approach. Then there were the ones who "succeeded".

They tried their sales technique at the event and, lo and behold, it worked! They made a sale and since they had the positive reinforcement, they continued to try the same behavior at every single event they attended from that point on. They go through a lot of failure and then, what do you know, it works again. They now have a behavior that will deliver sales to their doorstep. Hooray!

Of course, what's more likely is that they are making those sales in spite of their polished sales technique. What's actually happening is that they just happened to be chatting with someone who happened to need whatever widget they were selling. Of course, you can place yourself as strategically as possible, but in the end, it really is just chance that puts us next to someone who is ready to buy. Our sales techniques can sometimes even get in the way because those techniques often don't encourage us to listen, but rather to sell.

So, assuming that things really are pretty random, the best thing to do is to put ourselves next to as many people as possible. The cool thing is that if we have a well-developed network, we don't actually have to do this in person. Our network connections will do it for us. All we have to do is make more and more ambassadors/advocates/champions/friends and let the network do what it's supposed to do.

So the next time you hear someone talking about heading out to the networking event to sell, tell them it's better to flock together rather than succumb to the bird-brained sales superstition.

Photo credit: Jitendra Bajracharya

Monday, February 21, 2011

Good News, Bad News

What color is the sky in your
conversational world?
While I don't believe that it is the be-all and end-all of networking, Facebook does have its uses, so I tend to spend fifteen minutes or so each evening checking up on friends who hang out there. Recently I've noticed something interesting about the interactions between different folks and it has to do with the general focus of the initial posting.

In general, a status message with what would be considered "good news" tends to garner more response than that which others would find to be "bad news". Maybe this is different in your neck of the woods, but it's easy enough to do some testing. Just look through your friends for people who post both types of information and see which status message tend to receive the most attention.

In networking, I think we would see the same thing. People tend to want to associate with folks who have a positive, upbeat outlook. Those who only lament about the various trials and tribulation which they've encountered since breakfast make others want to shy away.

Have you ever met someone like this? Oh, I don't mean someone who's had a rough day -- we all run into that from time to time. I'm talking about people who are so relentlessly grim that if they ever won the lottery, they would only complain about how much it was going to raise their taxes. Do you enjoy being in their company? Do you avoid the question "How are you?" whenever you run into them?

Now we have to be brutally honest with ourselves: Are we that person??

Please understand, I am not talking about ignoring the difficulties we experience in life. One of the benefits of having a great network is having people we can call on when we are in serious difficulties. It's OK to talk about these things with trusted advisors, but to dwell on them with every single soul we meet would put a serious damper on anyone really wanting to be in our presence long enough to become a part of our network.

So, Acknowledge the bad news, but be sure that the good stuff outweighs it in any conversation you might be having. You'll end up with a larger and stronger network -- which might mean that you'll also end up with fewer insurmountable problems in the long run.

Photo credit: Sebastian Fissore

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Stuff in the Back of the Refrigerator

Don't make this a part of your networking.
OK, we've all experienced this, so don't even bother trying to deny it. You know how sometimes you make dinner and it turns out pretty good -- not great, but not bad, either? The recipe makes way more than you can eat in one sitting, so you put it in a container and stick it in the refrigerator. You can heat it up for lunch tomorrow. Tomorrow comes and goes and you think, "not today". After all you had just eaten it the night before. Maybe the next day.

This continues, day after day. Each day you check it. You aren't really interested in eating it anymore, but it hasn't gone bad, so you hesitate to throw it out -- after all, you might get snowed in or something and then where would you be?

In the end, it eventually goes bad and you finally throw it away. For all the checking and guilt and stress it caused you, you would have been better off not saving it in the first place.

This happens at networking events all the time.

OK, I can hear you scratching your heads out there. Bear with me.

You go to a networking event. You collect some cards. They aren't great connections, but they aren't terrible either. You put the cards on your desk so you can contact them the next day. Tomorrow comes and goes and you find you are really a little too busy to contact these folks. Maybe the next day.

This continues, day after day. Each day you notice those cards sitting there, waiting for your attention. You realize that you really aren't interested in following up with these folks, but you hate to throw out the cards, after all, one of them might be a good potential referral source.

In the end, you end up throwing out the cards because it's been way too long and they wouldn't have a chance of remembering you. For all the guilt and stress it caused you, you would have been better off not taking the cards in the first place.

What it comes down to in both cases is a certain amount of self-honesty. Whether it is food or that guy you met in the buffet line, you have to be honest enough with yourself to know that if the chemistry isn't there, then you aren't ever going to have enough desire to revisit that experience again. So, unless you really hit it off, don't bother asking for their card. You'll save yourself a lot of stress and guilt in the long run.

Photo credit: Flickr user Ivy Dawned

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Level of Risk

One of the things we talk about with respect to referrals is that the higher the risk associated with your business, the longer it takes before your network begins to take off. The classic example of this is just about anyone who works in the field of financial services. When you are recommending someone to take care of my long term financial investments, you know that you are really putting your reputation on the line. You probably won't recommend someone until you've known them for years. You might even use them yourself long before you would recommend them to someone else.

The counter example would be something where there is little to no risk. If I asked you where I could buy some flowers for my wife, you could probably think of at least half a dozen businesses which could serve that need. Now, this doesn't mean that those in the floral business can afford to ignore their relationships. After all, if you can think of six places where I could shop, you are more likely to recommend someone in your network than not.

They also can't ignore the quality of their merchandise or the responsiveness of their service. Ironically, a strong network actually works against you if you are substandard in any area. Just think about how many times you've said something like: "The wait staff aren't very good, but the food is terrific!"

So, whether you are in a high-risk or low-risk business, continue doing all the things necessary to make that business great. Just be aware that when it comes to developing clientele through networking, the perceived risk defines the networking lag that you might experience.

Photo credit: Michaela Kobyakov

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Newest Reluctant Networker

Abigail at 90 minutes
If you've read this blog over the last year and more, you know I get a lot of inspiration from my daughter, Kaylie. Well, as of this morning at 7:58am, I now have twice the inspiration. Please welcome the newest member of our household, Abigail Cecilia Peters.

Mommy and daughter are both healthy and doing well.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Patience is More Than a Virtue

The wait isn't fun, but try to skip it and you'll
miss the ride.
Those who have friended me on Facebook know that the ideas of patience and waiting are very much on my mind right now. In particular, I've been thinking about how difficult it is to be patient when you've done everything you can do to prepare.

We can see this very well in the area of networking. We can do all the work to analyze our target market, to practice our event techniques, to follow up with our new connections, and so on. After that though, we can only be patient and wait. In fact, being patient and waiting are more than just virtues, they are necessities for good networking practice.

The challenge that most people run into is that they forget that networking is a long-term process. It's growing a garden, not hunting small game. As soon as they forget that, they start making mistakes like slipping into a sales mindset or asking more of a relationship than would be appropriate. Think of it as the equivalent of planting a vegetable garden and then digging up the seeds each day in order to see if they've started growing yet.

A while back, I was allowed to go on a ride along with an Ann Arbor police officer. I learned a lot about law enforcement that day from Officer Steve Dye, but one of the things he said really stuck with me. We were on traffic detail, pulling over people who were speeding, cutting into oncoming traffic, and otherwise violating laws that are meant to keep everyone safe. After pulling over a woman who had decided to use the bicycle lane to pass on the right, Officer Dye got back in the car, shaking his head and said, "Impatience will get you in trouble".

A truism in networking as well as traffic.

Photo credit: Michael Gray

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lack of Preparation Means Opportunities Lost

I think we've covered my lack of perfection in sufficient depth that we all know that I can occasionally be used as an example of what not to do when it comes to networking. Monday morning would be a case in point.

But what can you expect from a Monday?

My good friend and sales coach, Joe Marr of Sandler Sales Ann Arbor, had invited me to attend a session on negotiating at 10am on Monday morning. 10am? Great! That means I don't have to prepare my networking toolkit the night before. After all, 10am is so late in the morning that I should be able to take care of everything after a good night's sleep.

Please note the horribly flawed assumption in the previous paragraph.

Sure enough, we had a "complicated" evening on Sunday night (these happen with three-year-olds occasionally) which led to me oversleeping until after 9am. You can imagine what happened next. I was flying around the house, trying to get showered and shaved, searching out my networking outfit, looking for my materials, not finding my materials, and so on, and so on.

So, what was the end result?
  • I was rushed. Rushing around creates a lot of stress. I was off balance and not in my best networking frame of mind.
  • I was on time. Barely. Now, some would think that this was OK, but what this actually meant was that I arrived just in time for the presentation and had no time for networking.
  • I missed chatting with the organizers. Other than a quick hello, I didn't get to talk with either Joe or his partner, Mike Wynn. Joe and Mike serve pretty much the same target market as I do and we don't really compete. That means we can easily refer business to each other. Fortunately, we already have a pretty good relationship, but it never hurts to touch base periodically.
  • I missed networking with my target market. As I mentioned, Joe and Mike serve pretty much the same target market as I do. That means that the rest of the packed room probably fell into my target market. Now, I didn't think I was going to walk out with a signed contract or anything, but networking with our target market is always a good idea -- assuming we get there in time to do so.
  • I didn't have my materials. I couldn't find my business card holder. I forgot my pen and notebook. I didn't have my watch. I even forgot my cell phone which has my calendar for scheduling coffees and lunches on the spot. You've all had that dream when you walk into a classroom and realize that they're having an exam and you didn't go to class? That's pretty much how I was feeling.
So, here's my recommendation. Each evening, before you close up shop (whenever that is for you), look through tomorrow's schedule. If you have any sort of networking going on, pretend it starts at 6am and prepare accordingly. Fortunately for me, I've got two more opportunities to make connections during this negotiating workshop.

And you can bet I'll be making preparations the night before.

Photo credit: Albert Bridge

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hearts and Happy Valentines

I've written many times in the past about how networking is not just for success in our professional lives. In fact, with Valentine's Day just past, it's a good time to reflect on how that same web of relationships which helps us bring in profitable referrals can also smooth over rough spots in our personal lives. Some of the same techniques we use to strengthen our professional relationships can also perform similar miracles with our personal ones.

One technique that works particularly well in my experience is the Gratitude Note.

Of course, your business connections love this. Sending them a handwritten letter expressing your appreciation for how they helped you not only validates what they do to themselves, but, with your permission, they can show this note to others as a testimonial. If it works that well with a formal business connection, how much better do you think it would work with someone who actually loves you?

This applies to everyone, but I think guys in particular are a bit challenged when it comes to expressing our deepest feelings for those who are closest to us. Not me, of course. I am completely in touch with my feelings.

Why do I hear laughing?

Anyway, the same format which makes the Gratitude Note a powerful business tool also makes it work in more personal communications. At the beginning, all we have to do is cast our minds back to before we had met this wonderful person in our lives. Now, of course we were complete human beings, but there must have been areas in our lives that weren't quite as good as they are right now. For many of us, we are much better off right now. Write about those areas which could have been better (or the ones that really stunk).

In the next section write about some or all of the things they have done for you which have changed your world for the better. Emotions are good here. In fact, emotions are good in all sections of this letter. Everyone thrives on emotion, even us guys. Phrases such as "You made me feel safe when you...", "I felt so proud when you...", and "I know I will never feel lost again because you..." are all appropriate here.

Finish off with how wonderful your life is now and say "Thank you" for helping to make it all possible. The format is actually fairly simple. All you need is the courage to dig deep in your heart and reveal those emotions.

Oh, and you don't have to wait until next Valentine's Day to give your loved one a Gratitude Note. Just as appropriate would be your anniversary, their birthday, Christmas, Memorial Day, Flag Day, or Tuesday.

Just in case you didn't get it, there is never a bad time to tell someone how important they are to you.

Image credit: Bernhard Aichinger

Monday, February 14, 2011

Professional Networking

You need more than a suit to make you a
I've been re-reading Steven Pressfield's "War of Art" lately. I liked the section where he differentiates between the Professional and the Amateur. He listed a number of qualities specific to the Professional, but one of the ones that stuck out for me was, in fact, the first on the list: We show up every day.

Great networkers have to be professionals in this respect. They build the strongest connections through daily attention. This means setting daily networking goals (perhaps measured by a networking scorecard?). They make calls, write notes, forward articles, meet for coffee and lunch, attend events, and make referrals. For them, the activities of networking are just something that they do as a part of who they are.

Amateurs can still be successful, but because they aren't dedicated on a daily basis to their networking connections, those connections aren't as dedicated to them. They get fewer calls and fewer requests for one-to-ones. Ultimately, they see fewer introductions and fewer referrals. They still get some, but not as much as they would if they were truly committed.

So which are you -- a Professional or an Amateur?

Photo credit: Joseph Sebastian

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Target Market, Get the "We" Out

I've worked with a lot of people to help them refine their target market. The target market is one of those concepts that people tend largely to ignore. Bad idea, since they are the basis for focused, powerful networking.

We've talked in the past about being more specific when we tell people about our target market. Saying "I'm looking for anyone who needs a home" doesn't mean anything to our referral sources. We would be better off saying "I'm looking for couples in their thirties who just had a second child and live on the old west side." That description is far more likely to bring someone to mind.

What I would like to focus on today is the word "We". I've heard a lot of people start their target market statement with that word or something similar to represent a larger group. I think this weakens the message that we want to convey.

  1. It leads to a lack of specificity. Usually the "we" refers to our company. Companies can serve a wide variety of people. Non-Specific Motors, Inc "sells cars". I "sell cars to recent college graduates in the tri-state area". As an individual, my target market should be a much more specific subset of my company's interests.
  2. It's an advertisement. "ABC company serves the widget needs of the metropolitan area" only talks about the company, not about what we want specifically. "I work with the CEO's of small appliance manufacturing firms, such as the XYZ Corporation" tells our referral source how they can help us.
  3. It's camouflage. This is a common tactic for sole proprietors. They want to appear larger than they are and so continually refer to themselves in the plural. While that is understandable, remember that this is still a personal request. If we really need to maintain the camouflage, we can just adjust the statement to be something like "While my company serves a variety of people, I personally help young, single entrepreneurs who started a new business within the last year." It still gives the impression that we are part of a larger organization while allowing us to ask for what we need personally.
  4. It's impersonal. Remember, the strength of the network is based on the strength of the relationships which form it. A relationship is between two people, not a person and a company. By stating our individual target market, we are telling our connections that this is important to us. They, in turn are more likely to help because they want to help us. It's far less likely that they will have the same emotions about our company.
Remember, a target market is who we prefer to help, not our company. Maybe one of the reasons people prefer to make it about their company is that then they don't have to feel like they are asking for a personal favor. When it comes down to it, though, that's exactly what a network is designed to do -- help us succeed in both our personal and professional lives.

Photo credit: Steven Goodwin

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Haven't I Seen You Everywhere Before?

One more reason to focus
I've always taught that you need to focus your networking efforts in order to limit the number of venues that you attend. We all only have so much time in our lives. We can't spend it running from event to event trying to drum up more business.

Or even just form more relationships.

In her talk at LA2M last week, my good friend Josephine Nicholas gave another reason:

It makes you look bad.

If you are spending all of your time networking at events -- to the point that people see you every time they walk into a room with a buffet lunch -- people are going to begin to wonder when you have time for the work that they might have sent your way. After all, how good can you be if you are never back at the office working?

Apparently, avoiding the appearance of failure is just one more benefit to keeping your networking focused.

Photo credit: Thomas Ricks

Friday, February 11, 2011

The "Proper" Networker

OK, now, which fork do I use?
I made it out to Lunch Ann Arbor Marketing (LA2M) again this week. I had been missing it for many months and it wasn't until I happened to drop in recently that I remembered how great the presentations can be. Now, I felt particularly compelled to attend this week's gathering as my good friend Josephine Nicholas of Insert Catchy Headlines. She is a PR Agent and a certified etiquette instructor.

Now, you would think that having lunch with an etiquette instructor might be a little stressful. After all, what if you accidentally use the wrong fork?

Actually, Josephine is a genuine delight. In her opinion, the only reason for etiquette is to make the other person feel comfortable. In fact, she's never told me as much, but she would probably say that pointing out bad etiquette would be bad etiquette.

At any rate, her presentation was just as interesting and informative as I've come to expect from LA2M. She spent the first talking about some aspects of personal branding. I loved the concept of branding yourself with humility. When it comes time to talk about your accomplishments, she recommends less focus on yourself and more focus on the team, or the collaborators, or the facilitators. By bragging about those with whom you are associated, you make them look good (which makes them appreciate you more) and by association, you make yourself look good.

I love this stuff because it fits very well into my own beliefs about good networking practice. The focus should almost always be on the other person.

The latter part of Josephine's talk dwelt on the use of etiquette in personal branding. As she pointed out, no matter how good you are at your business, it does no good if no one can stand to be around you because you  can't behave in a courteous manner. Rude people make others uncomfortable. She mentioned several specific points about good etiquette, but one of the ones that really stood out to me was regarding inviting someone to any sort of event, whether it's a Chamber Lunch or a one-to-one over coffee:

As a part of the invitation, always make it clear who is paying.

I wold even go a step further than that: If you are inviting someone as your guest, you are paying.

She had a lot more great information about branding, etiquette, and protocol when dealing with the media. You can watch the whole presentation over at the LA2M archive page. Be sure to check it out.

In the meantime, remember that good etiquette, like good networking is always about the other person. As long as you keep their comfort and success in mind you probably won't go wrong.

Photo credit: Kerryn du Plessis

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One-to-Ones: Where? Part 3

OK, for the past couple of days we've talked about some good locations for one-to-ones. We've ranged from the obvious (the coffee shop) to the less so (the grocery store?). Now let's look at some other options that might not be the best choice.
  • Golfing. Now, I know a lot of people network on the golf course. If your target market or contact sphere tend to frequent these spots, then, of course, you'd better get your clubs and head out to the driving range for some practice. For initial one-to-ones, it may not be optimal. For many people it is expensive and very time-consuming. Personally, I would recommend a shorter, less-expensive first meeting to feel out the other person's level of interest in "a good walk spoiled".
  • Airport. At one point, this would have been a perfectly acceptable location to meet people, assuming you were on a lay-over in a location where you had networking contacts. Unfortunately, the increase in security procedures since 9/11 have pretty much made this just shy of impossible. I've heard that you can request or purchase a special "ticket" which will allow you to go through security for a meeting, but obviously this is a lot of trouble to go through for lunch.
  • Office. Meeting at either person's office is just a bad plan in general. When you do, you aren't meeting as equals. The person whose office it is has the upper hand and the other person is approaching as a supplicant or salesperson. Also, the person who is still at work will have a hard time being a person which will make connecting with them a lot more difficult. One-to-ones should always be done in a neutral location separate from other work day distractions.
  • Bar. This is another of the clich├ęd locations stemming from the bad old days of networking. It doesn't really translate well to the present day. While most people don't have a problem with only a drink or two, the challenge is that just a drink or two can turn necessary vulnerability into a complete lack of inhibition. This could easily lead to an inadvertent comment that destroys a new relationship before it has a chance to start. Save the bar for events with long-time friends.
  • Networking Event. I've had more than a few people suggest to meet and chat at a networking event. In my experience, this just doesn't work. Gatherings like this are full of distractions and if you are sitting at a table with six or eight other people, it's just rude to focus your attention on just the one person. For a good one-to-one, you really need at least a half hour of uninterrupted conversation in order to develop a relationship. Remember that networking events are primarily for meeting new people or briefly touching base with existing connections. If you want to have a one-to-one, skip the event and head out for coffee.
Hopefully this list of venues gives you a few new ideas to try out (and a few to avoid). Remember, though, above all else, the location isn't as important as the fact that you are getting together for the sole purpose of finding out more about each other and hopefully finding new ways to help each other succeed.

Photo credit: Shelly Elaine

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One-to-Ones: Where? Part 2

Continuing our series on good places to meet for one-to-ones, here are a few which you might not have considered.
  • Bookstore. Many bookstores now have cafes or coffee shops where you can meet and chat. The nice thing is that many folks don't think of bookstores when they are searching for their caffeine fix. This means that you can usually find seating no matter what time you show up. In fact, there's almost no downside to meeting at a bookstore coffee shop with the possible exception of feeling uncomfortable carrying on a conversation when there are books around.
  • Park. Like the great outdoors? Why not meet at your favorite picnic table near the river? This can actually be quite enjoyable if both parties share such an appreciation. Of course, the downsides can make it a bit difficult. You are at the mercy of the weather, so be sure to have a backup location in mind. Also, be sure to give or get very specific directions to your desired location (or meet in an obvious location such as a parking lot), lest the two of you get an opportunity to take a hike in the woods and never come in contact with each other.
  • Mall. In addition to the associated restaurants, coffee shops, and food courts which you can find in any shopping mall, most also have conversation seating strewn throughout the common areas. These can often be comfortable couches and chairs. They also usually have plenty of parking and are often located near major highways for easy access. The downsides to this locale are the younger visitors. You can find small children there almost any time of day and during the afternoons teenagers start showing up.
  • Chamber of Commerce. In their mission to support local businesses, many Chamber offices have meeting facilities available for their members. If you do happen to belong to your local Chamber, you may want to check whether they have such facilities.
Tomorrow we'll touch on a few locations which may not work as well.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

One-to-Ones: Where? Part 1

The old stand-by
If there is one activity that is really the center of good networking practice, that would be the one-to-one meeting. This is just an opportunity for two people to get together for thirty minutes to an hour in order to learn more about each other and how they can help each other. Obviously, the biggest challenges to performing this activity are time and place. We've talked about scheduling in other places. Let's cover some of the options for location.
  • Coffee Shop. This is the old stand-by and for good reason. In most towns you can't walk more than a block without running into a coffee shop. Be aware, though, depending on the popularity of the shop and the time of day, it can be quite crowded and noisy. I always have a hard time hearing the other person over the sound of the milk steamer. It does cost money as usually coffee shops don't like it if you take up a seat without ordering something.
  • Restaurant. Definitely second to coffee shops, restaurants still make up a healthy percent of one-to-one meeting locales. I have a few of these on my list of default venues. It doesn't hurt to get to know the manager of your regular spots. They can actually help out a lot when it comes to making your guests comfortable. The main challenges that you can run into here are crowding and noise. Check out the restaurant during a busy time of day to see whether the noise levels might prevent useful conversation. The other downside is that, of course, it costs money. For some reason, those greedy restaurateurs expect to be paid for the meals they serve.
  • Library. Believe it or not, libraries have come a long way from the days of shushing librarians and piles of books. As more and more information is available in electronic form, libraries have tried to reposition themselves as community centers. Many have designated meeting spaces and conversation areas. Some even have cafes and coffee shops available. Most of the facilities are free to card holders. Of course, there are areas where conversation would be an intrusion, so be respectful. Also, the conversation areas are often limited in size and can fill up quickly. Still, for alternatives to the old stand-by choices of restaurants and coffee shops, your local library may well be worth checking out.
  • Grocery Store. OK, this one was a surprise to me. A friend offered to meet me at the local Whole Foods market for a one-to-one. I thought it wouldn't work at all, but it turned out to be a great place to sit and chat. Of course, this particular store had chairs and tables where people could sit and snack on the tasty treats you could purchase throughout the store, so it really wasn't much different from a restaurant. Still, during non-peak hours, the store is remarkably quiet -- perfectly suited for chatting. Then after you finish you can do your shopping for the week.
Tomorrow we'll talk about some other opportunities which you may not have considered. In the meantime, remember that while the venue can help things go more smoothly, the most important part is actually scheduling and attending the one-to-ones at all.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Are You Happy?

Just a quick note today.

I was walking past my wife watching "Oprah" the other day and they were doing a show on happiness. At the point where I walked in the room, they had just asked the audience to choose from four different professions, which was the happiest: Clergy, firefighter, special education teacher, or travel agent. Of course, it was a trick question as, according to the research cited in the show, they were all among the happiest jobs, despite averaging less than $50K in salary.  What was the deciding factor?

They all interact with other people.

In fact, according to Oprah's expert guest, Dan Buettner, the happiest jobs are those in which the person gets to have eight hours of social interactions.

Wait a minute. The best networking happens when we focus on developing relationships (which requires social interaction) and not on pursuing money (sales)? Is it any wonder that great networkers always seem to be in a good mood?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What an Invitation!

It doesn't have to be an engraved
invitation, just a clear and personal one.
My good friend, Jacki Hollywood Brown, expert organizer and founder of J-organize, told me about an experience she had recently. The director of a women's networking group in her area contacted her, inviting her to a "guest day" for the group.

OK, that's not quite accurate.

What actually happened was this person (we'll call her "Irene") sent what was essentially a form email to Jacki. The only personalization was that Irene said she had read an article that Jacki wrote. The "invitation" was essentially an advertisement for the "guest" event, but with no further information other than trumpeting what a great organization it was. Oh, and Jacki would have had to pay $35 for the pleasure of attending.

Now I'm not saying that this is a bad organization. I'm sure the members get as much out of their chapters as any other closed networking group (a group which only allows a single member from each profession). What irritated Jacki was the manner in which she was "approached". So, how could Irene have done better?

  1. Make it personal. At the very least, Irene could have shown that she really cared about Jacki as a person. She could have actually addressed her by name. Instead of saying just "nice article" she could have made some specific comment about the article which would have told Jacki that she had read more than just the headline and the byline.
  2. Make it in person. Or at least by telephone. If this was an actual personal invitation, she could easily have located Jacki's phone number to give her a call. At that time she could have had a short conversation with Jacki to find out more about her and to find out if this was something that Jacki would actually want to participate in.
  3. Make it clear. OK, here's the rule: If you invite someone to be your guest at an event, you pay. Unfortunately, Irene's message was either a vague invitation (which made no implication as to whether Irene was going to pay) or it was an advertisement -- for a networking group. Either way it sent an unclear message.
As I said before, this may well be a great networking group. Unfortunately, Irene, being the group's director didn't really represent the group well. Who knows? If she had put in a little extra effort to network and not advertise, she might have been able to bring a powerful networker like Jacki into the group. Instead, she left Jacki with a bad taste in her mouth and no real desire to follow up further.

What a lost opportunity.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, February 5, 2011

When to Use the Golden Rule in Networking

No, not that Golden Rule.
"Do unto others, etc, etc" is a great rule to apply to networking -- in general. Believe it or not, it doesn't work in all situations. Here's what I've noticed.

When it comes to networking technique or how we treat others, the Golden Rule actually works out pretty well. I think a lot of networking events would be happier places if the attendees kept this in mind. Think about it. Do you like it when someone forces their business card on you? How about when someone tries to sell their widget to you? When someone monopolizes the conversation? I think for most of us, the answers to these questions would be a resounding "No!" That being the case, what is the likelihood that any given person we meet would like it? I'm guessing not very.

So, when does the Golden Rule break down?

Well, I don't want to say it breaks down so much as it's superseded by the Platinum Rule ("Do unto others as they want to be done unto"). This happens in cases where we are trying to satisfy their needs. Before we attempt it, we really need to take the time to understand what those needs might be. They might not be the same as ours. Does your networking contact need a referral for more business? Maybe. Or maybe he is currently working over-capacity and really needs to find new employees to help service his current client load. Does she want a speaking opportunity, or is she more comfortable with an opportunity to write for publication?

Does he want someone to hand him $10,000, no strings attached, or ... OK, yeah, probably no one's going to turn that one down.

Still, keep in mind that the Golden Rule will only take us so far. After that we really do have to take a genuine interest in the other person to make sure our actions produce the results we want -- a stronger connection and a stronger network.

Photo credit: Nicolas Vigier

Friday, February 4, 2011

Good Neighbors, Good Networking

One of the qualities the best networkers share is a willingness to give without expectation of return. They pass referrals, do favors, make recommendations, even pay for lunch, and never once do they stop to keep score. Somehow they know that the "score" will take care of itself in the long run, so there's no real reason to push things along.

Interestingly, one place I've seen this recently is around our neighborhood. As I mentioned yesterday, we somehow survived the snow-nami that struck Ann Arbor on Tuesday night -- mainly because it really didn't snow as much as they were telling us it was going to. Still, we did have to get out and do our wintertime chores.

While we were out enjoying the crisp winter air, I saw one neighbor shoveling anothers driveway. Another neighbor, three houses down from us, pulled out his snowblower and cleared the sidewalks from his house to ours. One young man, the son of the folks who live across the street, ran up the street and helped out an older couple who'd gotten stuck trying to get out of their driveway.

In the past, we've shoveled our neighbor's sidewalk and she shoveled our driveway on another occasion. People on our street watch each others pets and houses. That older couple from up the street will often stop by our house to drop off coupons that we might need.

Here's the thing. In all of the times I've seen one neighbor help another, not once did I hear the good Samaritan say, "Glad to help out. Next time I expect you to help me." It just doesn't happen that way. We each do things for the others just because it's the right thing to do. As a result, our neighborhood tends to be a fairly friendly one and the giving and receiving of favors only strengthens our ties.

I once met with a potential networking partner who promised to help make my membership in the local Chamber of Commerce pay off for me. We met at her office and she offered me some good strategies. As I was getting ready to leave, though, she looked at me and said, "Now that I've helped you, I expect a certain reciprocity. I'd like you to refer me to a few people you know."

That one statement made me so uncomfortable that ever since then I have kept her at arm's length. It's a shame, too, since I'm sure we both could have benefited from a closer relationship. Maybe she would have been better off if she'd lived in my neighborhood and learned to live together like we have.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user Mattox

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Networking Like a Snow Day

Snow-maggedon, snow-pocalypse, snow-zilla, snOMG, snowprahWinfrey. Whatever you want to call it, we had a mild blizzard up here in the Ann Arbor area. Nothing serious, just seven or eight inches of blowing and drifting snow. We've definitely seen a lot worse in the past.

The good thing about the storm was that it was so well reported, a lot of people anticipated it being a lot worse than it turned out being. As a result, all of the people I was supposed to meet today decided it would be a good idea to postpone until a less snowy date. That meant I had a whole day with an open schedule.

It was great.

I had so much fun. We shoveled the driveway and sidewalk. Of course, I also salted the walkway, and let's not forget helping push one of the neighbors out of a snowbank. Yep, nothing but laughs the whole time.

What? That doesn't sound like fun to you? To tell you the truth, while it was fun watching our three-year-old climb the giant piles of snow I had built, the actual effort wasn't something I'd walk ten miles to do. The fun came in after we finished all that work. We grabbed my daughter's sled and spent about an hour racing up and down. The snow was almost perfect for sledding. Let me tell you, your soul feels ten years younger when you watch a little kid shrieking with laughter as they slide down the hill.

You'll drop twenty years if you are the one on the sled.

So, what does this have to do with networking?

Sometimes attending a networking event isn't all that much fun. We have to get dressed up, show up someplace we don't know to talk with people we've never met, Some of those folks follow "less productive" networking practices which can make us uncomfortable. At the end we just have to hope that what we've done makes a difference at all.

Doesn't sound like much fun, right? This is why I always set my networking goals before I walk in.

Accomplishing my goals at a networking event is like shoveling the driveway on a snow day. I might have fun while I'm doing it, but it still is work. When my goals are done, though, I get to go "sledding". I go enjoy the lunch buffet (sometimes I'll grab an extra dessert) or the hors d'oeuvres. I chat with people I already know. I even give myself permission to leave if I want. After all, by completing my goals, I've already succeeded, so no need to stick around if there's something I'd rather be doing.

Like going sledding with my daughter.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Cousino

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Beyond the Tipping Point

Sometimes the tipping point can be trouble
Yesterday we talked about the word-of-mouth tipping point. This is the moment where our networking starts rolling almost under its own power and the benefits start rolling in almost without us having to try at all. Believe it or not, this can actually be a mildly perilous time for some folks, especially self-employed entrepreneurs.

Yes, I said perilous.

You see, when we do finally hit that tipping point, work is going to start coming in faster and faster. Yay! The problem is that if we aren't ready for that steady increase, then our network actually works against us. If we unintentionally damage someone else's reputation because we are unable to take care of the business they hand us, two things will happen. First, that referral source will dry up, but quick. Why would they continue to deal with us and risk our further damaging their reputations?

The second thing that will happen is that this one failure can taint the rest of our network and we may be back to struggling to get the referrals.

The good thing is that if we are aware of the situation, our network and the techniques we used to build it can help us stay ahead of the game. So what should we be doing?

  1. Maintain good communication. If we are so overbooked that we simply can't take on any more work, we must be honest with our referral partners should they bring us something new. It may be hard to turn away work, but better that than poisoning the well by doing poorly on a project.
  2. Talk with your "competitors". I've always maintained that unless our product or service is a true commodity -- ours is indistinguishable from anyone else's -- then we have no competition. Still, it is always good to maintain cordial relationships with those who do things like what we do. That way, when those projects start coming fast and furious (or at least faster than you can handle), you know people to whom you can refer the excess business.
  3. Ask for help. By this I don't just mean asking for specific advice, though our network can be good for that, too. In this case I mean "help" as in "help wanted". If the amount of work has grown to the point that we can consider expanding our business through hiring, then our network can help put us in contact with the quality employees that we'll need to succeed in that endeavor.
Of course, we always want to increase the strength of our network in order to achieve greater success in our lives. We always have to remember, though, that success doesn't always mean "more". Trying to take on more than we can handle can end up hurting us in the long run. We're better off calling on our networks to help us achieve the right level of work to achieve our goals of long-term success.

Photo credit: Flickr user Graham and Sheila

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Word-of-Mouth Tipping Point

After you get past that first hill
things get exciting.
Networking is slow.

There I said it. It's the dirty little secret of the word-of-mouth world. If we are looking for a quick fix in the level of business we receive, this is not the path for us.

Networking is work. We must make the initial connections, develop the relationships through coffees and lunches, provide value to those in our network through referrals, introductions, and recommendations, and finally be willing to state clearly what we are trying to achieve so our connection/ambassador/advocate/friend, can begin to look out for our best interests.


We can toil at this for years. Then, if we have been diligent in our service to others, suddenly everything changes. It's like we were on the first hill of the roller coaster and we just hit the peak. Everything after that is almost effortless. We've hit the tipping point in our networking. We've developed enough relationships that the number of people who are looking out for us is to the point that, by simple word of mouth, our business continues to grow.

Of course, we still need to tend to the connections, but for some reason it's no longer a task. Perhaps it's just that we have become so skilled at the networking practice that it feels like fun. Maybe it's that we no longer feel that stress to produce results in order to put food on the table. Whatever the reason, reaching this point in our networking is a nice place to be.

Then we just have to figure out what to do with all the extra business we'll be seeing.

Photo credit: Frederik Bloemen