Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Being a Good Networker Neighbor

If he lived next to us, my wife would already have
cleared the cars for him.
Networkers have to have a split personality.

They have to be strategic about putting themselves at events where they will meet the people who will be able to help them succeed in their goals. Then they have to forget being strategic and just look for ways to help the other people without expectation of immediate return.

When I presented this idea at a workshop, a young woman stopped me. "Isn't that impossible? I mean, you know you want something from them. Doesn't that sort of taint any relationship?"

I'll admit that at the time, I didn't have a satisfactory answer. I've been thinking about it more lately, though,and now I think I can better respond. Ironically, I didn't have to look any further than my wife, Lisa, to find a counter example.

Lisa and I live in a nice neighborhood on the southeast side of Ann Arbor. We've got a very safe street, good schools, and are within easy distance of just about anything we need. In particular, our neighbors are a friendly lot, especially toward Lisa.

She's always doing nice things for them. Sometimes it's a plate of cookies at the holidays, or just stopping to chat when she's out for a walk. Over the wintertime, she will often shovel the walk in front of the houses around us. What a nice surprise for the family that they can take a few more minutes inside on a cold winter's day.

When she thinks of doing these things, does she do it strategically? Does she think "I will shovel Mary's walk today. That way Mary will owe me."? Is she expecting a plate of cookies from them at any time? Nope. She does what she does because in her mind, that's what a good neighbor should do.

With no expectation of return.

The funny thing is, most of the folks on our block would bend over backward to help her out should she have a need. She really only needs to ask.

We need to have the same attitude when it comes to our behavior with any networking group to which we've chosen to belong. We want to look for the opportunities to help -- to serve on a committee, to give advice, or to pass referrals -- without an expectation of immediate result.

Our goal? To be a good neighbor.

Photo by Jenny Erickson

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Referrals and birthday cakes

Let's suppose you like cake.

Oh, not just any cake. What you want is that deep chocolate cake with the chocolate chips baked into the batter. You don't want the buttercream frosting (except for the decorative roses on top). What you want is a chocolate ganache. Between the layers? You want a raspberry filling.

Got the picture?

One day you decide you want such a cake, so you start asking everyone you meet to "bake you a cake". You ask friends, family, even the occasional stranger passing you on the street to "bake you a cake". Most people ignore you. After all, they either don't know you or they don't know you well enough to put forth that kind of effort. In fact, you've noticed a lot of people are starting to avoid you (they're even calling you the "crazy cake guy").

Still, some -- your closest friends and family -- really want to help so they try to ask what kind of cake you want. You just reply with "a cake". More people give up on you because they just don't know what you want and they have better things to do with their time.

Believe it or not, though, one of your closest and dearest friends, Sally, actually goes out of her way to bake you a cake. It's a lemon chiffon -- not your favorite. You put it on the counter and let it sit. At one point you accidentally knock it on the floor. You pick up the pieces as best you can and reassemble it -- more or less.

At the end of about three weeks, you decide to try a slice only to discover that it's gone horribly stale. What a disappointment! You still really want your special cake, though, so you start asking people again. Even more people avoid you now. Sally? She isn't even taking your calls.

I know what you're thinking. Who would ever act like this? That's absolutely crazy, right?

Here's the thing. Most people treat referrals and their referral partners exactly like this.

Photo by Nadia Jasmine

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Networking Impatience Leads to Frustration

She can get away with being impatient. You can't.
"Daddy, I'm ready to go swimming!"

I opened one eye to see the smiling face of my daughter, Kaylie, already decked out in her swimsuit. Then I tracked over to the clock next to the bed.

7am??

Have you ever tried to explain to a four-year-old why, on vacation, 7am is most decidedly not an appropriate time for swimming? Can't be done. Four-year-olds are not particularly patient about such things.

New networkers can sometimes have the patience of a small child when it comes to their expectations of the connections in their network. They "put on their swimsuit" -- attended the events, followed up, went on the one-to-ones, etc. They've even passed a few referrals of their own.

Now, when do they get to go for a swim?

Unfortunately for the four-year-old in all of us, networking just simply takes longer than that. Being impatient with your connections isn't likely to move things any faster, either. There are a number of reasons that things might be taking longer than you want.
  1. You never asked. When the person across the table asked "How can I help?", you didn't have an answer. You can hardly blame them for not helping if they don't know how to help.
  2. You weren't specific enough. Maybe you remembered to ask, but your request sounded like "Anyone who wants to buy my stuff." Be specific with who they are, how we would recognize them, and why they might want to buy (assuming you are asking for a referral).
  3. You asked for too much. When someone wants to help, you have to make sure that the request is within their comfort level. If they've just met you, and they still want to help, you might need to tone down the request. Perhaps instead of asking them to refer their mother to you, you might instead ask for advice on connecting with the senior market in the area.
  4. Your request has a low frequency. Even if they trust you enough to refer their mother, it may be that your service doesn't come up that often. Most people don't switch accountants on a regular basis. That means you need to be at the top of the list in a lot of people's minds when those rare events do show up.
  5. You are asking the wrong people. If you want to meet the CEO's of international companies, probably the local Chamber of Commerce isn't the right place to go. You need to make sure you are meeting (and helping to succeed) the kind of folks who can connect you to your success.
Most of the time, my four-year-old can get away with her impatience because she's just so darn cute -- though at seven in the morning even that doesn't sail very far. As adults and good networkers, we need to understand that, first we need to follow all the right behaviors, then we need to wait for our network to work in its own time.

Being impatient won't make it run any faster and it will only make us miserable in the meantime.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Check the Character of the Event

Do you fit in with the character of this group?
"Well, this certainly isn't the crowd we're used to."

My wife and I were watching the crowd of rambunctious teenagers roughhousing in the hotel pool. We're on our family vacation this week up in Traverse City. Ordinarily we're here in October for the Fall colors, but we thought we would change it up a bit and come in June to enjoy warmer weather.

What we didn't expect was the complete change in character of the resort itself.

In October, during the week, the hotel usually has vacancies -- not so in June. In October, he other folks staying here are almost all retired couples -- a relatively quiet lot. In June we find ourselves surrounded by boisterous young families. This also means that the number of people per room are much higher -- I'm sure many at or above the limit for the space.

Like it or not, it's the other people, and not the weather that define the character of the resort.

The same thing is true in networking. Your local Chamber of Commerce may host several different events which seem similar on the surface. You might have a before-work breakfast, a "lunch and learn", or an after-hours mixer. They all involve time to network and most will have a speaker or two. Each, however, will have its own character.

From my experience, in general:
  • Early gatherings: These are the serious business people -- usually business owners. They want to get their networking in and then get on with the business of doing their business. Whether at a Chamber breakfast, or at a local BNI meeting, they are looking not just for clients, but for the means to make their businesses more competitive.
  • Lunch crowds: While not always the case, the folks attending these events are often looking specifically for clients. They may also be in transition and be seeking a new employment position. They are often in sales of some sort. Business owners are much less common here as they are often busy running their business at mid-day. This doesn't necessarily make lunch time a bad time to network, but be aware that unskilled networkers may focus on selling more than connecting.
  • After hours: After hours tends to be a little more social. You'll often get a roughly even split between owners and employees. The challenge is that since most folks are thinking of it as a social event, they will have a tendency to sit and talk with people they already know. Be prepared to get there early and engage with the other attendees before they start to cluster into their cliques.
Of course, before you join any group, you want to verify that the members are either your target market or (better) serve your target market. After you've determined that, though, you still need to attend their gatherings to make sure it makes sense for you to join. It could be that the events you would be willing to attend won't have the people you want to meet.

And that would be a waste of your time.

Image by Svilen Milev

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Open the Toolbox

If you had a hammer in your toolbox, why in the world would you use a rock to pound in a nail? You wouldn't. So, why do people treat their network like a locked toolbox?

Networking is the process of creating a resource for future success in both your personal and professional life. I believe this and hope I've managed to convey it. You build this resource through service to others, through the connections you make, and the relationships you develop.

So, do something with it.

Don't just build the resource to brag about the number of people in your tickler file or address book. That's like bragging about the number and quality of tools in your toolbox while your house is falling down around your ears. Start using it to make your life, your community, and your world a better place. Too many of us, when we get used to the idea of the importance of giving, forget the flip-side of the coin -- the importance of being willing to receive.

"Oh, but I don't want to impose." I can hear you saying.

Tell me, when a good friend asks for a favor, do you feel they are imposing or are you excited by the idea that you can help them?

Why do you think you are somehow different in this?

Don't think I'm leaving myself out of this cautionary message. I've absorbed the "Better to give than receive" programming as deeply as anyone. One of the ways I'm trying to grow my business is through presenting to businesses, organizations, and associations. Do I always remember to ask my networking contacts for help? Nope.

Did I mention that I'm not perfect?

Take a few minutes right now to know what you want to ask of your network. Then, the next time you are chatting with one of your contacts, if they ask how they can help, be sure to tell them.

Give them the gift of getting to be the hero for a change.

Photo: Tools by John Harvey