Thursday, August 30, 2012

One-to-One Conversations: Networks

"Where do you find your success?"

Ultimately, this is what you are asking when you ask someone about the networks they are a part of.

This is the second in a series on the topics of conversation you can use during a one-to-one meeting (coffee, lunch, etc) in order to deepen and strengthen a relationship. You may want to read part one on "Interests", first, but it's not necessary.

About two years ago a dear friend, Eleni Kelakos, invited me to attend my first National Speakers Association meeting. She had heard me present at a Chamber of Commerce event and thought that I should consider adding professional speaking to my business repertoire. I wasn't so sure, but decided to go on her recommendation.

I will be eternally grateful.

Because of her invitation, I attended a meeting which opened my eyes to the possibilities of what I could accomplish in front of a roomful of people. Because of her recommendation, I completely changed my approach to my business. If it hadn't been for her invitation, I wouldn't be where I am today.

That's what can come from learning about another person's networks.

Oh, and it's not just how you benefit, but also when you ask the other person about the groups to which they belong -- both formal and informal -- you are taking an interest in their long-term success.

So, let's look at what could happen.
  1. You both belong to the group. Similar to finding a shared interest, a shared group provides a common point for your connection. You can compare notes about your experiences. This is more likely to happen if one of you is new to the group or if it is fairly large. Either way, you now have a new networking partner to keep you honest for the group's regular events.
  2. You don't belong to a group to which they do belong. This is the opportunity to make them into an expert and a hero. Ask them about their experiences with the group. What sort of events do they have? Who are the members? What has been their return on investment of time and money? If it sounds like a group which might be beneficial to you, ask if they would be willing to invite you as a guest. Of course, be prepared to pay your own way, but acknowledge that they would be your hero by simply being that friendly face in a new crowd.
  3. You belong to a group to which they don't belong. Here's where you get to be the hero. If you are a member of a group which you think would benefit them to consider, ask them to be your guest. Of course, since you are inviting, you should plan on paying for their registration. If you are a member in good standing (and why wouldn't you be?), you might consider contacting the organizer to see if they offer a comp registration for first time attendees. Many organizations do. This whole process can reap benefits on multiple fronts. By inviting them, you are telling them that you care enough that you want to see them succeed. This builds a reciprocity imbalance which makes them want to find ways to help you. You are doing a favor for those already in the group by introducing potential new members. The event organizers will also be grateful and remember your service. They usually like it when there are new people attending their gathering.
Is every new person you invite to a group going to become a life-long member? Nope. They don't have to, though, for you to reap the benefits of showing you care about their success.

And who knows? The success you bring about might be your own.

Image by Jan Willem Geertsma

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One-to-One Conversations: Interests

Unless you are both standing near something like
this, the weather is not a personal shared experience.
"It sure has been hot lately."

Let's face it. It's not the most auspicious way to open a conversation -- and it's also not likely to lead to a one-to-one that really strengthens the relationship.

This is the first of a series talking about the conversations we should be having when we meet a new (or even a long-time) networking connection for coffee (lunch, breakfast, high tea, etc). Chatting about the weather, while easy, doesn't really offer us the opportunity to find ways to help the other person and thereby deepen and strengthen the potential relationship.

About two years ago I came up with the acronym INFER as a mnemonic on the various topics we could ask the other person about -- a guideline for a conversation. I've refined the concepts a bit. So, let's delve into the why's and how's a little more deeply, starting out with their interests.

The passions make the person and we connect with the person.

Most people have interests outside their work. They have things they get excited about and devote their time to when they aren't making their livelihood. In fact, sometimes their extra-curricular pursuits are the reason they have to work so hard. Some hobbies can get expensive!

One of two things can happen when you ask a person about his other interests:
  1. You share the interest. If this is the case, you suddenly become a lot closer almost immediately. I'm sure you've experiences this already. You're sitting across from a financial planner, an accountant, or a IT repair specialist, chatting politely. Then you find out they share your interest in the television show "Battlestar Galactica". Suddenly you are long-lost friends -- your relationship jumping up a notch or two. Common interests create a common history.
  2. You don't share their interests. While not as strong as #1, this still has its benefits. They may be into competitive Alpine chainsaw juggling (it's the up-and-coming thing, I hear) and that's not something you've ever really been too excited about. That's OK. All you have to do is keep that information in the back of your head. The next time you read an article about the upcoming competitive Alpine chainsaw juggling convention that's coming to town, you can forward that tidbit to your contact.

    Are they likely to know about that event already? Probably. The important thing is that they know that you remember them as a person who has interests other than their job or business. You are connected on a personal level.
The one-to-one conversation is about connecting on a personal level. Conversations about the rain, snow, heat, cold, etc. won't make that connection. Shared experience or sharing experiences are where those deeper relationships will take place.

And it's from our interests that those experiences arise.

Photo by Cheryl Empey

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Magic Moments

I watched Kaylie's face as the world spun past and I knew this moment was one of the special ones -- never to come again.

She and I were down at Disney World together. Lisa and our brand new baby, Abby, were back up in Michigan with my sister-in-law, JoAnn. It was just the two of us enjoying the carousel behind Cinderella's castle. She was three and a half.

That moment is indelibly imprinted on my memory. I knew, even if we came again in some future year, she would never see the world with quite the same magic in her eyes.

Our relationships, both personal and professional (in fact, they're all personal, right?) are made up of just such memories. Magical moments that stand out above the everyday.

Do you think our networking partners remember that conversation we had about the weather? I'd guess not. They will remember when they found out that we share a common passion for Civil War re-enactments. Do they recall talking about what they do or how their business is going? I doubt it. There is a good chance they remember us connecting them to that big new client. Do they care which coffee shop you first met at? Nope. But they will remember the first time you introduced them to that caterer who took amazing care of their daughter's wedding reception.

We want to look for those magical opportunities with our networking connections. They aren't always the big things, but they will stand out from the ordinary and usually they simply show that we care. This is kind of the point of the one-to-one. Of course we are trying to get to know them better. We want to know more, though, so we can better help them and make ourselves and the relationship we are building remarkable in their eyes.

Does Kaylie remember all the times I made her cereal for breakfast? Does she remember any particular time? Probably not. As of right now, though, she remembers that carousel.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Calling Priority

Consistency is more important than intensity.

Would you skip brushing your teeth all week only to brush them fourteen times on Sunday? I'm hoping your answer is "no". That's not the way to good dental health.

The concept holds true for networking, too. We need to adapt those behaviors into our daily lives. We especially need to set aside time in our schedule to reach out to our connections on a regular basis. Unfortunately, it's easy to get bogged down in less productive behaviors.

Activity isn't always a good indicator of progress.

After a few years of doing this, I've finally come up with a particular order I try to follow with my daily correspondence. Try it out and adapt it for your own practice. See what results you get. In general, high value, high interaction activities come first. Lower value contacts or ones that don't require actually talking with the other person come later.

Here's my list:
  1. Confirmation messages. I look ahead to the next business day and send out confirmation messages to the folks I will be meeting. I know it seems like this break the whole interaction rule, but it has an extremely high value and since I have templates in my mail system for this purpose, it usually takes me about a minute to be done.
  2. Scheduled calls. If you told them you would call on or before a certain day and time, take it as seriously as any other appointment. In fact, this should go in your calendaring system as an appointment to make sure you are establish credibility with your connections.
  3. Referrals. When someone responds to your request for help, you had better do something about it. After all, this is the ultimate personal goal of networking. Again, this is a high value interaction, even if it doesn't have to be a highly interactive one.
  4. Follow-Up. You met at the Chamber breakfast and they didn't have their schedule so you could set up a coffee. Call them before the expiration date for their business card to set up that follow-up conversation. Otherwise there wasn't much point in striking up a conversation with them in the first place. This category would also cover any of the other categories where you sent out an email and now it's time to schedule an actual face-to-face meeting.
  5. Tickler File. You might not have any from the first three categories, but you will always have some from this one. This is how you maintain connection with your existing network. Depending on the size of the tickler file, you may be calling two, three, or more people whom you already know on any given day.
  6. Introductions. I know it may seem strange to place this one on a lower priority. Usually this is about responding to an e-introduction. Most people would find it a bit odd to receive an immediate phone call from someone to whom they've only recently been introduced. A quick email to make the initial connection and propose a call is all that you need to do. Of course, when you've scheduled the call, then it gets bumped up to #2 above.
  7. Asynchronous Contacts. This final section is for any other contacts -- quick emails, thank you notes, etc. They don't have a particular time commitment and they don't require interacting directly with the recipient. You can do these in the early morning or late at night. They are still an important part of your networking practice, but shouldn't take the primary spot in your efforts.
At first this may seem a bit overwhelming. For the most part, though, several of the categories will probably be empty on any given day. Until you are fairly far along in your networking practice, you probably won't be seeing referrals on a daily basis, for example. Personally, a half hour to an hour of calls during the working day is all I need. Then I can add in another twenty to thirty minutes to respond to introductions and take care of other non-interactive (read "e-mail-based") connections.

Most people spend at least this amount of time sending email, making calls, and posting on their favorite social media site. The process I've outlined simply prioritizes those efforts so you get done the most important activities first.

Photo by Jakub Krechowicz

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Coasting

Everything falls apart.

A few years ago, I watched a fascinating show called "Life After People". The underlying concept asked what if, for whatever reason, suddenly every human on the planet vanished? What would happen to all our artifacts as time marched on without us to maintain them? The upshot was, given enough time, everything would eventually crumble, some faster than others.

What really caught me was no matter how solid something appeared, it still needs us to maintain it. If that's true of structures built of brick and mortar, how much more true is it of a structure built from good will and strong relationships?

One of the most dangerous points for us in our role as a networker is when all the connections we've built start to pay off. Often these benefits may come from directions we didn't expect -- maybe even from people whom we haven't seen in a while. There's a real temptation to think we can just relax in our networking efforts -- coast, if you will.

Don't give in to the temptation.

Networking has a certain momentum. Once you get things started, it can survive the occasional week or two without you doing your normal networking activities. When you start getting up to a month or two, though, your tight network starts getting a little loose. Close connections start fading. People forget you as more immediate issues take their attention. Soon, you have to start the whole long process of rebuilding which can take almost as long as it took to build in the first place.

Clearly, coasting is a dangerous pastime when it comes to your networking practice. If you do have to do it though -- perhaps you are temporarily overwhelmed in either your professional or personal life -- what can you do to limit the damage?
  • Limit the coast. If you know you are going into one of these networking down times, set yourself a limit. whether it's one week or two or even a month, set a hard limit and start scheduling more networking after that point. Most people find it difficult to break an appointment, so a scheduled meeting will interrupt your networking coast.
  • Network through your abundance. In this case, your abundance of knowledge through a blog or e-newsletter. While this isn't true two-way networking, by regularly reaching out to members of your network through one of these mechanisms, you are at least keeping your name in front of them which helps prevent the forgetfulness problem.
  • Broadcast networking. Social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn can serve to keep their memories fresh, too. Take just five minutes to login, update your status and comment on at least one other persons and you're less likely to have people wondering if you fell off the face of the earth. If possible post something other than "Hard at work". Make it personal so they get to know the real you.
I've said it in the past, networking has to become a part of your lifestyle if you want to succeed in the long run. If you view it as just something you do, sooner or later you'll be tempted to coast. Just like riding a bike, though, sooner or later you have to start pedaling again. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get back up to speed.

Photo by Joses Tirtabudi

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Levels of Participation

Where are you in the Participation Pyramid?
"I've decided to leave the Chamber", she told me. "I'm just not getting any business out of it."

I was chatting with a business owner to whom I had delivered the welcome bag when she first joined the Chamber of Commerce. I knew that for some people, the Chamber just wasn't a good fit, so I wasn't horribly shocked. Still, I always like to know what happened, So, I asked her for more details about her experiences, specifically which events she was attending.

"Oh, I don't have time to do that!"

So, she basically expected to sign up and suddenly have her phone ring off the hook with business opportunities. I could have told her that she would be disappointed with that plan. Assuming that it's even the right one for your goals, the results you get from being a part of a group are directly related to the level of participation you maintain.

Let's look at what you can expect as a...
  1. Visitor. You show up once or twice to events for the group. If you are a skilled networker, you're simply checking it out to see if it is a good fit. If you aren't skilled, you just show up those two times and then declare that networking is a complete waste of time because you didn't get any business.
    Expected Results: None. You've made no visible commitment to the group and you won't be remembered or missed much past the last time you attend an event.
  2. Attendee. You are a regular at the groups events and have been for at least a six months to a year. The other people who show up regularly know you by name and probably know what you do. They comment if you miss an event. This is a dangerous place to be because it feels like you are devoting a lot of time to the group, but no one in the group reall knows you very well, so your returns on the investment of time and money will still be somewhat slim.
  3. Member. At this point you are not only showing up to most of the events, but you are connecting with other members outside the events -- one-to-ones. You may also at this point have officially joined the group, though this is not sufficient to making the group pay off. This is the first level of participation where you can start to expect real results. Now people not only know you on sight, but many see you as a close, personal connection.
  4. Participant. Beyond making good connections (and definitely still including that behavior), at the "Participant" level, you are a visible supporter of the group. You take extra time and effort (and sometimes even money) to serve your fellow members. Your activities might include serving on a committee, writing for the newsletter, or acting as a greeter at the events. At any rate the best connected people in this organization see you as someone to help in any way they can.
  5. Organizer. At the top of the participation pyramid is the role of "Organizer". At this level you are not only connecting deeply with the other members and serving in a visible capacity, but you have also made a long-term commitment to devoting your time and effort to this organization's success. The dangers at this level are that you only have time for one or maybe two groups where you serve at this level. You also might have a tendency to focus so much on the group that you forget to ask for help from those members who might be willing to do so.
The more time and energy you are willing to devote to the group, the more likely the group is to reward you. Understand this and you are far less likely at the end of the year to feel like you've wasted your time in an organization which has given you nothing in return.

Photo by Sigurd Decroos