Friday, September 15, 2006

Creating the Right Impression

When speaking about networking, I talk about the importance of avoiding preconceptions and getting to know people before making judgements about how well you want to know them. However, whatever our best intentions, we are naturally likely to judge people based on the first impression they make on us, and the majority of that first impression will come from how we look and how we sound, not on what we say.

What is the first impression that you make on other people? Have you looked at how well your clothes suit you? What message they send about you? A few years ago I was confused by how often people told me I looked well when I felt dreadful, and then said nothing when I felt great. I then went to see an image consultant who explained that I often wore the wrong colours, which drained the colour from my face and left me looking pale. On other occasions, I had worn the right colours for me and, however I felt, they left me looking great.

How well do your clothes suit your body shape? If you buy off the peg clothes, are they the right cut, the right fit to accentuate your positive features.

And what does your voice do for you? Do you sound confident and powerful, or unsure and meek? I recently watched voice expert Fergus McClelland give a presentation where he showed just how little of the real potential of our voice we use. When used properly, the voice is a really powerful tool.

Just what does this have to do with networking? If you are attending networking events, don't you want to make the right impression? If you get that first impression wrong, you've a lot of work to do to build relationships. Lesley Everett, author of Walking Tall repeated to me a study from the USA's Professional Image Institute, who found that, once you have got it wrong, it can take another 20 experiences with someone to change a first impression.

Or, as Joanna, my 9 year old niece put it this evening, "If someone is wearing funny clothes that don't match, I probably wouldn't want to speak to them".

Friday, September 08, 2006

Just Because You Can

I was woken up this morning by the dulcet tones of Christian O'Connell on Virgin Radio's Breakfast Show. A caller had phoned in because he is due to get married at the weekend and his honeymoon plans had collapsed at the last minute.

Within an hour of the story going out over the airwaves, the groom had 11 offers of holiday accommodation, ranging from a caravan in Bognor Regis to holiday homes in Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus and Turkey. Although some people offered a discount on their normal price, increasingly more and more offers were free of any cost. All the couple had to do was arrange their flights.

What leads people to offer accommodation in their holiday homes completely free to total strangers? In many cases, these are private homes used just by family or close friends.

I'm not sure that I can answer that question easily. It would be easier to understand if the radio station was giving name checks to the people making the offers and they were commercial holiday homes. But there was no free advertising on offer.

Sometimes the benefit of doing something is much less tangible than we might imagine. The feelgood factor of helping a pair of newly weds enjoy their honeymoon was clearly a driving force behind many of the offers.

We are often told that it is better to give than receive. If that wasn't the case, could something like this happen? We don't always have to look to see what's in it for us, just do something because we can.

And if everyone starts acting in the same way, then one day we might be on the end of a stranger helping us, just because they can.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Do You Hit the Bullseye?

Tim's comment on my last blog raises a very interesting question. When it comes to taking networking opportunities,as Tim put it, "So we all have time (168 hours per week), energy, and money. The question is 'how should we spend it?'"

So, where can you go to network and connect with people? There are more and more networking opportunities for business people to choose from. As most people are attracted to networking either through invitations from friends and colleagues or through searching the internet, how do you choose the right opportunity for you.

Broadly speaking, you can split business networking events into three categories; they are 'Brain-Building', 'Profile-Building' and 'Referral-Building' networks.

'Brain-Building' networks promote self-development, encourage learning or enable attendees to share best practice. I am a member of the Professional Speakers' Association, where Speakers discuss how they run their businesses and how they can provide the best service. There are other similar trade networks, Business Links and other organisations frequently host seminars on a range of business issues and many industries run Continuous Professional Development courses and networks.

Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Business (FSB) and a growing number of Women's Networking Groups are classic examples of 'Profile-Building' networks. Meeting on a monthly, quarterly or other less regular basis and focused on getting large numbers of attendees, the focus is on raising your businesses profile in a local community. You may meet different people at every meeting but, as the popular saying goes, "It's not what you know, but who you know". Can I add something to that? "It's who knows you". Online networks, such as Ecademy and Linked In have taken the Profile-Building model online.

Referral-Building networks, such as our own Business Referral Exchange (BRE) are very much focused on the members generating key introductions for each other. To achieve this, they meet on a much more frequent basis, ideally every week, and the group numbers are kept much lower. In BRE's case, we do not encourage groups to grow beyond 30 members as an absolute maximum.

The idea of weekly meetings and smaller groups is to help members to build strong relationships. Referrals are based on building strong degrees of trust and understanding and this can't happen in a larger, less frequent forum.

All of the networks in your area will have elements of one, two or all of the features above but will tend to focus on one above the others. The novice networker needs to sit down and work out exactly what they want from their networking activity, look to see which networking groups operate locally and then decide which meet their needs. Don't just join one, but get the right mix.

Just make sure that you spend your time, energy and money wisely and hit your own bullseye.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Hole in One

Networking can sometimes bring unexpected bonuses.

A few weeks ago I was at the London meeting of the Professional Speakers Association, when I met Tony Westwood. Tony is a golfing coach who has developed a very different approach to teaching his students. Whereas most golf pros will focus on a golfer's stance, grip and swing, Tony, an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) practitioner, gets his wards to focus on the ball, where they want it to go and where they need to hit it to get that result.

Today I had a very good 'meeting' with Tony. Admittedly we chose to meet on a sun-drenched golf course in Worthing rather than a hotel room in London, but that's just a cross I had to bear! As Tony helped me knock at least 20 shots off of my average round (who knows, maybe I'll break 200 soon!), we talked around a number of interesting areas.

Tony is a member of a referral-focused networking group close to home. He mainly gets referrals for individual golf lessons and the occasional corporate golf day from the group. But that is not what he is really looking for. Tony wants to develop a number of presentations around his unique approach to golf coaching and also work closely with much smaller groups at corporate days. The problem is that he isn't asking for those referrals.

It turns out that Tony's approach to coaching golf doesn't really differ from the approach he should be taking with his referral group. Think of the group as the ball and the green as where you want that ball to go.

As Tony said, in golf, if you hit the ball on the right hand side it will travel to the left; if you hit the ball on the left hand side it will travel to the right; and if you hit it in the get the idea!

Where you 'hit' your networking group will determine what it can do for you. If you ask for one thing, that is what you'll get. If you ask for something else, then that is what you'll get.

So, when you are networking it is important that you picture where you want your group to take you. Aim for the green, not just a hundred yards down the fairway, and then work out how you will need to hit the ball to get there. Think about how your presentations and requests will help you to achieve your goals.

There is more to your networking group than lies on the surface. But it is down to you to get the results. And, just as in golf, if you mishit one shot, you just need to address the ball again and take another step closer to the green.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Saving the Last Dance

A Midlands BRE member, Adam Smith, of, sent me this story this morning. It is a classic example of the sort of story we all hear so many times but that really illustrates how important our networks can be in personal as well as business lives.

The power of networking really hit me tonight. I was at a wedding and the DJ didn't turn up, after a few phone calls it turned out he was never going to turn up. I called a good friend of mine who suggested I ring someone but say that my friend had suggested I call.

A Saturday night and with 30 mins spare I had a DJ turn up and he did a fantastic job.
From this i learned call the people you need to, when you need to, with specific requests and you get exactly what you want.

DO NOT be afraid to ask for what you what you just might get it! A scary thought!

I am sure that you have heard of Stanley Milgram's theory of Six Degrees of Separation, but how often do you consider how it works in real life? How often does a friend of a friend come to your rescue?

The stronger your network and the closer you keep your networks to you, the more 'friends of friends' you will suddenly have.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Why should people want to talk to you?

I constantly hear people at networking meetings ask for a contact and then say,

"Why I want to talk to them is....."

At the risk of delivering a jolt of reality, if you take this approach can I ask you a simple question:

"What do they care?"

If you want to generate referrals for your business, don't tell people why you want to talk to their contacts. However much your fellow networkers want to refer you, they just won't know how. Once they are with their contact; the person you want to speak to; they will stumble as soon as they try to make the introduction.

Just picture the scene:

"Hi Bob, can I introduce you to a friend of mine, John?"


"Errr....... he said he would like to talk to you"

If you want people to be able to connect you and help to develop more leads for your business, you need to share why others want to talk to you.

As Doug Ritchard said on the last series of Dragons Den, "We are all in business to solve problems. What problems do you solve?"

That's the message you need to get out. What problems other people have, the solution you provide and the benefit to the other person of your solution. In other words.... WHY SHOULD THEY WANT TO TALK TO YOU.

I read an excellent newsletter today from Jackie Barrie, who helps businesses become much more effective in their communications. Jackie talks about the same problem and gives this top tip:

"Think about what problem your product or service solves and focus on the solution in your marketing communications."

In short, why should people talk to you?