Thursday, December 27, 2007

International Networking Week 2008

February 4-8th 2008 sees International Networking Week reach the UK. Last year's event was very successful within BNI groups across the country. It would be great to see the popularity of International Networking Week expand to other networks and other groups, raising the profile of networking to so many more businesses and organisations in the process.

There are still a lot of business people who have not yet come to terms with the importance of developing a support network to help open doors, generate new business and provide vital support to a growing company. International Networking Week can help raise understanding through high profile events in business communities, inside large companies and elsewhere.

What can you do to help International Networking Week really make an impact?

Monday, December 17, 2007

'tis the Season to be Merry

As we enter the last week before Christmas, you're possibly in the midst of event after event, from work Christmas parties, through awards dinners to catch up lunches with a host of clients.

Naturally the prime aim of these events is to have fun and let your hair down (for those of you lucky enough to remain sufficiently hirsute that is!). We can't ignore, however, the fact that you will be faced with a host of networking opportunities, both in terms of relationship building with colleagues, clients and suppliers but also the chance to meet new contacts.

If you get an invite to an annual dinner or awards event, how can you make the most of the opportunity?

One idea is to take a guest with you. Someone who is already well-connected in the local business community. As people tend to stick more closely to their own crowd at such events, if you attend with a 'connector', you will find that they will introduce you to a host of people you didn't previously know.

One client recently introduced his brother-in-law to one of his team who is based in the same area and who is responsible for business development. When the two met, they found that they both have very extensive networks locally and, between them, they know most people in the area. They now have plans to attend a range of networking events together, introducing each other to people in their network. What a great way to share their respective contacts.

So, when that invite next lands on your doorstep, ask yourself...who can I invite?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Help Make Your Mark Change Lives

As part of Enterprise Week, four young people have been invited to pitch their social enterprise ideas to a panel including Dragons Den's Peter Jones, Glastonbury's Emily Eavis and The Apprentice Winner Tim Campbell.

The winner of a public vote wins £5,000 from Unltd to help their idea become a reality.

Please help support the campaign, view the pitches and vote here.

Coca-Cola is less than refreshing

As more companies are alerted to the power of engaging with their audience through Social Media and as Facebook launch their new advertising strategy in New York, it is interesting to see just how wrong the big brands can get it.

Recognising that users of Facebook, MySpace and other social media will not respond positively to old-fashioned,in your face, advertising on the sites, savvy companies are setting up profiles, clubs and using viral videos to make an impact. So many have made great strides, yet Coca-Cola seem to have demonstrated perfectly how to get it so wrong.

The Technobabble Blog this week highlighted Coca-Cola's Facebook page. Quite why anyone would sign up as a 'fan' on their page is beyond me and very worrying (although I am sure that the whizz kids on their marketing would have envisaged more than 489 people expressing their devotion).

The quest is surely made no easier by their attempts to engage with their young, socially aware, cutting edge audience in their company overview:

The Coca-Cola Company engages in the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of nonalcoholic beverage concentrates and syrups worldwide. The company offers nonalcoholic beverages, principally carbonated soft drinks, as well as noncarbonated beverages. Its beverage products comprise bottled and canned soft drinks and beverages products. The company's products also include beverage concentrates, such as flavoring ingredients and sweeteners; syrups, the beverage ingredients produced by combining concentrates, sweeteners, and added water; and fountain syrups that use equipment for mixing the syrups with carbonated or noncarbonated water for immediate consumption, and are sold to fountain retailers, such as restaurants. The Coca-Cola Company also produces and markets noncarbonated beverages, including waters and flavored waters, juice and juice drinks, energy and sports drinks, teas, and coffees. The company markets its nonalcoholic beverages under various brand names, including Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Fanta, and Sprite. It sells its finished beverage products primarily to distributors. The company sells its beverage concentrates and syrups to bottling and canning operators, distributors, fountain wholesalers, and fountain retailers. The Coca-Cola Company was founded in 1886 and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

Increasingly businesses of all sizes are looking to Facebook and other similar sites for their commercial value as well as just a social tool. Failing to recognise and respect the nature of the media and its users will render these attempts futile.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Are You Feeling Enterprising?

Next week is Enterprise Week in the UK. Part of the Make Your Mark Campaign, Enterprise Week (12-18th November) is a national celebration of enterprise in all its forms with thousands of events and activities happening across the UK. Last year there were 3,184 events, and 448,000 people took part!

Make Your Mark is the national campaign to create an enterprise culture in the UK. It aims to inspire young people in their teens and twenties to have ideas and make them happen. The not-for-profit campaign is backed by an unprecedented coalition of businesses, charities, education bodies and government.

It was founded by the four leading UK business membership organisations – the British Chambers of Commerce, the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors. Their Director Generals sit on Make Your Mark’s board. It is also supported by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and is endorsed by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

As part of Enterprise Week, I'll be speaking at Bucks New University on Tuesday 13th and at The Young Retailer Forum on Friday 16th. I'm also attending The Future Face of British Enterprise at The British Library on Monday 12th.

There are bound to be events in your area. Check out the Enterprise Week website for more information. If you are already attending or organising a networking event next week, find out if they are part of Enterprise Week already, or willing to join up with the campaign.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Conference Commando

I have just returned from a fantastic, if exhausting, weekend at the Annual Convention of the Professional Speakers Association, where I was honoured to be elected to the Board.

This was my third such convention and, by far, the most valuable. For many small businesses, the investment in such events, both in time and financially, prompts a lot of thought about where the value lies and whether it is worth their while attending. This weekend will see a return of several times my investment should I follow through with a number of the connections made. That's what I call a 'no-brainer'!

That has not, however, been the case before. Previous conventions, while enjoyable, have not necessarily produced similar results.

At my first convention, three years ago, I learnt a lot, an incredible amount. I wrote pages and pages.....and pages.... of notes from the excellent speakers and focused workshops. Over the weekend I came up with idea after idea after idea which could transform my business.

And I put none of them into action.

The simple fact is that I learnt too much. I didn't have a plan to put the ideas learnt into action, hadn't put the time aside to review my notes and implement key thoughts, I failed to allow for follow-up. One of my contacts took the following week off just to go through her notes and ideas and look at her business, how many of us can add this to the time already invested?

Wary of this problem the following year, I was too resistant to new ideas and didn't really understand what I was going to get from the convention. I didn't really understand why I was going and got exactly what I planned for from it...nothing.

As a result of that experience, I didn't attend in 2006. With the change in my business in January, coupled with my impending election to the Board of Directors, I needed to be there this year, so I started to think about what I could get from the convention.

I knew not to write page after page after page of notes from the speakers. Instead I kept an 'Action Sheet' at the front of my notes and focused on writing down the two or three key points from the convention that, added to my business model or speaking style, could make a difference. I wrote only a few notes beyond that, most of them focused on particular areas I need to address.

That is no reflection on the quality of the speakers and workshops. I learnt a lot from some of the best speakers in the world; but there is a huge difference between what you learn and what you implement.

The main focus for me at Convention, however, was the networking. That may sound obvious coming from me but my networking this year was far more focused and planned than previously.

The week before the event I was reading Keith Ferrazzi's book 'Never Eat Alone'. In his chapter 'Be a Conference Commando', Ferrazzi talks about networking at conventions and says, "Conferences are good for mainly one thing....they provide a forum to meet the kind of like-minded people who can help you fulfill your mission and goals." Going to a Professional Speakers Convention and focusing on time away from the talks may seem strange but, in a lot of ways, that's where the value is.

Taking Ferrazzi's advice I contacted some of the attendees in advance of the events, suggesting that we take time to meet over the weekend. I arranged breakfast meetings, rather than focusing on finding a spare seat, and spent time with individuals. In addition, I have a range of meetings to set up over the next few weeks with other contacts made in the last three days.

The opportunities already created from these connections include a promised meeting with a Director of an NHS Trust to look at networking within that Trust, an invitation to speak to a group of Chief Executives, a meeting to discuss synergies with another speaker that may lead to the creation of a new CD and cross-referrals and the possibility of establishing speaking opportunities overseas.

That's not a bad return for an investment which, although for many may look large initially, pales into insignificance against the potential return.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Hand Up The Ladder

We're constantly told how important personal connections are when taking the next step on the career ladder. It is said that 70% of all vacancies are filled by personal recommendations and connections.

Last month I had the pleasure of meeting with Lori Friedman. Lori is the former COO of AOL UK. Lori's story underlines the importance of personal connections.

Back in 2000, Lori was looking for her next career move. She saw the post of COO of AOL UK advertised and felt that it would be the ideal next step for her. Applying for the job, she soon found herself meeting with the agency retained to lead the search. Despite what she felt was a positive interview, Lori didn't hear any more.

About six months later, Lori was talking to a client of hers, Neil Thomson of St. Lukes Advertising Agency. During the conversation, Lori found out that Neil's wife is Karen Thomson who was, at the time, CEO of AOL. Lori mentioned that job that she had applied for. Neil grabbed her CV and took it back to his wife, telling her all about Lori and how she would be perfect for the role.

The rest is history!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Making a Fortune from Facebook

I have been interviewed for this Yorkshire Post article following Microsoft's purchase of a stake in Facebook.

Is the money being spent on social networks reaching unsustainable levels?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Trains, Planes and ......... Sweet Chariots


I've never been a great believer in the principle of networking with absolutely everyone you come in touch with, irrespective of the situation and your state of mind. Some people talk about the value of networking at the airport, on planes, in the supermarket or in the bus queue. Maybe it's the Brit in me, but that's just not my style.

To be honest, very often when I'm travelling, for example, I treasure a bit of 'me' time. The chance to collect my thoughts, switch off or to read a book. In a business where I am constantly in meetings or at events, it is nice to get a breather every now and then.

I also feel that attempting to engage absolutely everybody you meet in conversation can come across as forced and unnatural. With the number of people travelling with their ipods, laptops and books, you can also risk interrupting people who are enjoying their own 'me' time. Far better to let conversation start naturally where both parties are open to it and develop as you identify something you have in common. There is a big difference between being open to new conversations and tasking yourself with starting them.

Sometimes, however, the conversations you enjoy with strangers when you travel can open doors for you, and not always the doors you would think.

Last weekend I travelled to Paris with a friend to enjoy the party for the Rugby World Cup Final. We didn't have any tickets, nor did we expect to be able to buy any. Certainly not at the prices the media were reporting, the day before the Final it was reported that two tickets had been sold for £25,000!

As we had booked our travel at the last minute, along with 60,000 other English supporters, we were taking one of the less glamorous and more arduous routes. The train to the South Coast, ferry to Dieppe and train to Paris via Rouen. Leaving Newhaven at 11pm on the Friday night, we were due to arrive in Paris at 10am the next day.

Only one obstacle lay in our path, the choice of the French railway unions to strike two days previously. Various rumours suggested that the service was not yet back up to standard. Conspiracy theorists among our number wondered whether the service would be worse on routes to Paris for the English-facing ports than from elsewhere!

Our first inkling that the rumours may be proved true was when we got to Dieppe station at 7am to check on our scheduled 7.44 train. It was cancelled! With the next train not due until 8.22, we went away to get some breakfast. Coming back to the station, we found that the 7.44 had miraculously appeared and carted off the rest of the England fans on time, leaving four of us (me, my friend and two others) to curse and wait for the next train.

The journey took another twist on arrival at Rouen at 9.30, the next train to Paris wasn't due to leave until 12.50, nearly 3 and a half hours later. As the whole point of our trip was to soak up the atmosphere of Paris on a World Cup Final day, spending the rest of the morning in Rouen didn't hold too much appeal! We got together with the other stranded couple and found a nearby car rental firm, where we hired a car between us to drive to Paris.

Leaving our new found friends on arrival, we made our way to our hotel to meet up with friends and then off to a restaurant they had previously found for some French Onion Soup, perfectly cooked steaks and, naturally, a couple of bottles of French Vin Rouge. While we were waiting for our starters, another England supporter came in and sat alone on the the next table. After a couple of minutes, when it was clear that nobody was coming to join him, we invited him over.

Nick (or let's call him Jonny Wilkinson, as that's his real name!) turned out to be a really nice guy, over from the US for work in the Hague, and a big sports fan like the rest of our group. We got on very well over lunch, mainly chatting about football and rugby tournaments each of us had been to. Halfway through the lunch Nick found out that I didn't have a ticket for the match. Nick had already bought a ticket before being invited as a corporate guest and he offered me his spare, at a personal loss and a substantially lower rate than other people were generally asking around Paris and elsewhere.

Nick stayed with us until just after the match and then joined us afterwards for a few commiseration drinks. We have also stayed in touch over the last few days.

The next morning we dragged ourselves up bright and early for the 13 hour marathon journey back home. We met up with Phil and Sharon, our car-hire buddies from the previous day, for breakfast and caught the train together.

The alarm bells started ringing when I got on the train. Due to take us all the way to Dieppe, the signs on the door simply said 'Rouen'. On investigation I confirmed that we simply had to change at Rouen and catch the connection to Dieppe. It later transpired that it wasn't that simple.

Half way to Rouen, the guard came through the carriages asking for people who were travelling onto Dieppe. It transpired that our train had been cancelled and our next connection would leave at 2.30pm. The only problem was that our ferry was due to leave at 3pm, and that was the last ferry of the day. A group of about 30 stranded English passengers gathered at Rouen to find out what could be done. The car hire companies were shut, the train company weren't willing to take on responsibility, and the next bus to Dieppe was due in at 2.30pm but couldn't be guaranteed. The rush for the taxi queues started!

Once more we found ourselves travelling by road instead of rail with Phil and Sharon. This time we were in a taxi to Dieppe rather than a hire car from Rouen. Making the ferry comfortably, we watched as taxi after taxi arrived from Rouen, and the bus turned up just in time!

After an uneventful ferry crossing, Phil and Sharon offered me a lift further up the train line, rather than relying on the local service from Newhaven. Yet another road trip saved incalculable time as it turned out that we had avoided a major part of the route where the rail line was closed and I would have had to catch a replacement bus service!

I arrived home exhausted after a marathon weekend where I had spent twice as much time travelling to and from Paris as actually there. As a result of speaking to people I hadn't met before, I had avoided long delays, confusion, major expense and missed ferries. I had also been able to afford a ticket to the World Cup Final, something that I hadn't expected at the start of the weekend given the prices people were quoting....and getting.

Oh, and Nick, Phil and Sharon could all turn out to be excellent business connections. We did talk about business but in each case the discussion came a long way into our conversations. Phil and I discussed each other's businesses during the taxi journey back to Dieppe and it looks as though there are a lot of synergies between us and many ways in which we could help each other. With Nick, we have touched on business and know what each other does and the opportunities are more likely to arise as the relationship develops. And if it doesn't, we made a good friend, naturally.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Review your networking strategy at Hertfordshire Networkers

Are you based in or near Hertfordshire? Wondering which networking groups to join or struggling to get value from your existing memberships?

I am speaking at the launch of Hertfordshire Networkers in Harpenden on October 25th. During the talk I'll be looking at how to focus on what you want from your networking activities and how to decide which groups to join.

Please do come and join me. Details are here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Master the Art of Networking

As part of National Enterprise Week, of which I'll be posting more shortly, I will be speaking at Buckingham Chilterns University on Tuesday 13th November. The University have put together an impressive week of events to celebrate Enterprise Week, including a Dragons Den session, a Business Club Dinner and Awards Ceremony and a showcase by Levi Roots, the 'Reggae Reggae Sauce' star of the last Dragons Den series.

Full details can be found here. If you are planning to come along to my talk, which will include a lot of networking opportunities, please do let me know so that I can look out for you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Over 4 Million Reasons Not to Ignore People at Networking Events

A recent survey by the Department of Business and Enterprise found that over 99% of the 4.5 million businesses in the UK are classified as 'small', in that they employ fewer that 50 people. In an economy where the 'corporate' business takes the spotlight in the media and in our minds, small businesses are the engine driving us forward.

Yet, still so many of us still avoid speaking to other small businesses when attending networking events. We are looking to sell our services to bigger businesses, because that is where we know we can win good contracts and secure our futures.

If 99% of businesses are small, who do you think is more likely to attend networking events? Trying to find a corporate decision-maker at your local business lunch is likely to be a futile exercise. Take a moment and look at the people around you. They may not be your customers, but who do they know and who do they service? In many cases, it is the exact people you are looking to meet.

On Friday I was invited to open Albans Office Space ,a new serviced office centre for small businesses in St.Albans. The people who attended the event were local small businesses, many of them currently working from home and prospective tenants of the new centre. It would be so easy for someone looking to work with corporates to dismiss the other attendees as irrelevant to their business.

On the contrary, as a result of conversations at the event, I have the chance of introductions to a number of media figures and to a prospective new corporate client. Contacts that would come from a new start-up business.

Networking is not about selling, it is about developing yourself and your business with the help of other people, and doing the same for them. Combining experience, expertise, ideas - and contacts - for the common good.

If over 99% of businesses in the UK are small, it would be an unwise person who ignored their help.

Friday, August 24, 2007

How Many Degrees?

How far are we from anyone else in the world? Stanley Milgram's theory of Six Degrees of Separation was devised 40 years ago, well before modern communications globalised business and business networks encouraged introductions worldwide.

In 2003 a team at Columbia University at New York ran a very similar experiment to Milgram's, involving over 60,000 people from 166 different countries using email to connect with one of eighteen random people. They still found that, in most cases, it took between five and seven connections to reach the 'target'.

So how do these findings impact on my beliefs that the number of links must have dropped?

Interestingly the key may be the medium used. Duncan Watts, the man behind the experiment told New Scientist, "Compared with offline interactions like work, school, family, and community, I don't see email as being a particularly compelling medium for generating social ties."

In a recent interview, Jeff Schick of IBM told me that email is now an outdated medium. Social networks clearly have a much greater potential to link people by providing visual representations of our networks and sharing them. Email is very one dimensional in comparison.

Does the 2003 experiment still stand up and have we moved no further since 1967? Or how many connections are we from anyone in the world?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Word of Mouse launches in Beta mode


Our new social network, Word of Mouse has now gone live in Beta Test mode.

Designed to provide a chance for referral networking, initially in the UK, for people who can't commit to regular breakfast meetings at BNI or BRE, the site will eventually consist of a number of local 'e-circles' where people can build relationships and pass referrals. Members will need to make time to see each other 'offline' as well as developing the online relationship.


Bear in mind that the site is in beta stage, we still expect there to be plenty of work still to do. But have a look and let us know what you think.

The Seven Principles of Effective, Successful Business Networking


I have invited Jason Jacobsohn, who regularly posts comments on this blog and who has an excellent blog of his own, Networking Insight, to give us his thoughts on what makes a successful networker.

1) Set Goals
Before you attend a networking event, you need to have some goals in mind. Ask yourself the following questions: Who do I want to meet? How many people do I want to meet? Why do I want to meet these people? Where will I meet these people?

Without a clear goal in mind, you won’t make the best use of your time when attending events. When you meet people, you should have a reason to talk with them so you can start to build meaningful relationships.

Do your research and find events that will allow you to meet the desired people. You can then put yourself in a position to reach your networking goals.

2) Carry Business Cards at All Times
A simple but often forgotten networking must is to carry business cards with you at all times. Whether or not you plan on attending an event, you should never leave home or the office without them.

You just never know what situation you will be in and who you will meet. It can be embarrassing if you don’t have a business card to hand out, which could show that you’re not an organized individual.

First impressions make a difference. Put business cards in your wallet, purse, briefcase, coat or pants and make sure your cards are accessible at all times.

3) Take Good Notes on Business Cards
When you meet people, it’s important to remember what has been said. Make sure to take notes on the back of their business cards.

By taking notes, you will remember your conversations and have information available when you follow up. Make sure to take notes about personal and business information such as birthdays, anniversaries, business interests and hobbies.

All of this information can help you to build your relationships with people. At the very least, it shows you took the conversation seriously and were paying attention.

In addition to taking good notes on business cards, it’s helpful if you transfer the information to an electronic format such as a PDA, Outlook or Act. That way, you can continue to add future notes and easily search for this information.

4) Be Genuine

Your networking demeanor can have a huge impact on how you meet people and build relationships. Make sure you come across sincere and don’t try to oversell.

When talking with people, apply your full attention by listening, giving eye contact, asking questions and not interrupting. You actions will go a long way and tell people whether or not you’re a good conversationalist.

Make sure to build trust and a good relationship with people before you ask for help or try to sell to them. Over time, it will be easy to approach your contacts with your needs.

5) Offer to Help Others
While talking with people, pay special attention to their personal and business needs. By doing so, you will have the opportunity to help them. Offering to help others before you ask for help is a networking must.

Ways to help are to share resources, make introductions, gather data and perform consulting. By extending yourself to others, you will build a reputation as a doer rather than a taker. Networking circles are small. Your actions will be known.

When the time comes for your needs, you will be able to approach your network with ease and they should be very willing to help you.

6) Follow Up
After you meet people, it’s important to follow up. Without follow up, you won’t be able to build relationships and your network. It’s a good idea to follow up with people the next day so you’re still fresh in their minds.

While e-mail follow up is easy and less intrusive, telephone follow up can be more personal and effective with some people. Choose the most appropriate method. You can follow up with just a simple “hello” to tell people it was nice to meet them.

You can also e-mail a Web site link or article about something you talked about the day before.

If you offer to help someone – no matter how big or small – you need to follow up. Without following through, you won’t be taken seriously and your networking efforts won’t be very effective. You’ll also create a bad reputation.

7) Build Relationships
After you meet people, you need to continue to build your relationship with them. Without fostering these relationships, your network won’t be very valuable and attentive to your needs. Find ways to connect with your network by inviting them to breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks or events.

By reaching out to them, you will come across as genuine and someone who values your relationships.

A great way to be in constant communication with people is to create an e-mail newsletter. Tailor the newsletter to a general interest so everyone can benefit from it. You can include event information, business articles and economic data. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s of value.

In addition, when you come across articles or other resources that could benefit individual people, send these items to them. Your contacts will appreciate your thoughtfulness and they will remember you.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Social Networking in Plain English (Yayyy!)

Through the Technobabble blog, I've come across this very quick and easy guide to what social networking is and why it's so important. It's a very basic overview of what networks are and how social networks make them so much more effective and accessible.

The filmmaker, Lee Lefeever from Common Craft has similar quick and easy introductions to RSS, Wikis and Social Bookmarking. If you've wondered about all of the funny words at the end of each of my blogs, like DIGG THIS! and DEL.ICIO.US, then watch the excellent Social Bookmarking video.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Not Hunting but Farming

You may have heard about how networking is more about farming than hunting. Successful networkers sow the seeds of long-term relationships and reap the benefit over time, while failed networkers spend their time chasing down their prey at networking events, with the business card as their weapon of choice.

Now imagine that you are a graphic designer with a small business. You meet the head of a major local advertising agency at an event, someone who surely has a need for your services. How do you react?

It is lucky for Kelly Molson of Rubber Cheese that she is a natural networker and didn't launch straight into an elevator pitch when she did bump into the local advertising mogul eighteen months ago. For Kelly, it was more important that, despite a short conversation at the event, the two of them had a lot in common and 'clicked'.

Kelly and her new contact stayed in touch for the next year, talking on the telephone, exchanging emails and arranging to meet for coffee. At no point was business high on the agenda, they simply connected.

This week Kelly thought she should get in touch with her advertising contact as they hadn't spoken for a while. Five minutes after sending an email, Kelly received a reply, and one hour later her contact called her asking if they could meet as she wanted to discuss some business.

One of the designers at the agency is going on maternity leave and Kelly has been asked if Rubber Cheese can cover her absence.

Kelly is delighted with the outcome. "It's a completely unexpected result which I am really pleased about, but it wasn’t the reason I wanted to stay in touch.
We had made such a good connection initially and had so much in common; I really wanted to be her friend. After our meeting today I have even more respect for her and cannot wait to work for the agency."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

8 Random things about Andy Lopata

I have been tagged by Jason Jacobsohn, US blogger of 'Networking Insight' to tell readers of this blog eight random things about myself. Now here's your chance to find out more about me.

1 - A keen child actor, I auditioned for the Royal Shakespeare Company when I was at school.

2 - I am a big fan of Charlton Athletic but can't let my support rest at just going to games. I sold programmes and then worked on the turnstiles as a teenager, became a member of the Supporters Club committee running the train service for away travel and then launched a fanzine, 'Goodbye Horse' which went on to be voted the best in the country by 'Total Football' magazine.

3 - I've parachute jumped in Kent, rap jumped in Kuranda, abseiled in the Lake District and Scotland, climbed Ayers Rock and Ben Nevis and drank champagne on the Great Wall of China, all while scared of heights!

4 - I worked as a runner on film sets in South Africa and as a sound engineer for radio interviews in London

5 - I used to work in the Royal Albert Hall and have abseiled from inside the dome.

6 - I snorkeled during the coral spawning on the Great Barrier Reef and alongside Whale Sharks in the Phillipines

7 - I have danced on stage. Embarrassingly, the song was The Weather Girls, 'It's Raining Men'!

8 - After ten years, I still can't get my golf handicap down, having just broken the 100 barrier for the first time a couple of months ago.

In the same spirit of tagging, I tag the following eight people to share eight random things about themselves with their readers:

Dave Clarke
Michael Beale
Graham Jones
Richard White
Harun Rabbani
Jeremy Jacobs
Peter Roper
David McQueen

I think it's time for another tag, so I also challenge Kim Rix of The SaVVy Club to share eight random things about herself on her blog.

Monday, August 13, 2007

One Small Step....

It's amazing the difference a small step can make. Just doing one thing every day that you would not normally do can bring tremendous results. If you set goals from your networking, plan the results you want and then ask yourself what you need to do to achieve those goals, you are more likely to take those extra steps.

I recently ran a workshop for NatWest Bank Business Relationship Managers on developing a strategy for their networking. I asked the participants to set two types of goal:

Financial - how much new business were they looking to attribute to networking over the course of a year?

Intangible - What areas of self-development could networking help with? Many people network to benefit from peer group support, routes to suppliers, a better network of people to refer to clients, confidence, presentation skills and a host of other reasons.

One of the people on the course was Paul O'Sullivan, a Development Manager at Enfield Business Centre. As a result of the workshop,Paul set himself a target of increasing his network. He recently sent me this email:

Further to your Networking Strategy Workshop, one of my personal/intangible goals was to approach/talk to a person that I don't know everyday. As a result of this I introduced myself to a gentleman who I had seen in one of the interview rooms of the Enfield branch on the floor below the Business Centre, but whom I did not recognise.

He was the PMA(Personal Mortgage Advisor) for the branch and we had a quick chat. I told him that I had a customer who wanted to move quickly on 2 buy-to-let properties and could he help out. He was happy to do this and we arranged an appointment. Subsequently the 2 applications were processed for my customer. He had bought a acquaintance along with him who liked what he saw and said that he had 6 buy-to-lets that he would like to mortgage through ourselves. These were subsequently processed and are at NatWest Mortgage Services now.

Both customers are also well known and respected in the local Jewish Community and have said that they will have more contacts and business for us because of the prompt & efficient service provided by us.

An excellent return and possible future return from me going and introducing myself to someone I didn't know.


What is particularly striking about this story is that Paul worked in the same office, for the same company as the person he introduced himself to. They saw each other on a regular basis but had never met. That might seem quite strange initially, but then think about the number of people you see regularly but have never had reason to introduce yourself to.

What small step can you take every day that could have a tremendous impact on your business?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Guardian Launch Social Network

It wasn't going to take long! Guardianweekly.co.uk has just been relaunched as the Guardian Weekly Global Network. A key part of the new site is a social network, with readers invited to submit a profile, comment on the site's articles and even submit their own articles.

In true social media style, members are featured on the front page of the social network section of the site, with their last comment displayed together with a link to their profile. An interesting innovation is the 'watchlist' where Members can track comments made by other readers. You can also search other members by location and by profession.

There has been a lot of talk about how blogging and web 2.0 are changing the way that news is reported and made. The Guardian have clearly looked at this and recognised the importance of not only engaging readers but also involving them. The site's editor, Mark King, explained, "We want to connect our readers, giving them the opportunity to truly effect change and providing a platform for voices that are often overlooked."

Of course, this is also a strong move from a marketing point of view. After all, people are less likely to surf to other news sites if there is a chance their views will feature on The Guardian's.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Business Networking on the Social Web

Social Networking blogger An de Jonghe has just published the results of an interesting survey into the use of Social Networks worldwide. An based the results on the responses of over 850 people from 54 countries over the first seven months of this year.

There are a number of interesting results in the survey. The first thing to take note of is An's disclaimer that the survey cannot be considered as scientific. It would be interesting to know how the survey was publicised as some of the demographic results are surprising, not least Belgium being the most active country for social networking and three business sites coming above Facebook as the most popular networks.

Accepting, therefore, that this is probably a reflection of a more mature and business-focused demographic than the average Facebook user (the typical respondent is a male parent between 30 and 40 years old), we can use this survey as an indication of trends in social business networks.

What can we deduce from the survey?

- Initially the survey suggests that people don't want to pay for their social networking memberships. According to de Jongh, only 20% of respondents were prepared to pay for membership. However, this needs to be put into the context of the question. Respondents were asked whether they preferred to pay for ad-free membership or whether they would prefer a free account with advertising. This 'either/or' choice does not tell us whether they will pay a membership fee if they can see value for money. With social networking sites like Facebook offering membership for free, it will be interesting to see which cost models prove popular for social business networks.

- Most respondents join primarily for business opportunities. de Jongh suggests that the future is bleak for niche 'hobby' sites if they don't offer business opportunities, with just 16% opting to join a social network because it caters to their hobby. However, in 'Marketing to the Social Web', Larry Weber suggests that many people will join social networks because of shared interests. Is there a difference in the way different generations use the web?

- 40% of respondents feel it is important to be able to use their own language when posting. With most of the major social networks having a global reach and using English as the common language, is there scope for country-specific networks and can they possibly be as successful given the global e-community? The success of Bebo in Ireland, where founder Michael Birch recently suggested they have a huge impact in the market, suggests that this is possible. In contradiction, three-quarters of respondents to the survey consider themselves global networkers in response to the question 'would you consider joining a network outside your own country?'

Meanwhile, the majority of respondents (54%) don't participate in offline meetings. See my post on Anti-Social Networking for more thoughts on this issue.

The full survey can be found here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Top Class Speakers in London this Weekend

I don't often promote individual events on this blog because of the sheer number going on every week. However, this week sees one with a bit of a difference. On Sunday 5th August, five of the best speakers from around the world are speaking at an event at the London Palladium Theatre.

AKASHA 2007 is set to be one of the most enticing, entertaining and enlightening events of the year.

You have probably heard of these world class speakers:

Bob Proctor: The Law of Attraction
Dr John Demartini: Breaking Through the Illusions that Ru(i)n Your Life
Roger Hamilton: Finding your Flow and Creating Your Legacy
Getrude Matshe: Creating More and Contributing More
Christopher Howard: Turning Passions into Profits

The event is hosted by Triumphant Events who have a great track record for running quality events and attracting the right people to network with. I know that they have already sold well over 1000 tickets to the event.

All tickets to this event are currently just £39 and are allocated on a first booking - best seating basis so if you are around London on the 5th of August make sure you head to this event with your team.

Visit Triumphant Events for info and tickets.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Can Social Networks Drive TV Listings?

A new group on Facebook has been launched to promote 'The Dudes', a new cartoon series which is described as the UK's alternative to 'The Simpsons'. The creators are trying to launch 'The Dude revolution' by building a big enough following on Facebook to convince programmers to screen their production. As an incentive, they are offering the chance for two of the group members to be turned into a 'Dude' and provide a voiceover for the first full episode.

Interestingly, the group, currently 190 strong, is also being used to provide ideas for character development and ideas for episodes. This is very much in the tradition started by Skins earlier this year.

Are we entering a new phase of the Social Web where content will increasingly be generated by consumers? Will teams of scriptwriters will become redundant? And if TV is driven more and more by who can prove the greatest support online, will the quality of programming improve or get even worse (if that's possible)?

A Networking Man of Mystery

When someone asks me what I do at a networking event, I always respond "I network", "I'm a networker" or something similar. I do this because I want to intrigue people and get them to ask me what I mean, and listen to the answer. After all, when someone asks you what you do in that situation, it is no more than the networking equivalent of "Do you come here often?"!

Last night I was at a networking event. Over dinner one attendee, who had asked me earlier what I do, asked me how being a networker could be a business. This was exactly the reaction I look for, it had obviously been on her mind for some time and she really wanted to know the answer.

This led our group into a discussion about when to let people know what you do. If you tell people straight away, they will immediately decide how relevant you are to them and how much more they want to listen. Because they haven't bought into you yet. Intrigue people so that they really want to know and they'll listen far more carefully.

But to what extreme can you take this intrigue?

I had been in a meeting earlier in the day and was describing a contact from my network. As I described him I suddenly realised that I don't really know what he does. He has an excellent reputation as a successful businessman with great contacts and as someone really worth knowing. But I don't know what he does. I had enjoyed a 1-2-1 with him only a couple of months ago, but still I don't know what he does.

At my next meeting I asked my colleague, who also knows this person, what he thought he did. He has known him for four years...and he doesn't know! And at last night's event I saw someone else who shares this contact, and he doesn't really know!

The upshot is that I (and I'm probably not along in this) am very keen to get in touch with my contact to arrange another meeting as soon as possible and really try to understand his business and what opportunities he is looking for. I don't know if that is the outcome he is looking for, if so it's brilliant networking, or if he simply doesn't know how to communicate his business.

At what stage do you tell people what you do and how effectively do you communicate this? Do you trot out the standard 'elevator pitch' fare as soon as someone asks what you do? Do you make your answer relevant to the person asking or give everyone the same response?

Or do you make them wait for an answer, ensuring that they really want to know?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Rise of Anti-Social Networking?

Are the so-called 'Social Networks' taking over our lives? According to new research, 6% of 10,500 respondents to a survey spend more time each month networking online than meeting with family and friends! The 'hardcore' respondents are currently spending more than 10 hours a week networking online.

This figure isn't surprising and is only going to grow. Consider that the survey, carried out by uSwitch.com, was among broadband users. 6% is perhaps still a low number of people who have easy access to the internet to be 'high users'. And anyone who has got their teeth into Facebook recently will know how sticky the site can be.

The growth of social networks, and I include business sites such as Linked-In and Ecademy within the genre, is at the very start. It may seem hard to believe to readers of this blog but there are still a lot of people who still haven't heard of Facebook, let along been Poked on it!

More and more networks are starting, a number of them targeting particular communities. As the social networks become more focused on particular communities, people will become more drawn to participate in the network relevant to their interests. And the number of people spending more than 10 hours a week online will grow further.

What does this mean for a networker? Well, obviously it provides more opportunities to raise your profile and expand your network, both socially and for business. I have found Facebook to be a fantastic tool to keep in touch with friends I only see very rarely, and also to get to know better people I have met through business.

It is so important, though, that you use the networks as a tool to spark and revitalise relationships, not to replace meeting people in person. As one person said to me recently, 'the money is still in the face to face meetings'. I believe that you can only get to truly know, like and trust people when you see them in person, as often as you can.

Used correctly, the online communities can be great social tools. I'd hate, however, to see them replace meeting people in the flesh.

*The uSwitch findings were based on a survey of 10,513 adults in Britain carried out by YouGov in May.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Effective Networking Skills....In Action

Reading Dave Clarke's Business Networking Blog, I came across this wonderful visual guide to working a room from American networking author Diane Darling. If you need to know how to work a room at a networking event, this is an excellent tool.


HOW TO WORK A ROOM

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The World's Smallest Ever Networking Event

How many people constitute a 'networking event'?

That's the question I was asking myself after attending the world's smallest ever event tonight. With only two of us present, surely that's a record that can't be beaten?

The event, an intimate monthly dinner with normally around 12 people present, was hit by low registrations because of the time of year and a number of cancellations on the day. Even the event host gave up when no-one had turned up twenty minutes after the start time.

As he left, little did he know that I was turning up, worried that I was twenty minutes late as my meeting had overrun. Naturally I was a bit concerned when I was seated in the restaurant...on my own. Never mind, I ordered a beer and munched on olives, sure that I had got the times wrong and everyone would turn up in a few minutes.

Twenty five minutes later I was a lot more concerned. I had busied myself with the menu, having experienced the food in this restaurant before I definately wasn't leaving now, and figured it had become 'dinner for the sad man on the big table in the corner'. But then another latecomer came down the stairs, looking equally confused and joined me.

When I was involved BRE I was often frustrated that people's first question on being invited to attend a networking event was 'how many people will be there?'. There seemed to me to be too strong a focus on quantity over quality. I always believed that this is a very misguided approach, having been to many good events with few people and an equal number of well attended disasters.

As it was, Julian and I had an excellent meeting, finding out a lot about each other's business, discussing people we both know and our attitudes and experiences of networking. We had both heard of each other before but never met.

We were able to discuss things in a lot more depth than we would have done ordinarily and there are good chances that we will be able to develop our relationship further and hopefully, in time, introduce some very valuable contacts to each other.

So how many people do you need to attend to create a networking event? As tonight proved, in the right circumstances two can be company enough.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Networking is good for your health

On my way back from yet another networking event this evening, the excellent Web Wednesdays, I read an interesting piece in the London Lite newspaper:

DON'T BE SO SHY, IT COULD KILL YOU

Shy men who avoid contact with people are more likely to die of heart disease than their more sociable peers, a study claims.

The 30-year study of 2,100 men reveals that withdrawn introverts have a higher risk of death from heart attacks, strokes and other forms of cardiovascular disease than other men of similar age and social class.


Looking at the stress and strain on the faces of people standing on their own at networking events, compared to the relaxed, happy manner of others engaged in conversation, there are no real surprises in this survey.

So go on, relax and enjoy yourself at networking events. And whenever you feel pangs of panic when you need to approach someone new just remind yourself, you're doing it for your health!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It Takes Teamwork to Tango

I've just received a spanking new copy of Russ King's new book 'It Takes Teamwork to Tango' through the post. I was fortunate enough to read a review copy. Here's what I said after reading it:

As a reader of non-fiction for over twenty years, I approached 'Tango' with a sense of trepidation. I don't do novels! However, I thoroughly enjoyed it and, to be honest, didn't want it to end. After years of running and attending networking events, it was amusing to see them through the eyes of people new to the process. And I recognised so many of the traits of fellow networkers.

Anyone who has been through the process of leaving corporate life to set up on their own and trying to find their way around the sea of networks will enjoy this book.

I haven't yet found my true love through networking, but at least I now know I may be only three degrees of separation away!


If you enjoy networking, I really recommend this book.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Who Else Could I Be?

With another series of the Apprentice coming to a close, on BBC2 last night Alan Sugar talked about the importance of ruthlessness in business. Referring to one contestant he said "she's not a nice person; but I don't always employ people I like".

Meanwhile, another contestant was described as being fired because he was "too nice".

In complete contrast to this approach, original Apprentice winner Tim Campbell talks to Monday9amTV about his outlook on business and the show.

For Tim, the adage of 'if you win, I lose' doesn't sit comfortably.

Is Alan Sugar right? Does ruthlessness and selfishness still play a huge role in business success?

Or can a win/win attitude get you similar results, while remaining a 'nice guy'?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Earning Referrals

Ask businesses how they get most of their new leads and best prospects and most will usually reply 'referrals and recommendations'. Ask them what strategy they have to maximise the flow of this new business and many will look at you blankly.

Over the years I have met many business people who will spend time and money developing marketing strategies incorporating PR, advertising, cold calling, exhibiting and other routes to market, yet leave referral generation to chance. The common response is "I let my customers refer me".

In his recent book, Truth or Delusion, Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, says,

"On several occasions, my coauthors and I discussed the point that I made in my book, The World's Best Known Marketing Secret, about how people were under the delusion that good customer service alone was enough to enable them to build their business through word of mouth. We shared stories about people we'd met over the years who had gone out of business waiting for good word of mouth to rescue them."

Dr. Misner discusses how good customer service is a prerequisite, we expect it. People are far more inclined to talk about bad news than good. Just look at the front pages of the newspapers most days of the week if you don't believe me.

It is not enough just to provide a good service and expect referrals. How many times do you attend a restaurant, eat good food, enjoy good service and then tell all of your friends about it? Compare that to the amount of times you have a bad experience, with poor food and rude service. You want to tell everyone not to go to that restaurant. Don't you?

Good service is expected when we buy something. That doesn't give us something to talk about. The fact is, if we want people to be our Champions, to advocate us to other people, we need to go that bit further.

This chart, used by the CEO expert Roger Harrop during a recent presentation I attended, illustrates this perfectly:



If you fail to meet people's expectations and they are dissatisfied with your product or service, as you would expect, they will leave you. If you meet their expectations and they are satisfied, that is fine but they are still prey to other people making better offer. To keep people buying from you, they either need to be very satisfied or you have to exceed expectations. But to make them Champions, you need to achieve both. Or as I put it, substantially exceed their expectations.

Give people a story to tell and you will win referrals. Just don't expect people to refer you simply because they are happy to buy from you.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Inspiring Excellence

I have recently become involved with a really exciting new business called AchieveTODAY which specialises in Personal Development for Young Professionals.

AchieveTODAY are hosting their first event in July of this year. It is their aim to inspire 18-30 year olds to excel beyond their expectation in thier choosen careers and personal lives.

Although the event hasn't been officially announced yet, there are a number resources available for people to download.

If you, or people you know, would be interested, please visit www.Student-Seminars.com

There are also a number of great articles on the AchieveTODAY website.

If you have friends, sons, daughters etc that spend a lot of time online, AchieveTODAY would be really grateful if you could ask them to spread the word about this website. They can do this by responding to people's blog comments that are related to the subject of the audios and books.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fancy a chat about networking?

Eager to engage with new technology, I have just established a group on the social network Facebook for people to discuss their networking and public speaking challenges, ideas and tips.

Please come and join the '...and Death Came Third!' Networking and Speaking in Public group and share your stories and questions.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Little Light Relief - Life after Death by Powerpoint

Many thanks to Alan Stevens, the Media Coach, for highlighting this in his excellent newsletter.


Life After Death by PowerPoint

Add to My Profile | More Videos

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Caught in the Web - Is Business Embracing Social Media?

“Every day there’s a new topic that someone wants to talk about and be part of.”
Jeff Schick, vp social computing software, IBM Corporation


Ecademy, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, LinkedIn, Xing, Ryze. For many of us, the names in this list will be increasingly familiar but they are only the tip of the iceberg. While social networking technology has been used by a number of businesses for the best part of the last decade, the rise in its popularity over the last two years has been tremendous. From teenagers keeping in touch with their school and university friends to their parents boosting their business profile, everyone is joining the social networking revolution.

Where is this ‘revolution’ leading? I will discuss the benefits to the younger ‘MySpace Generation’ in the next in this series of blogs, and will also look at the social benefits in a future article; but what about the benefits to the business community?

In my recent interview with Jeff Schick we looked at how his business has embraced social networking to help make their internal communication and systems more effective.

It is becoming more apparent that IBM is not on its own. A March 2007 survey of corporates for Melcrum, a communications industry researcher, showed that big business is moving quickly towards fully embracing social media. 52% of respondents anticipated raising their social media budgets over the next twelve months, while 55% are already using blogs or plan to do so in the next year.

Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and President of Sun Microsystems, has a very popular blog that was used during his transition into the CEO role, enabling employees across the organisation to get to know him better, more quickly than through traditional media.

Melcrum’s Managing Director, Robin Crumby, points to the influence of the social networks in encouraging the corporates. “Big business has taken note of the popularity of sites like MySpace, YouTube and Bebo and is beginning to figure out how to integrate the same functionality and networking tools with their corporate intranets.”

Despite this encouraging trend, larger business still has some catching up to do. According to a recent survey carried out by The University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research, the US’s fastest-growing private companies are using social media, including blogs, social networking and podcasting, at a rate more than twice that of Fortune 500 companies.

Greg Verdino, VP of emerging channels at Digitas believes that businesses of all sizes need to focus on how to use this media effectively. “Every company needs to have a deliberate social-media strategy. These venues — blogs, podcasts, and all the other next big-thing things — are not something to be treated as one-off pilot projects. They should be considered as part of a holistic approach, one that seeks first to understand how the individuals that make up a company’s market are using the new media and then to understand what benefits can be reaped by the company from using some or all of them.”

In our conversation, Jeff Schick looked more at the holistic approach to social media that companies can take.

“I think that, with the diversity of social networks that exist today, an organisation that deploys a social network could have a zone that’s focused on the internal aspects of the company, a zone that’s focused on the way it may interact with its partners and contractors and a zone which allows them to be the social network and its public face to its current clients and new opportunities.

“There’s a concept of creating federated social networks that I think is a very important idea that I’m working on currently. I’m going to help drive standardisation within the people that build capabilities in the social software space.”

As more businesses encourage their employees to use online communities, there are bound to be fears that they will prove to be a distraction or could affect a business’s reputation if abused. Many companies, such as IBM and the BBC, recognise this and, rather than ban the use of social networks, they have very clear guidelines on what is permissible and what isn’t.

Jeff Schick doesn’t share such concerns. “I would tell you,” said Jeff, “that in the clients that we’ve worked with to date, as well as what we’ve seen within IBM, I think that we see the exact opposite.

“While a person might be interrupted because they are a recognised expert in a certain particular area, when there is information required by another individual in the company, the efficiency and productivity involved in building that network and that fabric of interaction provides a more efficient and productive model for people to do their work. The organisation is improved holistically, by matching people who know to people who need to know.”

Graham Jones, a UK based Internet Psychologist, feels that businesses need to put aside their reservations and embrace the new wave of web technology.

“Many businesses see things like social networks as a technological fix; or they reckon that a social network is merely a fad, or passing phase. Hence they don’t put in the effort to ensuring that their firms benefit.

“What’s needed is to forget that the social networks use technology; they are, in fact, merely an extension of normal human behaviour. As such, they are one of the most natural forms of Internet technology we have.

“For that reason alone, businesses need to grasp social networks with both hands because if they don’t, employees and customers alike will walk away, going towards online businesses that use technology that behaves more naturally – i.e. they use social networks.”

So, will the current growth of social networks continue in the same way? As the big organisations start to stamp their mark on the market, industry as a whole is likely to follow; but the expectation is that we will continue to see a host of options within social media. Something which is still looked upon with cynicism by many in business will soon become the norm.

Jeff Schick doesn’t see an end to people starting their own networks but does see more standardisation at the corporate end. “There are social networks that span multiple communities of interest and there are social networks that span a single community of interest. You’ll not stop communities or people who are interested in a certain focus area from forming.

“What I think will happen is that the companies offering those capabilities might consolidate and a set of best practices on the tools that are available may become apparent. Surely they’ll be a level of interoperability and standardisation that evolves between them.

“But I look at the number of communities of interest and you know that every day there’s a new topic that someone wants to talk about and be part of. “

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Networked Out?

It feels as though I am in the middle of a networking marathon at the moment. Ten events in seven working days just feels like networking overkill, even for me.

I didn't plan it that way, and I certainly wouldn't recommend this level of networking activity to anyone. Although I am making some fantastic new connections and new opportunities are opening up for me on a daily basis, I am struggling to find the time to follow up with my contacts, arrange meetings with people I have just met and keep up with emails, paperwork and this blog.

The fact is, you can simply overnetwork. There are so many opportunities to get out and meet new people you have to be selective and pick the right ones for you. And learn to say 'no'.

I am learning, I promise! I have said no to three events already this week. And that's lucky as they would probably have tipped me over the edge. As I write this blog alone, I could be sitting in two different breakfast meetings!

So the lesson? Be selective, be patient (if you can't go this month, you can always attend next time) and if you do go to a lot of events, make sure that you enjoy them. That way, at least you can keep your sanity!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Corporate Connectivity – A Social Networking Revolution

“Mention the word ‘networking’ to CEOs and other business leaders in large organisations and they will turn their back on you. They just won’t be interested.”

A leading CEO said this to me no more than three months ago. For many large organisations networking is perceived as an activity for small businesses. It’s just not something that corporates are interested in.

Is it possible though, that times are changing?

Every week I hear that this attitude is not as prevalent as before. ‘Networking’ may still be a dirty word in some spheres but an increasing number of large organisations are embracing its techniques to help them work more effectively.

Following strong recent activity by Cisco systems, who have made a number of social networking acquisitions, and the launch of BT’s own small business network ‘BT Tradespace’, I was very interested to hear that IBM are the latest giant to enter into the Social Networking arena. Later this year, they are launching ‘Lotus Connections’, software based on their own internal systems.

I spoke with Jeff Schick, the vice president of social computing software for IBM Corporation in New York, to find out more about how IBM sees the relevance of networking to larger companies.

While the BT site is very much ‘external’, linking different businesses together online, as are some of Cisco’s acquisitions, one thing that was very clear from the conversation with Jeff was the importance of networking technology for internal efficiency.

Jeff’s primary focus is very much on being able to ensure that IBM employees worldwide have easy access to a range of expertise across their organisation, and they primarily use social networking to achieve this. There are over 400,000 IBM employees and business partners worldwide who use their ‘Blue Pages’ internal network, where they can post a personal profile that anyone within the organisation can access and blog about their area of expertise.

I believe that networking is the sharing of resources to help individuals to achieve a greater potential than we could do on our own. The approach that Jeff Schick and IBM take reflects this philosophy.

Jeff described the management of IBM’s human capital as one of their greatest challenges today. Networking technology enables the organisation to facilitate consultation and idea sharing and is a key tool in overcoming that challenge.

One of the biggest problems businesses suffer as they grow is competition rather than cooperation between different parts of the organisation and a lack of knowledge of how other departments operate. This leads to complaints that ‘the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing’.

For multinationals, the problem becomes even more pronounced, with people spread across the world often facing the same challenges. Social Networking systems are key to managing these issues efficiently, although they shouldn’t be seen as a complete replacement for bringing employees together where they possibly can.

“We maintain a culture that is both capable of working in a distributed, highly decentralised fashion” said Jeff, “but at the same time take advantage of the opportunity to come together and make useful interactions when we see each other in person”.

Recently IBM recognised the problem of organisational silos within their own organisation. The company saw that sales groups within its $15 billion dollar software group were only focusing on their own brand or location rather than customers’ needs. To overcome this, they reorganised the structure of the organisation, changing their focus to finding the right solution from across the broad range of products on offer.

According to Jeff, “it’s getting the right people over the right business problem. Breaking down those barriers of communication and knowledge is an important objective of the way we approach going to market.”

Additionally, there is a focus on solving issues and making the most of new ideas by stimulating a wide debate by all of the people involved in the process. In order to bring together as many ideas and experiences as possible to business problems, IBM use ‘Jams’, where they employ collaborative technology to encourage people both within and outside of the organisation to work together to find solutions to those problems.

Through Blue Pages and elsewhere, IBM encourages people with similar interests to work closely together, through community interest groups or “birds of a feather type activities”. In the UK, BT operates similar forums, with a number of internal networks to promote people working together and supporting each other. Such networks are becoming more commonplace in business.

According to the US industry analyst firm Forrester, social networking tools will become “so much a part of the fabric of an enterprise’s collaborative environment that it will be like air – enterprises won’t be able to manage life without it.”

Indications are that we are going to see a shift in how companies encourage their staff to interact. It may surprise you to hear that most of the senior leadership of IBM are frequent users of Social Networking software. Perhaps IBM are embracing such technology because of the nature of the business and their understanding of the technology involved. Surely this won’t be as easy a transition for less IT-based organisations? Not according to Jeff.

“I see it in other organisations as well. I look every place and see organisations that have adopted blogging, whether it be internal or external. I look everywhere and see people utilising Wiki technology to do dynamic self publishing. No matter where I look, I see companies deploying technology that support communities and the interests that community serves, and the goals that community has.”

Perhaps ‘networking’ is not such a dirty word after all.

Further articles based on my interview with Jeff Schick will follow.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Networking with FOCUS - Bringing it all Together

If you have been following this series of articles, you will have noticed a couple of key ideas cropping up again and again. Hopefully by now, you will have recognised the importance of having a strategy for your networking rather than leaving things to chance.

As we have discussed, while many people look down on ‘networking’ as a series of old boys clubs or small businesses desperately exchanging business cards, in reality individuals and businesses of all sizes need to network to succeed. And that is much easier with a clear vision of where you want to go and what you need to do to get there.

In addition, you may have noticed the regular use of the word ‘focus’ throughout the series. Unfortunately, most businesses lend very little focus to their networking and therefore experience unsatisfactory results. This isn’t because networking doesn’t work, it’s because of a lack of thought that has gone into it.

As discussed in previous articles, to get networking to work, you need to:

• Know what the Financial return from your networking should be
• Set out some Objectives across the board, not just looking at the financial benefits
• Know what Commitment you need to put into your networks to get the results you want, and how much you can manage
• Ensure that the people who want to help you can Understand what you are looking for
• Bring all of this together into a clear Strategy for your networking.

In short, add some FOCUS to your networking and watch your business or your career accelerate forwards.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Getting Emotional

After speaking at a recent event, one of the attendees was explaining how, in his view, despite the high intelligence and career achievements of many of the people present the majority of them had a low EQ, making it difficult for them to network effectively.

I had been acquainted with the idea of EQ instead of IQ, the power of emotional intelligence compared to what we traditionally classify as 'intellect', before. What I hadn't looked at before was its link to networking but surely there is a clear parallel.

When you look at the Wikepedia definition of EQ, as 'an ability, capacity, or skill to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups', the link becomes clearer. After all, doesn't one's ability to network depend on your interpersonal skills?

In her 'Brazen Careerist' blog, Penelope Trunk describes Emotional Intelligence as 'the one skill you need for three key areas of career growth'. Describing Emotional Intelligence as the way you differentiate yourself at work in the new millenium, Trunk refers to Drew Gilpin Faust, the first female president of Harvard. According to Trunk, Faust's key qualification for the job is her ability to communicate well with a wide range of people, a notable shift from qualification-focused appointees in the past.

Last night I attended a Women's Social Leadership Awards event run by Ogunte Tribal Network and hosted by BT's Women's Executive Network. One of the speakers, Sofia Bustamante, talked about the power of networking for her and how traditional hierachy was being erased. Sofia shared with the audience her dislike of CVs for people applying for jobs and how they didn't really address the individual's skills and abilities. For Sofia, emotional intelligence, the ability to connect with others, is far more importance than work references.

While I am sure we won't see a sudden shift to all appointments being made purely on the basis of interpersonal skills or CVs being thrown out of the window; what is becoming clear is that the ability to make connections, develop rapport with individuals and with groups and to build a network is becoming more vital for people who either want to develop careers or build their own business.

Formal qualifications and functional ability remain important and will continue to be a key factor in career development. Accelerating personal achievement, however, will depend increasingly on the ability to connect with others, which is helped by strong emotional intelligence.

Penelope Trunk reference's Dan Pink's work 'A Whole New Mind' in her blog. In his book, Pink predicts the workplace of the new millennium will be about how people make connections.

“Key abilities will not be high tech but high touch.”

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The XBOX story by Tim Sanders

How much interest do you show in the people around you? Have you thought about how powerful it is to interact with people personally as well as professionally?

Watch this powerful video from Tim Sanders, author of Love is the Killer App.

You may not come across such dramatic circumstances but hopefully this will get you thinking.

It did me!

Networking with FOCUS - Helping Others to Help You

It is one thing to build an influential and enthusiastic network through a focused strategy; it is another to get that network’s support when you need it. The most common problem is not, as you might think, people’s disinclination to help. Often people don’t get the utmost from their connections simply because they don’t make their message clear enough.

As discussed previously, once you know what return you are looking for it becomes much easier to communicate a clear message to others. Now you have to focus on that message and understand how it is perceived.

Frequently we are tempted to be as comprehensive as possible when asked what we do. It is far more effective to stop and think, “What do others need to hear for them to feel empowered to take actions I am looking for?” and then focus in and be as specific as possible.

Put yourself in other people’s shoes. You understand your business and your needs in much greater depth than they possibly could, so how can you frame your requests so that they can really latch onto them? When we have looked at this subject in past seminars, there have been very few occasions when a presentation couldn’t be completely overhauled when looked at from this angle.

Ask a few of your close friends how much they understand about your business and how they may be able to help you. And turn the question on yourself as well, looking at your business.

You may be surprised at the response, and compelled to look at the message you give from a different angle.


Next time … Putting it all Together

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Finding Your Passion


Are you passionate about what you do? Are there times when you feel that the passion has gone and you are simply going through the motions?

I am sure that all of us have experienced plenty of times, both in work and in our everyday lives, where we have simply buzzed about what we are doing and others where we don't know why we are there. I certainly have.

On the Thursday of the week after I left my last position I was in a friend's pub. I had been with the company for nearly eight years and for most of the time had considered myself so lucky with my choice of career, I was doing something I loved.

In the pub I was cheekily berating my friend for not inviting me to play golf with him that day. I commented to him that 'I can play golf during the week now' as my time was my own. I suddenly realised that there had been no reason why I couldn't do so before. I was Managing Director of the organisation and was in full control of my diary. I worked evenings and weekend, there was no such thing as a typical 9-5 Monday to Friday working week for me.

At that moment it all came home to me. My business had ceased to be a passion and had become a JOB!!!

I am a great believer that you have to enjoy what you do for a living. After all, we spend most of our waking hours working. I am working harder than ever before now ... and loving every minute of it.

Jo Parfitt, who edited my first book and was one of the editors of my second, has just published the second edition of her popular 'Find Your Passion' book. Containing tips and tasks to help you find your passion, it also contains interviews with several people discussing the passion in their lives. One of the interviewees is me, so if you want to find out how to find your passion, or just what makes me tick, check out the book at http://www.bookshaker.com/product_info.php?ref=125&products_id=187.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Networking with FOCUS - Giving Your All

Having set clear objectives, the next task is to establish the best places to network. With so many opportunities available, you need a clear understanding about which meets your needs and to which you can give the necessary commitment.

With your objectives in mind, research the groups in the area you want to develop. Visit them and find out exactly what is expected from you should you join. Membership of a networking group does not guarantee results. Whether building relationships, regular attendance or planning for each meeting, there are key tasks you need to undertake for success.

Two of the most common traits of successful networkers are generosity and reliability.

Much is made of giving first and then receiving in turn. Funnily enough, it works! You may not receive back from the same source, but, if you establish the reputation as a generous person who connects others, people will want to help you.

If everyone turned up at networks looking just to take, who would be there to give anything to them?! It is important to commit to help the group and others. It can also be a great way to raise your profile.

Reliability is a key factor in building others’ confidence in you. You must do what you say you are going to do, follow up on the contacts you make and turn up when expected, ready for the meeting. Who would do business with, or refer, someone who has not previously been reliable?

Ensure that you can devote time and energy to whichever network you decide to join. And if you can’t, don’t expect positive results.

Next time … Helping Others to Help You

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Come and See Me Speak....

I have a number of events in March where you can come and hear me speak. These include:

Friday March 9th - Professional Speakers Association Scotland - Edinburgh Thistle Hotel (St. James's) 7pm. 'Networking with Focus'. Full details and booking information to follow.

Wednesday March 14th - European Young Professionals - Pangaea, Mayfair, London 7pm. 'Its Not What You Know...' . Details and booking information can be found here.

Tuesday March 27th - BT Women's Executive Network, BT Centre, St. Pauls, London 11.30am. 'Connecting People'. Details and booking information can be found here.

Political Connections - The Politician's Viewpoint

A politician friend, who does not wish to be named, said the following in response to my blog posted yesterday:

The problem with political networking on line for politicians is its public nature. It is very easy to forget that your words can be read - and misquoted - when you are on your own with the computer. I suppose this is why so few politicians blog, and those that do often produce a tedious diatribe consisting of their daily engagements and toeing the party line. Left wingers also don't blog to the same extent as Conservatives because online humour can be quite abrasive, which leads to political incorrectness. They find themselves offending their friends and having to apologise. That's why I suspect the Labour initiative you mention will fail in the longer term.

Given the comments that he raises here, what future can there be for politicians getting involved in Social Networks?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Political Connections

The furore surrounding last week's launch by Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn of 'The 2020 Vision' masked a new trend emerging in politics - the recognition of networking as a key tool to interact with voters. The recent instance of votes for 'housemates' on Big Brother outperforming votes in general elections has been a cause for concern for anyone interested in the democratic process. Any attempt to involve the public in policy making has to be applauded and surely networking is the ideal vehicle.

In the United States, Barack Obama, pursuing the Democratic Presidential Nomination, has set up his own social network. Supporters can post their own profile on the site, network with other like minded people both online and at local events and post blogs on the site. There is functionality on the site to create and join groups (current groups range from Students for Obama' with over 2000 members to 'Southern Illinois University - School of Medicine for Obama' with one member!) and you can also invite your friends to join, a great way to build campaign momentum.

Last Wednesday I attended 'Women to Win', a networking event for prospective female parliamentary candidates for the Conservative Party. A voluntary organisation, Women to Win is focused on raising the proportion of female Tory MPs and runs a monthly event where women interested in standing can meet each other and senior people within the movement.

What struck me was the number of young women attending. It was clear that many found the events very useful in understanding how the process worked and what support they could get. By networking with other people in the same situation they were clearly building their confidence.

One person in particular, who was attending for the first time, was very unsure about whether or not she had the skills necessary to take the next step. She found herself talking to someone who had just taken the big leap and completed the forms to put herself forwards, after several months of attending these meetings. The benefit for her of being able to speak to someone who had experienced the same doubts was clear to see.

The 2020 Vision follows Barack Obama's lead, with a regular blog inviting comments from people who want to participate in the future direction of The Labour Party. The vision on the site claims 'renewal cannot happen behind closed doors. It requires an open participatory debate in the Party, amongst our supporters and with the wider public about the future direction for New Labour'.

The website's launch has been interpreted by many in the media merely as an attack on Gordon Brown's seemingly uncontested candidacy for the Leadership of The Labour Party. Whether it is or not, is not my job to judge. However, if it signals an escalation of political parties' use of networking tools to interact with their electorate, it can only be a good thing in the long run.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Networking with FOCUS - Beyond Money

Having discussed how important it is to have a clear vision of the financial return on your investment in networking, we need to turn our attention to the other ways networks can benefit both you and your business.

While new business is a key driver for many people joining groups, networkers report a range of rewards derived from their activities. Whether you are looking at personal development and support as an individual or staff development and new ideas for a business, it is important to have a clear range of objectives.

With more and more people leaving corporate life to work for themselves, networks can fill the void left after being surrounded by colleagues all day. It is only when you have left this environment that you can truly appreciate the value of having a group of people to share frustrations with, brainstorm problems and generate new ideas. The peer group support provided by many networking groups can prove invaluable.

Larger organisations should not dismiss this benefit and its relevance to their staff either. Giving your key employees a safe environment in which to develop their confidence, try new ideas, present to other businesses and be motivated by a support network can increase their productivity tremendously.

By having a clear focus on which of these intangible objectives will benefit your business, you can make a better decision on which networks to join, who needs to attend and what you need to put in to them in order to get the results you want.

Next time … Giving Your All.

Monday, February 26, 2007

How Important is 'USP' in the Relationship Economy?

Twice in the last fortnight I have been asked by people how they get across their 'Unique Selling Proposition' to people they meet at networking events.

We have been told by marketing experts for many years how important it is to have a 'USP'. What is it that makes us different from our competitors? Why should people choose us and not someone else?

There is no doubt that it remains important for businesses to have a clear understanding of what their strengths are and where they stand out from the crowd. I am not so sure, however, quite how relevant this is in a networking environment. After all, we are also continually reminded that 'people buy people'.

At a networking event, or as part of a networking group, you will benefit much more by getting to know people and building a relationship that you ever will by creating the perfect marketing message that highlights your USP. More importantly than people buying people, people refer people they know, like and trust.

Yes, once people know, like and trust you, you want to build their understanding of your business so that they are in a better position to refer you. At that point a strong knowledge of your strengths in the market place are important. You can also use your USP to help you focus people on who you want to speak to, in other words, who in particular needs what you are best placed to provide?

In other words, as the relationship develops you can educate people about your USPs. However, the relationship must come first.

Yesterday I was talking about the first person to raise this question with me. Try as I might, I couldn't remember her USP. But I remember her.

Return on Relationships

There is an excellent series of blogs currently being posted on Ecademy by Rory Murray. The series is based on the concept of 'Return on Relationships' (ROR) and looks at how you can demonstrate value from networking and relationship building activities.

You can see the blogs here.

One of Rory's recent blogs, about the power of investing in goodwill and seeing the dividents from those relationships struck a very personal chord. Both last year, when my last book was launched, and the last month following my departure from Business Referral Exchange, have seen me reaping the dividends from relationship building over the last few years.

You can read my thoughts on Rory's post here.

(You may need to be an Ecademy member to read these posts. If you have any problems, please let me know at andy@lopata.co.uk).

Friday, February 23, 2007

Networking with FOCUS - The Bottom Line

Networking with FOCUS

The Bottom Line – FINANCIAL RETURN

In my last FOCUS blog, I asked the question ‘why did you join the Chamber?’ I believe that networks can produce much more effective results if you focus on what you are looking to achieve from membership.

To make the most of networking, treat the cost as a business investment, not a club membership. Like any investment, such as a marketing campaign or new technology, it’s important to know what the return is going to be and to map out a strategy to get results.

By focussing on a financial return, you are more likely to take the steps necessary to achieve it. By extension, you are far more likely to meet, and exceed, that return.

Many people initially join networking groups with the view to just getting back their membership fee. As a result, the business they ask for tends to be quite small, and goals are unambitious.

While I was MD of BRE Networking, we introduced training based on financial targets. Groups saw a dramatic change in the business asked for, and won. As a result, one member, previously looking for business worth between £250 and £1000, began asking for contracts worth in excess of £200,000 and was able to substantially increase their goal for the year..

Businesses who join networking groups without a clear vision of what they want to achieve frequently fail to see value for their membership. Focus on a clear financial return and make networking pay.

Next time... Beyond Money