Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ten Reasons Businesses Fail to Make Business Networking Work for Them

With the New Year fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what you might be doing to stop yourself making the most of your business networking. Have a look through this list and ask yourself where you are falling down.

Perhaps that will give you some food for thought as you consider your new year's resolutions on January 1st.

So here are ten reasons I believe businesses fail to make networking work for them. What would you add to this list?

1 - They don't have a clear message.

We all think that we communicate clearly what we do, but few of us do this successfully.
RESOLUTION TIP - Ask people in your network for their perception of what you do, who for and when people need your help.

2 - They don't know what success will look like

We join networks with a vague idea that they will help our business but without planning out exactly how.
RESOLUTION TIP - Work out the REAL cost of your networking to you, and then set yourself a challenging, yet realistic return which will justify your investment. How will you reach that return?

3 - They fail to commit

It's not enough just to join a network or plan a strategy, you have to see it through. It's an old cliche, but you really do get out what you are prepared to put in.
RESOLUTION TIP - Look at your networking memberships and goals and ask yourself what YOU have to do to get the results you are looking for. Then ask yourself how achievable it is. If it's too much, adjust your activity to make it more realistic. If it's easy, perhaps you could be doing more.

4 - They don't do their homework

"Fail to plan and you plan to fail". Before you attend a meeting, prepare for it. If you have to give a presentation, know exactly what you want to achieve from it and what you are going to say before you go.
RESOLUTION TIP - Put time in your diary each week or each month to look at forthcoming events and why you are going. Work out who you can catch up with or meet there and, if appropriate, contact people in advance to arrange to hook up. And plan any presentations you may have to give.

5 - They don't follow up their referrals

If you get a reputation for being unreliable, you won't get referrals. Whether you value the referral or not, FOLLOW IT UP. Even more importantly, make sure you feedback to the person who referred you and keep them in the loop.
RESOLUTION TIP - Keep a list to track all referrals received and latest action. If you are not responsible for following it up, make sure you know who is and get feedback from them to pass on. Most importantly, say thank you.

6 - They focus on the sale, not the relationship

Few people go to networking events to buy. So you have to ask yourself what the point is of trying to sell to people who aren't in buying mode. Think beyond the short-term gain and develop relationships. After all, wouldn't you prefer to get ten referrals from a long-term relationship than one sale from a passing contact?
RESOLUTION TIP - Go through your contact management system or business card file and pick ten people to whom you haven't spoken for a while. Re-establish contact and then stay in touch.

7 - They are '9 to 5 Networkers'

Many people believe that joining a network and either turning up to a meeting or logging in is enough. It isn't. The most successful networkers meet with their fellow members regularly OUTSIDE of meetings; whether socially or in 1-2-1 and small group meetings.
RESOLUTION TIP - Set time aside in your diary every week to meet people from your network, and make sure you fill that time. Attend your networking group's social events and get to know your fellow members even better.

8 - They are 'destructive' rather than 'constructive'

A network thrives on positive energy. If you are in a group that is struggling, use the meeting time to focus on making what you have work, keep concerns outside the meeting. If you want to contribute to blogs and discussions online, keep your comments positive and constructive, don't destroy other people's hard work with nasty or negative comments.
RESOLUTION TIP - Focus on being positive whenever you engage in your networking. People don't want to buy from or refer to negative people. If there are problems, keep your comments positive and constructive, focusing on the solution.

9 - They are collectors
Whether it's business cards at networking events or connections online, there are people who believe that he who has the most wins the game. Networking doesn't work like that.
RESOLUTION TIP - Collect and hand out cards if your conversation dictates it. Connect online with people with whom you have something in common, and talk about them when you connect, not yourself.

10 - They like their comfort zone
Many people attend events and find it a waste of time, because they've spent the whole time talking to their work colleagues and best friends.
RESOLUTION TIP - Don't let your nerves get in the way, break out of your comfort zone and meet new people. If you are going to talk to people you already know, make sure it fits with your strategy, not just because it's safe.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Perfect Referral

I recently spoke at a Success Day for Forever Living Products in Cheltenham. The event was the result of a referral from Dave Clarke of NRG Networks, and, more specifically, a regular meeting we have to see how we can help each other.

Having a referrals strategy is not as simple as asking people 'can you refer me?'. It involves a clear understanding of the introductions you are looking for, knowing who your 'Champions' are and communicating clearly enough to make it simple for them to help you.

In his 'Business Networking Blog', Dave has described how the referral came about from his point of view.

Are you getting enough referrals from your network? Are there people who you know would be willing to refer you but don't? In your referrals strategy, it is important to understand the perspective of your referrers, rather than just coming at it from your own angle. It's too easy to miss the importance of this and not see the wider picture.

Try asking your most likely referrers what they need in order to refer you. You might be surprised at the responses.

Monday, December 15, 2008

2008 - Was this the dawn of a new age of networking?

This article was originally published in The National Networker

Has this been the year networking has grown up in the UK? There certainly seem to have been more changes in the last 12 months than any comparable period in the last decade.

Before 2000, very few businesses were aware of networking as a formal way of developing a business. A few Chambers of Commerce ran popular events; meanwhile, Business Network International (BNI) and Business Referral Exchange (BRX) were in their infancy in this country, encouraging people of the virtues of getting out of bed for 7am to do business. Beyond that and a few independent groups, networking had a very low profile.

The landscape has now changed dramatically. Almost every Chamber of Commerce will provide opportunities through breakfast meetings, networking lunches and early evening cocktails. Breakfast meetings come in all shapes and sizes to satisfy different appetites, with a vast array of groups meeting weekly, fortnightly and monthly. You pay your money, you take your choice!

4Networking offer a ‘passport membership’ allowing their members to pick and choose local groups and go to five meetings a week if they choose to. Meanwhile, there is a wide menu of lunch groups and evening networks to go if the other options are not to your taste.

The online revolution has been even more dramatic. While networking groups have been around for years, if not widespread, a decade ago online networks were almost non-existent. Ecademy celebrated its tenth birthday earlier this year, Xing came along even later and in Facebook didn’t see the light of day until just four years ago. Now there are countless social and online business networks, with more and more being created daily thanks to platforms such as Ning, which allow individuals to create their own social network with the minimum of fuss.

So, there are a lot more opportunities to network and a greater range of choice as to how to do so. How has this affected people’s behaviour when they do network?

Mindy Gibbins-Klein, a former Area Director for BNI in East London, believes that the growth of online networks has led to a drop off in the amount of structured face to face networking.

“I have seen many business people think twice about attending "expensive" face-to-face networking meetings lately”, said Mindy. “I've been getting a lot more emails and networking messages from people I've not been in touch with for a long time, which leads me to believe they are spending more time networking at their desks and less time out and about.

“I've also noticed that the networks that seem to be gaining ground are less strict about attendance and giving referrals, more open in terms of allowing people to attend different meetings.”

It has been apparent that a common theme among the recent ‘competitors’ to the weekly breakfast meetings has been the removal of the emphasis on a weekly commitment. Starting with BoBs (Business over Breakfast) Clubs a few years ago, who offered their groups the choice of meeting weekly or fortnightly, more groups have chosen a less frequent meeting pattern. One of the major reasons people have chosen not to join BNI or BRX in the past has been the weekly commitment, but does this change the focus of the network?

“We don’t call ourselves a referral network”, says 4Networking Managing Director Brad Burton. “In fact, we have a relationship with BNI and many of our members belong to both organisations.

“We found that our members don’t want to be tied to a set time and place every week, indeed many simply can’t commit on that scale. So we allow people to network at frequencies to suit them, some will come once or twice a month but many actually go to more than one meeting a week. It just may not always be the same meeting.”

The cost and commitment of the traditional referral networks has put off a number of people who are new to networking, and those who have been members in the past. The new networks offer an alternative and encourage people to network who might not do so otherwise, but it is important that people understand the difference.

The new types of network are far more focused on sales than referrals. Brad Burton calls 4Networking’s approach ‘Appointment Networking’, with members and guests spending ten minutes with each of three different people during the course of a meeting, while The Business Club (fortnightly in the evenings) make a strong pitch on selling to other members and guests at their launch events.

With new networks focusing much more on immediate response, where are the opportunities to build deep relationships? There has been a clear growth in the numbers of leadership and mastermind groups available, with a number of competitors to Vistage and ACE emerging in the CEO group market, and people becoming more aware of Mastermind groups. Formal leadership and mastermind groups are still, on the whole, a more costly option, although their members would argue the value provided is much higher than less focused networks.

With mastermind groups fairly simple for individuals to put together and more networks incorporating Masterminding techniques in their meeting formats, I think that we will see a growth in small groups focused around business challenges in the next couple of years and less focus on the need for large numbers in face to face networking meetings. The focus on strong relationships and trust will, by their very nature, lie at the core of these groups.

In the meantime, more people are turning to online networks to meet new people. Ecademy have seen a 142% increase in traffic on last year and LinkedIn is becoming a recognised business tool across the UK, and not just among small business. The interesting change in behaviour is on Facebook as an increasing number of people are comfortable using the network to promote their business and events rather than simply to communicate with friends.

Business Matters, the leading magazine for small businesses in the UK, have set up their own Facebook group. Editor Richard Alvin believes that the medium allows him to show the ‘personal’ side of the magazine to its readers, as well as increasing their exposure to a wider audience.

Richard explained, “Facebook has a far more friendly 'personal brand' and graphical approach compared to Linked in and even Ecademy. The style of communication is different, with normal language used, rather than ‘business speak’. I feel that this gives us a closer bond with both our readers and other Facebook members. We feel as though we know each other personally, and that makes a huge difference.

The advent of online networks has had other benefits for Business Matters. “We are more online focused now,” he said, “I can network nationally from my office, rather than just London wide.

“As we are a national publication that is essential, and there are obvious cost efficiencies we can take advantage of by networking online. Additionally, building a relationship online first can make a lot of difference when you have a meeting with someone elsewhere in the UK.”

Despite the growth of online networks, relationships still need to take place offline. People are starting to understand this and there have been signs that activity is being increasingly split between virtual connections and real-time relationship building.

Many of the people I have spoken to and network with talk about the vital role 1-2-1s play, even in their online networks. Many online business networks have had meetings as part of their offering for some time. Now, however, those who don’t still find their members arranging their own events, with LinkedIn user groups a good example of this.

Some online networks, such as Angels Den, have recognised the importance of this by focusing even more on offline events. Angels Den found that their results improved when they introduced Speed Funding for members.

Bill Morrow, the owner of Angels Den, said, “Online is groovy for making connections, finding out who walks the walk ... but nothing can surpass meeting face-to-face for serious meetings.”

“Our online community works well at finding investors, but only one deal in over 100 has been done purely online”

With people in the UK joining local networks and global ones such as Perfect Networker and Fast Pitch, Twittering with each other and Poking on Facebook, a saturation point is fast approaching. Most of the connection requests I receive on the multiple networks that come across my computer are from the same people. There has to be a point where you question the purpose of connecting with the same person in a different place. Particularly when that new connection point offers nothing new.

In the meantime, new contacts increasingly come from further and further afield and many seem only interested in either notching another connection on their social networking bedpost or sending a lot of spam once the connection has been made.

We are already seeing signs of people being turned away from social networks by these issues. Many business people don’t want to trade globally and are purely focused on building their profile and their networks locally. As the novelty wears off, I believe the behaviour of many networkers will change and they will focus on networks closer to home.

Some of those will be online, others face to face. Some face to face networks have recognised this and many now offer social networking software as part of their membership package. People recognise the benefits online networks offer them as they look for tools to initiate new relationships and stay in touch with people they have met. They recognise, however, that they don’t provide all of the answers on their own.

There have been a lot of changes in the way people network in the UK over the last twelve months. The profile of networking has grown, more businesses of all sizes recognise its importance and the variety of alternatives on offer is greater than ever before.

Businesses are just starting to make sense of the opportunities available to them and how they fit into their business. 2009 is going to be an interesting year, particularly with a recession in full flow.

Networking is more important than ever before, and it’s just starting to reach maturity.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How 'Good' are You?

I checked my emails this morning to find that I had been rated 'Good' on Ecademy by someone I had never previously interacted with. I then received a thank you from a fellow speaker for a testimonial I had posted on his LinkedIn profile, and asking about the etiquette for reciprocating.

This area of online networking can be a minefield for many. When do you rate someone as 'good'? Should you automatically offer a testimonial to someone who has provided one for you? What should you say in a testimonial?

Personally, I don't see the value in any reputation-based system that operates on the basis of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'. Such systems can only carry weight if the ratings and testimonials contained therein are based on genuinely positive interactions and experiences. I will rate someone as 'good' if my experience backs that up and I want other people to know that this is someone who can be trusted.

I will write a testimonial based on my experiences. Testimonials that say what a nice chap you are carry little weight in the commercial world. Testimonials need to demonstrate your abilities, the difference you make to clients, your value to prospects.

If you have a strong relationship with someone else and you are both in a position to offer strong, positive testimonials to each other, that is fine. It should be clear to the reader from the content of the testimonial that isn't simply a mutual appreciation society.

If you want to offer someone else a testimonial based on what they have done for you or for someone you have introduced them to, there is no need to expect one in return. Similarly, if someone endorses your services, don't feel the need to reciprocate unless appropriate.

A simple rule of thumb for you; if you receive a phone call from someone who has read your testimonial and wants to ask you more about that person, can you stand by what you have said and explain your reasons for endorsing them in more detail?

If the answer is 'yes', then great. If not, perhaps you shouldn't be endorsing them at all....yet.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Networking strategy seminar - summarised

Marketing expert Jon Dean came along to one of my recent workshops on networking strategy. Jon went away and outlined the lessons he learnt in his blog, which you can read here.

Jon has summarised a number of the key lessons very well and paints a nice picture of the simple steps you can take to putting a networking strategy into place. The question is, are you taking them?

Friday, December 05, 2008

People are People

I received a cold call yesterday. It was from one of the larger mobile phone networks.

They told me that I had attended an event a couple of weeks ago and expressed an interest in their services, they were just following up. When I pressed for details of the event, my caller couldn't tell me.

The only time I have interacted with this company at an event wasn't a fortnight ago, but twelve months ago. I had spoken with a senior manager about how they use events like that and how they get results. He wanted to talk some more so I gave him my card. I subsequently heard nothing, even in reply to my emails, until yesterday.

How much goodwill is being destroyed by organisations who use exhibitions and networking events as list-building exercises? How many promises are made, and then broken, just to grab somebody's business card?

And how effective is it to treat everyone you meet at exhibitions, events and conferences in the same way. As fodder for a cold call?

Networking is all about building relationships and developing connections who may buy from you, who may refer you and who may recommend you. If you just want a list, you can buy them for much less than a networking membership or stand at an event.

After a recent event at which I spoke one of the delegates replied to the survey sent out by the organisers. "The event was OK", he said, "but I didn't get much from the networking".

"Where can I get a copy of the delegate list?"

Monday, November 17, 2008

And our survey says....

Just how many opportunities are left behind because of our fear of networking, or inability to create a networking strategy to guide our activity?

Last week I spoke at a networking event for the events industry for londonlaunch.com at the excellent facilities hosted by The Royal Society of Medicine at One Wimpole Street in the West End of London. There were over 200 people in the audience from the events industry, ranging from conference organisers, event travel firms and recruitment consultancies to venues and even the UK's leading Madonna tribute act!

It was interesting to find out what this group had in common. Thanks to the state of the art facilities at One Wimpole Street, I ran a quick survey.

Using a 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' format, I asked people to vote on a number of questions, using keypads by their seats. The results were interesting, if not surprising to me!

The primary goal of 74% of the attendees was to either meet new people or raise the profile of their business, yet 72% of them had come with, and were sitting with someone they already knew.

It would be fair to point out that this wasn't a scientific survey and the result might had been slightly different if we had held the vote in an open area with people standing and able to mix, rather than in a lecture theatre. How different would it have been though? Whether at networking events, conferences or seminars we do naturally head towards the people we know, into our comfort zone.

The reason is that we haven't set our primary goal before we come. If we did, it would be more natural to leave our colleagues and friends behind for the duration of the event. Yet most of us turn up without that clear focus in mind.

Only 14% of the people there admitted to having a clear vision for their networking, knowing where every event fits in. 27% simply accept invites on an individual basis. Despite this, 86% rate networking either as 'quite' or 'very important' as a business development tool. The vast majority were in the latter category.

These are worrying results. With so many people networking on an ad hoc basis, results are so much harder to come by for everyone. We need to move to a position where people understand what networking can bring to them and act accordingly, selecting the right events to attend and interacting positively to reach their goals.

A good understanding of the right way to interact with others can make a big difference. The session after my talk buzzed as people took up the challenge to open a conversation without asking 'what do you do'. Suggesting people don't use 'I'm going to the toilet' to close a conversation also left a lot of people standing with legs crossed, yours truly included!

It starts with the understanding of why you're there though. That's where a strategy makes all of the difference.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What do you want to see?

This article original appeared in The National Networker

This is the question being asked by a networking group in London in response to the global financial crisis, war in the Middle East and increasing environmental concerns.

Unhappy at the noise emanating from the media and from politicians, the committee of European Young Professionals (EYP) felt that the time is ripe for individuals to have their say. They believe that networks, backed by modern social networking technology, are best placed to make that happen.

Ronny Ellefson, a founder of EYP and their Creative Director, said,”We launched the We Want to See website as a response to the state of the world at the moment. From the economic downturn, through environment concerns, to the fear of terrorism, we knew that our colleagues, our friends and our families had an opinion on the current issues affecting our world, and thoughts on how to change and improve them.

“By creating the site, we wanted to provide individuals with a platform on which to highlight their ideas on how to solve the world’s current problems. “

Contributors to the site have been invited to post a short video about what they want to see.

So far, the ideas submitted include dreams of personal success ("I'd like to see my name as a style guru in every fashion magazine in the world"); hopes for the global economy ("I'd like to see the end of the credit crunch"); the altruistic ("I'd like to see it be mandatory for private sector organisations to give 10% of their profits to fund projects in disadvantaged communities") and the frustrated sports fan who's already seen his dream fulfilled (I’d like to see Tottenham Hotspur climb off the bottom of the Premier League table").

EYP is well placed to kick-start such a campaign with a wide range of opinions from people originating from all over the world.

Originally formed in Thailand in 2005 to provide networking opportunities for young expats, EYP came to London at the beginning of 2007. The UK branch boasts a membership of young professionals based in London but with nationalities ranging from Australian to Russian, Polish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian and Turkish. In fact, over 700 people from 40 countries attended the launch party in London in January 2007.

Nick Jonsson, a Swede who co-founded EYP in Thailand is the man who brought the concept to the UK.

“When I moved to London in 2006, I saw a similar need for a professional networking group to be set up in London. I found that even though London was filled with networking organisations, none were really focussed on young professionals and met my need to quickly establish professional contacts and friends. Using the model that worked so well in Bangkok and in partnership with contacts I had already made in London, we created a new chapter in London aimed at taking over the local networking scene.

“We launched EYP London at Cavendish No 5 in January 2007 and were thrilled with the turnout. In addition to the 700 people at the event, a further 200 “virtual” visitors attended in Second Life, an online community. We had rented a virtual island and had a launch event running concurrently, which we beamed into the event at Cavendish No 5 bar. It went down very well and we received fantastic feedback from both attendees and in the media.”

Since that launch, EYP has run regular events across London, all with a large turnout and tremendous buzz. James Swanston, EYP London’s Chief Executive since the beginning of 2008, said; “The real purpose of EYP London is to bring together professionals to create social networks and build business links.

“Our vision is to be innovative, supportive, creative, diverse and to offer a unique, valuable networking experience to all members - regardless of where they are from and their age. In fact, one of EYP’s points of difference from other networking organisations is that we have brought together a real mix of individuals from all industries – from banking and finance, PR, IT, entrepreneurs to dentists and doctors.”

With an average age of 30, EYP events take on a very social feel. Typically held in trendy nightclubs and with first drinks often sponsored, people go to their events primarily to have fun and make friends.

James continues, “What draws EYP members together is their strong desire to network and to gain experience – and friendships – within London.”

It is this mix of people and drive to be different that has led to the ‘We Want to See’ campaign. The network was keen to do something to create an impact to support Global Entrepreneurship Week in November and as part of their event that week, which is a flagship event for Speednetwork the Globe. Giving their members a say and encouraging people to speak out about their dreams for a brighter future (or better football results) seemed to meet that aim.

From there, it is hoped that the campaign will become truly viral, with people of all ages and backgrounds worldwide sharing their hopes and dreams.

“We hope that through the site, more individuals will feel empowered to discuss their ideas and views on solving issues within today’s climate,” says Ronny Ellefson. “The site also ties in with EYP’s ethos, which is aimed at supporting our members to make their ideas into a reality.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why Connecting is Not Enough

Social networking sites, such as Ecademy, offer great opportunities to business networkers and small business. But there is a danger that true networkers will be driven away by people who just don't get it.

On my Ecademy profile I invite connections from people who are genuinely interested in building a relationship with me. I try to deter connections from 'number crunchers', people who just want to build the number of people in their network in the misguided belief it makes them good networkers.

Unfortunately I receive a large number of connection requests and vacuous messages every day.

One I received this morning highlights exactly how not to connect online. I'll share some brief lowlights with you:

I sent you a contact request earlier; however, at the time I was not able to send messages. I have since became a PowerNetworker. Therefore, I wanted to send you a short message to tell a little more about myself.

That's so kind of this person. It's just what I need, to hear more about them when I have no previous meaningful connection with them.

I will spare you the two paragraphs and list of career biography that follow.

Some have asked me how I have added so many people to my network in just a few short weeks. The answer is that I have been working several hours every day at making contacts with as many people as possible. I want to build a wide network, and have been concentrating on that for the first few weeks

At least he's honest about playing a numbers game. It is absolutely frightening that someone would work several hours a day spamming people on social networks. What a dreadful waste of his time, and of the people being spammed. He goes on to explain how he then plans to deepen the relationships he has forged, but not how.

With close to 1000 contacts forged in two weeks membership, he has presented himself with an almost impossible task. Creating meaningful contacts and deep relationships out of a mountain of connections would be incredibly time consuming and difficult to achieve.

Surely it would have been just as easy to start with a few connections where there is an obvious synergy, whether work related or based around personal interest. From those connections, he could have developed some Champions, people who believe in him based on the relationship they have built because he has been able to focus his attention on them.

From there he would be introduced to and be able to connect with more people naturally. And his network would begin to grow both wide and deep.

He finishes his email with a flourish.

If you have need for any of my services here in the US, in Europe, or in other countries I hope I can help you. Also, if you know of others who could benefit from my services, I would appreciate you relating me to them.

The email is all about "me", "me", "me". Not once does he mention anything in my profile, ask what I do or how he can help me. And then he finishes off by asking for referrals.

Online networking is now infested with people who are only focused on themselves and how many connections they can collect. They forget the importance of Dale Carnegie's words, "people are interested in people who are interested in them".

Fortunately there are still a large number of great networkers on Ecademy and on other online networks. People are still there who will put your needs first, help where they can and not expect in return. These people are, however, in danger of being drowned out by the noise.

I don't blame this person for his approach. The numbers-based system utilised and promoted by most of the social networks makes it inevitable. But it will drive genuine networks away if we're not careful. And these platforms are far too valuable for that to happen.

Isn't it time that something changed?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Webinar - Discover how to generate more business from your networking

In association with Kintish, I will be running a one hour webinar on implementing a networking strategy for your business next Wednesday lunchtime.

Full details are available here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Interview on The Media Coach

I was interviewed by Alan Stevens for his excellent Media Coach newsletter this week. You can hear the interview here, together with some excellent media, presentation and technology tips.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How get ahead in your career through networking

I was interviewed for today's interview about the importance of networking for your career. With so many people facing the prospect of redundancy, those with the strongest networks will survive.

Actually, let me correct that, those with the knowledge of how to turn to their networks for help, how to educate their network and how to reward their network will be the ones who thrive.

Too many people ignore huge chunks of their network because they don't think they'll have the connections to help them. Or fail to articulate a clear message about the help they need.

Job vacancies are filled predominantly through referral. If you want to develop your career, now's the time to develop your networking.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An Enterprising Initiative

This article original appeared in The National Networker

A campaign that started in the UK four years ago goes global in November. In 2007 over 5,000 networking events ran in seven days to celebrate ‘Enterprise Week’, part of the Make Your Mark Campaign to encourage young people to have ideas and make them happen. Over half a million people attended events, from Make Your Mark in Retail to The Enterprising Young Brits Awards and thousands of small meetings run by networks up and down the country.

The UK campaign has had such a big impact that 17-23 November 2008 is now Global Entrepreneurship Week. The event, co-founded by Make your Mark and the Kauffman Foundation, the World’s largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship, will see more than 60 countries around the World participate. Expanding the original remit from just young enterprise, the week will include other celebrations, such as Women’s Enterprise Day on 19th November and Social Enterprise Day 24 hours later.

Tim Smit, co-founder of the Eden Project and a Social Enterprise Ambassador, says, “I believe social enterprise is going to be a hugely significant development that can be applicable to anything from the multinational to a corner shop. Social Enterprise Day is all about inspiring more driven, talented young people with values to use their instincts and go into social enterprise.”

Social Enterprise is a key way to capture young people’s business imaginations. Phil Tulba, of the Make Your Mark campaign sees it as a serious business model for the 21st century, one which is extremely popular with young people and will encourage them to become more proactive and enterprising. “Social Enterprise Day will empower more young people to think about innovative, ethical and sustainable solutions to social problems. It will give them the inspiration to have ideas that could have a positive impact on their local community or a global issue.”

David McQueen has spent the last twenty years speaking in schools in communities across the UK. Encouraging children from some of the most deprived inner-city areas to see entrepreneurship and business in a positive light and as a valid career option, Enterprise Week is a perfect match. This year will be David’s third Enterprise Week and he recognises its immense value in giving young people a share of the responsibility for their own futures.

“Enterprise Week allows young people to create their own ideas, gives them permission to take risks and offers them the satisfaction of seeing the results, giving them much more confidence in the long-run.

“As a businessman, it’s a great way of giving back and also learning a lot from the creative ideas the students come up with. It’s amazing how young people can think on the spot and a lot of the ideas can surprise you. You may think that you have seen all of the creative ideas possible but sometimes the innovation young people show is startling.

“Last year we had a group working on creating a low-cost airline that would still reduce carbon footprint. A lot of the ideas they came up with were incredibly sharp, matching the environmental concerns they were focusing on with the basics of running a business.”

One thing that hits you when you get involved with an organisation such as Make Your Mark and events like Enterprise Week is the sheer scale of achievement of young entrepreneurs in the UK.

I first met Patrick Philpott three years ago, when he was a 15 year old schoolboy running networking events for local businesses between school and homework. Patrick has been very involved with the Make Your Mark Campaign for the last three years and, having just turned 19 and completed his schooling, now gives talks to university students about how they can be more enterprising and, through his new business Skill Education runs workshops on enterprise and communication skills for schoolchildren.

“I first came across Make Your Mark in 2005 when I was running the networking events and I was invited to a Downing Street function to launch Enterprise Week and made an Ambassador for the campaign”, said Patrick. “Since then I’ve been involved with raising the profile of the campaign through the media and last year spoke for the Institute of Directors during Enterprise Week.

“As a young entrepreneur it’s given me a chance to raise my profile in the media and make genuinely useful connections with senior figures in business and politics.”

The British Government has been a big supporter of Enterprise Week. The Prime Minister handed out awards at last year’s Enterprising Young Brits Awards, while Government ministers spoke at various events through the week.

The UK’s Business Secretary John Hutton sees building an enterprise culture as an important part of the Government’s enterprise strategy. “We should feel proud that the UK will be leading the world in this major celebration of enterprise this November. It is enormously exciting to see the Enterprise Week model that has worked so well in this country, begin to take hold globally.

“We want this ambitious initiative to connect thousands of successful young business leaders here with their counterparts internationally to spark off new ideas, share information and develop opportunities.”

The development of Enterprise Week globally has come about as the result of other countries picking up on what was happening in the UK. “The initiative was copied last year by, amongst others, the Americans, Chinese and French”, explains Anjoum Noorani, Head of International Campaigns for Make Your Mark. “As a result, we decided, together with the Kauffman Foundation, to create Global Entrepreneurship Week.

“The aim was to create new campaigns in new countries, link up campaigns between countries, appeal to new audiences in the UK, and to instill a global mindset in UK young entrepreneurs.”

Going global can only help Enterprise Week achieve even more results and encouraging a worldwide approach to enterprise and innovation is becoming increasingly important in worrying times. Harry Rich, Chief Executive of Make Your Mark, puts it succinctly, “Enterprise is not a zero-sum game. One country’s success does not deprive other countries in the long-term. The sharing of ideas between entrepreneurs and innovators across the globe is our best hope in tackling the major global challenges common to all nations.”

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Forget social networking - "Make Face Time"!

Dentyne Chewing Gum have just launched a campaign in the States to encourage people to get away from social networks and "power down, log off, unplug,,,make face time".

"Everyone loves technology and everyone uses it," said Josette Barenholtz, the marketing director for Dentyne. "What's meaningful is being reminded that being face to face can't be substituted."

Perhaps this is the beginning of the rebellion against social networks? I doubt it but it would be good if it begins an understanding that it's not one approach or the other (online v offline) but the right combination that makes networking work. Whether socially or for business.

Thanks to Jason Jacobsohn of Networking Insight for blogging this originally.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What's your Hedgehog?

I spent yesterday at the Footdown Conference at The Reform Club in London. Footdown is one of the Chief Executive groups that I wrote about in my piece for The National Networker recently.

During the afternoon session, delegates were split into small groups and asked to work together to discover our 'hedgehogs'. Based on the work of Jim Collins in his book 'Good to Great', The Hedgehog Concept helps businesses to find out where they should be focusing their attention. Collins' argument is that the very best companies have a simple, crystalised concept that underpins and guides everything that they do....their hedgehog.

Why a 'hedgehog'? As Jim Collins explains,

In his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

What does all this talk about hedgehogs and foxes have to do with good to great? Everything.

Those who built the good-to-great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. They used their hedgehog nature to drive toward what we came to call a Hedgehog Concept for their companies. Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent.

To find your hedgehog, Collins asks you to answer three key questions:

1 - What can you be the best in the world at?

2 - What drives your economic engine?

3 - What are you deeply passionate about?

These three questions are represented in three overlapping circles:

Where the three circles intercept, you will find your 'hedgehog'.

As Collins puts it, "If you could drive toward the intersection of these three circles and translate that intersection into a simple, crystalline concept that guided your life choices, then you’d have a Hedgehog Concept for yourself."

When talking about his Hedgehog Concept, Collins is trying to help businesses find out how to drive their business decisions. There is no reason, however, why a similar approach can't be used to work out your message, the clear, core message about what you do that sticks in people's minds.

When we want people to talk about us, to refer us, we need them to have a simple, clear image of what we do that makes absolute sense and is easy for them to communicate. Working through this exercise yesterday helped to clarify our new business model and I will be sitting down with colleagues this week to delve deeper.

Can you clearly state in just a few words what you do in a way that is 'sticky', that people will be likely to remember and repeat accurately? Can this approach help?

What's your hedgehog?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Social Networks in Corporates - the benefits of networking a company

For so long the news has been full of concerns about the negative impact of social networks in the workplace. Stories about diminished productivity, embarrassing behaviour and jobseekers losing valued places have filled the press.

It is nice to see the alternative angle reported on Ragan.com today. British American Tobacco have implemented 'activity updates' on their internal network Connect. Based on Facebook's newsfeed and status update services, the new system allows employees to see what colleagues are working on at any one time.

Benefits include increased collaboration, as people previous working in silos recognise that they should be working together, deeper relationships and greater understanding of others' roles in the company.

Used effectively, social networks provide great efficiency savings for organisations large and small. Perhaps we are turning the corner and more companies will now embrace new media, rather than look for its challenges.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Business Networking - Top Ten Traits of Successful Networkers

While running a Word of Mouse Focus Group on the needs of business networkers in Bournemouth yesterday, I asked the group for their top ten traits of successful networkers. I then posed the same question in the evening when giving a presentation on Advanced Networking to a meeting of Dorset Junior Chamber (DJC).

Here are the two lists:


1. Good listener
2. Well rounded
3. Interested in others
4. Reliable
5. Trustworthy
6. Proactive
7. Approachable
8. Focused
9. Organised
10. Confident


1. Good listener
2. Pays attention to others
3. Makes eye contact
4. Smiles
5. Broad conversationalist
6. Well presented
7. Considerate
8. Business acumen
9. Focused
10. Confident

It was interesting to see 'good listener' come up first time on both lists, with a lot of the key traits on each list being based around how good networkers act towards other people, listening to them, being aware of their personal space, being able to talk about a range of subjects and being approachable.

For the last three questions on each list I asked which traits would be important for you, the individual responding, to make networking successful. That is where focus and confidence came to the fore. It was interesting that these traits only came up when I forced the groups to shift their focus.

Are we concentrating on the right things in our networking? Is everything focused on how we behave at the event and not what we need to do to make our attendance a success overall?

Do you think anything is missing from this list or would you come up with similar answers? And how well do you think you measure up to these qualities?

Is there room for improvement?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do you hand out more than one business card to a new contact at a networking event?

Someone has just commented on one of my videos on a social network with the comment that they always hand out two or three business cards whenever they meet someone. This is my reply:

I never, ever hand out more than one business card. In fact, I don't even do that unless they have asked for it or there is a specific reason why I want them to have it.

Why hand out more? In the hope or expectation that they will pass the spares out to others? That may happen occasionally, but in most cases your spare business cards go in the bin and you are your printer's favourite client!

I must have collected thousands of business cards over the years, some of which I actually wanted! There is no way I could carry them all around with me, and duplicates, to hand out when I see the opportunity.

If you want people to refer or recommend you, they need to see your face in their mind, not your business card in their wallet. If they then connect you by email, you are in far more control of the connection than if they had just given your business card to the other person.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Will Kintish's Top Ten Fears and Concerns of Working the Room at business networking events

Last week I joined a networking skills webinar presented by my good friend Will Kintish. Will is an expert at helping people understand how to work a room at business networking events and has spent many years training companies how to do so.

At the beginning of the webinar, Will shared the results of research his company have conducted into people's top ten fears when working the room. I thought they were very interesting and I would share them with you here.

It would be interesting to hear from you whether you share the same concerns, how do you address them and what other concerns you have.

Will's top ten are:

1 Where do I start in this room full of strangers?

2 How do I break the ice?

3 How do I create a good first impression?

4 How can I make myself interesting and exciting?

5 How do I keep the conversation going?

6 When do I move from the small talk to business?

7 How do I move on after a conversation?

8 How do I approach groups?

9 How can I ensure it won’t be a waste of time?

10 How will I manage rejection?

Watch this space for more on Will's webinar, where I'll be sharing his 20 warm up mental exercises before you go into a networking event. I'll also be presenting a webinar on networking strategy for Will in November, more information to follow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Scene is Set

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

There are so many opportunities to network in the UK now that many business people are more than spoilt for choice; they are becoming increasingly confused by the range of choices available to them. Once they have decided whether it is more convenient to network locally or regionally, they then have a range of events to choose from at all times of the day, with the opportunity to network over breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Part of the problem has been actually getting enough information about what is available to make an informed choice. There are a few local websites that list different events, and local newspapers sometimes have a section with that week’s networking events, but there have been few, if any, national resources bringing all of the networks together and offering businesses the chance to get the information they need to make a decision about which network is right for them.

As a result, most people tend to select the events they attend by the invitations they receive, from associates, suppliers and customers. If they like the atmosphere at that meeting they may join. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the networks that create the best word of mouth buzz are the most successful; my concern is that this process does not necessarily lead to people making fully informed decisions. If the choice isn’t the appropriate one for them, they don’t commit to the network and they don’t benefit from their participation. Nor do their fellow members.

Business-Scene.com is trying to change this. By bringing local networks together across the UK, giving them the opportunity to advertise their meetings online and arranging events where business people can meet a range of networking groups, their focus is on raising the awareness of all of the choices available and allowing networkers to select the group to suit their needs.

Business-Scene was originally founded in the South West of England as Networking Swindon in early 2006 by a local events company run by Warren Cass and Simon West. Warren and Simon were aware that they wanted to generate more local business. By profiling the range of events in the local area, they felt that they would get the reputation as the ‘go-to’ people for events.

They immediately started listing all events put on by local networking groups and within three months they had a quarter of the local business population as subscribers to their newsletter. Within the first month the ailing Swindon Chamber of Commerce had approached Warren and Simon to run their events, and attendance at Chamber events had quadrupled within the first quarter.

“From 2005 businesses were suddenly becoming aware of networking and the need to include it as a key part of their marketing strategy”, said Warren. “The main reason people join Chambers of Commerce is for the networking opportunities but now businesses in Swindon were looking to see what else was available.

“There were a couple of referral-focused groups in Swindon but not much else. I started a local group for Ecademy, the online network, and a couple of other networks soon opened in the area. There was a hunger for networking and people needed, and wanted, the information about what was out there.

“The networks liked us because we weren’t trying to be a network and they could see that we would be a valuable part of their own marketing strategy.”

Warren and Simon looked at why they had achieved such quick success with the Networking Swindon concept. They found that 99.3% of businesses in the UK have fewer than 50 employees and that the vast majority of small businesses deal primarily within a thirty mile radius. They realised that their new concept had flourished because people were looking for more local opportunities.

Understanding what they had with Swindon, they decided that there was scope for a nationwide brand but with a local identity. This meant a name change. Their original name of ‘Glued In’; “because we would be the glue that would hold the networks together” was too vague, so they opted for ‘Business-Scene’.

As Business-Scene spread its wings across the UK, they brought Regional Leaders on board, people who had a desire for increased visibility and brought with them knowledge of, and contacts in, their local areas.

One of the first Regional Leaders, Simon Phillips in Dorset, took up Warren’s suggestion that he run an event to bring local businesses and local networks together. The event, in early 2007, attracted over 140 registrations and a number of local networks participated. The model was attractive, put Business-Scene on the map locally, and the decision was made to replicate it elsewhere across the country.

“In putting these events on, we publicise them through a number of routes”, said Warren. “These include the local media, the networks themselves, business support agencies and word of mouth from a range of contacts. As we are promoting all of the local networks, rather than competing with them, it means that people are more enthusiastic about spreading the word.

“As a result, the more successful events achieve a high profile, putting networking on the map for people who may not have ventured down that route before.”

A recent event in London really showed the potential for Business-Scene’s events. Over 1,200 businesses registered, far beyond the numbers achieved by similar networks. The success of such events has seen Business-Scene achieve something that, so far, individual networks have failed to do; widespread corporate recognition.

The recent addition of Microsoft as a National Sponsor has seen an already impressive portfolio grow. Microsoft have joined 02, Blackberry, The Daily Telegraph, Oracle, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, Yell.com and HSBC as household names to have worked with Business-Scene.

O2 and Blackberry in particular have worked closely together as National Sponsors of Business-Scene and the reach into a very fragmented market place is potentially very valuable to them. While it is a lot easier for these companies to sell in bulk to fellow corporates, the value of individual sales to small businesses makes it a very expensive market to target.

However, as the vast majority of the British workforce work within small and medium sized businesses, the exposure and personal contact gained through Business-Scene can be invaluable and the Partnership is a very efficient route to market for them.

The involvement of the Sponsors means that events are free for members to attend and can be organized to a higher standard. Warren explained the importance they have to Business-Scene.

“Effectively, it means that we can provide more opportunities to members than we could if they weren’t there. Aside from the special offers and competitions that engage members more in the Community, we have been able to reach far more people than we could have done otherwise and our credibility has increased.”

Aside from the events, Business-Scene also provides a range of online tools to help their Members access more information. People mainly use the site for local event listings but can also access a range of knowledge, from business information and forms, such as Non-Disclosure Agreements and Employment Contracts, to blogs and a directory of members to help them source local suppliers.

The initial success of Business-Scene in the UK has now encouraged them to look further afield.

“Internationally, the US is the next key area of development for us, but we also aim to have the site available in several languages by the middle of next year”, said Warren. “We’re already attracting membership in the States. I’ve been over there to understand the cultural and geographic differences and to open conversations with some of the business networks there.

“Looking at the American market has already helped us refine what we’re doing in the UK. In a year’s time we want to be multi-language and multi-country; not just bringing national networks together, but international.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Two Golden Rules for Business Networking

Regular readers of this blog may not be surprised at what is to follow!

I gave a brief talk last night at Business Scene's Herts Connections networking event. Some two hundred local businesses attended to meet representatives from a range of local business networks and to listen to a number of speakers, including Syed Ahmed, who originally found fame on The Apprentice.

My task was to get everyone networking, and to help them do so effectively. I frequently rage against people who treat business cards like confetti, but twice recently I have seen extreme behaviour by people whose sole reason for attending networking events seems to be to see how many business cards they can hand out. On one occasion recently, one person simply stood by the door giving every guest one of his cards as they came in!

I also wanted to help people have conversations they could enjoy, enabling them to get past stilted elevator pitches into genuine rapport-building.

So I made two rules for the rest of the evening and set people a task. I told the group that they should only exchange business cards once a genuine interaction had taken place and there were grounds for following-up on each other. And I banned the phrase 'what do you do?' as the ice-breaker for conversation.

As you may know, I call 'what do you do?' the networking equivalent of 'do you come here often?'! So, instead of 'what do you do?' I told the businesses present to ask each other 'do you come here often?' A few people seemed to like the idea!

An ice-breaker should be designed to stimulate conversation, not kill it. To do that, you need to find something in common. 'What do you do?' doesn't achieve that, there's no guarantee that the person you're speaking to is in the same line of business as you and, if they are, that they are the person you want to meet.

In a networking context, 'Do you come here often?' gets you talking about the group you're in, the people who invited you and your reasons for being there. You may not phrase it quite like that but the idea is key. Either way, it is much easier to find common ground.

As Business-Scene events offer the opportunity for local networks to showcase themselves, I suggested that people introduce themselves and discuss which local groups they attend and their merits or drawbacks.

Faced with this challenge, the room started buzzing again with more networking. This time people seemed more relaxed and conversation was flowing.

Just before the speeches were about to start again, one businessman came up to me, tapped me on the shoulder and said...

"It works!".

It does, I just wish that more people knew.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Business Networking with a spring in the step!

This was a Chamber of Commerce event as you haven't seen one before. Forget the stuffy suits, business card exchanges and networking huddles you might have in mind. Instead picture a team of Chamber staff performing a choreographed dance routine to 400 guests, include diplomats and business leaders.

Last night was less a networking evening and more a party at Studio Valbonne in London. Vodka cocktails flowed, everyone wore black or white with dinner suits and party frocks in abundance. A Rat Pack Tribute band played in the background and the evening ended to the sounds of Abba.

The occasion? Well, in case the inclusion of Abba didn't give it away, it was the 're-invention' of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the United Kingdom. After 102 years of existence, the Chamber felt the need for a rebranding exercise, and they celebrated with a bang!

I've been a member of the Chamber for a couple of years, having been invited to speak at their events twice. I have all of the time in the world for Christina Liljestrom, Elisabet Baldwin and their team. I know of few Chambers who put on such a variety of events for their members, work as hard, play as hard or are as inclusive and as welcoming.

I remember walking to the Chamber offices earlier this year, on a very rare sunny day, and hearing a lot of cheering, shouting and laughing from a nearby park. I thought I heard a couple of voices, so I looked over to see the whole Chamber team playing rounders. I later heard that this was compulsory!

Last night, during the entertainment, they announced a special act 'from us to you'. And out came the Chamber team, up to the Director, to perform their dance routine for the assembled crowd.

This is one network it's a pleasure to work with and be associated with.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Yes Men lose out

In my latest video from Your Business Channel, I discuss why it is important not to accept every invitation to business networking events but think about where that event fits into your networking strategy and why you want to go.

What events do you attend and how do you decide which groups to join?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Networking Strategy Seminar - Harpenden, Herts 16th September 2008

Develop a strategy to get RESULTS from your networking, no matter where or when you choose to do so.

I will be running a half day networking strategy seminar on 16th September 2008 at the Harpenden House Hotel in Hertfordshire.

Do you want to:

- Achieve a tangible and substantial return on your investment in networking?

- Know which networking events and networking groups will be right for your business and know how to use your time more effectively?

- Substantially increase the benefits you get from networking and know how to keep on raising the bar?

- Get your message across in a way that your network understand how they can help you and take the steps to do so?

In this seminar, I will introduce you to a range of steps you can take to develop a successful networking strategy and communicate your needs to that network. I will help you understand how to:

- Distinguish between different networking groups, knowing which one is right for you

- Plan your networking to achieve considerable, and measurable, results

- Communicate your needs in a way that gets results

Full details are available here, where you can also book your slot.

See you there!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Executive Networking

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

“None of us is as smart as all of us”. The strapline for Footdown sums up the focus of an increasing number of Chief Executive and Leadership networks in the UK.

There is a growing recognition that there is no need for business leaders to plough on alone, learning from their own mistakes and having to hide any vulnerability in order to set a strong lead. While support for CEOs may be hard to come by within their own organisations, many have discovered the benefits of working closely with others in a similar position to themselves.

Footdown is a mentoring and peer group for entrepreneurs, directors and senior executives. It was founded by British entrepreneur, Andrew Mercer, who had sold his software company to the technology giant Oracle in 1998. Rather than basking in his success, Mercer recognised his shortcomings as a businessman and opportunities he had missed. He felt that, with more support at critical stages of the company’s growth, the success of his business could have been so much greater and it could have been publicly listed.

Mercer believed that the creation of a group environment for people in a similar position to share their experiences, discuss challenges and offer solutions would help other people achieve more than he had been able to. His approach wasn’t unique, nor was it new. Such groups have been operating in the UK for a number of years and worldwide for over half a century.

Vistage International was founded as The Executive Committee (TEC) by Wisconsin businessman Robert Nourse in 1957 for similar reasons and they now have a worldwide presence. Richard Alberg was a member of TEC for five years before he sold his psychometric testing company in November 2006. He found the process invaluable.

“When I joined TEC I did not have a strategic direction for my business. My objectives were growing the business whilst avoiding going bust. TEC helped me think about strategy and exit. I sold the business in 2006 and it was guidance from my TEC group and chairman that helped me appreciate what I needed to do to make my business attractive and valuable.”

Richard joined originally because he realised that he was learning on the job and making a lot of mistakes. As the head of the organisation, there was no-one for him to bounce ideas off, or to be inspired by. In his TEC group he found that he had a sounding board for ideas and people who would hold him to account for his actions, a key need for a business leader.

For Jo Wright, a member of Footdown in Bath, the support of her Leadership group is equally as important. When she joined, Jo had moved through her organisation, Feilden Clegg Bradley, to the position of Finance Partner, despite her training as an architect rather than as an accountant.

When the Senior Partners approached Jo to become Managing Partner, the members of her Footdown group took her through an evaluation process to help her decide whether the position would be right for her and how to make it work, without losing touch with the design side that brought her into the business in the first place.

“It’s given me more of a feel for the business side of the practice”, said Jo. “I now have a much better insight into how businesses operate and are led and therefore it’s moving towards making me more effective as a potential leader for this business.”

Having founded The Academy for Chief Executives (ACE) in 1996, Brian Chernett has seen similar stories in a number of their groups. “In one group alone there have been nine members selling their businesses for more than £3m. They would tell you that this had a lot to do with the support and help of the group.”

ACE was formed as Brian felt that TEC’s approach could be improved. “At the time I was working for our major competitor – TEC (Vistage) - and felt that there was a need to focus more on the softer skills of leadership and this didn’t appear to be a belief cherished by the American operators of TEC. Therefore I left to set up the Academy. Today you will find the processes very similar to those within Vistage but the philosophy is very different.”

Like Footdown and many similar groups, ACE follows a very recognisable format, with an expert speaker working in the group before lunch and a session in the afternoon that Brian calls “the Board you could never afford and the agenda you could never have” where members share their challenges and find the solutions to overcome them. Like other groups, members will meet with the Group Chairman once a month for a 1:2:1 coaching session.

John Cremer, a business speaker who runs an improvisation company, The Maydays, finds that the ‘softer’ approach of ACE works very well for his group.

“I find with ACE there is a feeling of continuity and sharing as equals, more like a family” said John. “I think this is due to the emphasis placed on personal as well as professional development, they are seen as inseparable.

“This seems to make differences in status or income level between members largely irrelevant.”

The personal development opportunities clearly stand out for John. “To see a fellow member rapidly make a huge and difficult shift in his personal life as a direct result of robust feedback from the group is priceless. I doubt he could have made such a transformation elsewhere.”

Roger Harrop, a CEO Expert, who has spoken to over 50 such groups and is a former ACE Speaker of the Year said, “I love working with these groups – the members are generally highly motivated and totally trusting of their fellow group members. This means that objective and meaningful discussion takes place, real actions agreed and, most importantly, each is held to account by the others.”

The trust that Roger speaks of is one of the main keys to success of such groups. It is important for members to feel confident sharing core concerns and to be completely open with their colleagues.

Confidentiality, respect and trust are cornerstones for all of the Leadership groups. Jay Hale, Co-Chairman of The Midlands Leadership Group, recognises that the levels of trust between members are integral not only to encouraging openness and honesty when discussing challenges, but also to the long-term success of the group. Jay’s group actively discourages trading between members.

“Business between members introduces a reason not to be totally open and frank in the issue sessions. There are some things that you might not wish to share with a customer or supplier”, said Jay. “Such activities can weaken the group and cause a rift if things don’t go right. We have heard stories about groups in other organisations breaking up because of commercial disputes between members, although I don’t know if they are true.”

According to David Glassman, a Vistage Group Chairman, the pressures on a modern CEO mean that leadership groups play an important role in encouraging strong decision making, relieve the isolation on business leaders and act as a vital check on hasty actions.

“Groups of peers help in decision making”, said David. “Given the relentlessness of the pressures on CEOs they might not have thought of all the relevant aspects of an issue.

“Equally, CEOs usually have no one to whom they are truly accountable. Often their chairmen, NEDs and functional heads do not challenge at all, let alone constructively, and their (marriage) partners do not inhabit the same planets in terms of being able to understand their business needs.

“CEOs recognise that they are isolated because often they are not fully informed and they feel that they dare not expose their doubts and vulnerabilities even to their key lieutenants. In a group environment, they can discuss proposed changes within a trusted group of colleagues where absolute confidentiality rules. It is cheaper to make mistakes in a presentation to such colleagues who offer (and receive) peer advice from experience and with goodwill than it is to proceed with a project that later has to be aborted.”

‘Networking’ means different things to different people. In the case of groups such as these, it’s not about new business generation, selling to each other or referrals. Instead, the focus is on collaboration, support, feedback, self-development and mentoring.

Pilar Martinez-Vidal, is the MD of Impulse International, a global courier firm located close to Heathrow Airport.

“I wanted to focus more upon the future, but I was too entrenched in the day-to-day running of Impulse. I felt overworked and isolated. When you are in such a position, you can’t share doubts with your staff because they look to you to lead.

“Mentoring makes you accountable to somebody, which pushes you harder to achieve what you’ve set out to do. I have quarterly targets I set with my one-to-one mentor, which I have to report back on. In the group mentoring sessions, my peers act as my non-executive directors.

“It has helped me focus.”

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

yourBusinessChannel interview - Getting a return on your busines networking investment

How much planning do you put into your business networking and how clearly do you know the return you are looking for?

If you have been reading this blog for a while, I hope the answer is positive. This excerpt from my recent interview for Your Business Channel may provide some food for thought:

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Six Degrees of Separation Theory 'Proven by Texts'

The BBC has reported today that a Microsoft survey in the US has studied a database of 30bn text messages sent during June 2006. By looking at the number of common connections in the database, the study suggests that any two people are connected by fewer than seven others.

As I've commented before, the growth of social technology, much based around the internet and mobile phones, has brought people around the world much closer together. Despite this, surveys continue to suggest that we are no closer to making connections that we were when Professor Stanley Milgram carried out his original 'six degrees' study in 1967.

That may be the case, but today it's so much easier for us to plot that route. How well do you use the technology available to make the connections you need?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Why Elevator Pitches Don't Work

- Do you have your 'elevator pitch' to hand every time you attend a networking event?
- Are you ready for people to ask 'what do you do?' and have a detailed response to hand?
- Do you ask someone you have just met what they do?

Watch this clip for my thoughts on this approach to networking.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Sometimes I wonder why I don't listen to my own advice!

I took a call last night from Brad Burton. Brad is the effervescent Managing Director of the new kid in Town, 4 Networking. Started in the South West of England 28 months ago, 4 Networking's aim is to have networking groups across the whole of England and into Scotland by February of next year. They have certainly been making a lot of progress in recent months, judging by the number of people now talking about them.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, a phone call from Brad.

"We're launching a new group in Stevenage tomorrow morning, would you like to come along?".

I worked out last night that during my time with Business Referral Exchange I must have attended close to 1,500 breakfast meetings, sometimes at the rate of four a week across the UK. It may be no surprise that these days I accept such invitations with less than a wave of enthusiasm.

However, I wanted to see what the 4 Networking fuss was all about and Brad and I had promised each other that we'd meet up as soon as we could. So the alarm clock was reminded of the time it used to go off and I had an early night in preparation.

Preparation. We're now getting to the point of this post. If you've seen me speak, read my books, blogs and articles or attended one of my workshops, you will almost certainly have heard me talk about knowing what you want to achieve from your networking.

You will probably have listened to me talk about how you should have a clear vision about how each event falls into your overall networking strategy. And there is a fair chance that I will have talked about the importance of planning any presentations in advance, not over breakfast, if you want to maximise impact.

So I took my own advice, initially. Knowing that I would be asked to make a 40 second presentation, last night I asked myself what I should talk about and how to make the best impact in that time. I worked out the key points of my presentation, how to open it to grab people's attention and how to put a call to action in at the end.

I had decided to talk about networking coaching, about how I could help people get a return on their investment in networking by putting a strategy into place for them and helping them to implement and track it. I made a conscious decision not to talk about Word of Mouse, the new network of which I am a director, as I felt that this would conflict with 4 Networking's message.

I was happy with the presentation I had prepared and confident about delivering it.

Then I got to the meeting, spoke to Brad and ignored all of my best instincts and own advice.

Brad asked me why I wasn't going to talk about Word of Mouse. As far as he is concerned, 4 Networking has an "open door" policy and I should take the opportunity to talk about the new network. As this would the ideal group to present Word of Mouse to, I agreed to do so.

I made one big mistake....I changed my mind.

Now, I pride myself on my ability to think on the spot and deliver a good presentation at short, or no, notice. After all, I've had to do it on many occasions. Getting a strong, impactful and succinct message across in 40 seconds is, however, not easy.

You need to spend time asking yourself which, of all of your messages, is the key one for this audience and is going to ensure you are remembered.

You need to have a strong structure, with a powerful opening to draw people in and a 'takeaway' that people will remember and want to question you about.

You have to stand out over and above the 40 other people in the room, all giving a similar presentation about their business.

Changing my presentation at the last minute was the worst thing I could do. In nearly a decade of attending these meetings, I would suggest that this was the worst slot of this type I have ever delivered.

I'll be taking my own advice in future. Hopefully you can learn the lesson from my mistake rather than your own. Spend the time planning your presentation in advance. You'll find your networking so much more enjoyable, and successful, if you do.

There are different ways to make an impact at events like 4 Networking. Maybe this is going a step too far:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Networking in Wales....The Village Effect

The following article orginally appeared in this month's edition of The National Networker

In some areas, the ability to network effectively will be a big help to the growth and success of a business. In others it’s not just helpful, it’s simply essential.

Wales is an area where networking is booming at the moment, in particular there has been a growth in the number of new networks opening in the main commercial centres of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport. As well as offering more opportunities for local business people to connect with each other, these networks are the key to doing business in these cities for people based elsewhere in Wales, or from across the border.

Always renowned for its sense of community, there remains a strong sense of local identity for businesses in Wales. It’s not just about Welsh companies working with fellow nationals, where you are based in Wales is equally as important.

“In Wales, life is based very much around community, so ten miles counts. It’s tough for Cardiff people to do business in Swansea, or the Valleys above Pontypridd”, says Ian McAllister, a West Country born but Welsh educated and based businessman. “You have to be more network orientated over less. In England I could pitch on a whole region or even national level, in Wales it’s Cardiff at best unless I am introduced. Network and knowing people is EVERYTHING in Wales.”

Despite living in Wales, Ian bases his offices across the border in Bristol to take advantage of the greater population density in surrounding areas. He therefore ensures that he mentions that he lives in Wales as early as possible in his conversations with new Welsh connections.

“I state early in any conversation that I live in Wales – that’s as important as where the business address is. For instance, Bristol based businesses will find it difficult to sell in Wales. Hiring a Welsh home-located salesman or opening a Welsh based office will change the effect dramatically – reputation and being part of the Welsh community is of key importance.”

That’s not to say that Welsh companies won’t do business with others from outside their area. What is clear, however, is that you can’t simply walk in and expect to win business. It is important to immerse yourself in the local networks and build a strong reputation. Once you have done that, the Welsh marketplace can suddenly become a lot more accessible.

Cheryl Bass runs Prosper Business Referral Network. Prosper is a new and exclusive business referral network where membership is by invitation only Prosper currently runs networking groups in Cardiff and Swansea in Wales and Bath in Western England, and Cheryl believes that the openness of Welsh networkers lowers, rather than raises, barriers to trade.

“It is very easy to network in Wales. From what I have experienced to date the Welsh members are naturally inquisitive and interested in other businesses and are so willing to work on developing a wide range of stakeholder relationships. The Welsh scene is very closely knit and individuals recognise the value of supporting one another in achieving success.

“It doesn’t take long to work a route through the system to speak to anyone anywhere in Wales.”

So, if people are so welcoming and inquisitive, why is there still so much focus on local communities? Almost everyone I spoke to told me about the importance of the ‘three villages’ of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport and of the difficulty of doing business outside of your home area.

It seems that there are a mixture of factors at play. Certainly, the geographical make-up of Wales has an effect; as, to a more limited extent, do language differences. Much of Wales is rural, meaning that the population density outside the main commercial centres would not support the range of networking seen elsewhere. Additionally, the Welsh language is more commonly heard in some areas of the country than others, and that provides another, natural barrier to people from outside.

Hedd Adams-Lewis runs Red Dragon Events. Originally based in Tamworth, in the English Midlands, Hedd moved his business back to Cardigan in West Wales last year. Networking locally is, however, difficult for Hedd and most of his efforts are still concentrated in England, or online.

“If you are outside of the 3 major population centres of South Wales then business networking is very much limited to your local chamber of commerce - if there is one! Representatives from business from the three centres are often reluctant and sceptical about venturing outside of their comfort zone and focus their efforts within their geographical area. Businesses from outside these areas are often faced with scepticism as to how worthy or genuine a business they are because they are not based within the major centres.

“The population density and correspondingly business density outside of the three major areas is significantly reduced, especially the further West you venture. A lot of businesses in rural areas would be cynical towards the idea of networking with strangers and struggle to understand the potential value to their businesses – ‘we’ve always done it this way and it’s always worked’ kind of attitude - even though they might be working every hour possible and struggling to make any headway! It’s as if working every possible hour is seen as an honourable thing to do, or a sign of success to the outside world!”

The North/South divide in Wales also comes into play, with the geography of the country making it difficult for business relationships to develop between the two areas. Gareth Davies, a professional speaker based in Cardiff, doesn’t see this changing, despite efforts to bring the two communities closer together.

“North Wales does very little business with South Wales and vice versa. The government has tried to help this situation by providing one off events but the geography of the country is such that it will always be a barrier. Therefore it is far easier for companies in the south to deal with Bristol or London or anywhere in between and for the North Walians to deal with Liverpool and Manchester.”

Political machinations and inter-city rivalries also play a key role in maintaining the village feel of Welsh networking. Ian McAllister feels that this is a major issue and points to problems following the collapse of the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce earlier this year as indicative of the wider issues.

“In the solution for a replacement that’s being negotiated, Cardiff people want it their way, while Newport and Swansea don’t want to be seen being wholly consumed as part of Cardiff’s solution for Cardiff’s problems. There is much in-fighting between the communities at many levels – government, socially, business, sport, etc. For inward investment projects, communities will fight and try and out-bid each other – the inter-community politics at times can be awful. It’s no different for business.”

Caroline Newman, of XL Results Foundation, an international network of social entrepreneurs, believes that a result of this inter-city competition is that the Welsh are too inward looking. She believes that the over reliance on government grants and funding has had a negative effect on Welsh business and fostered a dependency culture.

Caroline wants to see a future where Welsh businesses are more outward looking and connecting with business owners all over the globe through on line and off line networking. “This is now a truly global economy and Welsh business owners will miss out on opportunities if they are not actively looking to network and do business with people in the rest of the UK, Europe and worldwide. They will not survive and grow if they only do business with who they know now.”

This inward focus and community structure means that businesses looking to develop markets away from their home area must be prepared to invest time and effort in building strong relationships and, most importantly, trust. What is clear from the discussions I had is the importance of building those relationships city by city. You won’t build a cross-Wales network by focusing your efforts in just one area. Local relationships really do matter.

“While the people in both areas are business focussed, I find over the Bridge (in England), people like to do business first and get to know you afterwards; in Wales it is definitely the other way around”, said Lynne Orton, who runs Business Network, one of the longest established networking organisations in Wales, with networks in Carmarthen, Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff and Newport. .

“In our networking groups in Cardiff and Newport we have had many visitors from England; they have recognised that the Welsh way of doing business is different from the English way, and that is where networking groups come to the fore when trying to break into the business market in Wales.

“There is no great divide between Welsh & English businesses; but particularly in Wales people like to do business with people they know – and if they get to know you through networking they will be comfortable working with you.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Secrets to Successful Connecting - Jill Lublin

I'd like to welcome a guest blogger this month. Jill Lublin is a renowned US author and has just published her third book in the States, 'Get Noticed… Get Referrals: Build Your Client Base and Your Business by Making a Name for Yourself'

Connecting is the art of building relationships; relationships that last. It’s the forming of bonds with people that can grow into deeper, closer, more meaningful relationships.

Making close connections is essential because people prefer to work and interact those with whom they feel connected. They share common interests, feelings, values, and beliefs. They trust them and want to help them more. Instead of concentrating on closing one-time sales, it is better to build close, long-term connections that will endure.

Be honest and build trust. Exaggerating and falsifying may help produce quick sales, but over time, they will do you in. Overstating and failing to deliver as promised kills relationships because customers want what they were promised. Few will continue to conduct business with those who have not kept their word. Not delivering precisely as promised is the best way to ruin your reputation and brand.

To create solid connections, follow these suggestions:

• Perfect your art. Deliver top quality. Do what you do excellently, as well as it can be done. “There is no substitute for quality,” T. Harv Eker states. If the quality you provide is outstanding, you don’t have to do lots of networking. People will network for you. They will tell others about you and recommend you. People love to refer others to those who provide the top quality.” It makes them look good.

• Stick to the facts. It’s easy to exaggerate and promise more than you can deliver, but it doesn’t pay. Be honest. Connect with potential customers by telling them the results your goods and services have achieved. Better yet, document the results, put on demonstrations, and show them proof. Provide them with endorsements from satisfied customers; take them to sites to your goods or services in operation with other customers. Then explain to your prospects exactly how you can help them.

• Don’t promise too much — especially if you may not be able deliver. Be completely honest. It’s better to lose a sale and stay on good terms with the prospect than to land the sale and subsequently alienate the customer. If your honesty costs you a deal, think of it this way: the customer may remember your truthfulness and call on you again. However, if you over-inflate or fail to deliver, your future with that prospect will be doomed, over, kaput. Plus, aggrieved customers tend to tell their friends about their dissatisfaction — especially when they feel they were intentionally deceived.

• When you’re looking for business, offer your goods or services at an attractive price. Be fair and don’t gouge; build trust. Give potential customers a price incentive for giving you their business. When you have performed well for them, you can use them showcase to sell future customers. You will also have forged connections with satisfied customers who will give you repeat business and recommend you to others. Ask satisfied customers to give you endorsements or letters of commendation. Have them write on their letterheads how excellently you performed. Post the commendations on your Web site, hang copies in your office, and keep them in a scrapbook that you can show potential customers. Insert them in your brochures and sales materials.

Your Outlook

Remember back in school how different personalities emerged and distinguished themselves. Every school had characters such as the nerd, the rocker, the jock, the babe, and the brain. Yet the one we tend to remember most fondly is the clown.
We all noticed the clown because he made us laugh. He connected with everyone through his humor; by making everything funny. The clown could make the most ordinary situation, the gravest circumstance, and the blandest personality absolutely hysterical. During the darkest moments, his quips broke the tension and lightened the mood. Humor was his focus, his outlook, his forte. His wit was what distinguished him and how he connected.

Great networkers also have special outlook. Like the clown who instinctively looks for humor, networkers are programmed to connect people. Great networkers constantly try to meet new people, learn all about them, and link them so that they can build close, mutually-beneficial relationships.

Distinguish yourself and boost your business by developing a connecting attitude. Be pleasant, friendly, and fun. People like to be with and do business with those they like, not with grouches. Train yourself to be a connector; develop a connecting frame of mind by constantly thinking in terms of whom you can connect. Here’s how to proceed:

Make two lists:
1. List people you would like to meet.
a. Create a plan to meet your targets.
b. Identify those who could introduce you to your targets or people who could
connect you to them.
c. List what you have in common with your targets such as common:
i. Friends.
ii. Businesses.
iii. Backgrounds.
iv. Interests.
v. Values and beliefs.
2. List people that you could connect with each other. List what they have in common:
a. Friends.
b. Businesses.
c. Backgrounds.
d. Interests.
e. Values and beliefs.
3. Create a plan to connect those individuals.

Connecting is addictive. When you make a strong connection it’s so satisfying that you can’t wait to do it again. It’s also rewarding because people are grateful for your efforts on their behalf. Successful connections motivate; they make you focus more on connecting and bringing more people together.

Since connectors are always trying to make matches, they become possibility people. Possibility people explore, try, and make things happen. They push the limits and don’t immediately accept “no” for an answer.

Possibility people stand out because they’re optimistic and more likely to achieve. They also tend to be creative, resourceful, and inspirational. If you want to increase your business referrals, develop a connecting outlook.

Jill Lublin is the author of two national best selling books, Guerrilla Publicity (which is
considered the PR bible and is used in university marketing courses), and Networking Magic (which went to #1 at Barnes and Noble). She is a renowned strategist and international speaker.

As the CEO of the strategic consulting firm, Promising Promotion, Jill has created successful techniques that implement bottom line results. Jill is founder of GoodNews Media, Inc., a company specializing in positive news. She is currently the host of the nationally syndicated radio show, Do the Dream, where she interviews celebrities who have achieved their dreams. Jill has recently been featured in the New York Times, Woman's Day, and Entrepreneur Magazine, as well as on ABC, NBC, CBS radio and TV national United States affiliates. Get Noticed…Get Referrals,

Jill’s third book, was just published by McGraw-Hill. Website: www.JillLublin.com

For more information about Jill Lublin Author of Get Noticed… Get Referrals: Build Your Client Base and Your Business by Making a Name for Yourself (Touring July 7 - August 1) visit http://virtualblogtour.blogspot.com/2008/06/jill-lublin-author-of-get-noticed-get.html. We invite you to visit various blog tour stops throughout the month to learn much more about Get Noticed… Get Referrals.