Monday, March 31, 2008

The real power of online networks lies......offline

An interesting combination of statistics stands out from the Ecademy survey released today. Over half of the respondents (56%) state that they get less than 10% of their business through online networking, with only just over 10% getting 50% or more from that source. At the same time, nearly 40% of members get over 50% of their business through offline networking.

Nothing unusual about that, you may think. After all, it would be fair to suggest that it is easier to generate business through offline networks, where you meet fellow members face-to-face, than an online network such as Ecademy. It is much more difficult to build personal relationships virtually after all.

The interesting stat comes further down the survey. The vast majority of respondents never attend any of the offline networks listed, with Chamber of Commerce faring best (41% of members attend sometimes, 59% never do) but most other networks failing to attract a sizeable majority of members who replied to the survey. So, where does the offline business come from?

Now, I'll put my hands up now and admit that I'm not a mathematical genius nor an expert in analysing such surveys. There may be a very clear statistical explanation for this apparent anomaly. If there is, I'm sure someone will point it out for me! I prefer to look for an explanation elsewhere, looking at what makes networking effective.

As I mentioned earlier, business networking is far more powerful when you can build relationships in person. Ecademy is a fantastic tool for building your profile and initiating new relationships. In my experience, however, the best relationships, and most likely opportunities for business, come when you get to know each other away from the online platform.

I was asked today how I make membership of a network like Ecademy pay. The site helps me to build my profile and the reputation for my expertise. Without doubt, however, any direct referrals for business have predominantly come from people I have taken the time to meet and build a relationship with. This is where the power of BlackStar lies, with members constantly meeting with each other. There are probably 1-2-1s between BlackStars every day of the week, and a lot at weekends as well.

To be truly effective, online networks should be treated as a means to an end, not the end itself. Somewhere to both initiate and manage relationships, where the relationships are developed in person, face to face. I believe that this explains the discrepancy in these statistics, people have made the connections online but converted the business by networking person.

Networking to Get Work - Selecting the right networks

Continuing the series of answers from my article in The Sun, the latest two questions look at the role of online networking and how to decide which networking to join.

Can I save time by joining an online network?

In addition to social networks, such as Facebook, there are an increasing number of online business networks such as Ecademy, LinkedIn and Word of Mouse.

Most will allow you to build and stay in touch with a much larger network than you could do otherwise. What they won’t do on their own is build relationships beyond a basic level. You can’t replace human interaction on the internet, even with a webcam!

When you’ve found the people online you want to network with, wherever possible you need to meet them in person. Not always possible in a global society, but it makes all of the difference.

How do I decide which network to join?

You need to know what you want to achieve from networking. Don’t join a network because someone invited you or you like the buzz.

You can broadly define business networks into three types, although there is overlap. Profile-Building networks get your name out there; Brain-Building networks provide support from other businesses or local or industry knowledge while Referral-Building networks focus on developing teams providing strong leads for each other.

When you know what you want to network for, research networks that suit those goals, whether locally, regionally or online and know what you need to, and can, commit to that network.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Live in London - April 28th

I am speaking on 'The Noble Art of Networking' at The Swedish Chamber of Commerce UK in London on Monday April 28th. The event, at The Swedish Embassy, runs from 6.30pm until 9.30pm and I have a few invites for my network.

I have spoken for the Swedish Chamber before and the events they run are excellent. It is a very warm and friendly crowd and there are some very good people to connect with there.

If you would like to come along, please email me at I need to send names to the Chamber by next week, so please contact me by Tuesday 25th March.

Networking to Get Work - "The Elevator Pitch"

I’ve been told that I need an ‘elevator pitch’ if I go networking. What’s that and where do I get one?

The ‘elevator pitch’ is the concept where you find yourself alongside Bill Gates in a lift and have until the doors open to tell him what you do. I hate the idea!

At any networking event you’ll see lots of people asking each other…”What do you do?”. This is the networking equivalent of “Do you come here often?”! Let’s be honest, most people ask out of politeness, not genuine interest.

This is followed by the prepared elevator pitch, a one-minute lecture outlining everything you do, delivered to someone who couldn’t care in the first place and who is waiting to deliver their own pitch!

Networking is about building relationships and trust, not pitching. Find out what you’ve got in common with each other, not what you haven’t. You’ll find it much easier talking about football if you’re both big fans, than you will talking about accountancy when you have no interest at all.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Can I Help You? How to make generating referrals for your business so much easier

If someone asks you how they can help you, how clearly can you let them know how they can best make a difference to your business? If I was to ask you to tell me the ideal introduction for you, how effective would your answer be?

For most people, the response offered is normally ineffective. We all know our business really well but that makes it difficult for us to focus in on one key area when we are offered support. Yet, if you ask someone to do too much for you, the chances are that they will do nothing.

Why do I say that? It’s quite simple, the more vague or more broad your request, the more work there is for someone else to respond to it. Last week someone told me that they want to speak to anyone who owns a house. How many people do you think I know who are homeowners? How about you?

To meet that request, you have two choices. You can whittle down the list of homeowners you know to someone you’re happy to introduce him to; that alone requires a lot of thought and work and how do you make that decision? The other choice is to offer everyone we know as an introduction, probably very valuable to the person asking but a huge task for us and it’s not one, to be fair, that we are likely to complete.

In fact there is a third choice in circumstances like this, and it’s the one that most people will turn to. That choice is to do nothing at all as neither of the previous alternatives are very attractive.

How much easier would it have been if the selection process had been done for me, in the request? If, instead of being asked who I know who owns a home, I had been asked who I know who has just bought a new home? Instead of a long list of people I know, I would instantly have thought of just one or two people. Assuming that I am happy to make a connection, it would be a lot more likely that I would do so in these circumstances….wouldn’t it?

Always be as specific as you can in requests to your network, remembering that, if people find it easier to refer just one person based on a focused, clearly made description, you will gain far more than listing all of your wants and needs.

Whether you ask for people in a certain situation or name individuals or specific companies, this approach tends to produce much better results. Time after time.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Listen Live on the Radio

I'll be appearing live on Jeremy Jacobs' "PressPlay" show on JCom radio this Sunday evening at 10pm gmt.

JCom radio is available through the internet at

Networking to Get Work - Small Affairs full of Small Businesses

Continuing the extracts from my recent article in The Sun newspaper providing networking tips for small business:

I’ve been to a couple of networking events and they’ve been small affairs full of small businesses. The people I want to sell to aren’t there.

It is a very common mistake to look at the numbers attending an event and who they are when judging how useful it will be to you. You must avoid such pitfalls.

Most people attending networking events are small businesses. If you attend your local Chamber of Commerce or weekly breakfast meeting, it’s very unlikely that you will find high-level decision makers from corporates there.

You’ll find a group of people with a very wide-ranging network. People whose clients, best friends or neighbours are your ideal prospects. Even people who may be married to your dream referral!

I once discussed this point with an attendee at a talk I gave at Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce. She said that, when people ask what she does, she sometimes mischievously replies, “I’m a housewife”. At that point, she said, people can never get away quickly enough. They don’t even ask who she’s married to!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Business, Networking.....and Sex!

Ivan Misner, the Founder of BNI, together with two associates, Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele, are currently conducting some research for a book on the difference between men and women when networking.

Ivan says, "Sex is about how your body is put together. Gender is about the role you engage in daily. Male and female brains are hardwired differently. According to some experts, the male tends to be about taking action as related to goals (called instrumental functions by the scholars) and the female for the talking or for nurture that is related to relationships (called agency or interpersonal functions). Studies in 39 different countries highlight these differences.

"Well, we want to see if this is true and how it plays out relating to the way that men and women network."

Please take a few minutes to help Ivan and his colleagues out. So far, 5,000 people who have already answered their survey on this subject.

Take the networking gender survey here.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Network to Get Work - How Easy is it to Sell at Networking Events?

As you may know, I had a full page article published in The Sun newspaper this week under the headline 'Network to Get Work'. The Sun asked me to provide tips on networking based on seven questions often asked by small businesses. If you didn't see the article, I'll reproduce the questions here over the next few weeks, together with my response.

How Easy is it to Sell at Networking Events?

Going to a networking event does not provide the easiest opportunity to sell. There are few quicker ways to repel other people than going up to them and pitching. If you think about it, at most events you’re wasting your time trying to sell, as very few people attend looking to buy anything. Why would you try to sell to someone who’s not looking to buy?

That shouldn’t discourage you, however. You can certainly increase your sales through networking, even if you don’t sell direct at the event. Through networking you can find a lot of people who can spread the word about your business and introduce you to new customers. Many organisations, such as local Chambers of Commerce, put on large-scale local events monthly that will help you to raise your profile in the area and get more people talking about you. People have to know that you are there.

Focus on speaking with people who you get on with and where you find conversation easy. As one person once said to me, “pursue the relationship, not the sale”. Do that and you’ll find yourself developing a team of ‘champions’, people willing to tell everyone else about you and point new business in your direction.

The beauty of this approach is that, if your champions then need your services themselves, they’ll then come to you out of their own choice. In the meantime, they’ve been referring you left, right and centre. Far more valuable, wouldn’t you agree?

Monday, March 03, 2008

It's who knows you...

In his Nesta Connect Blog at the end of January, Roland Harwood talks about the importance of the 'reputation economy'. " I believe that we are moving from a knowledge economy", says Roland, ..."to being a networked economy, where organisations and individuals create value primarily through their relationships and networks."

This transition should be a key area of focus to business and organisations of all sizes. Where previously attempts have been made to secure and protect intellectual property within a company, we are now in a position where relationships hold the true value.

I met with a Sales Director this morning where we were discussing how his team could build stronger, and deeper, relationships with their clients. The key to creating more and more value from their customers lay in developing a range of strong contacts within the organisation, insuring against future changes of personnel.

Speaking with one person in an organisation will limit potential ideas and opportunities. As you build your reputation within a client's organisation, either personal or as a company, the greater your standing becomes and the more opportunities come your way. Developing your network within that company gives you the opportunity to learn more about their problems and issues and be more creative in the solutions you provide.

True value now lies in the relationships you build. As Roland says, "it's not what you know, it's who you know". Well, it's also who knows you, and individual profile and reputation becomes increasingly important.

Are people becoming more important than expertise and imagination? Roland ventures "the best idea in the world will go nowhere if the originator is unpleasant or impossible to work with".

What's most important in your organisation? And where do you invest your time?