Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Memory Like an Elephant? Tips on Remembering People

I was asked recently to write an article on remembering people's names for the 'Get Networking' newsletter produced by the author of 'Brilliant Networking', Steven D'Souza. I thought I would reproduce the article for you here.

If you'd like to receive a copy of the full newsletter, including articles about using NLP and networking, story telling skills and a free e-book for all readers, please send me an email to andy@lopata.co.uk and I will forward it to you.

For many years I impressed people with a special talent. It was a talent I didn’t know I had, wasn’t aware was special and, if I’m to be honest with you, shared a lot with the great magic tricks in that it was really an illusion, although not one I consciously adopted.

The talent in question was that of remembering people’s names and recalling previous conversations we’d had, irrespective of how long had passed since that conversation.

At the time I was Managing Director of a business network with groups across the UK. I spent a lot of my time travelling to the different groups, meeting members, finding out how well the groups were operating and giving presentations. This would naturally put me at a disadvantage, everyone knew who I was and that I was coming. I would be the ‘stranger’ in their midst, they were seeing everyone else there week in and week out.

I, on the other hand, was walking into a room full of virtual strangers. Some people I had never met before, others only once or twice, perhaps as long as a year or more previously. Yet I could still recall people’s faces, their names and what we had spoken about before.

Dale Carnegie famously said someone’s own name is “the sweetest and most important sound in any language”. Remembering people’s names or something about them that shows you respect them as an individual can make a tremendous difference in the impression you leave and the impact you make.

The ‘talent’ I had was, therefore, so important in creating customer loyalty and developing my reputation as a strong networker and MD.

After a while, and a number of compliments for my memory, I decided to look at how I could remember names and what worked for me. I have read and heard others’ advice on recalling names, but some of it doesn’t feel natural. Here’s what I think made a difference:

1. Context

I was seeing people in a specific context, often in the same surrounds to our previous conversation. It would be highly likely that I could walk into a room and recognise someone immediately, because I expect to see them there, yet if I passed the same person in the street we would both walk by without a second take.

If you are going to attend a meeting where you know there will be people you have met before, take a few minutes to scan the attendee list, if available, or think back to whom you met and spoke to on the last occasion.

2. Association

It is much easier to remember someone if you can associate them with a particular event or conversation. I gave a talk last week and was approached by one of the attendees afterwards. She mentioned that she had recommended me to a company after seeing me speak two years previously, and had noticed that I had given a talk for that company a fortnight ago.

When she approached me I didn’t recognise her, nor did I recognise her name when she passed me her card. As soon as she mentioned the event where she had previously heard me speak, however, and her recommendation afterwards, I could recall our entire conversation.

If you are at an event and you recognise someone’s face but can’t remember who they are, ask them where you met before.

3. Shared Passions

You can fast track rapport with people by finding interests in common. As someone who has a strong interest in football, for example, I will remember people better if I have had a fun conversation about our respective teams and the matches we recall, than a dry, formal chat.

I am a great believer that there is a strong role for non-business conversation in a business environment. Shared passions bring people together and make them more memorable. They help to build relationships which can develop into stronger business ties over time.

4. A Furtive Glance

If you meet someone at a networking event, there are some simple tools available to you to help you remember someone’s name. The most obvious of these are name badges and business cards.

Rather than following the herd in pinning a name badge to your left lapel when you attend an event, wear it on the right hand side. You will find that it then lies in the natural line of sight when you shake hands with someone and makes it easy for them to look at naturally.

If you can look at someone’s name badge or their business card when you first meet them again, this gives your memory a trigger to recall more details about your previous conversations.

5. Concentrate

Very often we get embarrassed because we can’t remember someone’s name. That’s understandable if you don’t see people often, but less so if it’s a minute or so after they’ve introduced themselves! Yet it happens so often.

There’s a simple reason for this. We can’t remember their name because we didn’t hear it in the first place. When we exchange pleasantries upon meeting people, we are not always fully engaged in the conversation. People also often say their names quickly.

Listen carefully when someone introduces themselves, or a colleague, to you. If you didn’t catch their name, ask them to repeat it. Even repeat it yourself to ensure you remember it.

6. Follow Up

The people I am most likely to remember when I meet them a second or third time are the people I have stayed in touch with. Follow up with people after an event, build a conversation.

Even if you haven’t met between events but have exchanged the occasional email, you will find it much easier to remember both their name and the context of your previous meeting.

If, like me, you receive a large number of e-newsletters, don’t just delete them. Look at each one and ask yourself who it’s from and where you met them. If they send you the newsletter regularly they will remain high on your consciousness, making it much more likely that you will remember them when you next meet.

7. Be Honest

I always think it’s such a missed opportunity when people avoid others at networking events because they can’t remember that person’s name or where they met. If you can get past that first challenge you may be able to pick up where you left off previously.

The funny thing is that most of us struggle to remember names….and get embarrassed by that. If that wasn’t the case you wouldn’t have read this far!

If you are aware of that, just be honest.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Fortnightly Newsletter launches today

As of today, I will be publishing a fortnightly newsletter full of quick and simple hints and tips on networking skills, networking strategy and online networking.

In addition, their will be links to videos from my yourBusinessChannel library and articles from The National Networker.

If you'd like to subscribe, please add your email address to the subcription box in the top left margin of my blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes, We Can! The Networking Lessons Business Can Learn from Obama's Election Success

“Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!”

It was 4 o’clock in the morning in the UK. I had finally moved from my lounge into bed but still the TV wouldn’t go off. The result of the US Presidential election had now been known for hours, but the magic Electoral College figure of 270 hadn’t been reached yet. At 4am, as the polls in California closed, it was. All of the major networks made their projections and Barack Obama was declared President-elect of the United States.

“Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!”

The chant was the same wherever the TV cameras panned. People celebrated an electoral victory in a way I’ve never seen before in my lifetime. Certainly not in a way that I remember. The only mass celebrations that compare surrounded the fall of the Berlin Wall and of Communism in 1989 and 1990, but that was to celebrate the end of a system, not the election of one man as part of a democratic cycle.

“Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!

The chant that underpinned Barack Obama’s election campaign and that greeted his victory represents a new approach to politics. It is an approach that has received wide comment about its inclusiveness and interaction, with use of collective pronouns, such as ‘we’ and ‘us’, rather than the emphasis on the individual, ‘me’ and ‘you’, that went before.

And it’s a chant that could have been heard more and more in business over the last decade, as we have recognised the importance of working together, helping each other collectively to achieve individual goals. It’s not a new idea; John Donne famously expressed the idea of man’s interconnectedness in Meditation XVII some 400 years ago:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Networking, or put another way, working together to help each other, has grown as a serious business tool for companies of all sizes over the last few years. Despite this, it is still looked upon with disdain by many people; dismissed as the refuge of the manipulative, the desperate and the ‘small fry’.

Perhaps it is now time to look at networking a different way. A close look at Barack Obama’s election campaign reveals that some of the key tactics his team used to overcome the historic strength of ‘old money’ in the States are among the central tenets of a good networking strategy in business. His ability to turn ‘me’ into ‘we’ and ‘I’ into ‘you’ formed the basis of his two major successes against the odds, overcoming Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primaries and John McCain in the Presidential election.

If it’s good enough for the President-elect of the United States, could it possibly be good enough for the rest of us?

What was it that Obama’s campaign did that made the difference? Much of the focus both in the lead up to and since the election has been on the significance of the colour of his skin. Equally as notable, however, has been the way in which a Senator previously little known outside his home State was able to overcome some of the great names of US Politics, the dominance of the dynasties and the clout of the corporations.

And he didn’t do this on his own.

Credibility through profile and relationships

The first thing that Obama’s campaign recognised was that they had to find a new approach to building his profile and supporter base, one that wouldn’t rely on the importance of large donors and the political heritage enjoyed by his opponents. Instead, David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager and David Axelrod, his key strategist, focused on building mass support and the task of generating unprecedented amounts of funding from individual donors.

Adam Beck joined the campaign team in the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and was quickly introduced to this new approach.

“We were adamant about ensuring this was a campaign that was driven from the "bottom up," said Beck, “empowering volunteers and relying on the strength of the efforts of millions of them rather than old-school political tactics.”

Much has been made of Barack Obama’s use of social networking, tapping into the power of the ‘Facebook Generation’ and the reach of electronic media to build a wide supporter base quickly. On my blog in March 2007 I highlighted the launch of the ‘MyBarackObama.com’ website and how it had influenced parties in the UK, with a more visible use of networking both online and offline by both Labour and the Conservative Parties. The success of MyBarackObama has probably exceeded even his campaign team’s greatest expectations, with around 1 million people joining the site.

It’s not just on their own website that the Obama campaign has embraced social media. On the Home Page of MyBarackObama there is a list of Obama’s presence on sixteen other networks, from household names such as Facebook and LinkedIn to niche and community sites such as Faithbase and My Batanga. There’s even an Obama application for Apple’s iPhone!

The extent of the Obama campaign’s networking was designed to raise his profile quickly and powerfully. Voting figures show that 66% of voters aged under 30 supported Obama, compared to 32% favouring John McCain. This is nearly four times the size of John F Kennedy’s advantage in this voting group in 1960*. One attendee at Obama’s victory rally in Chicago’s Grant Park commented that 75% of the crowd was aged below 40.

This appeal to young people is a natural result of using the technology of which they are the heaviest users. Obama’s appeal, however, didn’t stop there. What his embracing of social media created was a momentum, one which helped him build his visibility and credibility across demographic boundaries.

The profile created by social media brought Obama into the centre of the Democratic nomination process and his profile continued to soar as the numbers grew. Simply relying on a numbers game wouldn’t be enough, however, to secure the nomination and win the Presidency. Obama needed greater support than that, he needed finance and he needed a mass movement to drive his campaign forward.

The true power of MyBarackObama.com and the mass movement it inspired is not the numbers involved, but how involved they really were. Obama gave them ownership of the campaign. His use of language forces the message home, “Yes we can”. The quote from Barack Obama at the top of his website says, “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours.”

The site didn’t just ask people to sign up, as if they were putting their name to a petition. It invited people to post blogs, to run events in their area, to contact undecided voters in their area. Sections on the site were written specifically for different communities, from Jewish Americans to Latinos, from Sportsmen to Seniors. There is even a section for Republican voters! The message stays consistent throughout, get involved and make this happen.

The sort of support that makes an impact comes from deep relationships, not superficial contact and Obama’s campaign team recognised the importance of this. The campaign raised about $700 million, from more than 3 million contributors, a quite stunning amount.

Connecting is not enough. In business it is important not to just grow a wide network, building visibility and getting your name widely known. It is also important to create depth. The lessons from Barack Obama’s campaign about involving people, developing a rapport, addressing their concerns and inspiring their loyalty are important for business people who want to thrive in today’s economy.

It’s not about ‘me’ anymore; it’s about ‘us’. People who use networking effectively in business focus not just on the numbers to build their profile but their relationships with those people. They concentrate on the other person and understand their perspective. Much is made of the need to give before you receive in business and rightly so. Quite simply, if you want people’s support, you have to earn it, not demand it.

Obama created a wide support base by reaching out and offering people ownership of his success. The way his result was celebrated was a clear reflection of this. How much do you encourage people to celebrate your business successes with you and how much do you make people feel it’s about them as much as it is about you? Numbers in your network can make a difference but only if you can make them count.

On Message

A lot of mud was thrown during both the Democratic nomination and Presidential election campaigns. Much of it at Obama. From the early concerns over his Church’s Pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright and his ‘God Damn America’ comments, to accusations of wanting to introduce socialism at the end of the campaign, various attempts were made to knock his progress off course. One of Obama’s biggest successes was overcoming each challenge, ignoring each accusation and keeping a clear message in the minds of the electorate.

The value of a clear, consistent message cannot be underestimated; in politics or in business. While others panicked and changed course, Barack Obama focused on simple, concise words and didn’t alter course.

The Chicago Tribune commented,

“McCain would zigzag from experience to maverick to tested and halfway back. Obama pounded the same drum: Change. Change. Change.

“He used the word 19 times when he clinched the Democratic nomination in June in Minneapolis, 15 times when he accepted the party's nod two months later in Denver, 19 times when he spoke in Canton, Ohio.”

Even when an opportunity arose that could distract the campaign, they didn’t allow it to. When Sarah Palin won the nomination as John McCain’s running mate, the Obama campaign knew that there were opportunities to be had by attacking her. They refused to change course though.

"Having campaigned for two years and having been counted out so many times, we're practiced at those kind of moments," said David Axelrod. "I don't think there's ever been a sense of panic around here."

The message remained positive while others sniped around him. People quite simply got to understand what Obama stood for.

Obama also succeeded in adapting the message depending on who he was addressing. While the core message might stay the same, the interests of that particular group became a key part of that message. In this way he was building deeper relationships with each community and giving them a personal reason to support him, as we discussed earlier.

It can be too easy sometimes to change our message with the wind, try to squeeze as much information in as possible or to criticise our competition. The trouble is that none of these approaches are effective. We need to leave a clear, positive message in people’s minds in a way that offers them clarity. It’s vital that people understand us, our business and our needs in the same way that the American electorate understand what Barack Obama stands for.

In British politics there has been a lot of criticism recently about the Conservative Party’s message. People claim that they have no real policies; that it’s all about appearance and not substance.

That’s not necessarily the case. Where the Conservatives have failed is to plant a strong message in the mind of the British people, so that the electorate recognise what they stand for and how it’s relevant to them.

Business people need to take the same approach. Whether we want people to buy from us, recommend and refer us or support us in another way, it is down to us to communicate in a way that provokes action. That means our message needs to be simple and consistent.

There’s no point in wasting breath in criticising competitors or complaining, people will support someone they can believe in, and will prefer to engage with a positive person.

Ensure that you have a strong, concise message that encourages action. Keep repeating it so that people remember it. Ask your advocates to do simple, specific tasks. Focus on helping people understand what help they can offer, not describing your whole business and life story with it.

It can be tempting to include as much as possible when talking to other people about your business. There is a fear that if you miss something out, that might be the nugget that will win the business or get the connection you desire. The real danger though is of overwhelming people with information, giving people too much to remember and not allowing them to truly grasp what you do.

As Joseph Priestley, the man who discovered Oxygen, said, “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”

The more specific the message, the easier it is to understand. Barack Obama proved that in his campaign. He didn’t talk about the minutiae of every element of each of his policies. He gave the headlines. More than that, he talked about the policies he knew would resonate most strongly with his electorate, and kept his focus there.

The Power of Endorsement

It wasn’t just the message that Obama focused on, it was the media for those messages as well. From the Democratic primaries, where he won the backing of Ted and Caroline Kennedy, through the early stages of the Presidential campaign where so much weight was put on the backing of Bill and Hillary Clinton, to the closing stages where Colin Powell came out in his favour, Obama was fully cognisant of the importance of the right endorsements from the right people at the right time.

Those endorsements made a huge difference to the campaign, giving Obama the credibility his experience didn’t offer him. A great example of this was when he was asked in the Presidential Debates who he would invite into his cabinet to help overcome the economic crisis. Obama immediately talked about involving Warren Buffett, the richest man in the world. The power of association with one of the World’s most successful investors and businessmen would have immediately allayed some fears about his ability to cope with the impending recession.
The real power of Obama’s use of endorsements lay not in with whom he associated himself, but how he timed and targeted those endorsements to perfection. If Colin Powell had backed Obama early in the campaign, or even during the Primaries, would it have had the same impact as his statement in the closing weeks?

Hillary and Bill Clinton’s support was key to winning over the ‘Hillary Democrats’ after a robust Primary campaign. Colin Powell’s support was perfectly timed to capture the attention of wavering Republicans.

It wasn’t just the big names who backed Obama which made the difference. In fact, it could be argued that the opposite was true. Going back to Obama’s use of social networking, the inclusiveness of his campaign and his use of ‘we’ and ‘us’ instead of ‘me’ and ‘you’, his millions of supporters and their involvement played a major role in turning the wind in his favour.

Big name endorsements helped to build credibility and reassure people. Ultimately, however, people are influenced by those they consider to be their peers. Barack Obama and his campaign team understood this. They didn’t just ask for money or for votes. They gave people ownership of their campaign. They gave them a message suited to them, tailored to fit individual perspectives.

They then asked their supporters to spread the word. Out of all of the innovations of the Obama campaign, the most notable to me was a simple request to his supporters. Under the ‘Neighbor to Neighbor’ scheme, Obama supporters were given everything they needed to call potential voters in their local areas and encourage them to come out and vote for Obama. It was even reported that people were asked to call people with a similar sounding surname, as the recipient of the call would feel more comfortable talking to someone from a similar background.

Many businesses recognise the value of endorsement. But how effectively is it used as a business tool? For testimonials, referrals and endorsements to be of true value they need to be thought through, timed and targeted.

When asking for testimonials, too many businesses accept platitudes praising their character, delivery or the ease of working with them. Potential clients aren’t necessarily interested in these things. They want to know the problems you resolve and the outcome of using you. Not what a pleasure you are to deal with.

It has become standard practice to ask for referrals at the end of a meeting. “Are you happy with what I have done?” “Would you be willing to refer me to someone else?” “Can you think of five people you can refer me to?”

Those questions are far too broad and unlikely to produce the best results. Requests for referrals should be timed for when the other person is solely focused on helping you, not at the end of a meeting about something else. They should be thought through in advance, focusing on who that person is likely to know and associate with, not just a general “anyone who needs my help”. It would be far more effective to ask an accountant to referrals to solicitors, for example, because you know they associate with them, than to be general in your request.

When you target a new market, who would your prospective customers listen to and respect? Whose endorsement will lend credibility to your claims in that area? Barack Obama has proved the power in politics of association with the key influencers to a particular demographic. It is no different in business.

Barack Obama’s election campaign will be recorded as historic for a number of reasons. One of the less celebrated, but possibly most important, will be the way he has broken the mould of political power. It is hard to envisage a campaign being run without social networking playing a key role. The victors are the ones who will keep their message clear and concise and endorsements will be used in a far more focused way than they ever have been before.

Politics may have changed but business has been moving in this direction for some time. It is now time for everyone to catch up and focus on the ‘we’ culture.

Can we be successful in business if we adopt Obama’s approach? Yes we can.

* Source – The Times of India

Monday, January 19, 2009

Referral Marketing - Why Incentive Schemes Don't Always Work

Those who know me well know that I like to swim to keep fit. Where possible I try to swim up to five times a week. I attend a health club close to where I live. The pool is based in a beautiful stately home with an 18 hole golf course in the grounds. It's an idyllic setting, somewhere you think people would be proud to be a member.

The Health Club, like many, is having a push for new members. Over the years they have offered various incentives to their existing members to refer them. These have ranged from free periods of membership and perks for their guests to iPods or pure cash incentives.

Few seem to have worked. At the moment they have resorted to direct mail to local households and people on their mailing list, offering free periods of membership and waiving registration fees to encourage people to join.

When many businesses recognise that referrals from existing clients are the most effective source of new business, why is it that their efforts are failing so visibly? This weekend might provide a clue.

I went along for a swim on both Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately there was a problem with the boiler and the pool water was much colder than usual. Suffice it to say, I had a couple of 'refreshing' swims!

No problem with that you may think. After all, such things are bound to happen and they did post signs clearly stating, and apologising for, the problem. The trouble is, it wasn't an isolated problem. Two weeks ago the showers didn't work. Before that the spa wasn't working, the sauna was out of action, the steam room was shut.....

You probably get the picture.

On top of all of these malfunctions, the clock by the pool has been five minutes slow.....for at least three years. For a long time the clock outside the changing rooms had stopped, frequently the showers lack gel, the hand towel holder is empty. The majority of lockers don't have keys. All of these are tiny issues on their own, but add up to give a picture of a company that shows no care, and doesn't look after their customers.

Over my two visits at the weekend, I was party to four different conversations between Members criticising the way the Club is run. I hasten to say I didn't start any of them!

If you don't look after your customers, how can you possibly expect them to refer you? People are far more likely to spread bad news than good and it's more likely that they'll tell people how you're managing to get things wrong than refer you just to get an iPod.

If you want people to refer you, you need to give them something positive to talk about. Something so good, it gives them a story. You need to substantially exceed their expectations. You can start by getting the simple things right.

If you fail their expectations at all, they'll be talking about you anyway, and not just among themselves. It just won't be what you'd want to hear.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Networking Resolutions

This article originally appeared in The National Networker.

New Year has come and gone and all around the World talk inevitably turns to resolutions. Are you looking towards a slimmer you? Giving up smoking? Perhaps you have decided to dedicate more time to others.

It’s also a good time to sit back and review your networking. Is your current activity working for you? Are you in the right networks, getting the referrals you want for your business?

Take the time to check you are on the right track. Even the top networkers do it. I spoke to some of the UK’s leading networking experts and heads of networks to find out what they expect to happen in networking in 2009 and their own plans for the New Year.

As you might expect, the global economic climate featured heavily in their responses. It is commonly agreed on both sides of the Atlantic that many businesses will find the next twelve months very challenging and that networking is going to play a vital role in helping us to get through the trials and tribulations ahead.

Maggie Berry, Director of Women in Technology encapsulated the mood. “I think (or at least I hope) that people will be more open to getting themselves out there and networking face to face, to maintain and build up contacts during what is probably going to be a tough 2009.”

The need to be proactive and forge new relationships seems to be the key. Roy Sheppard, author of ‘Rapid Result Referrals’ and ‘Meet, Greet and Prosper’, said, “As the economy continues to toughen, maintaining and attracting new business will become more of a challenge for most companies.

“The best-connected people and organisations will be those most able to harvest those opportunities that will exist. Their investment in relationship building will bear fruit. I think we will see well-connected people and companies working far more collaboratively than ever before.

A positive and collaborative approach is the key for Sheppard. “Their mindset will be 'We're all in this together, so let's look out for each other'. More and more people will rely on referrals.”

Jackie Groundsell of women’s business network 1230 shares the belief that working with others is the key. “For everyone in business 2009 will certainly be an interesting and challenging time”, said Jackie.

“Many more people will be working remotely which can bring isolation and loneliness. Those who resolve to invest time in building and developing relationships with like-minded individuals will reap the benefits and still find plenty of opportunities to do business.”

With a large number of people facing redundancy in the New Year and unemployment levels set to reach their highest point for many years, expect to see more people set up in business on their own. This, according to Jackie, is going to make networking an even more vital tool. “Business will become more competitive and the rewards will be greater for those who share and work with others.”

Penny Power, co-founder of online network Ecademy, also feels that businesses are going to need to work much more closely together in order to thrive. Penny continued to highlight the importance of networks and referrals. “I feel that networking will be about hunting in packs, not as lone ‘cave men’”, said Penny.

“Collaboration will be the theme of many good networkers, looking for opportunities that feed a group of people not just themselves. If you exist in a good network, this will bring many opportunities your way, providing you do the same for others. Finding people in your network that share the same client base but deliver different solutions will ensure you uncover opportunities when they crop up.”

It’s not just for referrals that businesses need to be looking for opportunities to work together. According to Mike Roe, CEO of Chief Executive Groups Footdown, “At times like this people still need people, whether for critical information on how to tackle key issues, a bit of inspiration from time to time, or some relief from the isolation that being the ‘boss’ can create.

“Being in touch with other like minded people, or being challenged and stretched by people who might think in different ways will be as important this coming year as any year that has gone before.”

So where will people go to network? As I discussed in last month’s column, there are a number of challenges facing physical face-to-face networks, with a number of people looking to the benefits provided in cyberspace.

Brian Chernett, Chairman of the Academy for Chief Executives believes "’on line reputation’ will be key and a much better use of the internet, blogs and social networks such as Facebook will become the norm for all levels."

Author of “I Hate Networking” and networking skills expert Will Kintish sees the trend towards online networks continuing. “I think people in networking clubs who get very little from them (because they don’t understand the guidelines and principles) will give their membership up. The Kintish team will be spending a minimum of two hours every day searching Linkedin.

“When you understand how to use it, it is your greatest online networking friend ever.
In business there are two groups of people:

1 People we know like and trust
2 People who are targets we’d like to meet who know group 1.
“Ask Group 1 to introduce you to Group 2. They will do it readily. Linkedin is the tool to find both groups.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Penny Power also sees a positive future for online networks. “I am being told by many that offline networking is becoming increasingly tough for them to get to, going out the door costs money and we are now seeing huge growth in membership and traffic on Ecademy as a result.

“My resolution for 2009 is to find ways of delivering more knowledge over the internet using webinar and online conferencing tools to bring large groups together across the world online and teach them the power of the online tools and being part of an online community. This reduces the costs for people and increases the opportunity for learning and sharing.”

For others, relationship building forms the core of many top networkers’ new year resolutions. Not content to sit on their laurels and congratulate themselves on the networks they have already developed, they are focusing on how they can do better, both by extending their networks but also, importantly, deepening existing relationships.

Dave Clarke, CEO of networking lunch group NRG and author of the Business Networking Blog has resolved to focus on following up and developing existing relationships, while Roy Sheppard is promising to get more organized and finally invest in a business card scanner. My resolution is similar, involving using my scanner and finally getting a regular e-zine out to keep in touch with my growing network, along with more frequent calls to people I haven’t spoken to in a while.

Maggie Berry, meanwhile, intends to meet a more diverse group of people. “Because of what I do, I go to lots of women related events. This year I'd like to broaden the type of event that I attend - thereby pushing my own boundaries but hopefully meeting lots of interesting people along the way!”

Whatever you are doing at the moment, there’s no doubt that additional focus will lead to improvements. With tough economic times ahead of us, the consensus is that networks will become increasingly important, whether online or off. The New Year is a time for all of us to review what has worked for us so far, look at new opportunities and change our behaviour accordingly.

After all, if networking is working well for you at the moment, what would life look like if it suddenly got better?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

International Networking Week 2009

February 2-6th sees the third annual International Networking Week. Sponsored by BNI, the last two years have seen the majority of events in the UK taking place in BNI Chapters.

With concerns of businesses focusing on a year of economic gloom and doom, events like this which promote networking as the way forward provide us with the shot in the arm many of us need.

In this video, Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, talks about how businesses approaching the recession positively can achieve so much more.

"If you want to do well in business, you must understand that it does absolutely no good to complain to people about tough times. While you cannot control the economy or your competition, you can control your response", says Dr. Misner, talking about the role of networking in fighting a recession.

It would be great to see International Networking Week expand to other organisations in the UK and become more widespread. If you have an event, feel free to post it as a comment on this blog.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tweeting for new business...?

First of all, please allow me to wish you a belated Happy New Year. I may have been quiet on the blog through the first couple of weeks of the year but I certainly haven't been hibernating. I've been working on a number of exciting projects throughout the Christmas period and all will be revealed over the coming weeks.

Let's start the year as we mean to go on....with a question.

If you are a member of social and online business networks, such as Facebook, Ecademy and LinkedIn, how often do you update your status?

Introduced following the early success of Twitter, status updates can be used in a number of ways. Ridiculed initially as people told us the minutiae of their lives, from when they were going to get a cup of tea, to nipping to the loo or reading a magazine (or even all three together!), they now offer a great opportunity to gain deeper insight into what our network does.

Understanding what other people do is one of the challenges of effective networking. A title or elevator pitch can rarely do it justice. However, 'Tweeting' your latest actions, or updating your status with details of the clients you are working with and what you are doing for them can play a key role in educating your network.

Similarly, personal updates, from the films you are watching to the sports you follow help people get to know the individual better. And we all know how important it is to remember that 'people buy people'.

Above all of this, you can post requests on these updates. Sometimes, those requests, or your updates can lead directly to new business. It is the most simple and effective form of marketing possible.

This morning I received an email from Theresa Summers, inviting me to connect to her on LinkedIn. I first met Theresa about three years ago when she was the guest at a BRE meeting that I was visiting. She showed that she really understood networking, wanted to learn more and was incredibly enthusiastic. We have remained in touch ever since, although we have met rarely and her business has changed since I last saw her.

Connecting with Theresa, I noticed the status on her LinkedIn profile. It said, "Theresa Summers is looking to connect with people who could utilise moving classroom training to e-learning" and had been posted just 45 minutes earlier.

E-learning is an area I am very interested in and wanted to explore later this year. I looked on another social network, Facebook, where Theresa and I are connected, and saw she was online. Within a few minutes we have agreed to meet and discuss how we can work together to accelerate my e-learning programme.

It probably took Theresa less than one minute to write a status update that could hopefully lead to some very profitable business for her.

You won't win business every time you Tweet, or update your status. Some of the time it will fall on deaf ears (or blind eyes). Sometimes you will be building people's knowledge of what you do or who you are.

And sometimes it might lead to a referral, or a direct piece of business.