Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Big Networking Mistakes: Cutting someone out of the conversation

It's really quite easy to fall into the trap I suppose. The nervousness of attending your first networking event. The pressure to produce some results from that event. And the excitement of realising that you are speaking to someone who might just buy your services.

I'm sure we've all done the wrong thing at some point or another.

Last night I was at an industry networking event, speaking to a meeting planner I had previously met a month before. We were approached by a man who asked if he could join us and we welcomed him into our conversation, bringing him up to date with what we were talking about.

While we were chatting, our companion looked at our badges and worked out that my colleague was someone who could possible book him for events. Pretty soon, I found myself in the position of a spectator to a conversation I had previously been a part of as he described in detail what he and his colleagues did and how they differed from their competition (neatly putting each competitor down in turn). As he finished he asked for the meeting planner's card and offered his to her.

He then said goodbye, before turning back to me, smiling and bidding farewell.

It was interesting to see what he did, although I am sure he was not aware of it. Seeing pound signs, he shifted his body position to exclude me from the conversation and directed his words, and eye contact, purely at the meeting planner. I could have walked away and he wouldn't have noticed.

He took no time to find out about me, what I do or who I know. He could easily have snubbed his biggest potential customer, or strongest potential Champion. And all because he saw a clear 'target' in front of him.

How did the meeting planner feel? The answer is very uncomfortable. We spoke about it after he walked away. She felt conscious of me being excluded from the conversation and she didn't like the shift from a relaxed conversation to being the subject of a sales pitch.

I relate this not to criticise the person who pitched last night, but to highlight how easy it is to make this mistake. I am sure we're all guilty of it at some time, changing gears when we meet someone who might book us.

We need to be aware of the dangers of doing this; the risk of excluding others from conversation and of making people feel uncomfortable about our approach.

It's an easy trap to fall into and one to stay very conscious of.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Connecting is not Enough......the newsletter

The latest issue of Connecting is not Enough is available here.

The issue includes:

The importance of a 'real connection'
Do you open your network on LinkedIn
Joe Cocker....the Woodstock lyrics in full (or sort of!).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn: A help rather than a hindrance to jobseekers?

It's official! The media finally seem to recognise that social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, have a serious and constructive purpose.

After all of the horror and scare stories, the balance was redressed a bit by yesterday's London Evening Standard. Under the heading 'Is your online profile good enough to make finding a new job easy?', a full page of the Business Section was devoted to the power of online networks in job search.

According to the article, written by Jackie Switzer and based on a survey by Harvey Nash recruitment consultants and the Department for Work and Pensions, a third of employers in the UK are using social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to connect to potential recruits.

Rather than taking the typical media focus of employers looking for something negative in people's profiles, the article studies how a good online networking strategy can make all of the difference for candidates in a very competitive market.

Dhana Markanday of Reed is quoted as saying, "An extensive LinkedIn profile could make the difference between getting an interview or not", while Rob Grimsey of Harvey Nash calls a jobseeker's online presence "the most important marketing and strategy document you will produce to advance your career."

The article makes it clear that you need to approach your membership of these sites carefully, but not for the obvious reasons.

"Senior people create LinkedIn profiles and then they don't maintain them. That is a missed opportunity", says Grimsey. "Equally they can create profiles which can look too desperate, with thousands of connections."

LinkedIn Open Networkers take note!

The value of a strong online network cannot be underestimated. Not only is it vital for jobseekers, the article also emphasises how recruiters will identify prospective candidates from those not currently actively seeking work, based on strong networking links and professional relationships online.

The last word goes to Matt Burney, who was made redundant from his Sales Director post at the beginning of June.

"When I was told I was being made redundant, I posted it on LinkedIn and Twitter. Within six hours I had nine meetings arranged."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sharing a Common Goal

We tend to focus on networking as a business tool but should never overlook its power elsewhere. Charities rely on networks to reach the funding targets they need, while I have written about networking in politics on more than one occasion. Community projects also rely on the networks of those in the community to achieve their goals.

Almost twenty years ago I was on the periphery of an immensly powerful campaign that used networking connections to achieve a seemingly impossible goal. The football club I support, Charlton Athletic, had left our home ground, The Valley, in 1985, and soon a campaign grew to get the club back home.

After the necessary finance was in place, the club found the route blocked by the local authority's planning committee. A group of supporters got together under the banner of The Valley Party and campaigned in almost every seat in the area during the local elections in 1990. In an amazing result for a single issue party, they amassed 11% of the vote with almost 15,000 votes. The campaign was exceptional, a lot of which was due to the connections and experience of many of those involved. The Chair of the Planning Committee lost his seat on the Council and the Club soon received the required authority and moved back in 1992.

I was reminded of this campaign when I met Paul Goodwin of BuyStirlingAlbion recently. Faced with the threat of their club going out of business, fans of Stirling Albion Football Club in Scotland are getting together with the aim of buying the club and becoming the first wholly supporter owned football league club in the UK.

Buy Stirling Albion FC - www.buystirlingalbion.org.uk

The aim is not just to work together to buy the Club but to then make it a hub of the local community, bringing a mix of skills together to revive both the Club and connect many local businesses and people.

The project aim to get 20,000 people to sign up Worldwide, far in excess of their average attendance, and have used their networks to get backing from the Sports Drinks firm Soccerade and FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo.

This week, to coincide with the All England Championships at Wimbledon, the campaign have announced the support of Andy and Jamie Murray. Contacts gained, unsurprisingly, through old fashioned networking, with one of the campaign team playing golf at the same club as their grandfather providing the key link.

It's a tough challenge but, as Charlton fans proved, one that is achievable if people pool their talents and connections. Networking is all about achieving more together than anyone could do individually, and this is another excellent example of such a project, and why it doesn't always have to be about business.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Building Trust and Playing Jazz

On Tuesday evening I spoke at the launch of The JC Wizonet network. The other speaker on the evening was Ruby Wax, who spoke about the importance of trust in the workplace.

Obviously, trust is an essential component of good networking and a vital ingredient in generating referrals or encouraging people to recommend you. I listened carefully as Ruby illustrated how she built trust with the celebrities she has interviewed, and also showed us where she has got it wrong in the past.

The most interesting point that she made was that to win trust we need to be "as human as we can." Ruby explained how we are taught to be stereotypes; The Leader, The Expert or in her case, The Presenter. We capture ourselves in a thin beam of who we think we are, or should be, and lose that genuine contact.

Ruby explained how she failed to build any empathy with her early subjects. She was focused on getting the interview right and wanting to "win", rather than relating to and empathising with her interviewees.

"I found myself wondering if everyone that I spoke to was nuts", Ruby said. "I wanted to win and wasn't interested in anything about them. It was grotesque."

Changing tack, Ruby found more success by ditching preconceived notions about her interviewees before meeting them and letting the conversation flow. "You know when you are in the flow", she said. "It's like playing jazz."

Humanism, said Ruby, is the glue that binds us together. "Barack Obama has it in spades. He can talk to and relate to anyone. The most powerful thing that man can say is 'I don't know'. Although he can't use that all the time!"

It was an interesting talk with some key points about building trust with people. Relating to others on a very human level, finding out what is interesting about them and sharing vulnerabilities were all key.

"Everyone has a story", Ruby said. "Everyone is interesting. It's up to you to find it. If you can't, that's your problem".

image taken by John R. Rifkin Photographer 020 8958 1370

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Networking his way to a Challenge

I've been giving a lot of talks recently on The Importance of Networking in a Recession. In the talk I focus on the three key ways in which individuals and companies can benefit from networking, becoming better-known, better-equipped and better-connected.

In the audience at my talk last night was Steve Trister, the creator of the £1 Challenge. Steve is completing the London to Southend bike ride later this year and, rather than ask a few close friends and family to sponsor him, has decided to raise £1 million for the British Heart Foundation by asking one million people to each donate £1.

Not a simple challenge. What is interesting is that Steve has used his networks exactly as I described in my talk to take the challenge forward.

The first thing Steve did was to bring his challenge to a peer-support group to which we both belong, Wild Card Pack. The group spent over two hours listening to Steve's aims, asking him a lot of tough questions and then providing ideas and solutions to help him move the challenge forward.

As a result of that support, Steve went forward better-equipped than he had been before, with answers to a lot of questions that he hadn't even thought of before! Inspired by the session and realising he couldn't do it alone, he left to form a team around him, from his network, who would bring the skills to the table that he lacked and would help him achieve his goals.

With the help of that team, and other supporters in his network, Steve then got stuck into the job of raising the profile of the challenge. One team member took the task of publishing regular updates on social networks like Twitter and Facebook, while others commented, shared and retweeted those posts. Friend of Steve's invited him to events they were attending or organising and, where possibly, arranged for him to give a presentation about the challenge.

In fact, over the last month it seems as though I can't go to a networking event without Steve being there! He is certainly using both his networks and other people's to become better-known, something that is vital if the challenge is to succeed.

One of the ideas that came out of the Wild Card Pack brainstorm was the importance of celebrity endorsement. As a result, Steve has reached out to his network to connect with celebrities who have been willing to record short viral videos promoting the challenge.

Celebrities who have contributed to date include the former World Champion athlete Kriss Akabusi, DJ and chart topper Fat Boy Slim, football legends Tony Cottee and Graham Roberts and astrologer Russell Grant. These celebrities, and others who have contributed, have come through referrals from Steve's network, not cold approaches. His networking, coupled with a focused approach and strong message, have helped him to become better-connected.

In just a few weeks over 1,000 individuals have donated £1 each to the challenge. There's still a very long way to go to achieve Steve's goal of raising £1 million, but he's already achieved so much more than he would have done trying to raise some sponsorship on his own.

He's used his networks, and other people's, to ensure the challenge could become better known, that he would be better equipped to deal with the hurdles in his way and to get the connections he needs to drive it forward. It will be an amazing achievement if he succeeds. With the help of those around him, he stands a very good chance.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


This article originally appeared in The National Networker

Last month saw me celebrate a ten-year anniversary. On 11th May 1999 I started work for Business Referral Exchange, then a new networking organisation founded six months previously and with just four groups running in London, Hertfordshire and Essex. At the time networking as a formal activity was little known in the UK, with a few independent groups supplementing the networking offered by Chambers of Commerce and community groups such as Rotary.

How times have changed! Networking is now a key activity for millions of small business owners across the World and, with the rise of social online networks, is being recognised as a key skill for everyone, from jobseekers to global corporates.

Last month’s personal anniversary started me thinking about the changes I have seen in networking in that time, how the popularity of networking has grown and what we can expect over the next decade. Approaches to networking, behaviour within networks and even where we network and with whom have all changed. I still think there is a long journey to travel before everyone who needs to network recognises its true importance and does so effectively and efficiently.

That, I suppose, is why I write this column every month!

Why have we seen such a rapid growth in networking over the last decade? There have been a number of influences on its increased popularity, and our approach to it. These influences have certainly been strong in the UK, although I think similar patterns have explained the same developments in other countries.

The first influence is the growth of micro and small businesses. Large organisations have been downsizing their workforce for some years, predating the current recession. In fact the move away from relying on employees to bringing in contractors has been growing over the last decade. Many people have been encouraged to leave the security of employment in exchange for the greater rewards of contract work, leading to the establishment of thousands of small businesses.

The current economic crisis has accelerated this trend as hundreds of thousands of people have been made redundant. I believe that one of the long-term results of the credit crunch will be a second surge in numbers of small businesses. It is widely recognised that job security no longer exists in the way it has previously and the ability to be responsible for one’s own future has become more attractive.

The upshot of a growth of small businesses is an increase in networking. One man bands and micro businesses do not have the budget for advertising, PR and sales teams that larger organisations have traditionally relied upon. Instead they quickly realise that they have to grow and reach out to a network of others to find clients and develop their business.

Moving away from working within a large team, surrounded by people to turn to when answers are needed, and towards working in their own homes, feeling isolated from the World, also compels people to look towards networks. Networking groups have been increasingly seen not just as a source of new business, but as a replacement for the ‘water cooler moments’ and support systems that a large office provides.

Another key influence on the direction networking has taken has been the increase in social networking technology. Ten years ago there was little to no online networking, other than groups and forums on sites such as Yahoo. Today you get an invitation to a new site almost every day.

The popularity of predominantly social sites such as Facebook and Twitter has brought the benefits of networking into the wider public consciousness and has been reflected in an increased awareness of professional sites such as LinkedIn. You can now find people on LinkedIn who would not have been found on any other network as recently as last year.

The growth of such technology has made networking accessible to many more people. A decade ago networking was purely for business and took place either at breakfast or early evening, excluding many people, predominantly women, with childcare responsibilities. Now you can network at your convenience, at any time of day or night, through online networks.

The growth of online networks will also impact on the willingness of people to network and their behaviour in networks over the coming years. The ‘Millennial’ Generation, or ‘Gen Y’ have grown up with social networks as the norm. They will expect networking as part of their career and job development and more companies will recognise the benefit of collaboration and networks as this generation reaches senior management levels.

What will be interesting will be the impact of new technologies and new generations on behaviour within networks. When I started work in networking many people were driven by short-term sales targets and brief, transactional, interactions. Over the years the importance of relationship building became a higher priority for many and people began to recognise the futility of trying to sell in an environment where people haven’t come to buy, and realise that referrals carry more weight than individual sales.

With the growth of online networks, however, there has been a backward step. Many people treat networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn purely as broadcast tools. They don’t seek to engage people in conversation or build quality relationships. Instead they focus on getting as many connections, friends or followers as possible and rattle out broadcast messages to them.

The more ‘sophisticated’ among the new networkers boast of a strategy where they drive people to their own website and then to ‘squeeze’ pages where they can encourage a transaction. There is little attempt at conversation or education, once more it is all about the sale.

This approach lacks any sustainability. While some people might thrive, as they have done with other related forms of internet marketing, if too many people follow this approach it will turn away newer converts to networking and those who seek relationships. Very few people join networks to be a notch on the bedpost or to be sold to, therefore any network where everyone seeks just to build huge numbers of connections or sell without looking to help others first will lose members rapidly.

Also people will soon become disaffected with the pursuit of numbers as they realise that numbers alone don’t produce benefits, and find how difficult it is to maintain relationships in a network that has grown too large. I have already seen a number of people shelve Facebook and LinkedIn contacts publicly as they attempt to rationalize their networks and more people will begin to do this.

Moving forward, I expect to see a number of changes in networking behaviour over coming years.

The most important change will be a more strategic approach to networking activity. There needs to be a shift from networking as an afterthought, or as a response to invitations, to a goals-oriented networking strategy. People won’t be able to cope with the number of choices available, both online and in person, and will select which networks suit their personal and business goals. They will be happier to commit to those networks which make sense for them and spurn other invitations.

Such an approach will see a growth in niche and peer-group support networks. There has been a growing understanding of the role networking has beyond sales, and how strong that value is. Mastermind groups will grow in popularity and there will be a shift in the ‘numbers’ game, with people preferring smaller networks of like-minded people to getting as many people together as possible.

We will also see more engagement in networking by individuals and large organisations. Women’s groups have led the field in both areas, striving to even out inequalities in business and in the workplace by encouraging women to work together and support each others’ development. Their successes will encourage others to explore the benefits that networking can bring and evidence of someone’s networking activity may soon take pride of place on CVs as people look for their next career move.

Times may have changed over the last decade but there are still many changes to come. Networking has grown in respectability and popularity over that time, the next step is for an increased understanding of the ‘right’ way to network. A move from quantity to quality and from activity-driven to goal-driven networking is the next natural step.

We’re heading in the right direction but there’s still a long way to go.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Standing Room only

I have written before about different ways to engage people at business exhibitions. Visiting different shows over the last year it has been interesting to look at the creativity some companies display in order to attract people to their stands and keep them there.

The traditional routes of hiring attractive models, putting out sweets and offering free pens seem lost among some of the more flamboyant gestures. Certainly taking a stand and sitting behind a table waiting for people to approach you is likely to leave you increasingly lonely and frustrated.

Two clients of mine have taken different approaches to their stands at recent shows that have really paid dividends.

Jim Edgar, Managing Director of CMS, an award winning engineering service provision company, told me about their strategy at a number of shows. I have known Jim for a number of years and worked with him when he was Regional Director of Business Banking for NatWest. Jim has always shown a preference for doing things slightly differently. His approach to exhibitions is no different.

Instead of a stand displaying posters advertising their services, CMS build a 'VIP Bar'. Their representatives then walk around the show giving people invitations to the bar, with specific times on them. Doormen stand at the entrance and the bar is invite only at the times displayed on the invite.

As a result, people feel privileged to be invited and make sure they turn up. After all, that hint of exclusivity can make a huge difference in persuading people that we're worth talking to!

Meanwhile, over in the events industry, The International Special Events Society (ISES)decided to also think creatively before the recent Confex and RSVP events.

At Confex, the theme was a drop-in ideas clinic. Volunteers dressed as medics in their open space in the middle of the show and various experts in different areas of the event industry came along to perform 'surgeries' where people could come along and ask for their advice.

Meanwhile, at RSVP ISES chose a Chinese theme. Offered similar one-to-one session with event experts, visitors to the ISES stand had the chance to 'Join ISES for your events' well-being, creativity and wisdom'.

The key to the ISES stands at both events was the number of their members who volunteered to help. Added to the surgeries it became a meeting place and gave people at the event an opportunity to network with like-minded people, very much in the way that CMS's bar does.

These are just two examples of companies taking a creative approach to getting a return on their investment in exhibitions. With the credit crunch biting at buyers' budgets, that ROI is ever more elusive and it's at times like these that a little bit of imagination goes a long way.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Are you Referral-Aware or do you have a Referral Strategy?

I was discussing referral strategy yesterday with someone I had, appropriately, been referred to by a client. The company are a sales-focused company with a strong referral awareness, yet it became apparent that despite that awareness there is no strategy. That shortcoming is potentially leaving a lot of business untapped.

What was very interesting was the fact that well over 50% of new leads generated comes from cold-calling and, when asked, he was unable to name the company's top referral sources. While the company is referral-aware, the activity they follow is simply asking for a couple of referrals at the end of the meeting. Every member of their team knows that they need to do this yet, as I have discussed elsewhere, while that approach will produce some results, it is far from the most effective tool available.

Towards the end of our conversation we talked about the best ways and times to inspire our clients to refer us.

"It's interesting", he said. "We only ask our top clients to refer us once, and that's when we first meet."

A good referral has two key elements.

- Someone has to have a high degree of trust in you to refer you with confidence. The more they trust you and want to refer you, the more likely they will and that their referrals will convert and you will retain the ongoing business.

- The person referring you knows who you are looking to meet, why they need your help and how you can help them. In short, they understand how to recognise and convert opportunities to refer you.

When you first start working with a client the levels of trust and understanding are a long way short of where you hope they will be as the relationship between you matures. Asking just once, at the start of the relationship, misses the opportunity in two big ways. They are asking when people are less likely/interested in referring them and they are not asking when people like them enough to help and know how to.

Who in your network, or among your clients, knows, likes and trusts you enough to refer you, yet you never ask them? How many people have you asked for referrals before they've had the chance to build that trust or really understand your business? How successful were you?

It's not enough to be referral-aware. You need a referral strategy, or you'll be leaving business untapped and money on the table.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Dangers of Promising Too Much

Do you offer people a reward for people who refer you? If it is a financial one, always be very careful how you do so and manage people's expectations. Otherwise, what you planned as an incentive to refer could backfire dramatically.

I'm sure you've heard the term 'under-promise and over-deliver'. This is perhaps never truer than in referral incentives. If you offer a cash incentive, do you know what people understand by that? It may be that you have a token 'thank-you' in mind, while your referrer is expecting a substantial commission. Is the risk of the subsequent disappointment worth the misunderstanding?

Unless you are entering into a formal commission or affiliate agreement where everything is clearly spelt out up front, it's sometimes best not to offer a financial incentive. Where people would refer you anyway, there may be no point.

Understand the motivation for people who refer you and focus on that. If they want to refer based on the fact that they like and trust you, accept that and thank them. It may be that they want to help their contacts and believe you can do that, if that's the case, make sure you treat their referrals in the best possible way and feed back to them.

If they are a business contact, they would probably appreciate you referring them much more than a cheque.

There are so many motivations that are stronger than money, and so few that can potentially harm a relationship more. Bear this in mind next time you offer a financial incentive to refer. If you still do so be very clear about what you are offering and communicate that effectively.