Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shy Bairns Get Nowt

I had a great day in Newcastle yesterday, giving a presentation on referral generation to a small group of start up businesses, before speaking to an audience of over 100 local businesses at the Service Network Summer Party.

On my journey between the two presentations, my taxi driver nearly had me getting him to turn around and take me straight to the station. After all, it seemed my presence might not be necessary.

We were talking about travelling on business and being in hotels on your own. "It's never a problem for us Geordies", he told me, "We'll talk to anyone, anytime."

As I was giving a presentation on overcoming the fear of networking, I wasn't sure there would be much for the audience to learn!

"We have a saying up here", he carried on. "Shy bairns get nowt!" (Literal translation, "shy babies get nothing.) "I used to tell my kids to ask me if they wanted something. After all, if they thought I was going to say no anyway, they might be pleasantly surprised."

I have been to Newcastle on many occasions but had never heard this phrase before. It's clearly very popular though, I only had to start repeating the story to the audience before they completed the phrase for me.

It's not a bad mantra to live your life by. Next time you go to a networking event remember the Geordie advice. Move out of your comfort zone, approach someone you don't know and make a new friend. You never know what might happen.

And remember, shy bairns get nowt

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do You Feel Lucky?

Luck has come up a lot in conversation in the last week or so. How much of our business success do we put down to good fortune and to what extent are we able to create our own luck?

The subject originally came up in a meeting with a prospective client a couple of weeks ago. The Marketing Director told me her biggest problem. As a department they were creating a number of opportunities for the senior people in their company, inviting all of the 'right' people along to events that they host but their team were failing to engage in the right conversation, not following up and making no attempt to build the relationship further.

"In fact", she went on to say, "when they do get a good connection that leads to business, they put it down to serendipity".

This got me thinking about some of the milestones in my career. Each time I have acheived something of which I could justifiably be proud, I have always looked for some external factor beyond my control to explain it. In other words, I've looked to blame it on 'luck'.

For example, when I left my position of Managing Director of BRE to set up my networking strategy consultancy I was 'lucky' enough to have a strong connection with a Regional Director of NatWest who instantly wanted me to work with his team.

When I have had national media coverage in papers such as The Sun, The Financial Times and The Sunday Times I have been 'lucky' enough to have connections either at each paper or one step away from the relevant journalists.

In truth, how lucky have I been? I talk about and teach the art of building relationships and asking for referrals. Yet when I personally benefit from support from those people with whom I've built relationships, I'm quick to dismiss it as luck. The truth is that I've got the connections I've been looking for because I've been focused on them, built the network around me to reach out to them and understood how to ask.

That's not lucky at all, it's a strategic approach to networking. In a workshop I ran yesterday one of the participants turned to another and said, "this is fine, but we get business from our networking anyway, without any of this planning."

That may be the case, but how much more business can you get if you focus? How much more 'luck' will come your way if you have a clear vision of who you want to speak to and connect to the people who can introduce you?

In a coaching session last week I asked my client where she wants her business to be in one year's time. She didn't know the answer, but it will be a success she said, "fingers crossed".

Stop relying on, or blaming, luck for your success or failure. Take the time to focus on what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. Set clear goals in your mind and then communicate them clearly to the people who want to help you.

Serendipity doesn't come into it. You can create your own good luck and, with the right level of focus, you can be very lucky.

As the famous golfer Gary Player said, "The harder I practice, the luckier I get".

Monday, August 24, 2009

Establish Contacts - Mike Southon's column in the Financial Times

Mike Southon, best selling author of 'Beermat Entrepreneur' and the other Beermat books, recently interviewed me for his weekly column in the Financial Times.

In the article, 'Making Contacts', Mike talked to me about the need to generate a strong referral strategy and making the most of the connections you have.

You can read Mike's article here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Connecting is not Enough.....the newsletter

This week's newsletter is now available online here.


- Business card etiquette, where so many get it wrong

- It's about networks, not networking

- The right profile for the right online network

- Networking for graduates

- Beyond the Boys Club review

Monday, August 17, 2009

Labour Appoint 'Twitter Tsar'

The Guardian report this morning that Labour have appointed a 'Twitter Tsar' to encourage their MPs and candidates to embrace social media in the run up to the General Election.

After the success of last week's 'We Love the NHS' campaign, political parties are beginning to recognise the power of social media as a tool to engage with a disaffected electorate and to create a viral effect to take their campaigns into homes in a way never previously possible.

Political leaders have been heavily criticised in recent years for being remote from their electorate. Social media offers an immediacy and opportunity to engage that has been lacking, and an increasing number of politicians have been adopting social media independently.

It has taken the parties a long time to completely embrace this change. First signs came over two years ago, led by Barack Obama in the States but also by some parties in the UK. I first wrote about the trend in March 2007, here.

It will be interesting to see how effectively Labour, and their New Media Campaigns Spokeperson, Kerry McCarthy MP, use such tools, and how the Conservatives respond, despite their leader's recent public criticism of Twitter.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Do you Come Here Often?" The ten best (and worst) ways to start a networking conversation

Following a recent comment on this blog, I promised to suggest some good icebreakers to start conversations at networking events.

Rather than just share my own thoughts, I thought I would poll a few of you and find out how you go about it. I asked the question on Twitter, on my Facebook page and through my newsletter. Thank you for all of the responses, with a diverse and interesting range of approaches and stories being sent in.

1 - What do you do?

One of the most common suggestions was to ask the question "What do you do?". Regular readers may know that this approach is one of my pet hates! To me, "what do you do?" is the networking equivalent of asking an attractive woman "do you come here often?" when you see her in a bar! You're not genuinely interested in the answer, it's just a way to get chatting.

In other words, it's an icebreaker, and that's fine. After all, icebreakers are what we are discussing here. However, do you really want "what do you do?" to be asked of you as an icebreaker, when the person asking isn't interested in the response? I know I don't. I want people to have a genuine interest when they ask me that, based on having got to know me and a desire to know more. However generous our spirit when we attend events, we are rarely in that position as soon as we approach people.

Let's focus on building the relationship with people first, find out who we have a rapport with and develop that before worrying about what each of us does. This approach comes from a belief that you pursue the relationship, not the sale, when networking and knowing what comes first.

2 - You had me at 'Hello'

There is a danger that we can spend too much time worrying about how to open a conversation and practising great icebreakers, overcomplicating a very simple process.

Fellow Twitter user David C Nicoll says "'Hello' works very well for me'" and often it is as straightforward as approaching someone and introducing yourself.

Newsletter subscriber John MacMillan agrees. "I've always found "Hello, I'm John McMillan" works as an introduction for me. (Remember 'The name's Bond, James Bond'?) I've had advice to make small talk first. Personally I'm bad at small talk. I guess what really matters is what YOU find comfortable."

Small talk shouldn't be too difficult if you can follow up that 'hello' with some interesting questions and build the conversation from there. As a simple technique to start a conversation, however, a simple 'hello' and introduction is hard to beat.

3 - You look like you've had enough!

Arvind Devalia commented on my Facebook page about how he likes to share his suffering! "If a person looks bored, I say something like 'You look like you have had enough too!' Good one towards the end of the event."

Although I wouldn't encourage anyone to go out to be deliberately negative (and I know Arvind wouldn't either), if someone genuinely looks fed up and you're offering to rescue them, that's certainly a good rapport builder. Make sure you turn the conversation to a positive subject quickly though, and I would also strongly suggest that you know they're not the host before approaching them!

4 - People don't network for solitude

It often pays to look for people who are standing on their own, after all it's unlikely that they've chosen to attend a networking event because they want their own space. Approach them and ask if you can join them, they're probably nervous about approaching strangers and you will be doing them a big favour.

There are always exceptions to prove the rule, however. Another contributor on my Facebook page, Jacey Lamerton, got an unexpected response when she tried this at one event. "I once went up to the only other lone person at an event and said: 'Hi, I'm Jacey and I don't know anyone here either.' He turned to me and said 'Oh I know everyone in the room. I just don't want to speak to anyone.'

"What a killer. What makes it even funnier (looking back) is that it was Rodney Bewes from The Likely Lads!"

5 - You look successful....

Back to Twitter responses, and an interesting one from Neville Spiers. I'm not sure if Neville's suggestion is slightly tongue in cheek when he proposes the opener of "you look hugely successful - come and talk to me!" I certainly hope so! However, he has touched on a very good approach, which has been picked up by two other respondents, and that is....

6 - Pay them a compliment

Both Elaine Hanzak and Jacey Lamerton wrote about the benefits of complimenting someone's choice of clothing or accessory. Elaine said, "From a female point of view one of the easiest ways to initiate conversation with another woman is to compliment her on an item of clothing, bag, etc (maybe not a necklace!!). It creates instant warmth and a smile."

Similarly, Jacey also finds this approach useful, particuarly as she is a style coach, so slightly sneaky!

7 - The name game

Speaker and Author Mindy Gibbbins-Klein, who used to be an Area Director for BNI, sent me her top tip for opening conversations at networking events.

"Find someone wearing a name badge and say their name out loud. "Christina, is it?" This simple approach has so many advantages. 1) They will say 'yes', which is a good way to start a conversation; 2) They will feel good because people like hearing their own name (unless you've mispronounced it, in which case they will correct you and you can try again); and 3) You probably need to say their name a few times to remember it, so you have one under your belt already!"

Dale Carnegie said 'The sweetest sound to any man is the sound of his own name'. Repeating people's names when you first meet them helps to create a warmth and, as Mindy says, makes it easier for you to remember later on.

8 - Eating out

More than one person pointed out the fact that everyone at some point gravitates towards the food or to the bar. Many conversations are struck up in those areas, as people move away from groups and are open to fresh connections.

I wouldn't suggest hanging out there all evening though, it's a sure way to break your diet and people might get the wrong impression about you!

9 - It's all we English talk about!

We Brits seem to have a reputation for talking about the weather or the traffic and I think there's a good reason for that. We know that we share them in common.

One of the main reasons I urge people not to ask 'What do you do?' is because you can't guarantee that the response will be something you can relate to. However, disastrous journey stories and discussions about the weather seem to have a knack of opening new conversations.

Speak about the journey and you can find where someone has come from and the conversation can take a range of directions from there.

Newsletter subscriber Katrina Dixon seems to be intent on creating horror journey stories for when she finally reaches her destination. "I went to the London Chambers Lunch Event yesterday and my opening concerned the venue, as I foolishly decided to drive to the Novotel Excel and couldn't find the place! With no SatNav, I almost gave up and went home!

"This morning I went to BNI and my opening was again about my journey as I discovered as I got on the tube that I had forgotten my phone!

"These openings perhaps don't reflect well on my organisational skills, but I guess I'm leaning towards a circumstantial opening about the journey/venue etc these days. They seemed to break the ice anyway."

10 - Do you come here often?

Finally, believe it or not, this is my favourite, as Tweeter Emma Fryer puts it "the old classic 'Do you come here often?'" It may not be that effective as a chat up line in bars (maybe that's why I'm single!)but it's a great question to ask at networking events.

You may not use those exact words but asking people if they are a member of the network, if they are a first time guest, who invited them or why they have come along can create a very positive conversation. You are likely to find out things in common, such as reasons for being there, people you both know, similar experiences of other networks.

After all, isn't that what you're trying to achieve? Building relationships means finding rapport and finding things in common. Asking people what they do doesn't guarantee that, but asking about something you know you have in common, such as the event you are at, will at least get you off to the right start.

From there on in, it's down to you. Once you have broken the ice carrying on with the conversation means listening carefully, asking questions and showing a genuine interest in the other person. It's good to give yourself a positive start though.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Connecting is not Enough.....the newsletter

You can read last week's Connecting is not Enough newsletter here.


- Getting back in touch with old friends
- Endorsements that count
- How to get the most out of networking video

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Top Ten Ways to Ensure Your Networks are More Effective and Produce Results

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

Last month I wrote in my blog about a friend of mine who struggles to get any return from his networking despite always being generous with his time, his contacts and his support.

I got a lot of feedback on the piece, with many people either recognizing themselves, or people they know well, in the description of my friend.

So why do so many people struggle to attain a real return from their networking? There are a host of possible reasons but I thought this might be a good time to share some ways in which you can get more of a return from your networking.

Take a long-term view

When I was MD of Business Referral Exchange someone came to us wanting to open a group in his local area. At the time we insisted that a group needed fifteen members to start meeting. It took him time to recruit and when he had eight he came to us to beg to be able to open the group.

“I need business NOW”, he said.

My advice was to pick up the phone and cold call. If you need an immediate return, networking is not the tool for you. Networks are built over time, trust is a key factor in people recommending and referring you, and it does not appear over night. Patience is a key factor, as is a long-term view.

Long-termism in networking also allows you to think on a grander scale. As you develop and build your network, investing into the ‘emotional bank account’, you are creating a stronger bank of support to withdraw from when you need to. If you take from the very beginning, people will soon stop networking with you.

Define success

Are you clear in your mind what success looks like from your networking?

It is vital that you understand exactly what new business you want to generate, which introductions you need, what support you are looking for. Once you are completely focused on this in your mind, you will find it much easier to determine which events you should attend, recognise opportunities when they come along and to clearly communicate to others how they can help you.

Hone your message

If you’re not getting support and referrals from people in your network, stop blaming them and look at yourself.

How well are you expressing yourself? How easy do you make it for people to support you?

We all lead very busy lives. As much as we want to support those closest to us, the harder it is to do so, the more likely we will move on and do other things. Make it simple for people. Communicate the support you need, be very specific and, above anything else, when someone is in a position to help you, ask them. Don’t simply assume that they will recognise the opportunity to help you if you don’t point it out.

Of course, this step only works if you have built the relationship with them first and they want to help you.

Stay with it

A short-term view in networking unfortunately leads to people writing off various groups and networking sites before giving them a chance to produce a return. Although things are improving, there are still people who attend groups seeking a set number of leads, rather than treating each event as a step in the right direction. As a result, they end up visiting lots of different meetings, collecting bundles of business cards and never building relationships.

If you have taken the advice above and set longer term objectives, you can join the right networks to take you there, with a clear idea of the commitment needed from you to achieve those goals. It is rare that a network will produce to its full potential in the first few months of membership.

Engage, don’t broadcast

The growth of sites like Twitter has shown both the best and worst of networking. At its worst, there are people who use sites like this to simply broadcast their message, without listening.

Just as with event sponsors who expect people to buy from them just because they have a stand and a couple of minutes to plug their product at an event, they will be disappointed when the results aren’t quite what they had hoped for.

Networks have moved us towards a society where communication is two-way rather than one. Companies have to listen to their customers now, rather than just sell to them. Similarly, we need to engage with people in our networks, listen to them and join in conversations.

As people find out more about us and as we help them more, they then let us know when they are ready to listen to us and possibly buy from us or pass our message onto our target market.

Give and take

‘Givers Gain’ is the mantra of members of Business Network International (BNI) and both sides of that equation are equally important.

Thanks to BNI’s motto, it is now commonly recognised that you need to give to your network before you can expect to receive. And those gifts you offer should be without expectation of return; networks don’t always deliver your reward from the same direction in which you gave.

Where many networkers fall down however, is in being ready to take in return. We can be in so much danger of not being seen to ‘hunt’ that we are frightened to ask for help when people are ready and willing to offer it.

Know who wants to support you in your network and understand how they can. Then help them to do so and accept their help without guilt.

A wider perspective

The power of networks lies not in the people in our immediate vicinity but in those they know. And that power is exponential. If we have a strong relationship with 150 people, who each know 150 people well, that means we are within one strong introduction of 22,500 people.

Yet so many people can’t see beyond the person in front of them. They go to events and target ‘low hanging fruit’, talking about products in the lower range of their offering because they think those are more relevant to the attendees at those events, or turning down invitations because they won’t meet prospective clients.

Build relationships with people you get on with and don’t ever worry about selling to them. Instead, develop their trust and they will introduce you to the people they know.

If they are ever in a position to buy from you themselves, if you have developed the right levels of trust and understanding they will do so. In the meantime, they could be referring you to a number of their contacts, which could be a lot more valuable to your business.

Everyone’s an individual

Just because you have built your network to large numbers, it doesn’t mean that they will all act in the same way and respond to the same requests.

I received some national press coverage last year because someone in my network asked how he could help me. Instead of reeling off a list of prospects I’d like to meet, I mentioned that I’d like to build my media coverage. Why? Because he was the former executive editor of a national newspaper. I knew he would be comfortable referring me to someone else from the media.

Get to know your network as individuals. Offer support based on their specific needs; ask for support based on their individual ability to help or their circle of influence.

It’s not about YOU

“I want to talk to xxx because we want to work with that sector more”.

I have heard so many requests for introductions over the years which focus on why the person wants the introduction, not on the value they offer to the person they are asking to be introduced to. Remember the all important words, ‘What’s in it for them?’

When someone agrees to introduce you, they are going to enter into a conversation where you are not present. They need to be able to answer the questions that they will face confidently and leave the other person interested in speaking to you and eagerly waiting for your call. That means that they see your relevance to them, how you are going to solve their problem.

Focus on communicating that relevance effectively and people will find it so much easier to refer you.

Take risks

‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’, as the old saying goes. If you are going to maximize your return from networking, you are going to have to get out of your comfort zone and take some risks.

These include:

- Approaching people you don’t know at networking events
- Risking losing referrals by being specific, rather than covering everything when explaining what you do
- Passing up a quick sale to build a long-term relationship
- Using social networks occasionally to tell people about your successes or ask for help

Whatever the risk may be, look at what you want to achieve and ask yourself a simple question.

Which approach is going to take you closer to your goal?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Endorsements that Count

Online networks have made a telling contribution to business marketing in so many ways over recent years. One way they have done this is to raise the importance of, and ease of gathering, business testimonials.

On sites like LinkedIn and Ecademy, people can leave a testimonial for you at any time. LinkedIn has the added advantage of allowing you to decide whether or not to display that testimonial and even ask for edits.

So, what makes a testimonial valuable? While it might be nice for people to share what a great person you are, how good it has been to connect with you or how helpful you have been, do these testimonials really add much value if read by prospective clients?

The best testimonials are those which clearly demonstrate the effect you have had on a client. What problem did you solve and what benefit did they have as a result of using your services?

I occasionally get asked on LinkedIn to provide a testimonial for someone whose services I have had no commercial experience of. What value can I add in such a testimonial? I can repeat hearsay at best. When asking people to provide endorsements, approach those who can add value.

The acid test, when a prospective client or Champion reads the testimonial, should be the impact it will have on their decision to connect with you.