Monday, November 30, 2009

Does networking lead to people taking each other for granted?

While one of the biggest, and most often overlooked, benefits of networking is the development of a trusted network of suppliers for your business, it can become all too easy to take people for granted and have unreasonable expectations from them.

It appears that networking has generated a sub-culture of expecting people to do something for nothing. From the graphic designer friend of mine who was approached on Twitter by one of their followers to 'take five minutes to look at my logo' to organisations who ask professional speakers to plan, prepare and deliver talks for no cost, 'because it will be good marketing', people are increasingly dismissing the background work and expertise that go into providing a quality service.

Perhaps the root of this is the relationships that need to be developed as you build your network. I am continually urging my clients to build both trust and understanding among their network if they want to benefit from referrals, so it's a natural extension that they should give away their expertise to showcase their work....isn't it?

The danger, however, is that people's work and expertise becomes devalued. One of the major effects of the growth of social media is the amount of information that is given away for free, information that people would have paid for previously. Has this led to a situation where people are less likely to pay for the support they need because they feel entitled to receive it for nothing?

I was sent an interesting video last week by pricing expert Cliff Burgin. In the video, produced by Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, Dan Ariely talks about 'The Cost of Social Norms'. Ariely looks at how money can get in the way of social relationships and how we will happily do favours for our personal friends and family without charging for that.

In the video, Ariely says "We live in two worlds. We live in a social world where we do things for people as favours.....and we live in a financial world where we work for money. When the two worlds are seperate everything is fine. But when you try to mix things something happens, and that thing is usually not very good."

As people build relationships with people in their networks, those lines get very blurry. I have built strong friendships with people I have met through my networking, in some cases to the point where the personal relationship is more important than the professional connection. With many business-to-business service providers networking together, expectations of free support from each other are bound to grow.

And there's definitely a place for this. What is important is the definition of the term 'free'. An exchange of value that doesn't include money is common place now, with services being provided as a contra between two companies. But for the relationship to remain robust it has to be two-way.

What concerns me is that expectations of one-way support are growing, people's businesses, expertise and time are not valued in the way they used to be by others in their network and ultimately this can lead to a breakdown, rather than growth, in trust.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A game of cards?

Who wins the business card game?

In the early days of BRE we would start launch meetings of new groups with an ice breaker. Everyone present would have a few minutes to meet, and exchange business cards with, as many other people as possible. The people who had collected the most cards would be considered to be the winners and we presented them with a nice branded business card holder.

I soon stopped the practice when I realised that it sent out all of the wrong messages. After all, is there anything worse in networking events than people who run around like crazy trying to pass out and collect as many cards as they possibly can, never stopping to engage in conversation or find out something about anyone else in the room?

A reader of this blog was telling me this week about an event she recently attended where the same ice breaker was employed. Unimpressed, she decided to remain in her seat rather than join in with the game. The person who had been sitting next to her handed her his card before leaving to distribute his cards more widely. A couple of minutes later he came up to her and tried to pass his card across again. He had completely forgotten that they had already spoken and exchanged cards!

To me, an exchange of business cards should put the seal on a conversation, as a signal of the intent to build on the initial interaction. The example above shows the flipside, collecting cards without any meaningful interaction has the same benefits as picking names from the phone book.

The winner at networking events is the person pursuing conversations, not cards.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The dangers of using LinkedIn without understanding why.....

The rapid growth in the popularity of LinkedIn has led to lots of people setting up their profiles, building their networks and asking for testimonials without any clear idea of how that network can then help them get the job or the connections they are looking for.

I wonder if the authors of this wonderful cartoon have had a similar this really the best way to use LinkedIn?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Connecting is not Enough.... The Newsletter

The latest edition of 'Connecting is not Enough' is out now. The newsletter, packed with tips and hints on effective networking includes:

- Cultural differences when networking

- How to spot a good referral networking group

- Profile v Reputation on online networks

- The anatomy of a referral (part one)

As usual, there's a little bit of fun in there too. This time out, we share some extreme sheepherding. And there aren't a lot of networking newsletters that can say that!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Networking for Life

On Monday evening I was delighted to be invited along to the 10th Anniversary of the Precious Online Awards Dinner. The awards celebrate the achievements of women of colour in business and leadership.

It was inspiring to listen to the winners as they accepted their awards. What really struck me was that the real nuggets came not from the guest speakers but from the award winners themselves. One of my favourite quotes of the evening from one winner was, "Anything is've just got to work bloody hard to get it!"

Before the presentation of the main award, PRECIOUS Entrepreneur of the Year, the 2008 winners Natasha Faith and Semhal Zemikael who run a semi-precious jewellery business La Diosa, told the audience how the experience had affected them over the last twelve months.

Both Natasha and Semhal, like many of the women present, are young entrepreneurs in the early stages of their careers. Natasha talked about how supportive other women in the room and in the network had been and the friends she had made in the year since the last awards ceremony.

What was important, according to Natasha, was that such support and friendship should continue outside the event itself. "We have an opportunity to grow together and network for life", she told the audience.

Such long-term thinking about the power of networks is still rare. As networks have matured, we have the opportunity not just to make the connections to help us in our business now, but to surround ourselves with people who can support us throughout our careers. People we can grow together with, share our challenges and our achievements and with whom we have the chance to develop such a bond of trust that the support we can offer each other becomes limitless.

If you haven't done so already, look to your network and recognise those people who are of the same generation and who share the same vision as you. Ask yourself the difference it will make to you if you network with them not just for a year, but for many years to come.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Networking Tips Competition

I recently ran a competition through Twitter, Facebook and through my newsletter for people to win tickets to this week's Entrepreneurs in London event. To win, I invited readers to submit their best networking tip.

Congratulations to Stirling Murray, Sarah Decent and Steve Short who each won a ticket and to Anne Whatley, who was originally selected as a winner but who couldn't make the event.

Here are a selection of some of the best entries.

Getting stuck in conversation with someone when you really want to move on can be difficult to break without appearing rude.

My strategy is to say “Lets network with that group over there”. Move next to them, wait for the intro and then join the conversation.

When all talking together I can then make my excuses and move on.

I then get to talk to someone else and no-one in the group I’ve just left feels either rebuffed or offended.

It works because you never end up leaving someone alone feeling stranded.

Jonathan Wainwright
FCG Consultancy Ltd

Always network with passion, putting out what you want to get back!
It’s a winner!!

Ashley Blackmore

My top tip is for anyone who is about to attend a network for the first time. Something I've found very helpful to prepare myself for that daunting first meeting is to take a look at what the other members of the network do. I then have a think about ways in which I may be able to help them, particularly wrt potential referrals.

Not only does this make you look like a superb networker, it also can settle the nerves a bit as you'll know that you'll always have something to talk about that will be interesting to your fellow networkers, namely themselves and ways in which they can get some additional business!

Sarah Decent
Owner, Modish

A good tip for someone who is new to networking and is shy and reserved (just like me) !! and is not comfortable with approaching people/groups is to get to the event nice and early before anyone else and then the first person to arrive will go to you!

Steve Short
Comedy and Close Up Magic

Always be neat, tidy and dressed to represent your personality, so you feel comfortable and confident.

Walk in with confidence, smile, be enthusiastic show interest in others and they should show interest in you and then move on!

Angela Marshall
Appearance Management

(The woman responsible for the way I look!)

Maintain Eye Contact whether it’s a meeting that lasts 30 seconds or 30 minutes. It’s the best measure of sincerity and passion!!

Stirling Murray
CEO The Core Business plc

I like to write notes on the back of a contacts card in front of them before we part. I think it shows a level of commitment and interest in them and what they do. People remember you for that, as they will undoubtably be swapping many cards on a networking night, this marks out the experience for them.

Asif Mirza

Never dismiss anyone as unhelpful to you because of what they do - you never know who they know - and you never know who in your network might need them at some stage so you can make an introduction!

Embrace everyone you meet equally!

Anne Whatley

Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter and share their tips. Please share your own networking tips by commenting on this blog.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What do I have to give?

During my trip to Stockholm this week, I met with a 26 year old entrepreneur. Johan has just moved to Stockholm from his home in the South of Sweden and has a limited network. He is marketing a product to the Marketing Directors of major FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies and is being encouraged to build his network in order to get the connections he needs.

As we sat down to chat, Johan immediately told me his biggest challenge. "I am only 26, I don't know many people. I understand the importance of being able to help other people before asking for their help, but I'm not sure I have much to give."

This was a problem I heard many times during my time with BRE, and have written about before. As far as I am concerned, Johan has already overcome his major obstacle.

As long as you are willing and prepared to help other people in your network, then people will be happy to help you. They can tell who is genuinely interested in them, even if they are not in a position to help immediately, and who is 'hunting' for what they can take.

Experienced and well-connected business people networking with a 26 year old new to the City will not expect Johan to be in a position to help them at the moment but many will be more than happy to help him. It may be that they benefited from such advice and connections when they were younger. They may see future benefits from associating with someone who is likely to develop their business, they may just hope that he will do the same for another young entrepreneur in the future.

Having the right mindset is the most important thing, even if the opportunities to help are not there yet. Besides, show a real interest in other people and you may be surprised just how much you do have to give.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to network with busy people

In his personal development blog, American self-help guru Steve Pavlina has run a series of articles talking about how to approach busy people in a way that yields results.

Pavlina correctly points out that the more successful people are, the harder it becomes for them to keep up with the weight of their inbox. As they become involved in social networks and associated forums, it becomes even more difficult to respond to everyone who wants some of their time. This leads to people becoming disillusioned when they don't get a response.

If you're serious about engaging with successful people, it's important to stand out from the crowd. So many people still send connection requests on LinkedIn, Facebook, Ecademy and other social networks without comment. They expect people to respond without giving them a reason to do so.

Challenge them intellectually, ask the right questions, share some new ideas. Do something to make them sit up and take notice of your approach. Remember that the vast majority of non-urgent emails will be deleted without consideration. As Pavlina points out, that becomes inevitable if successful people are to remain on top of the game.

Above all, understand what will motivate them to want to network with you. Most people think the other way around, and then wonder why they're not successful.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Safety in Numbers....the networking benefits to sharing an office.

In Saturday's Financial Times, Jonathan Moules asked for my advice to accompany an article about the benefits for small businesses of sharing an office.

I talked about three major benefits for small businesses working together:

1 - Taking advantage of economies of scale when sourcing suppliers, leading to cost savings and better support.

2 - Combining resources to tender together for larger projects than they could manage on their own.

3 - Sharing challenges and getting feedback from other entrepreneurs in a similar situation.

You can read my comments in full here.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Why would people want to connect you?

I've noticed an interesting trend in the Who Do You Know Who Club on Ecademy recently. The Club is set up for people to ask for connections and fellow members to offer the relevant introductions.

There have been a number of requests that have been very specific in terms of who people want to speak to (which is excellent) but which have had little to no response.

If you ask people for a connection, you need to say why. And not why you want the connection but why that person would want to be introduced to you.

Put yourself in the shoes of the people you are asking. They may have good routes through to the person you want to meet but if they don't know why you want to be connected, how likely would they be to take the next steps? Particularly if, as in a social networking forum, they might not know you well.

Make the introduction easy for people to make by giving them a compelling reason to speak to their contacts and the confidence that their contact would appreciate the effort and the connection.

Monday, November 02, 2009

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Anatomy of a Referral (Part One)

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

Growing a business without developing a flow of good quality referrals can be tough. Yet so many companies try to do so.

Last month I was working with a manufacturing company. Owned by a larger US organisation, the chances are that they wouldn’t be in business without external support from the parent company. They have been making a loss for over two years and last year made most of their sales team redundant, losing a number of clients in the process.

Around the same time they brought in a new Managing Director with the remit to turn the fortunes of the business around. That would be a tough enough job for anyone in the circumstances, it’s proven to be even more so in the current economic climate.

The Managing Director asked me to come in and work with his sales team and help them gain an understanding of how networking could help them turn the tide.

Most of their business has come through existing customers re-ordering or purchasing new products. There is very little external business and most of what has come in has been attracted through their website. There has been very little pro-activity from the sales team to bring in new business. Referrals certainly haven’t been on the agenda.

It was very interesting to look at the reports the MD showed me. The company has been meticulous in tracking all sources of business. At a glance you can tell what business came through existing customers, cold calling and from the website. But there was no recognition of referrals in the report. They hadn’t even mentioned them.

I asked the team to share the last time they received a referral. The first person to answer had been with the company for eighteen months. He had received one ‘referral’ in that time, over a year ago. There was a similar story from others in the group.

Clearly, this company needs a change in focus. Referrals quite simply haven’t been on the agenda. In fact, I quickly identified that there is even a lack of understanding of what a referral is. When the sales team talked about ‘referrals’ they had received, they talked about when an existing customer moved companies and invited them to tender in their new role, or when one person told another that they were a company who could help.

Much like people who try to give out two or three business cards to everyone they meet in the hope that they will be passed on, there is a clear misunderstanding of exactly what a referral is. This is a common problem. When I was Managing Director of Business Referral Exchange, I often found myself frustrated with seeing members pass each other phone numbers to cold call under the guise of a ‘referral’.

What is a referral?

If you are going to introduce a strong referrals strategy into your business, take some time to understand exactly what you are looking for. There are various pieces of business information that can help you develop and generate sales, but they are not all referrals.


A Tip is quite simply a piece of information, nothing more than that. No individual names or contact details are passed; you may not even know there is a need for your services. A commercial estate agent might like to know that a company is moving, a speaker that a conference is imminent, a lawyer that a merger is imminent.

We can all be helped by knowing more information about prospective clients. With a tip, we have to do all of the subsequent leg work ourselves.

With a lead you have some more information. A name and phone number perhaps. According to Wikepedia, a lead ‘represents the first stage of a sales process’. There is still a lot of work to do but you are a step further ahead.

When someone in your network gives you a name and a number and says ‘you need to speak to this person’, they are giving you a lead. If they invite you to use their name when approaching the prospect, that is simply a warm lead.

Most commonly mistaken for referrals, a recommendation involves someone telling your prospect that they should consider using your services. Wonderful when it happens… long as your prospect then follows through and contacts you. Until the telephone rings, recommendations hold little value.

Three Steps to Referral Heaven

There are ‘Three Steps to Referral Heaven’.

STEP ONE – The person referring you identified someone who has a problem you may be able to solve.

STEP TWO – They talk to your prospect, who is interested in speaking with you.

STEP THREE – Your prospect is expecting your call.

Referrals are the best form of business information you can receive. Like a recommendation, they are more powerful than tips or leads because your prospect knows about you in advance of your conversation. Unlike a recommendation, you are in control of the conversation; rather than you waiting for the telephone to ring, your prospect is expecting your call.

Where companies go so wrong is for accepting tips, leads and recommendations when they could improve the quality of information they receive. If someone offers you a tip, try to find out more. If they give you a name and a number, ask if they could introduce you. Similarly, if they tell you they have recommended you, ask if you can be introduced.

After all, if someone likes and trusts you enough to share such information or recommend you, would they be willing to take the next step and make it easier for you?

That third step, that your prospect is expecting your call, makes such a difference. However well meaning an introduction where you can use someone’s name to open the conversation, unsolicited calls are very difficult to make. When someone calls you out of the blue, how receptive are you to what they have to say?

Few of us can honestly admit to being completely open when that happens, particularly if we are busy when the phone rings. We like to know in advance why people are calling us and that it is in our interest to have a discussion with them. Otherwise we tend to be, by nature, defensive.

The Difference a referral can make

One of the salesmen in my client’s company currently spends at least one day a week simply making sales calls. I asked him how many meetings he sets up each week on average as a result of this activity. He is getting three meetings.

I then asked how many of those meetings are converting to new business, he couldn’t answer, the number is so low.

While cold calling has a place in lead generation for many companies, I would argue that there is a much more efficient use of his time. He certainly isn’t boasting an impressive return on the time he is currently investing on the phone.

We discussed the alternative of spending a day a week building relationships with potential referral sources, deepening and strengthening the ties within his network. Surely from such activity, and with the focus on asking for the right introductions, he would be able to generate more than three meetings a week. And the chance of converting those meetings into business and, indeed, further referrals would be much greater.

Why am I so confident about this? It’s simple. Referrals introduce you to people who have recognised they have a problem you could possibly solve. Those people have been told about you by a third party who has recommended your services. That gives them greater confidence in using you, they are not entering the unknown.

I’m not, however, telling you anything you don’t already know. Just like my client, however, you may not be focusing enough on it within your business. With the right approach, how much of a difference could you make to your bottom line?

In Part Two of this article next month, we’ll look at who you can ask for referrals, how to make it as easy as possible for people to refer you and the importance of tracking the results.