Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Brand New Website! The blog moves here...

I'm delighted to announce today the launch of our brand new website. You can reach the site at www.lopata.co.uk.

Future blogs will now be posted on the new website, you can reach the blogs at http://www.lopata.co.uk/blog. The archive of blogs will remain on the current site for the moment.

In addition to the blogs, you can also access latest posts from The National Networker and Fresh Business Thinking, videos from my YouTube channel and useful links to networking and general business sites I recommend.

Of course, you can also find more about what I do and who I do it for as well as purchase resources to help you network more effectively.

Thanks to Rubber Cheese for designing the new site and Hatton Marketing for building it.

Please subscribe to the RSS feed on the new site to keep on receiving notifications of new blogs. We will be adding other subscription options to the blog. And please tell your network to pay us a visit!

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Question of Trust : A Conversation with Vanessa Hall Part Two

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

Last month I introduced you to Vanessa Hall, the award-winning speaker and author of Trust in Business. Vanessa outlined her model for understanding the foundations of trust and what you need to do to maintain trust in business relationships and ensure it doesn't erode and destroy relationships.

In the second part of the interview I asked Vanessa to elaborate on the role of trust in referral relationships and how to approach referrals with trust in mind.

A: In my new book I’ve been talking about how a trusted introduction can help a salesperson reach their prospect far more easily than cold calling and trying to get past the ‘gatekeeper’. Clearly that’s valuable for the salesperson, but how can the person passing the referral protect the trust they have with the prospect?

V: One of the key things about referred trust that I talk about is understanding both the benefits but also the risks involved, so we have to be quite careful when we’re referring someone else to somebody with whom we have a trust relationship.  This is where my theory of situational trust comes in as well. One of the important things which a lot of people don’t do when they’re giving referrals is to understand in what situation or what context does their trust relationship with this person exist.

Often what happens, for example, is that I might know somebody through the fact that our kids play soccer together. There’s a trust relationship that’s been built around picking up kids, dropping them off, those sorts of things. There’s still a trust there, but it’s very specific to that particular situation. If I refer somebody into that person, somebody else with whom I have an element of trust, but they’re looking for a business type referral, the person who we’re referring them to trusts me more from a social context. If I’m not clear about who this person is that I’m referring them to and why I’m referring them you can actually open yourself up to some confusion.

In understanding the situational trust that exists between two people we can also begin to develop and understand the expectations that we have, and the expectations that the person referring into them might have as well. The process of referrals works much better when you acknowledge the trust relationship that you have and then communicate the context of that contact.

Often what people do is refer people and then leave the relationship up to them but I’ve been caught out a number of times.  Just giving a contact is not enough if we want to build trust. If we don’t frame it properly, not only is the relationship not bridged between this new person and the contact but it can also damage the relationship between that person and you – the person who’s giving the referral in the first place.

A: Framing is vital. I talk a lot about ‘qualified’ and ‘unqualified’ referrals, based on the relationship you have with someone. You may, for example, pass a ‘qualified’ referral to someone you have only just met, by making that clear to the prospect. Where you know and trust the person you are referring though, the referral is ‘unqualified’. You are clearly recommending their services, by saying for example, “talk to this person, they’re superb’. 

How much time do you spend following up the introductions you make to ensure both parties are working well together? 

V: I like to know and I always ask for feedback whenever I’ve given a referral because there are a number of referrals made and if one of them doesn’t work for some reason then I have to sit back and ask what’s happening in this process. Am I not connecting the right people or am I building up an expectation that’s not being delivered?  What’s actually going on?

If you never ask for that feedback you simply don’t know.  You just keep referring people and sometimes you can really end up wasting a lot of people’s time if you’ve not done it properly, so I certainly look for feedback.

Just going back to your point before about when you say, for instance, talk to this person, they’re superb, what can happen in making a statement like that is you can certainly build up an expectation but there’s also an implied promise.  I talk about the difference between implicit and explicit promises, there’s an implied promise – the minute you give somebody a referral, there’s a very good chance that this is going to turn into a business referral, which to me is the implied promise that can break down trust more quickly.

So in not being clear about that and making a simple statement like “this person’s fantastic” or “they’re a real go-getter” or “they’re really friendly” or whatever, you’ve made an implied promise and built up an expectation in that person’s mind about how their interaction might play out, and if it doesn’t play out exactly in the way they expect and the way they believe it was promised to them and it doesn’t meet their needs then their trust in you can break down very quickly.

It’s about respecting the trust that you have and I talk about handling it with care. I compare trust to an egg, it can break very easily so you need to handle that trust very carefully and respect it for what it is.
It’s a gift when people trust you.

A :  Would you introduce someone you’ve only just met to somebody who is a very important client of yours?

V: If I’ve got a very strong sense about the person, but again I’d make it very clear that I’ve only just met them, and I can’t vouch for them other than I’ve got a sense that they were nice, or the right sort of person, but yes I certainly do qualify it in your terms.

A:  Do you find yourself from holding back from introductions that you could make until you feel the trust is at the right level?

V: Yes definitely. I think to some extent it depends on the nature of the contacts. For example, the more work that I do in senior government levels and with people connected with the UN, a lot of people want to know the people who I know. I don’t believe it’s my place to just suddenly open the doors and pour all these people to them, so it’s also being clear about what’s the nature of the relationship between me and these other people and what are their expectations in terms of protecting that relationship too.

It’s a difficult one, because on the one hand you certainly want to help people and help their business to grow and networks continue to increase, and I love connecting people but there is an element of – you know – I’d really love to understand more about you as a person and what you are trying to achieve; what’s the goal?

And what are you expecting out of this connection as well, because I’ve seen it go terribly wrong in many situations

A: You talked about referred trust, you talked about situational trust, can you just explain the other types of trust in your model?

V: In the book I talk about blind trust. With blind trust we jump in, we don’t think about what we’re expecting, about what we need, and we don’t articulate that. And so what happens in a blind trust situation is we are often left quite disappointed and we often blame the other person. But we had a role to play in that by obviously not being clear about what we expected out of this relationship, this interaction and what we need? You should also ask can this person actually promise to deliver on those, are you trusting the right person for the outcome you are looking for?

I talk about sceptical trust, which is the opposite.  We’re very, very clear about our expectations and we want to get right down to the nitty gritty detail before we step into the trust relationship. Very, very clear about our expectations, very clear about our needs, We’ll only trust somebody who will 100% promise to meet those.
I talk about middle ground. There’s a balance between those two, both of them can work very well in some situations but both of them can be very detrimental so there’s a middle ground there. We have to articulate and be clear about our expectations and needs and be sure that the person we’re dealing with can make promises to deliver that.

We can’t go down to the nth degree and people can’t always promise every little detail and so there is a point where we have to step into the relationship but by understanding the model of trust we can also continue to communicate effectively as well.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Free Teleseminar tonight!

This evening, at 8pm BST, I'll be interviewed by Richard White on the subject of 'Leveraging the Power of your Network'.

This is a free teleseminar, and you'd be more than welcome to join us. You can get more information and sign up here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Are there cultures where networking just can’t work?

Last week I spoke at the ‘Antreprenor 2010’ Conference in Bucharest, Romania. A number of people came up to me after my talk and asked me whether there were cultural differences between the UK and Romania and, if so, whether those differences would make it harder for networking to take hold.

More than once I was told that people in Romania are less willing to share ideas, contacts or advice with their competition. I was told that people are ‘closed’ to each other and it was unlikely that such interaction would be successful.

While I admit to not having a tremendous grasp of Romanian culture in just three days spent there, I would be very surprised if networking didn’t take off there. The people I met were very warm and friendly and they engaged with each other positively. I didn’t see people left alone or struggling to integrate themselves into conversation as I often do in the UK.

Romania is a young country in democratic and market terms. Under communist rule until twenty years ago, entrepreneurialism is still growing and many complained that small businesses are not effectively supported by the Government.

It’s not that long ago that people in the UK would have made the same complaints and would have doubted the chances of networking working here. In fact, I still meet many people who write off networking as a serious business tool and see competition as ‘dog-eat-dog’, rather than providing opportunities for collaboration.

I met young entrepreneurs in Romania who are very active networkers, enthusiastic about forming groups of young professionals such as Junior Chamber of Commerce (JCI) and independent groups. BNI Chapters are growing and other networks meet successfully.

As for a ‘closed people’, the journalist who interviewed me the day before my speech had the completely opposite view. “Why do we need such networks?” she asked me. “We do this naturally anyway.”

I may be na├»ve but I don’t believe that an existing culture is a bar to networking becoming an important and accepted part of business life. It may be slower to take off in some areas than others but a generation is coming through worldwide who want to work together and support each other.

Perhaps the most important influence in Romania was the fact that networking hasn’t been widely discussed in such terms before. I hope that last week’s event is the start of a conversation that will change people’s perceptions.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Buzz Off": How to Destroy a Buzz Marketing Campaign

According to the site BuzzMarketing.com, Buzz Marketing is "capturing attention of consumers and the media to the point where talking about your brand becomes entertaining, fascinating, and newsworthy" or, put more simply, "starting conversations."

Buzz Marketing has become an increasingly popular route to market for many businesses, large and small. Companies recognise that more buying decisions are made because of recommendation and referral than any other factor. The growth of review sites, such as TripAdvisor demonstrate this perfectly.

I have been part of a Buzz Marketing campaign this year. It was one that I originally thought was well thought through and inventive, but increasingly demonstrates the dangers of a buzz marketing campaign that is not fully supported.

As a member of a Private Members club in London's West End I was offered a free Palm Pre mobile phone. Intended as a competitor to Apple's iPhone, the device had failed to get much traction in the UK market and it was thought that the members of our club mixed in the right circles to generate some positive word of mouth about the phone. We were given the handset with no contract and unlocked, so that we could use it with our existing network, and a card with details for support.I was also connected on Twitter to the independent Palm Pre Guru for constant tips and hints on using the phone.

A few weeks later I received a short questionnaire about how well the phone was working for me, with a quick reaction to the questions I raised. All good so far.

Then it began to unravel. First of all I lost some pictures when trying to transfer them across to my computer. I sent a tweet to Palm Pre Guru and an email to Palm for advice and support but received no response.
Then last week my battery, which had been performing increasingly poorly, died completely. I tried again to contact Palm through their Twitter account and by email. Again I got no response. I even tweeted my dissatisfaction with Palm to see if it would raise their interest, but they remained silent.

Palm's aim in giving me a free phone was to get me to talk about their product. I was picked because of my membership of a Club on the basis that I would be likely to be well connected in their target communities and likely to spread the word.

In that case, doesn't it make sense to ensure that the word I spread is a positive one, rather than negative? Palm appear to have entered into this campaign half-heartedly, thinking it is enough to simply give away phones and hope their performance speaks for itself. Not if the battery dies it doesn't!

If you engage in Buzz Marketing and select people who will speak about you, make sure that the word you give them to spread is a positive one. Treat them as your most important customers, not as an afterthought or irrelevance. Buzz Marketing has to be backed up by superlative customer service if it's going to make the impact you seek.

If my experience is not unique, this campaign could possibly turn out to be a complete disaster for Palm.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Importance of Building your Profile and Managing your Reputation - Latest newsletter from Fresh Business Thinking

The new issue of my networking newsletter for Fresh Business Thinking is out today. In this latest issue, we've focused on your personal profile and brand. I have turned to experts across this field for their advice. 

I have developed my thoughts on focusing on what people say about you, a theme that Person Branding expert Lesley Everett then takes on.

We then turn to two experts on becoming the expert in your field. Mindy Gibbins-Klein discusses why this is so important and Jo Parfitt looks at how writing can strengthen your personal profile. 

Find out more about why it's so important to build your personal profile and how to do it here. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Connecting is not Enough - The Newsletter

In the latest edition of Connecting is not Enough I get my teeth stuck into the British political system and what our politicians could learn by engaging in a little bit of networking. And it's not just the UK politicians who should be thinking more about collaboration.

Also included, of course, is the usual blend of networking tips, referral ideas, social networking suggestions and video. With, of course, the latest from The National Networker, a new video and just a little bit of fun.

If you're not a lucky subscriber and haven't had your copy hand delivered yet, you need wait no longer.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Time for Collaborative Government

It's been an interesting week in British politics. Last Thursday's General Election failed to produce an outright winner and we found ourselves with a hung parliament, with no one party enjoying a decision-making majority, for the first time in a generation.

The initial reaction of many pundits in the UK was very disappointing. Instead of looking forwards to a positive change requested by a disillusioned electorate, there were concerns about the lack of a stable government able to enforce their policy.

If you follow me on Twitter you will probably have seen some of my occasional complaints about the childish behaviour exhibited by our politicians, particularly during Prime Minister's Question Time each week. We have lived in a highly tribal environment where everything is black and white, good and bad, right or wrong. The system has lacked subtlety or the recognition that your opponents might have something useful to say.

Looking from a distance at politics in the US, there seem to be similar issues of entrenched battles rather than a shared vision.

At the time of writing this the outcome of negotiations to form a coalition government wasn't known. Yet already we are hearing positive sounds about working together and even respect between politicians. It means there could be a refreshing change ahead. Then again, I might be naive!

I strongly believe that the tribal politics we have experienced has no place in a modern, collaborative society. Instead of worrying about hung parliaments and minority governments, this is an opportunity to reframe our approach. After all, coalitions aren't exactly new elsewhere in the World. 

Let's start looking instead at collaborative government. After all, networking doesn't have to just be about business or individuals. It applies to Government as well.

How much better could policy be if the views of all sides were taken into account before finally formed? Nobody has the monopoly on great ideas or the best approach. Moving away from dogma and towards collaboration will, in my opinion, lead to stronger rather than weaker government.

The rules of engagement have changed in politics as well as in business. It is down to our leaders to grasp the mantle while it is there.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Standing out from the Crowd

In tough economic times it can be very tempting to market yourself as a generalist more than a specialist. After all, the more ways in which you can help prospective customers, the better chance there will be they will want to employ you. Isn't that right?

Perhaps not. In Networking with a Niche in February I talked about how having a clearly defined niche can help you network more effectively. That was illustrated to me today.

I received an email yesterday with information about a company who were looking for trainers to work with large companies on a range of topics, including networking. I sent off an email this morning outlining what I could offer and received an email soon after asking me what a 90 minute session to a group of employees would look like.

Five minutes after my subsequent reply the company called me and we had a very positive twenty minute conversation that will hopefully result in ongoing work and a flourishing partnership.

During the conversation I found out that they had received over 100 responses to their request for trainers.

"That's fantastic!" I said.

"Not really," came the response. "I haven't got the time to call 100 people and find out if they're suitable. Your email stood out from the crowd."

Naturally I wanted to know what made my email stand out. After all, if I'm doing something well, I want to make sure I keep on doing it.

"I’m a strong believer that you can’t be good at everything," said my contact. "I like working with people who have a ‘speciality’ in something and you clearly do in networking. Many trainers emailed me and said they could deliver on ‘anything’ and I wasn’t so keen on that. Many people might not agree with me but that is what I prefer – hence I made contact!"

While it may be tempting to put yourself out as the cure to all evils and jack of all trades, be aware that you may be seen as a master of none. Find your speciality, settle into a niche and market yourself around that.

It might mean saying 'no' to some work and missing out on others. But you'll stand out from the crowd when it really counts.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Networking Video Tip: Getting Referrals - What Lies Within

In our search for referrals most companies look first to their clients and then to their wider network. But so many opportunities for referrals are missed, simply because we are not looking in the most obvious place.

In this video tip I discuss why the people who work for your business should be focused on how they can generate referrals for you. Internal referrals, breaking down divisions within companies and looking to help each other, could account for a huge amount of new business each year. But incentive schemes are not set up to encourage them and staff are often not educated beyond their own area of responsibility.

As I say in the video, if you can't refer yourself, how can you expect other people to do so?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A Question of Trust: A conversation with Vanessa Hall (PART ONE)

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

“Building and retaining trust is the cornerstone of every business and personal relationship”.

The quote above sits inside the jacket of Vanessa Hall’s book ‘The Truth about Trust in Business’ and highlights the importance of trust in networking. With networking being founded on relationships, one could argue that trust is the ‘cornerstone’ of networking, and I don’t think you would find many people who would argue.

Certainly not Vanessa Hall. Vanessa is the Australian based Founder and Director of Entente Pty ltd and an award winning speaker and author who advises everyone from individuals to major global organisations about the importance of trust.

Yesterday Vanessa launched the International Day of Trust, with the aim of ‘getting trust into the hearts and minds of people around the World’. I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the importance of trust and the different ways in which we trust others.

A: Tell me a little bit about your business. It’s clear that trust is at the core of all that you do.

V: It’s everything that we do. We’ve only been around for four years, so still babies in the trust world but in the beginning we made quite a big impact. I work with businesses but also with personal relationships and more broadly in communities. It’s now expanding into international relations, so we’re working at a very senior government level and with the UN.

Probably the key difference with what I do versus everyone else is how I define what trust is. The model that I use actually describes in a visual way and a structural way how trust is built and how it breaks down so it sheds a lot of light for people in relationships, whether those relationships are in business or personal, in terms of what might have gone wrong in the past, how to get better at communicating and actively building trust on a daily basis.

A: Can you give me an outline of the model of trust that you use and the different types of trust?

V: The first thing I noticed when I was doing a lot of research on trust and asking a lot of people about trust was that it’s a word that we use all the time, and everybody in business that we speak to will say “Yes, trust is critical to my business. I need trust with my customers, need trust with my staff”, and yet when I ask people “what is trust, how would you define it?” I got so many different responses, it wasn’t funny.

I found that when we talk about trust we’re often talking about different things and when I asked people who said that trust was critical in their business “what do you do, how do you build trust?” less than 5% of the hundreds of people that I spoke to in the early days, said that they actually did anything.

The reason they said they didn’t do anything was because they didn’t know how to. There’s no practical guidance or model really for how to go about building trust, so that’s where the conflict started for me. I looked at where there is trust and where there is no trust, when trust breaks down, what does that feel like for people, when there is trust and when there’s none and I worked backwards then to come to a definition of trust.

So the way I define trust is that it’s our ability to rely on a person or a group of people or an organisation or on products and services to deliver a specific outcome. There are actually thousands of points of trust in our day, every single day. And we’re often unaware of those. Everything from the alarm going off in the morning to wake us up, the shower being hot enough, the toothpaste tasting the way you want it to taste.

We generally just trust that all those things are going to work for us and play the role and deliver the outcome we expect from them and we become aware of it when that outcome is not delivered.

So then I looked at what it is that we actually want. What happens that makes us feel good and what happens that makes us feel bad? And I came down to these three core things that I talk about.

The first is understanding that we have expectations. Those expectations come from previous experiences, if we’ve had a previous experience with that person, that organisation, that product or that service. It comes from things that we read or things that we see. Marketing material, for example, creates expectations of what our experiences are going to be like.

It comes from things that other people tell us. Referrals actually create expectations about our experience. And they come from what I call “similar experiences”, so I’ve had and experience with one bank, therefore I think all banks are going to be the same. I’m going to have the same experience in all of them, so it’s going to be generalised.

So we all have these expectations, but we often don’t articulate them but we expect people to meet them and we get disappointed when our expectations are not met.

The second thing is our needs. So I draw on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. From a trust point of view we buy products and services and we engage in relationships with people to meet those needs. I’ve found that there is generally a core driving need for people and that need drives them in all the different kinds of relationships and interactions they have. For example somebody who’s esteem-driven will buy a car because it makes them feel good about themselves, they’ll buy the clothes that they buy for the same reason. They’ll engage in relationships, they’ll take a job; they’ll do all sorts of things that all feed that need for esteem.

Likewise all the relationships for somebody who’s insecurity-driven will be centred around feeding that core need.

So we have expectations and needs, the promises are made to us by the other person, the other organisation or by products and services. The promises could be implicit or explicit, so they’re either very clearly stated or we had a conversation about them, they were implied, they weren’t really stated anywhere and they weren’t written down. We can’t recall a conversation but it was implied in a word that was used, or the body language for instance, or the size of the organisation, they can all provide implicit promises. So there’s a combination of these expectations, needs and promises which I draw like a wall, with two pillars of needs and expectations and promises along the top.

I would expect a structural engineer to understand how the wall would break down, how quickly it would break down in certain circumstances.

There are some expectations and needs that are more important to us than others and there are some points on the wall that are more sensitive. If you took certain bricks out the wall would collapse more quickly. We know that to be true, there are some expectations and needs that if they’re not met by that person or organisation or that product where we might be a little disappointed but we still stay, we continue to engage. There are others that, if they’re not met we’re gone. As a customer, we’re gone, we just never buy again.

We found that the explicit promises sit in one part of the wall and when they’re not met, there are generally cracks in the wall. We tend to complain about an explicit promise which hasn’t been met because we can. Whereas we tend not to say anything about an implicit promise because we’ve got nothing to point to, no conversation to recall. So we let it simmer away and eventually the wall collapses.

So the base of the model is about these, what I call ENP’s and trust actually sits on top of this wall, so it ends up looking like Humpty, and I talk about all the kings horses and all the kings men, can’t put that trust back together if you allow it to get to the point where it completely breaks.

Sometimes there are bricks that drop out, and we’re feeling very unsettled, and disappointed but if it gets to the point where enough of those important bricks fall out or enough of those implicit promises are not met, the whole thing will collapse and it will break and 98% of the time people say they would never go back there again

So the whole purpose and the whole process of building trust is understanding the expectations and needs and being clear about those, knowing which ones are the most important to people and being very, very clear about what promises we’re making and delivering on those promises. Its one thing to make them it’s another thing to deliver them

We also need to understand what are our expectations and needs in this engagement and what are the promises being made to us, so there are two sides, two walls within that relationship. It’s the basis of the trust model. The book, “The Truth about Trust in Business” actually has diagrams all the way through it showing the wall in different stages, in different situations, and how it might play out and how it might break down.


In part two of my interview with Vanessa Hall next month we talk about the different types of trust and how to apply them, the role of trust in passing referrals and some of the pitfalls.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Whatever happened to the 'Social Media Election'?

In the wake of Barack Obama's use of social networks in the Democratic Primary and US Presidential Elections, everyone was expecting the current UK General Election to reflect the growth of social media. We now find ourselves over halfway through the official campaign and such a shift is yet to happen.

On the contrary, at present 'old media' seems to be winning out over new. The television debates have, to date, had a bigger impact on the campaign than almost anything that many generations can remember. Social media use by the major parties has been limited, with many of the major figures spurning the opportunity to connect directly with voters through the medium.

Last night I went to a talk by Justin Webb, the former BBC North American editor and presenter for Today on BBC Radio 4. Justin was comparing the UK and US election processes and provided some interesting insights on both similarities and key differences.

I took the opportunity to ask for Justin's view on the role of social media. He is clearly not a big advocate, often berating his co-presenter at the BBC, Evan Davies for using Twitter. His feelings were that it will be some time before social media makes its presence felt in a positive way in the British electoral system.

"The key impact Obama's use of social media had on the US elections was as a news story", he told me. "The media all said, 'look, Obama's using social media', and that provided him with more coverage.

"The other interesting influence of social media was how it benefited Obama's fundraising efforts. It allowed him to attract millions of small donations from ordinary people. I think the Liberal Democrats may already be benefiting from this here. Perhaps social media could have a big impact on political fundraising in this country."

At present though, Webb believes that social media's role in electoral politics is limited. "We need a generation to get old with social media for it to have a major impact in general elections", he said.

Don't underestimate the power of a politician's gaffe during the closing days of the election to have a much bigger impact than ever before, thanks to social media . With camera phones and Flip cameras at the ready, any slip up can be both shared globally and repeated ad nauseam irrespective of how many people witness it in person. The news media pick the stories up and run with them as people share them on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

This may not be the 'Social Media Election' many people expected, but new media can still have a role to play.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Networking Video Tip: What do people say about you?

In the last video tip we talked about the importance of it not being just what you know or who you know, but who knows you.

Successful networking also depends on what people say about you when you are not there, something we perhaps put too little thought into.

I discuss this further in this video:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Connecting is not Enough - The Newsletter

The latest edition of Connecting is not Enough is now available.

In the latest edition, I answer questions from readers, including:

- How do you leverage old networks like school?

- What key points should you consider when setting a Networking Strategy? 

- Can online networking succeed without offline?

In addition, there's the usual mix of articles, video and fun as well as jobseekers and an opportunity in the events industry. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Businesses Can Learn From Clegg - New Networking Newsletter for Fresh Business Thinking

Launched today is a new monthly networking newsletter I'm editing for Fresh Business Thinking.com.

Each issue will contain a series of more in depth articles on networking, both from me and from friends of mine who are each experts in their own right, both from the UK and internationally.

As I'm sure you haven't had enough of the UK General Election at this stage, we have launched today with an election special. Included are an article I wrote at the time of President Obama's inauguration on the lessons businesses can learn from his election campaigns, an update from the US on the impact of networking in politics since the election, a 24 year-old's view of how well UK parties are engaging with young voters and the view from the social media campaign manager of Independent grouping Jury Team.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Networking Video Tip: It's not what you know or who you know...

It's often said that success is based on not what you know but who you know. I don't agree.

Networking is much more about who knows you, as I explain in this networking video tip...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The power of finding something in common

Breaking the ice at networking events is simple when you know you share something in common.

A few weeks ago I was at an event speaking to someone I have known for a number of years. Another long-term contact came over to join us. I didn't realise it at the time but he had never previously met the person to whom I was speaking, yet they launched into conversation as if they had known each other for years.

The reason that they immediately felt at ease with each other is that they are both members of the Masons. They share traditions, culture, history and knowledge of rituals that give them a wealth of things to talk about. They talked about their different lodges, the approaches taken, the levels within the order they had reached and much more.

Interestingly, one of my colleagues explained to me that despite never having met our companion before, he knew that he could trust him implicitly because of the level of the Mason's he had reached and his knowledge of the challenges he had to overcome to reach that level.

A strong bond was immediately formed without either of the two asking the other "what do you do?". Prior knowledge of something they shared accelerated the relationship and the trust between the two.

Networking is about relationship building and we naturally find it easy to build a relationship with people with whom we have something we feel passionately about in common. Find out about people's interests when you network with them, or even look for opportunities to network with people who share the same passions as you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Networking Video Tip: Building Successful Relationships

I am often asked how you develop strong relationships with people you meet at networking events. I answer the question in this video:

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Power that Lies Within

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

I have held my personal account with one major UK High Street Bank for over fifteen years now. My business account is currently with the same bank, but this wasn’t always the case.

It used to be that our business would bank with one of their competitors. Our offices were close to a small town with one main street in which all of the major banks had a branch. Quite often I would go into the main street and visit one or both branches of the two banks I dealt with. I was known by the staff at both.

Occasionally I would be asked by my personal bank to verify my details. One of the questions they would always ask me was to confirm that my occupation was still ‘Managing Director’. They never asked me where my business banked.

The staff in the branch for our business account knew that I would come in to pay in cheques for the business or for other related matters. They never asked me where my personal account was held.

Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of business must be lost every single year by employees not looking out for opportunities for their colleagues elsewhere in the same company.

Go to a referral-focused networking group and listen to the presentation given by the solicitor present. In most groups of this nature they will have locked out any other solicitors from joining. Yet if they are an employment lawyer, it is highly unlikely that you will hear them talk about litigation, mergers and acquisition or family law. Week after week they will only focus on their own area of speciality, not referring to other divisions within their firm.
I have discussed elsewhere how trust, understanding and opportunity to refer are the key foundations to enable good quality referrals. Then where better to start than within your own firm? Yet, cross-selling is overlooked by many firms whose staff are more likely to compete than look out for each other.

Trust and Understanding

Part of the problem lies in the relationships between different parts of the same company. While team-building and meetings may be in vogue, less effort is spent encouraging different sections of the same company to interact. We talk about trust and understanding between people across your network, how strong are those relationships with people working under the same roof as you?

After I left university I spent four years working in the Civil Service. The culture within the large departments within which I worked was very much one of silos. Each team worked in a sectioned off area. When lunchtime came my colleagues would put their work to one side, open up a pack of sandwiches and eat in the same seat in which they’d been working all morning. They would spend all of their time not just in the same department but with the same person with whom they’d worked with all day.

I bucked the trend. It’s funny to look back now at my behaviour considering what I do for my living now. While all of my colleagues remained in their seats during lunch, I would go out with friends from other departments. I was considered quite odd, yet it was ironic how I would get more support from elsewhere in the department when I needed it!

On Wednesday mornings our offices would open to the public thirty minutes later than normal for ‘staff training’. Traditionally these sessions would see each team in its own silo covering areas of consequence to them. I started visiting other teams and telling them about what we were doing and we invited them to join our meetings to do the same.

In my experience, too little of this happens in business now. Teams are kept apart from each other with people generally socializing with others within their own department. Even in smaller businesses where people from across the company sit close together and are more likely to socialize with each other, it’s not common for people to discuss their jobs and goals.

Companies who focus on building connections between different parts of the business and educating their staff in more than just their own job will be able to tap into a wealth of opportunities.

Social events within the firm are great opportunities to mix. Working with a property development company I asked the participants on my workshop to list the networks they belonged to. A number of them had the company’s ‘Sports and Social Club’ at the top of their list.

Internal networking events, such as women’s networks, also offer great opportunities for staff to mix and learn about each other. If you have the opportunity, go to these and make sure you speak to people from other parts of the business, rather than just those you know. Find out about their role, their challenges, who they deal with.

Most importantly, find out if there are opportunities for you to learn from each other, share experiences, work on the same projects and whether you are targeting similar clients.

Communal areas such as the staff canteen also offer the opportunity to build your internal network. If you are in the habit of finding the empty table and eating on your own, or sitting with your colleagues all of the time, break that habit and ask others if you can join them. Get to know other people in your own firm and find out how you can help them achieve their goals.

The Trouble with Targets

Another big block on generating referrals internally is the way people are rewarded for new business. Although a number of companies are now changing, in many cases it is just the salesman responsible for the client who gets rewarded for the business.

If the targets and rewards are dependent on just one area of work, why would you focus any time and effort elsewhere? Companies need to recognise and reward efforts to create connections that may impact another department or division if they want to stimulate more referrals internally.

This highlights one of the main reasons why so few referrals come in from clients. In many businesses the roles of new business generation and account management are separated.  The person who deals with the client on a day to day basis and who is best placed to ask for referrals has no responsibility and receives no reward for asking for those referrals. Meanwhile, the person who does have the focus and stands to benefit has no further influence with that client.

Put simply, personal goals lead to selfish behaviour and restrict the flow of referrals internally. This problem gets reinforced in times of economic turbulence, as people become more concerned with protecting their own job and meeting their own targets, perhaps at the expense of the firm’s wider interests.

Personal targets and rewards also reinforce narrow 'tunnel' thinking, with people solely focused just on their own sale and own bonuses.

Companies need to break out of this narrow thinking and inspire their staff to refer each other. Bonuses and commissions should be in place for introductions to other departments, a share offered in business won to

It’s not just the sales team who should be included. PAs, Receptionists and Customer Service representatives all have jobs where they deal with the company’s clients and suppliers. Everyone who works there has their own personal network.

Whenever I work on referral strategy with companies, I try to encourage them to send staff from across the business on workshops, not just the people targeting new business. In one case the Financial Director came on a workshop. He had never passed a referral over to the sales team before that session. In the next two months he passed seven.

Cross-sales and cross-referrals need to be taken seriously and encouraged in any referral strategy. Without it, companies are just throwing money away.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Can you get your message across in five words?

Today sees UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown travel to Buckingham Palace and ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament, triggering a General Election next month. Cue four weeks of campaigning, debating and electioneering as the major parties try to capture swing votes in an election that's currently too close to call.

A big factor in deciding who wins the election will rest on a handful of words. The BBC News this morning included a picture of the Liberal Democrats' 'Battle Bus', with their campaign slogan 'Change that works for you' proudly pasted across the vehicle. Expect to see similar coaches from the other major parties, with Labour campaigning under the slogan 'A future fair for all', while the Conservatives are urging the electorate to 'Vote for Change'.

In each case the Parties are attempting to get across in as few words as possible their core message. They know that a large part of the electorate won't listen to much of the detail of the debates, watch Election Broadcasts or read their manifestos. Their best chance of capturing swing votes is to make an impression with a strong phrase that reflects what they stand for.

In the US elections, Barack Obama said 'Yes we can'. And he said it time and time again. Pretty clearly, enough of the American electorate believed him.

Other memorable political slogans include:

Britain deserves better (Labour Party, 1987)
Catch up and overtake America! (Nikita Kruschev, USSR 1957)
Labour is not working (Conservative Party, 1979)
Vote yourself a farm (Abraham Lincoln, 1860)

In each case, and many more, a strong message is carried in a few words, leaving voters in no doubt about what they are voting for.

Just as this technique is so important in elections, so it is in business. People won't necessarily read your promotional brochures from cover to cover or listen intently to your 'elevator pitch'. If you can, however, sum up your core message in just a few memorable words, they may well take that away. Make them intriguing, easy to understand and strong enough to recall at the right time and, if appropriate repeat.

I use 'Connecting is not Enough' to get across my stance on networking and give an idea of my approach.

Please feel free to share here what you use for your business or ask for some feedback.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Connecting is not Enough....The Newsletter

A new edition of Connecting is not Enough - the newsletter came out this afternoon and you can enjoy all of the networking wit, wisdom and just a little April fooling here.

This Easter edition includes:

- Social Media and the UK General Election - How the Chancellors were tweeted

- 'Looking for...' . Two new candidates looking for your help finding them work, and a vacancy to be filled.

- Tips on following up, getting testimonials and taking the perfect picture.

- Working out your Networking ROI

- Some Easter fireworks from Greece. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Just be yourself

After a talk I gave in Birmingham last week, one of the attendees, Angie Hart of Supreme Systems emailed me. Angie was struggling with her networking:

"I find it hard sometimes trying to make IT memorable so I find myself repeating the same old patter – Angela Hart, Client Services Manager, reliable IT partner, Microsoft Gold Partner, Local, Trustworthy – the usual....

"How can you make IT memorable? Should I forget about the IT and try to make “me” memorable thereby creating the memorable link?"

My response to Angie was to take her own advice and focus on building relationships with people she meets rather than worry about the business. Angie had approached me to chat after my presentation and I remembered her when I received her email. I did so because she has a very engaging personality, is enthusiastic and very likeable, an asset she should be confident in and make more of. 

When people first meet you they are not genuinely interested in your business, they want to meet people they like. As you build the relationships people will want to understand better how they can help you. That is the point to start focusing on your message about your business, because they will be more receptive. You can also tailor your message to their understanding, their network and ability to help.

I've talked before about selling 'through' people when you network, rather than to them. Building relationships because you like each other enables you to do just that.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Networking made simple

I have talked elsewhere about The Networking Myth, the idea that networking groups bring you referrals, support, sales or any other return that you are looking for from your networking. In fact, rather than delivering the end result, networking groups feed your network, introducing you to new people with whom to develop the relationships on which you can build your success.

Understanding the role of networking groups makes it much easier to pick the right groups for you. Think of networking groups as a way of meeting people who can help you achieve your goals. Now you should ask yourself:

- What am I trying to achieve?
- How can other people help me?
- Who is best placed to help me?
- What do they need to know and do?

Once you have the answers to those questions, you can evaluate the networking groups in your area, events you have been invited to attend and look at the online networks you are invited to join.

Are the members and other attendees well placed to help you achieve your goals? Do they have the experience, expertise or connections you are looking for? Does the format support you in educating them and asking for help? What will you have to bring to the group to reach your objective?

Viewed this way, networking becomes much simpler to understand. It is a means to an end, not the end itself.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Connecting is not Enough: The Newsletter

In the latest  issue of Connecting is not Enough, I have introduced a new column 'looking for...'. We all have people in our networks who are struggling to find a new job and, despite the wealth of candidates, many of us know people searching for the right candidate.

I'd like to tap into the power of the collective networks of the people who read this blog and the newsletter to help. Each issue I'll be featuring a couple of people and/or vacancies, together with the question 'Who do you know who...?'

Please have a look at the candidates in the latest issue, one looking for a role in banking and another in marketing. Both of these candidates are London based but this feature is by no means restricted to London, or even the UK.

Also in this issue:

- Why you shouldn't leave networking events early

- Don't take notes, take notice

- Why 'Yes Men' lose out

- The UK's Enterprise Manifesto

You can read more networking tips and videos here.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: Ten Tips to get your referral message across (Part Two)

 This article originally appeared in The National Networker

In last month’s first five tips we looked at the importance of knowing exactly the help you need when asking your network for referrals, and how to make specific requests that people respond to.

The type of information you share, the language you use and your consistency are also key, as we now go on to explore.

Tip Number Six - Keep it simple

People so often succumb to the temptation to load their champions with information to help them refer us. We want them to recognise every possible opportunity and answer every objection we can see coming.

Remember two things. First of all, they are simply our gatekeepers, making the introduction. They are not there to sell for us. Secondly, the more you give people to remember, the more they have to forget

Try using ‘The Twitter Measure’. Put your message into 140 characters. Edit, edit and edit some more. Does it still make sense? Could someone understand who you want to talk to and why?

Be brutal with your information. What do people NEED to know? Ensure you give them just enough to initiate the connection and then pass the rest to you.

Also consider their own background. Champions from your own industry or related areas may well need or be able to deal with more information than a friend who has the right connections but who doesn’t necessarily understand what’s involved.

Tip Number Seven - People love a story

Once you have worked out what your message is and the key information people need to understand, make it easier for them to do so by wrapping it up in a story. Case studies bring ideas to life and also add credibility to your request, proving you've solved similar problems successfully in the past and it’s not just an idea or concept.

Case studies also help people understand how to recognise a prospect and how you work with them to overcome their challenges and put the theory into context. Not only that but they are memorable and more easily recalled and repeated.

Tip Number Eight - Avoid Jargon

This is the trap that we can all easily fall into. It’s all so easy to lapse into words, phrases and references that we understand as part of our everyday language but which make no sense to people from outside our industry.

Do you know what terms you use that are jargon for someone else? Take the ‘Ten Year Old Test’. Tell a ten year old child what you do and then ask them to explain it back to you. Finding out how much they have been able to understand and relate back will give you a good indication of how well you are getting your message across.

The difference between a child and an adult is that the child will ask you if they don’t understand something. Adults are frightened of looking foolish and are more likely to nod politely and then take no action because they’ve missed the point than ask you to explain terms they’ve not understood.

Tailor your message to the person's experience. If it’s someone from your industry you can be far more complex in your explanations than someone who doesn’t have the relevant experience.

Tip Number Nine – Help people learn over time

As we’ve already discussed in a couple of these tips, you don't have to get everything across in one go. If you have someone who wants to refer you and has ample opportunity to do so, you’ll have plenty of time to educate them and help them to see a host of possibilities.

The fear of missing out on opportunities can lead to us trying to get across all of our products, services and prospects at the same time. However, focus on one request at a time and let people build up their understanding of how to help you gradually. Each individual request you make and referral they pass will build their knowledge.

Tip Number Ten - Manage how you are perceived

Help people to refer you by managing your reputation effectively. We often talk about ‘it’s not what you know but who you know.’ But I would argue that it’s far more important to be aware of who knows you and what they say about you.

What do you want people to say about you? We started off by looking at knowing who you would most like to be introduced to. It’s also vital that you understand what your general message and image should be. Focus on who you want people to be talking to about you, what you want them to be saying and how you can build the right public image.

Consistency is the key to ensuring that the right message is repeated. Whether that’s ensuring that your message and conversations are consistent with each other or your appearance and actions are consistent with the image and reputation you crave, you need to make sure everything fits.

Look at how you are getting your message out there at present and consider changes you could make using the ideas outlined above. If you’re not getting sufficient referrals at the moment, find two or three things you can change immediately and put them into place.

Approach people and ask for referrals. Be specific in your requests and keep the information simple and easy to understand. Put these ideas into practice and watch your flow of referrals increase with ease.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The BIG Event - The Wit and the Wisdom

If you found Friday's review of The Big Event a bit too long for your liking, I thought I'd offer you a taste of the great advice on offer from the main platform:

"Being successful in business is all about thinking big, starting small and moving fast. Start-ups change the World as small becomes big. We need more Charles Dunstones."
Julie Meyer, Ariadne Capital and Dragons Den Online

"We access abundance not from our network but through them"
Christopher Jones-Warner, Playing Hamlet

"You need to be writing, publishing and speaking so that others write, publish and speak about you".
Mindy Gibbins-Klein, The Book Midwife and Ecademy Press Publishing

"Choice (and information) is now abundant, while attention is scarce. People have to come to you, and once you have attracted them you need to keep their attention forever."
Grant Leboff, Sales Therapy

"Investors aren't interested purely in profit and financial potential. For many this is money they can afford to lose and they are looking for fun. They are more interested in you than your business plan"
Bill Morrow, Angels Den

"If you can't smile, don't open a shop."
Dexter Moscow's Grandfather!

"Nobody wants facts, they want a story"
Alan Stevens, The Media Coach

"Help others to reach the next level, once you reach there yourself, send the lift back down".
Julie Meyer

"The single biggest thing in our business is that we are good at relationships".
Julie Meyer

"Life, and business, is about being a friend"
Penny Power, Ecademy

"You can kiss a lot of frogs online, but can then choose to meet your princes offline"
Penny Power

"Embed friendship and trust in your business, that is the killer app"
Penny Power

I hope that there are some ideas that get you thinking there. You can read my full review of the event here and see Dianna Bonner's excellent pictures here.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Think BIG, Start Small, Move Fast...... a review of The BIG Event 2010 from the main platform

Yesterday I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of Chairing The BIG Event in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. One of the technical team at The Fielder Centre, the conference venue, came up to me at the end to say how much he had enjoyed the day. He was amazed to see a collection of speakers who, as he put it, "could each be the main speaker at any conference" all brought together on one day.

As Conference Chairman I was restricted to the main auditorium, where the speakers were exceptional. The feedback I have heard from all of the workshops and roundtables that ran concurrently has also been excellent.

My job was to be the link for the speakers and, as such, I made a lot of notes on their talks. I could probably write a blog on each one, but I'm sure they all have their own excellent blogs anyway, so I thought I'd just share with you some of the nuggets shared from the main platform during the day.

There was a constant theme of engagement throughout. The first speaker, Christopher Jones-Warner, talked about how to build relationships with other people and focused on our ability (or lack of ability) to listen to others. He made the point that we access abundance not from our network but through them; a very similar philosophy to my approach of selling through your network instead of to them. Chris emphasised that how you listen to others determines how "related you are to that person".

Chris was followed by Mindy Gibbins-Klein. If you've noticed a drop in the frequency of my blogging recently, Mindy is the person to blame as she works with me on delivering my new book later this year!  I've seen Mindy speak a few times and yesterday she excelled, engaging with the audience and commanding her subject in a way I haven't seen before. She has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and now stands at the level she inspires others to reach, as a Thought Leader.

Mindy talked about the importance of standing out from the crowd and how 'attraction marketing' is so important now. Mindy emphasised that "you need to be writing, publishing and speaking so that others write, publish and speak about you".

Grant Leboff picked up on the theme of engagement, talking about discarding Return on Investment for a 'Return on Engagement', setting up an 'Engagement Strategy' for your business. Grant talked about how the traditional marketing model has now inverted. People used to have little choice and plenty of attention to external messages as they looked for information. Today "choice (and information) is now abundant, while attention is scarce". People have to come to you, and once you have attracted them you need to keep their attention forever.

I thought we might then be looking at a shift, if not in tone then in theme, as Bill Morrow took to the stage. Bill's subject was Angel Funding, so many people may have expected lots of number-crunching from the former accountant. Nothing of the sort though, perhaps not a surprise to people who know Bill. Not your stereotypical accountant!

Bill made it very clear that there are plenty of people who, despite the economic climate, have money they want to invest and are looking for opportunities to do so. Angels Den had 126 investors looking at pitches on the site on Christmas Day last year! Investors aren't, however, interested purely in profit and financial potential according to Bill. For many this is money they can afford to lose and they are looking for fun.

Bill's advice was to throw your business plan out of the window. Well, maybe not completely, but certainly don't spend too much time on it, Angel investors don't. Instead, people will invest in people they like and feel they can spend time with and work with.

Dexter Moscow and Alan Stevens followed after lunch, both on the subject of communication and getting your message across. For Dexter, that was in presentations or conversation, for Alan the focus was PR and social media.

Dexter focused on "the ability to positively impact and influence" others. His talk was not about sales skills but influencing skills as he put it. Passion for your business played a big role in Dexter's talk, as did the ability to position yourself as the solution to people's problems. I particularly liked his Grandfather's old saying, "If you can't smile, don't open a shop."

Meanwhile, Alan shared plenty of tips and techniques to engage both with traditional media and online. One of the most striking images in his presentation was the industrial shredder in use when he worked at The Guardian, with tens of thousands of press releases shredded every week without being read. "Nobody wants facts, they want a story", he said, encouraging listeners to answer the question "So what?" when trying to engage.

Alan also showed how he could reach out to 24 million people a week using social media, and how he consistently gets his message out for "just a crumpled fiver a week".

BBC's Dragons' Den Online star Julie Meyer urged entrepreneurs not to settle for being one of the crowd and to shed any sense of entitlement. "It's not about 'me too', you have to find something that makes you different", she said, also stressing that you need to focus on "helping others to reach the next level, once you reach there yourself, send the lift back down".

Having grown, sold, funded and mentored many successful businesses, Julie carried on the spirit of the day by saying that the single biggest thing in their business is that "we are good at relationships". Relationships being the keyword, 'contacts' being too "transactional". Julie also made it clear that marketing is key, it should become a habit, "for everyone in the firm".

Being successful in business according to Julie is all about "thinking big, starting small and moving fast. Start-ups change the World as small becomes big. We need more Charles Dunstones."

The closing keynote speaker was Ecademy co-founder Penny Power.  Relationships are also key to Penny, with friendship the main theme of her talk. "Life, and business, is about being a friend", said Penny, following up by saying "if people know me and like me they will want to do business with me."

Penny talked about her teenage daughter and the power the Facebook Generation will bring to businesses with networks of 2-3,000 friends built up through school, travel, university and work. "Why would any company take away the one asset that they bring with them", she said when talking about corporate blocks on social networks.

"Embed friendship and trust in your business, that is the killer app"

 The dateThe Big Event 2011 has already been set for March 3rd at The Fielder Centre in Hatfield. Put it in your diary now, if it builds on this year it will be a day not to be missed.

Photos in this piece courtesy of the excellent Dianna Bonner. You can see all of the pictures from The Big Event here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What is the difference between 'Networking' and 'Teamwork'?

During a workshop for employees of a property development company yesterday I outlined my definition of networking:

"Networking is the collaboration with others to enhance our potential beyond that which we could achieve on our own." 
One of the delegates on the workshop asked me, "Isn't that the same as teamwork? What is the difference between networking and teamwork?"
It's an interesting question. Whenever I speak to employees of larger companies there is as much focus on networking internally to get their job done effectively as there is on networking externally for business development. Improving such internal communications and breaking down silos is a consistent problem for many organisations and team building measures such as away days have been used for years to address the problem. 
In response, I explained that teamwork and networking are closely related. Indeed, networking between members of a team is essential for it to successfully pursue its objectives.

The key difference lies in those objectives though. Whereas teamwork is essential for a group of people to achieve a common objective, networking is about helping each other despite our objectives often being unrelated. 
When I have an issue, a challenge or need a contact I know I can turn to my network for support despite the fact that offering that support may temporarily divert them from pursuing their own goals. They are happy to do so, however, because they know that I, and others, would be more than happy to help them in return when needed. 

Perhaps there is too much focus on 'teamwork' within organisations at the expense of networking. By narrowing the goal to getting teams working together many organisations lack effective communication and collaboration between different departments, all pursuing their own independent goals. 
When I was involved with business breakfast meetings we would see lawyers from large firms of solicitors only ever talk  about their area of interest, employment law for example, and never talk about the work of the firm as a whole. Working with retail banks I found that there was little cross-referral activity between different areas of the bank, such as personal banking, small business and commercial. 

Of course, ultimately they all have the same objective, the success of the business. But do they realise that and do they feel part of the same team?

Friday, February 26, 2010

You had me at....'Full Stack Systems Integration'!

Many companies spend a lot of time and effort putting together their 'elevator pitch'. The intention is to have a confident, concise response whenever anyone asks them 'what do you do?'

I have talked elsewhere at some length about why I think Elevator Pitches are wrong. Among the many common mistakes made by businesses putting together their short presentation is not putting themselves in the shoes of the person they are speaking to.

Of course, as soon as you put together a general statement for use whenever such a question is asked you will struggle to engage with individuals. A good response to any question about your business is tailored to the knowledge, expertise and relevance of the person asking. A standard response cannot achieve that.

Planned elevator pitches often come from the perspective of the business giving the pitch, rather than looking from outside. As a result they can contain a lot of jargon and assume knowledge others simply don't have.

Earlier this week one of my clients showed me the results of their Board's marketing brainstorm the evening before. They had decided to work on a single statement about what they do, their elevator pitch. After much discussion they came up with the following:

"What we do?

Full stack systems integration for the UK mid-market delivering rapid business change using advanced technology."

How would you react if you asked someone what they do at a networking event and this was their response? Interestingly, this only represents one part of their business, yet they came up with this summary of their activity as a whole. It is overloaded with jargon, with their own perspective and assumes a high level of understanding.

I have a problem with terms like 'mid-market', 'business-change' and even with 'networking'. They all assume a certain level of understanding. Yet if people aren't involved in your business they may have a different perspective on or understanding of those terms. It's so important to explain your business in simple language, so that a child can understand it, if you want others outside your business or your industry to help you.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Connecting is not Enough - The Newsletter

The latest edition of Connecting is not Enough came out yesterday. This issue of my regular networking tips newsletter includes:

- Competition - win a ticket to The BIG Event in Hertfordshire.

- How to approach strangers at networking events without feeling nervous

- How can I refer someone I've never met?

- Effective use of Twitter for business.

- Details of an excellent seminar on building business relationships with accountants

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Thank you!"

Never understimate the power of a simple 'Thank You'. A couple of weeks ago I received a card in the post with 'Thanks for all of your hard work!' on the front.

Inside, the sender wanted to thank me for my articles and explained how he found them helpful.

It's the little touches like this that can make such a difference to people in your network. I was really happy to receive such a card and it will join others on my bookcase, some of which date back almost a decade. I never throw away a thank you card.

Too often we try to be over-elaborate in the way we thank people, or don't bother at all. Most of the time, a simple touch like a thank-you card can go a long, long way.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Win tickets to The BIG Event in Hertfordshire

We are just a couple of weeks from The BIG Event in Hertfordshire. As well as Chairing the event I am also appearing on a Social Media Panel along with Ecademy Founder Penny Power, Twitter specialist Mark Shaw and Media Coach Alan Stevens.

Taking over the MC duties while I am on the panel is my good friend David McQueen. David wants to make sure that he asks the right questions of the panellists, so he'd like to know what questions you'd like us to answer.

I have three tickets to The BIG Event to give away to readers of my blog, Facebook and LinkedIn pages and newsletter who come up with the best questions to ask the Social Media Panel.

Please send your questions to me at andy@lopata.co.uk. Closing date for entries is midday on Thursday 25th February and winners will be notified that afternoon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Networking with a niche

I have just received a question on Twitter from Theresa Summers. Theresa said, "I am doing increasingly niche things so don't know what I can get out of networking these days."

Interestingly, at a meeting I attended yesterday we were talking about the importance of having a niche when marketing yourself in the present climate. Theresa is arguably in a better position to network with a clearly defined niche. There are a number of reasons for this:

1 - It's easier for you to understand what your objectives from networking are
Who do you want to meet? Where do those people congregrate or which groups of people will be able to provide you with introductions to the right people? If you are looking to develop your expertise, who do you need to surround yourself with?

If you generalise or sell to a wide range of customers it can be hard to focus your networking activity in the most effective way. If you specialise the appropriate networks stand out from the crowd.

2 - People in your network find it easier to pigeon-hole you
Sometimes it's good to be pigeon-holed. One of the things I often talk about with networking is that it's not what you know or who you know, it's who knows you and what they say about you that makes a difference. If people in your network understand easily what you do for whom, they are more likely to mention you in the appropriate circumstances. 

Since Theresa moved more into e-learning (and I hope I've got your niche correct) she is the person I think of when the subject of e-learning comes up. That can lead to opportunities, as it did earlier this week when I put Theresa forward for a presentation. 

3. It's easy for you to ask for specific referrals and to communicate a clear message
With a  clear niche you will find it easier to ask people in your network for specific introductions and explain how you can help the prospect you have in mind. If you try to be all things to all people, it's tougher to communicate a clear and simple message. After all, the more you give people to remember, the more they have to forget. 

4. You can become known as the expert in your field
I've been the recipient of some fantastic introductions and press describing me as a leading expert in my field. I always appreciate that description and hope I do enough to merit it, but I'm sure it helps that there are fewer practitioners of networking than, for example, marketing. If you focus on a niche you can stand out from the crowd and build a reputation within that niche, that will encourage the right people to want to talk to you. 

So far from making networking a less attractive activity, defining a niche and concentrating on it can make your networking far more effective.