Friday, January 29, 2010

Connecting is not Enough - The Newsletter

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


Are you at the right event?

The alternative to cold calling

Checking your online profiles

and Mitchell and Webb's spin on the networking bore.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

International Networking Week 2010 - Let's see the networks start to network with each other

Next week, February 1-5, is International Networking Week. A BNI initiative, the aim of International Networking Week is to 'celebrate the key role that networking plays in the development and success of businesses across the world'. It's a noble initiative and one that deserves to gain some support and a greater profile in the UK.

I went along to the BNI Big Breakfast in London in 2007 to mark that year's International Networking Week. They are holding a similar event this year, with 400 people expected, and it certainly was a good event when I attended.

What is disappointing is that the concept doesn't seem to have taken off in the UK in the way it has elsewhere. There are three UK events listed on the official site, all of which are hosted by BNI.

The profile of networking, and its credibility as an important business strategy, have certainly grown over the years and I have been delighted to see more companies take networking seriously. However, there still seems to be more competitiveness than collaboration between the different networking organisations, a problem we often ran into (with a few notable exceptions) when I was involved in networking groups.

I'd love to see International Networking Week embraced by networking organisations across the UK, as well as by schools and in corporates, in the same way as Global Entrepreneurship Week. Let's see the networks do some networking of their own and use their combined resources and influence to really raise the bar next year.

Monday, January 18, 2010

To Tweet or not to Tweet...

In Saturday's Financial Times, Jonathan Moules asked whether Facebook and Twitter are valuable business tools. In the article, To tweet or not to tweet is a business question, Jonathan talked to a variety of small businesses who have used social networks to engage with customers, find collaborators, recruit staff and build internal communities.

I also offer my thoughts on the benefits of social media to business in the 'Ask the Experts' section, along with Media Coach Alan Stevens.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why some networking events may not be right for you

I've been to two networking events this week that have got me thinking. I constantly stress the importance of understanding why you are going to networking events if you want to make the most from them. That awareness can direct your planning, your behaviour at the event and your follow up and lead to much stronger results.

What I rarely talk about, however, is the understanding of why other people are there and respecting that. If your reason for attending doesn't match other people's it may well be the wrong event for you.

On Monday I was invited to attend an event at a major investment bank with a view to making some interesting new connections. Predominantly for clients of that bank, the prime purpose for most people attending was to listen to the bank's strategist talk about prospects for the year ahead and look for advice about their investments.

Although there was a 30 minute 'networking' period before the speaker began, many people simply took a seat, others waited for colleagues, while other attendees sought out their contacts from the bank. Approaching individuals wasn't a comfortable experience and in some cases was met with a less than warm front.

Yesterday I spoke at a breakfast meeting for businesses in the East London area. Organised by Bernie Mitchell, a local character well-known for his love of networking and enthusiasm in encouraging others to connect, people came primarily to network. Yes, there were also speakers at this event but it was the connections that were the main driver for many of those attending. Even those who came to hear the speakers were also aware of the networking opportunity, and open to approaches.

I'm not criticising attendees at the event on Monday. The fact is they had a different agenda to people on Thursday. Attending Monday's event with a view to building new contacts could only lead in the main to disappointment, or a lot of very hard work and rejection.

Once you have established your focus for an event, look to see if it is the right match. If your goal from attending a networking event is to meet new people, ask yourself why other people are attending. If their agenda is different to yours and they just want to hear the speaker or catch up with existing contacts, it may be worth adjusting your goals (as I did on Monday) or choosing to attend a different event.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Connecting is not Enough: The Newsletter

The latest edition of the Connecting is not Enough networking tips newsletter is available to read online now.

The first edition of the New Year includes:

- My predictions for 2010

- Listening for people

- Asking questions on social networks

- Getting started on LinkedIn

- All you need to know about Man Flu

Don't forget, if you want to receive the newsletter into your inbox every third Thursday, you can subscribe using the button at the top of this page.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

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

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

You are surrounded by people who have frequent opportunities to refer you and who would be delighted to help you, yet you rarely, if ever, receive referrals from them. In the cases where they do make introductions they tend to be far from the connections you’ve been looking for.

Why should this be? Surely if you have a network of people who will help, your word of mouth marketing should be simple?

The problem is that attracting good quality referrals takes a strong degree of focus and planning. You do have the tools and resources at your disposal, but you have to understand how to use them. After reading the last two articles in this series you should by now have a clear idea of what you are looking for in a referral and who to turn to for help. Once you have inspired those people to want to help you, the next step is to educate them so that they understand how.

Out of the picture

We talked in Part One of this series about the quality of a true referral. The person referring you (your ‘champion’) has spoken about you to someone who may be in need of your services. That person is interested in hearing from you and is waiting for your call.

If your champion is going to be able to get the prospective client interested in hearing from you, they need to know enough about your business to make a strong case. They need to recognise that your prospect has a problem that you are able to solve and have a reasonable understanding of how you solve that issue and the benefits that result.

Remember, most of the time you will not be there when they have the conversation. You have to consider yourself to be out of the picture. If you are going to educate your champions effectively, you have to be able to pre-empt the conversations they will have with your prospects without you there.

Very often you may ask for referrals to people and explain why you want to meet them. This is despite the fact that those people have no interest in why you want to meet them at all. They don’t know you and have no buy-in to meeting your needs. Instead, they are focused on what they need and what they want.

If your champions are going to be able to get them to want to meet you, therefore, they need a message that will be relevant to that person. Identify what their problems are and provide evidence that you may be the person with the solution and they’ll be interested.

Simple, sticky and transferable

Armed with the knowledge that you need your champions to have conversations about you when you’re not around, the temptation may be strong to give them as much information as possible, so that they couldn’t possibly forget anything.

Whatever you do, avoid this temptation! The more you give people to remember, the more they’ll have to forget. Keep your message simple.

In a workshop I ran a few years ago I was developing a sixty-second referral presentation with an image consultant. As local elections were approaching, I suggested focusing her request on referrals to people in politics. After all, we are often told how important image is in making first impressions and if you want your political message heard it is important to ensure your appearance appeals to your target demographic.

We crafted a straightforward request based on an easy to understand premise. People listening to the message would think of people they knew in politics and feel comfortable approaching them on the image consultant’s behalf, with a strong message that would be easy to understand.

Unfortunately, when it came to testing the presentation on the group in the workshop, the image consultant succumbed to temptation. She didn’t want to leave any opportunity untapped, and, while asking for introductions to people involved in local politics, also asked for Entrepreneurs, Chief Executives, Sales Directors and any other possible client she could think of.

When tested, no-one in the group remembered anything specific about her presentation, particularly that she wanted to meet people involved in local politics.

Focus in on who you want to meet when you ask people for referrals. If you’re being specific in your request, you can paint a clear picture of the conversation that will follow. What is that person/organisation’s specific problem? How would you approach it? What will happen as a result? Stick to answering those questions, keeping everything very simple.

Have you worked with people with similar issues in the past? If so, share a story that answers the three questions listed above. People love to hear case studies; they bring your business to life and make it so much more understandable to those outside your industry.

As well as being simple, your message needs to stick in people’s minds and be easy for them to repeat to possible clients for you. The more convoluted your message, the harder it is for people to remember and to pass on accurately.

Tracking the results

Once you have the basics of a good referral strategy in place, take it to another level by including it in your business planning.

Set up a spreadsheet of your top introducers and make a note of who they know, how you are inspiring them and referrals they have promised or you have requested. As referrals come in, attribute them to the appropriate champion and track your follow up, make sure you stay on top of the game.

By keeping a note of all activity, you can keep your champions involved, letting them know how you are proceeding with the introductions they have passed and thanking them when they are successful. You should be just as focused on giving them feedback when they don’t work out, both to keep them informed and to help them understand how to pass successful referrals to you.

One advantage of tracking referral activity is the ability to see who your best referral sources are and what inspires them to refer you. You can then both make sure you keep them engaged and also replicate that behaviour with others.

Additionally, when someone stops referring you, it will be clear by looking at your spreadsheet. Where a referrals strategy doesn’t exist it might be months before you realise that you haven’t had a referral from or spoken to someone who had previously introduced you to a lot of new business. It can then often be embarrassing to go back to that person after a long period.

One of the exercises I ran when working with one of the major banks was to ask each delegate to make a list of people who had previously referred them but hadn’t done so for a while. I then asked them to call one person on that list and reignite the relationship.

Several of the delegates found that their previous champion had assumed that the delegate had left the bank or moved onto another job as they hadn’t heard from them for so long, and on more than one occasion they offered a new referral during that telephone call. How much business had been referred elsewhere in the meantime?

Another advantage of tracking your referrals behaviour is that it allows you to forecast the level of business coming in from future referrals. Once you have a system in place that consistently produces good quality referrals, it is easier to predict and guide future behaviour.

It’s all a long way from the manufacturing company I mentioned at the beginning of this series who track every source of new business other than referrals, and who had not seen a genuine referral in at least eighteen months. Having implemented an effective referral system, they can now look forward to a regular, predictable flow of referrals, spend time in meetings with champions rather than cold-calling unproductively, and see the business turn into a profitable concern once more.

When are you going to start?

If you’d like to get started with a free ten question survey to find out how effective your current referral strategy is and a ‘Referral Book’ spreadsheet to track referral activity, please email me at

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Dominos Pizza: "Inspired by our harshest critics"

One of the biggest advantages of social media is often the reason many companies don't engage with it.

Networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook allow consumers to share their thoughts on well-known brands. More often than not those opinions are likely to be critical. A number of companies have yet to come to terms with the importance of engaging with your critics, listening to what they have to say and demonstrating that you can take their comments on board.

The winners are those brands who do 'get it'. Your customers will be talking about you on these sites whether or not you want to participate. Joining the conversation allows you to both learn and to educate. Hiding away leaves you with no control over the conversation.

Domino's Pizza have launched a new social media campaign to say that they are listening. A viral video, opening with criticism of their product on Twitter, together with a 'Pizza Turnaround' website, aim to spread the message that they've listened to customers and changed as a result.

Focus groups are shown criticising the crust, the cheese and the sauce in Domino's Pizzas. They then go on to show the changes they've made as a result.

I can't judge the difference the changes have made to the product, I haven't had a Domino's Pizza for quite a while (it was pretty lousy last time I tried!). I have to take my hat off to them for an inspired campaign based on listening to their customers, engaging in the conversation and recognising the power of social media.

*Thanks to @BookMarkLee for originally flagging this up on Twitter - another example of how viral social media is!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Road Ahead : Networking at the beginning of a new Decade

In an article at the end of 2008 I talked about how we were on the verge of a new age of networking in the UK, with the move away from referral networks, a more considered approach to networking by businesses and in particular, the growth of choice for businesses using social networks. Little did I know the extent of the changes to come so quickly.

Just one month after writing the article I joined Twitter. Founded in 2006, 2009 really has been the year of Twitter. According to Jason Keath of, Twitter membership has grown from between two and four million users at the beginning of the year to forty million now. With the increased popularity of Blackberries, iPhones and other Smartphone technology, people can ‘tweet’ on the move…and they like it.

Although I could see big changes in networking to come at the beginning of 2009, the popularity of Twitter and other online networks has moved networking on at a pace I certainly didn’t predict. The worldwide economic climate has also had a big impact on the way businesses and individuals network and its importance to them.

So what can we expect in the year ahead? I want to look at the impact the recession has had and continues to have, on business networking; what we can expect from both online and face to face networks and also the changing importance networking will have for larger businesses.

Social Media

Given the impact that Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have had on business networking this year, the online world seems the obvious place to start.

The most popular social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, are not ‘business networks’ in the true sense of the term, having been created for social use. However businesses are increasingly embracing all of them.

MySpace is the home for bands, artists and others in the entertainment industry. Other businesses have been more comfortable using Facebook and Twitter, but many of them slowly and reluctantly. I still find that most of my clients, particularly those working for larger organisations, are unsure about using Facebook despite the growth of business pages, ‘fan’ pages and pay per click advertising. Those that do use it prefer to focus purely on using it for social purposes.

There are, however, a growing number of people using Facebook for business. The big brands are making sure they have a presence on the site but it’s mainly smaller businesses, particularly micro-businesses, who use it actively.

In my previous article I said that we needed to move away from people simply looking to connect with as many people as possible across all social networks. This is still a problem. It seems to me that many of the people using Facebook for business still try to build as big a network as possible without worrying about building the relationships. That goes for both large and small businesses. People need to start realizing that networking is about engagement not numbers.

If we can get back to real engagement across Facebook and people become comfortable with who they allow to cross the ‘business/friends’ threshold and what they share with them, we may well see more people working in larger businesses open up their Facebook network to work contacts. There is still a lot of understandable nervousness about doing this so it will be a gradual process.

The growth of Twitter has had an impact on Facebook however.

Twitter has an unfair reputation of being a waste of time, with the common put down being “why would you be interested if someone’s having a coffee?” Many businesses are using Twitter very effectively though, with Dell Computers attributing $3 million worth of revenue to their Dell Outlet Twitter account*.

Savvy business people are raising their profile through Twitter, using the network to share their blogs, build their reputation, ask key questions and more. It’s a great way of keeping your finger on the pulse of business and world affairs and to continually engage with your network. Not only that, it’s also incredibly viral, with your followers happy to share your wisdom with their network with just the click of a button.

The quick hit of a 140 character Tweet makes the site more appealing to many time-poor business networkers than other social networks and this is perhaps where Facebook has taken a hit. Maintaining interest and engagement in a Facebook Group set up for your business can be quite time consuming, while you can dip in and out of Twitter quite quickly and painlessly. Some people who have started to develop a Facebook strategy have quickly left it behind and focused their attention on Twitter.

I anticipate that Facebook will continue to grow over the coming year and I do think that there will be more business use. Twitter’s popularity will, however, restrict that use and many people will prefer to simply post on Twitter and let that feed through to their Facebook page.

I believe that simply feeding one social network with your content from another is a mistake. Wherever possible we should treat each social network individually, based on what we are looking to achieve from it. Why use multiple networks for one purpose?

The language used on Twitter looks out of place on a Facebook page and automated feeding of updates doesn’t discriminate. As a result, some people’s Facebook pages have become meaningless lists of one side of various conversations and couldn’t be less likely to engage visitors. I’d love to see this habit die out. Yet we will still see more applications making it easy for us to update multiple social networks at one time, leaving less differentiation between networks and less reason for people to visit each one of the networks of which they are a member.

Many major marketing agencies now have specialists focusing on social media strategy. I do have a concern that the more the bigger brands embrace Facebook and Twitter, the more smaller businesses could disengage from the sites. Whatever size the business, we need to use these sites to speak with our networks, our customers and our prospects. It’s important to have a two-way process and listen as much as broadcast if the networks are going to maintain their popularity.

As well as the social networks, there are specific business online networks, with LinkedIn enjoying the most successful 2009. Based on the principle of six degrees of separation, LinkedIn is, in my opinion, the site that offers the clearest and potentially best rewards from online networking sites. The trouble is that most people don’t know how to use it effectively.

An article in the Wall Street Journal on December 30th reported how LinkedIn have been opening up to third party developers who want to create applications for the site, much as Facebook have. This is on the basis that LinkedIn users spend much less time on the site than users of other social networks, such as Facebook. (Visitors spent about 13 minutes on average at LinkedIn during October, while Facebook users logged about 213 minutes and MySpace users spent 87 minutes.)

While the right third party applications will help to enhance the LinkedIn experience for some, I think that the focus is in the wrong place. Offering users more applications risks confusing many members, as other sites have found. LinkedIn should focus instead on educating their members on how to make the most of the site. The fact is that you should be able to spend less time on LinkedIn than on other sites and still get greater rewards if you use the site effectively and target the right return.

Now more people have become aware of the potential of LinkedIn, I’d like to see it coming into its own as a referral generation site over the next year and I’m already seeing signs of that happening, I’ve certainly received more requests for connections through LinkedIn in the last few months than ever before.

Face to face networks

So where does this leave the face-to-face networks? There have been fears expressed that the growth of online networks and their convenience will make people less likely to want to attend physical events. Although some people have taken that approach, I think the opposite is true.

While online networks help to broaden our connections and raise our profile, I remain a great believer that you cannot build the same depth of relationship online that you can when you see the whites of people’s eyes. The growth in popularity certainly affects the development of face-to-face networking though.

There has already been a move by a number of face-to-face networks to develop a strong online arm to complement their offering. From alliances with existing social networks to the development of their own online networks (as demonstrated by 4Networking’s 4Community in the UK), traditional networks recognise that they can’t be left behind by the online revolution.

The challenge for them is the reticence of some members of traditional networks to get involved online, together with the growth in the number of social networks. People don’t want to be members of too many. With that in mind, they need to get enough members involved to develop a strong enough discussion to make it worth people’s time visiting and to keep them there. If they can achieve that, they can offer their members a much deeper service, connecting them with each other in person and online and bringing groups around the country, or the World, together.

The growth of online networking has also impacted on face to face networking through more meetings stemming from online groups. The Meetup site has spawned a number of such groups, many stemming from LinkedIn, while Tweetups have grown in popularity too.

This has led to a greater diversity of choice of events; with the growth of niche networks predicted in my previous article. There are networking events for people looking for investment, those interested in property, people in fashion, the arts, the media, bloggers, politics, women’s networks… the list is endless.

The choice of events available to businesses wanting to network means that traditional groups, from Chambers of Commerce to referral networks such as BNI, will have to keep on their toes, keep thinking creatively and perhaps look for ways to enhance their offering and continue to innovate if they are to maintain their relevance to their existing membership and attract new members.

The abundance of networking options also affects the membership fees traditionally charged by networking organisations. With a host of events available for free, members of networking groups will want to see higher fees fully justified. The upside of this is that more businesses are looking to see what the return on their networking investment is, and thinking through how they spend their time. It will be a struggle for some larger organisations though, who rely on such fees to stay in business.

The Wider World

The economic crisis over the last two years will provide one source of consolation to traditional networks. While there is far greater choice than ever for people looking to network, there are also many more people who want and need to do so. The sheer number of redundancies will have led to a surge in consultants and micro businesses, people choosing to take their chances and go it alone rather than risk trying to find another job in a tough and uncertain market. The first piece of advice they are likely to have received when setting up their business in many cases will have been, “go out and network”.

Additionally, I expect to see more networking activity from corporate sales teams in the coming years. The budget cuts forced by the recession, together with the rise in popularity of LinkedIn among staff nervous about their jobs, has raised the profile of networking as a route to market. Sales teams are beginning to recognise the need to work smarter and attend more events. Budget holders are also demanding greater results from staff who previously just ticked the box by attending events. Now they feel more pressure to show a return on the investment.

My only concern is the perceived need to show short-term results. Traditionally sales people from large organisations have followed their instincts and looked to sell at events. When they have inevitably failed, they’ve written off networking as a route to market. For corporates to realise the potential from networks, they have to take a much more strategic, long-term view and give their teams the confidence and freedom to build relationships, help others in their network and generate referrals over time.

Similarly, away from networking events, sales teams have a wealth of potential new business introducers within their existing networks if they embrace a strong referral strategy. It’s time for them to move away from looking at referrals as an afterthought at the end of a client meeting and hone a more focused approach. Marketing teams have shown that they recognise the power of word of mouth marketing through viral and buzz marketing, as well as social media. The next step is to develop this into the referral arena. This will take time and I’m not sure that we will see this on a wide scale in the immediate future.

Networking Internally

Of course, networking is not just about sales and perhaps its key role currently in corporate life is in personal career development. This is a trend that I expect to see continuing and perhaps even accelerating.

With less job security and flatter management structures providing fewer opportunities to progress, people need to network to develop their career. There is less of a culture of ‘a job for life’ than even ten years ago and people’s networks both internally and externally play an ever-stronger role in their career planning.

If you work in a large organisation you need to have a strong profile across departments if you want to progress your career. Internal networks play an important part in helping people make the connections and have the conversations they need. Most major organisations have women’s networks and an increasing number of similar opportunities will present themselves. I believe that the ability to network effectively will increasingly become a skill that employers look for when recruiting for new positions.

The Future of Networking

Relationship-building and strong networks are becoming more vital as the nature of business and employment changes. These qualities have grown in importance over the last decade but the combination of social media technology and the economic climate over recent years has accelerated that growth.

We are entering a period where those with weak networks and poor interpersonal skills will find life increasingly difficult. And it will be the same whether you run your own business, are employed by someone else or you are a student looking at your plans for the future.

In a connected society, those people who have the wherewithal to build and leverage a strong and diverse network are going to have the advantage. We now hear more talk about ‘relationship capital’ and ‘social capital’, further evidence that human connections are becoming recognised for their role in business and career building.

The tools are now in place to help people who want to take their relationships to another level. A clear strategy for doing so, together with a strong focus on why, will help make the difference.

*Direct2Dell blog June 2009

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year. I hope you had an excellent break over the Festive Season and took some time out to recharge your batteries and hit the new year fresh and ready to move towards your goals.

On New Years Eve I found myself being asked why so many people were talking about the fact it is a new decade and making such a big issue about it. Whether a new year or decade, such landmarks in the calendar allow us to take stock of what we have achieved in the previous period and refocus our efforts going forward. Where things have been going well we naturally want to build on our success, where we've struggled it's an opportunity to draw a line and start moving forward.

Last year was very tough for many people. Whatever your experiences, take a couple of minutes to think about how well your networks helped you towards your goals and what one or two things you can change to improve the return from your networking.

Hopefully these blogs will give you some ideas about changes you can make, pick the ones that will make a big difference to you and choose to put them into action.