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?