Monthly Archive for March, 2016

Six “networking thoughts” for success, plus one bonus

Networking is one of the three most important areas small business owners should focus on in the 21st century. The other two are leveraging technology and developing strategic alliances.

My definition of networking is: actively making professional relationships, developing and maintaining those relationships, and leveraging them for the benefit of all parties. But before you can develop a relationship, you first have to meet the other person and establish a basis for future contact.

Networking opportunities are everywhere you turn, but especially at Chamber of Commerce events or any venue likely to be attended by business and community leaders.

Before you enter a networking environment, it’s important to understand that successful networking is an acquired skill, like playing golf. In fact, we could actually take a lesson from those who seek the little white ball.

Good golfers address each shot with what are called “swing thoughts.” They orient their pre-swing routine - and the actual swing - around these fundamentals, which will help them make a good shot.

Inspired by the work of my friend, Andrea Nierenberg, author of Nonstop Networking, I’ve created a few networking thoughts, or NT for short. Please, try these at home.

NT #1. Make eye contact
One of the worst things that can be said about your human interaction skills is that you don’t look the person you’re talking to in the eye. Andrea says you should be able to remember the color of the person’s eyes that you just met.

NT #2. More ears - less mouth
This is an old adage, but it’s an essential NT for most of us. You’ll be more likely to impress someone by your interest in them rather than the other way around.

NT #3. Smile
Ladies are usually better at this than men. But the smile must be genuine, and is best accomplished in combination with NT #1.

NT #4. Firm handshake
Men are usually better at this than the ladies, but don’t turn it into a wrestling match. And guys, when you’re shaking the hand of a lady, it’s the opposite of dancing: let the lady lead. Ladies, that means offer your hand first and give ‘em a good squeeze.

NT #5. Elevator speech
This is your very short and concise response if someone asks what you do. And unless one of you is actually getting off an elevator, be thinking about NT #2, and follow your little speech with a sincere inquiry about them.

NT #6. Successful networking benefits all parties
Re-read the definition of networking. Enter any networking opportunity with NT #6 on your mind, instead of “What’s in it for me?” and your networking success will increase exponentially. This is also the Law of Reciprocity, which Ivan Misner, founder of BNI shortened into: Givers gain.

Write this on a rock … Bonus NT: It’s net-working, not net-playing.

What politicians, small business and mice have in common

Almost 20 years ago, Dr. Spencer Johnson wrote a legendary book titled, Who Moved My Cheese? It tells a story about four characters who ate only cheese.

Early in the story all four characters went to the same place in their world – a maze – to get cheese. The first two were not picky about their cheese or where they found it – it was just food. In fact, the current place in the maze where they found and ate cheese was literally just that. So when someone moved their cheese, they immediately started looking for the new place where cheese was being put.
For the second two characters in Johnson’s story, cheese represented more than food; they had allowed themselves to become defined by the specific cheese found in that specific place in the maze. To them, this cheese was more than nourishment, it also represented their esteem, success and happiness. You’ve heard of being hidebound. Well you might say these two were cheesebound (my term, not Johnson’s), which really wasn’t a problem until someone moved their cheese.

Twenty-five years ago, in his book (and film), Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, futurist Joel Barker defined a paradigm as a set of rules that: 1) establishes/defines boundaries; and 2) tells you how to be successful within those boundaries. Barker says paradigms, both written and unwritten, can be useful until there’s a shift, which is what happened to the cheesebound characters in Johnson’s story. When someone moved their cheese, instead of looking for new cheese like their maze-mates, they whined and dithered so long in the old place – now devoid of cheese – that they put their survival in jeopardy.

Johnson’s cautionary tale – and the two sides of Barker’s paradigm coin – apply to all parts of life, especially politics and business.

For generations, the Democrat and Republican Parties each showed up at the same corner of their own political maze where they had always found the same cheese. Like the second characters in Johnson’s story, both parties had been nourished and defined by the cheese they found in that specific spot. But when someone moved their cheese, as the electorate is doing now, the cheesebound members whine and struggle to maintain their identity instead of taking action to find new cheese. In his book Johnson says, “Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese.”

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are like the first two characters in Johnson’s story. Neither define themselves by the old cheese in the old location. They went looking for and, to the surprise of their party leadership, found new cheese. Johnson says, “Movement in a new direction helps you find the new cheese.”

Small business owners should watch the clinic that the Democrats and Republicans are putting on this year on the wages of being cheesebound. Like the electorate, customers are moving cheese and shifting paradigms all over the marketplace. You cannot afford to become cheesebound.

Write this on a rock … Blasingame’s Law of Business Love: It’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but it’s not okay to fall in love with how you do it.

Do you value your soybeans more than your time?

Ever think about time as a commodity? Commodity: something in common use, readily available and virtually the same wherever you find it.

Time certainly fits that definition, doesn’t it? But so does a soybean.

Time may be the only commodity we haven’t synthesized. Until we do, it will continue to be unique among commodities and, consequently, our most valuable. And yet, as precious as time is, it’s an expensive irony that it’s the commodity we often waste the most, sometimes as if it were worth nothing. Meanwhile, we take extreme measures to protect every soybean.

So, what’s the solution? Organization – it’s the nexus between time and productivity.

We commit resources to acquire all kinds of stuff – information, materials, etc. – with the intention of accomplishing something, like a bid or a marketing project, which typically will need to happen within a predetermined period of time. But whether it happens as planned — including on-time —often depends more on how organized we are than our capability, or the information and resources we’ve acquired.

If someone stole your new $2000 computer, you would have them arrested. But how often has being unorganized cost you more than $2000 in an unsuccessful bid, loss of a contract or other opportunity? In the justice system of the marketplace, that’s the same as being arrested, indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced to some level of failure. So what does your organization “record” look like?

But let’s cut ourselves a little slack. It’s not easy for a small business to be organized when you have one person doing the work of three, or 25 doing the work of 40. Such ratios are one of the markers of a small business – doing more with less – especially these days. Consequently, a large project can be so intimidating that it creates the dread disease that’s worse than anything your soybeans could get: procrastination.

Professional organizers say cure procrastination with one critical practice: Break large projects into an assembly of smaller ones. Instead of thinking about a large project like it’s an elephant you have to eat all at once, split it into an assembly of smaller pieces and take them on one at a time.

How small is small? How about small enough to complete while you’re waiting on hold? Not with the IRS. Much shorter, like with a customer.

Break big projects into bite-size pieces to help you work smarter, not harder; increase your competitive advantage; and use that most precious commodity - time - more efficiently.

Write this on a rock … Value your time like you’d value a load of soybeans.

Now is the winter of our economic discontent

If you’re wondering how the economy’s doing, here’s what top news outlets are reporting: “U.S. GDP Fizzles in the fourth quarter” (Marketwatch.com); “Economy grinds to a halt in last quarter 2015” (Money.CNN.com).

But there’s good news: Q1 2016 GDP is projected to be in the 2% range, unlike the two previous first quarters in 2014 and 2015, which were both negative. It’s asking a lot of the other three quarters to put together a good year when you start out in the hole.

One of the ways I take the pulse of the Main Street economy is through our weekly online poll. Recently we asked this question: “Halfway through the 1st quarter, how’s the local economy producing sales for you?” When I compare the responses we got this time to similar questions over the past four or five years, I see movement toward the middle from the top and bottom. Let me explain.

The top group, 13% reporting sales as “great,” is lower than past polls, which have been consistently closer to 25%. The bottom group, who are “in trouble,” came in at 3%, down from around 15%.

Then we have the two in the middle: Those who said their sales volume was off represents about a third of our sample, a little higher before; and those who reported sales as good but not great, increased to half of our responses, up from about 35% in the past. By the way, our poll tracks very closely to the January NFIB Small Business Index and a new AICPA survey.

Our latest measurement reflects the current condition of Main Street businesses: fewer are doing great, while the “just okay” and “not quite as good” are increasing, with the bottom group succumbing to the insidious condition CNSNews.com just reported as a “record 1o years with the U.S. economy less than 3%.”

With a decade of stagnation, the last seven years of which can be attributed to the anti-business rhetoric and policies of the Obama administration, any performance improvement by small firms is attributed to better management practices and the kind of dint of will only found on Main Street.

Economists I regard are predicting 2016 GDP growth of about 2.5%. With the condition of the global economic and geo-political challenges, achieving this level of annual growth will be largely on the backs of the American consumer and the discipline – past and present – of millions of Main Street small businesses.

Here’s good news no one else is talking about: When the economy finally does convert from our 10-year winter of discontent to an actual expansion, surviving small businesses will be so organizationally and financially sound that they will be set to make more profits than anyone has ever seen.

Write this on a rock … But only those who survive.

Poll results: Your local economy and sales

The Question:
Halfway through the 1st quarter, what’s the condition of the local economy and your sales?

13% - Our economy is strong and sales are great.
50% - Our economy and sales are good, but not great.
34% - Our economy is weakening — sales volume is off.
3% - Our economy is very weak, and we’re in trouble.

Jim’s Comments:

I think our poll response reflects exactly what the economy is doing: fewer are doing great, more are getting a little better and, after seven years of a moribund economy, most of the troubled companies have already closed up. I’m going to have a lot more to say about this in my Featured Column next week, so stay tuned.

Thanks for your abiding support of our poll each week. Check out our new one below.

With the success of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, is the political midpoint of the American electorate shifting left?




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