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Six networking tips for International Networking Week — plus a bonus one

This is International Networking Week. I know – I’m excited too!

But before you head out, help me recognize two world-class leaders for first making networking a thing, and then for making it a big thing.

On February 23, 1905, lawyer Paul J. Harris got a handful of friends together and founded Rotary, the world’s first civic club. Initially, his goal was just to grow his practice. But Harris soon realized this could be big because Rotary clubs caught on and, you might say, went viral. Now after over a century of international success, 33,000 Rotary clubs around the globe meet every week to network. And millions of people worldwide have benefited as Rotarians have delivered on Harris’s founding principle, “Service above self.”

Three-quarters of a century later, Dr. Ivan Misner also had a rather parochial idea that caught on around the world. What began simply as a plan to meet other professionals in order to grow his consulting business, rather quickly became Business Network International. Over 30 years, 7,500 worldwide chapters and millions of business referrals later, the BNI watchword is “Givers gain.”

After more than a half-century in the marketplace, more than 25 years as a Rotarian, and almost 20 years as a friend of BNI, here’s what I call the Networking Power Question: “What can I do to help you?”

There are two fundamental reasons Rotary and BNI caught on and have endured:

1. Networking is the professional version of the naturally gregarious nature of humans – we just like doing it;

2. Done right, the headwaters of networking is a commitment to what’s best for the person on the other side of the handshake. And after a century of organized practicing, we know the awesome power of putting others first.

Now, let’s get your International Networking Week off to a successful start by considering these networking thoughts (NT) that were inspired by my friend and networking goddess, Andrea Nierenberg.

NT #1.  Make eye contact

Clearly the cardinal sin of networking is not looking the person you’re talking to in the eye.  Nierenberg 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. “Tell me about your business,” and then, “Tell me more.”

NT #3.  Smile – a lot!

Ladies are usually better at this than men. But the smile must be genuine, and is best accomplished in combination with NT #1. You don’t have to grin guys. Just turn up the corners of your mouth a little.

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.  No one likes a dead fish/limp elbow handshake.

NT #5. Elevator speech

This is your very short and concise response when it’s your turn to talk. And unless one of you is actually getting on an elevator, be thinking about NT #2, and follow your little pitch with a sincere inquiry about them. “Now, tell me about you.”

NT #6. Successful networking benefits all parties

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. Remember the legendary Rotary and BNI mottos, “Service above self” and “Givers gain.”

Here’s a bonus NT from Misner: “It’s not netplay, it’s network.”

Make it your personal goal to become a professional networker. And then watch success come and play in your backyard.

Write this on a rock … Face-to-face networking is the original social media.

Four marketplace truths about your customers

Spend time in the marketplace and you’ll have many close encounters of the third kind with the most interesting species in all of nature: the human being. And as we have learned, the nature of humans isn’t much different from other animals: All need to breathe, eat, drink, procreate and survive.

But there is something that clearly sets humans apart from other fauna: sentience. And one of the manifestations of being self-aware is that beyond what humans need, they also want.

Every human who owns an automobile will need to buy new tires. But what they want is to keep the family safe while not spending a Saturday buying tires. So if you’re in the tire business, should you advertise tires, which are commodities that the Big Boxes can sell cheaper than your cost? Or should you develop and market a customer loyalty program that combines peace of mind for your family with pick-up and delivery? How about this tag line:

Let us worry about when you need new tires and get your Saturday back.

Basically the hairless weenies of the family animalia, human beings need shelter, but we want a home. So if you’re a realtor, should you focus on the obligatory list of residential features, or how the physical setting and interior space fit what you’ve learned is your customer’s sense of a home? Try this on:

Mrs. Johnson, countertops can be replaced. What I want to know is how much will you love seeing the sun rising over that ridge as you enjoy your first cup of coffee every morning?

Humans, like thousands of other warm-blooded species, need to eat every day, whether they get to or not. But unlike other animals, only humans want to dine. If you own a fine dining restaurant, do you emphasize the food, or the potential for a lasting memory? Check it out:

Long after you’ve forgotten how wonderful our food is, you’ll still remember that table for two in the corner or the booth next to the fireplace.

Small business success requires understanding these marketplace truths:

1. What customers need are commodities driven by price.

2. The price war is over, and small business lost.

3. What customers want is anywhere from a little bit more to everything.

4. Customers will pay more for what they want – charge them for delivering it.

As a small business success strategy, delivering what customers want or selling commodities they need, is as Mark Twain said, “like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Write this on a rock … Find out what humans want, deliver it, and charge for it.

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.

Replace worry & fear with business performance

In his book, Blue Highways, William “Least Heat Moon” Trogdon said his Osage Indian grandfather, William “Heat” Moon, taught him this about worry: “Some things don’t have to be remembered; they remember themselves.”

Owners are justified in worrying about their small businesses, but sometimes they waste emotional energy worrying about things over which they have little or no control, or aren’t likely to happen.

In the movie, Bowfinger, Eddie Murphy played Kit Ramsey, an action movie star also famous for being a pathological worrier. He leads a frightened and miserable life because he worries about strange things that would never happen.

Ramsey’s greatest worry was being captured, killed and eaten by space aliens. He also worried about being crushed by a gigantic foot, or that his body might burst into flames. Pretty silly, huh?!

Watching Murphy play this unstable character is hilarious. But it’s not funny or silly when you and I worry about things that, like Ramsey’s obsessions, probably will never happen.

·  Instead of aliens, how much do you stress out about your business being killed and eaten by the dreaded Internet competition?

Stop obsessing about online competitors. First, you should be an online competitor yourself. Second, without a fixed base, online-only competitors may have what customers need, but you have something more powerful: You know what customers want.

·  Instead of being stepped on by a giant foot, do you obsess about being squashed by one of the Big Boxes?

In The Age of the Customer, prospects often rule you in or out before they know how much you charge. You can establish a level of relevance with prospects and customers that no Big Box can, as they continue to focus first on being competitive.

·  Instead of bursting into flames, do you wake up in the night obsessing that your business might go up in smoke if customers abandon you?

In The Age of the Customer, you actually should obsess about customer expectations, otherwise they won’t really leave, you’ll just become irrelevant.

Instead of living a frightened and miserable life like Kit Ramsey, put that energy into performing so well that any competitor would be hard-pressed to take customers away. Build relationships with customers to the degree that when something they want pops into their heads, as Trogdon’s grandfather would say, your company remembers itself.

Write this on a rock -

Don’t live a frightened and miserable life. Replace worry with action and performance.

Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

Should the Internet become a utility?

As you may remember, I’ve been reporting on the Net Neutrality issue for over a decade, including all the significant players in the debate.

Most reasonable people agree that one of the reasons the Internet has been such a phenomenal success is because it has been so lightly regulated. However, as I reported recently, President Obama has taken executive steps to make the Internet a public utility, subject to all sorts of government oversight.

When we asked our small business audience what they thought about this plan, almost three-fourths reject the president’s idea, with only 2% who think his plan is good.

One reason for this overwhelming response against the president is because small business owners have benefited on many levels, directly and indirectly, from an unencumbered Internet. And since over half of the U.S. economy is produced by small businesses, the president should pay attention to what this sector thinks.

In case you missed them, here are links to three articles I’ve written about the president’s  behavior regarding the Internet.

Why you should care about the net neutrality debate

If you like your Internet, you may not be able to keep it

Obama’s Internet words don’t match his actions

Obama’s Internet words don’t match his actions

“You will know them by their fruits.” This ancient wisdom is from the author of the Gospel of Matthew.

Sixteen centuries later, in his book “Will and Doom,” the Rev. Gershom Bulkeley, paraphrased Matthew with, “Actions are more significant than words.”

In the 21st century this timeless maxim continues to serve as we hear President Obama say, “I intend to protect a free and open Internet.”

In the past I’ve reported my concerns about the future of the Internet under the Obama administration. If you believe the Internet is one of mankind’s greatest inventions, if you like its current low barrier to entry for personal and professional benefit, if you’re responsible for the future of a business, then you should share my concerns.

CC Photo via Pixabay

CC Photo via Pixabay

1.  President Obama treats the Internet as a political and diplomatic bargaining tool. After the U.S. government was embarrassed by Edward Snowden’s theft of secrets, the President announced intentions to relinquish U.S. control of Internet governance to a “global, multi-stakeholder community,” even though there was time left on the contract with ICANN (For more on this, see my 3/23/14 column, “If you like your Internet, you may not be able to keep it”).

It’s no secret the U.N., a global, multi-stakeholder community, covets control of a ubiquitous asset through which it can exert more influence and levy a global use tax. Nothing fits that profile better than the Internet. If Obama’s governance plan for the Internet comes to pass, his words, “protect a free and open Internet … so innovators and entrepreneurs can reshape the world,” won’t match his actions.

2.  The commercial Internet has flourished for more than 20 years thanks to a very lightly regulated environment. By definition such broadband laissez-faire is unacceptable to President Obama, who wants to impose his own version of net neutrality.

Consequently, the President’s FCC chairman and straw man, Tom Wheeler, has announced plans for an “Open Internet Order” to reclassify broadband access as a “telecom service” under Title II of the Communications Act. This means the Internet would become a government regulated – and ultimately taxed – public utility. Turning the Internet into a utility would be like performing a heart transplant on someone who just needs a baby aspirin. (For more, see my 11/16/14 column “Why you should care about Net Neutrality”).

Today the Internet is not without governance and usage issues, but none that can’t be handled by marketplace participants large and small through contract, creativity and competition.

Write this on a rock … If Obama’s plans for the Internet come to pass, his words, “I intend to protect a free and open Internet,” will not match his actions.




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