Tag Archive for 'Networking'

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.

Why strategic alliances are a 21st century imperative

In the 1990s, when I began thinking about how to help entrepreneurs prepare for the 21st century, I condensed the areas requiring a heightened level of importance into three critical disciplines:

1. Leveraging technology in every aspect of your business;

2. Professional networking, as opposed to just meeting new people;

3. Building strategic alliances as a growth strategy.

If by now you haven’t become at least somewhat proficient with the tech stuff, you don’t have much time to adapt, adopt and survive. Better get busy.

And thanks to the work of people like the legendary Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International (BNI), most of us now subscribe to what I call Misner’s Razor: “It isn’t netplay; it’s network.”

But what about that alliance thing?

Blasingame’s Second Law of Small Business states: It’s redundant to say, “undercapitalized small business.” It’s a natural law that small businesses come to the end of their resources - people, assets, technology, cash and credit - much quicker than do our big business brethren and sistren. So by that definition, we have to do something as primordial as when Og asked Gog to hold the chisel while he carved out his new stone invention that looked a lot like a donut. We have to seek and develop alliances.

Answer these questions:

  • Is your business growth hampered by a lack of people, capital or other assets?
  • Would you like to bid on a request-for-proposal (RFP) that has specifications beyond your company’s ability to perform?
  • Are you reluctant to ask a large customer about their future plans for fear that your organization may not be able to step up to the answer?

If you answer any of these - or variations thereof - in the affirmative, perhaps it’s time to pursue one or more of these three alliance examples, in descending order of formality.

Partnership

A partnership is more formal and typically longer term. Regardless of how it’s structured, in general, all partners have a vested interest in the success of the entire enterprise. Think of two business owners buying a commercial duplex and sharing the space because neither has the cash or credit to swing the deal alone. Most partnerships are best organized with the help of an attorney. But remember, because it’s more formal, probably even legally binding, choose your partners well.

Once, when consulting a mentor about choosing a business partner, he used hyperbole to encourage caution by saying, “A partner is only good for two things: sex and dancing.” But it isn’t hyperbolic to say that alignment of values between the parties is imperative to a successful partnership. This is a natural law: Regardless of how symbiotic the combined contributions may be to the venture, a partnership founded by parties with conflicting values is doomed from the beginning. Choose your partners well.

Subcontractor

By definition, a subcontractor becomes a contractual participant you bring in to help fulfill a larger project for which you are the lead vendor or general contractor. Unlike a partner, a sub expects to get paid for delivery of work or products regardless of how the project turns out.

Subcontractors are a great way to leverage your business without giving up control of the opportunity. But remember that with this step you’ve created a performance chain. And we all know that any chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A weak subcontractor could undermine your performance, harm your brand, and may even take you down.

Like partners, choose your sub-contractors well.

Strategic alliance

This relationship is typically less formal. Let’s say a web designer, a programmer and a search engine optimization expert plug each other in on projects as peers, instead of as subcontractors. After a project is executed and paid for, the participants go their own way until the next symbiotic scenario. The most successful professionals I know claim, nurture and go to market with many and varied strategic alliance relationships. And most were born from networking.

Going forward, I believe we’re going to see more enthusiasm and growth in the marketplace than in the past few years. That should mean more business, which should present more opportunities for alliances.

Before giving up on a project because you don’t have the in-house resources, look around for ways to create alliances that allow you to take advantage of an opportunity.  Start establishing them now - before you need them.

Write this on a rock … If Og the caveman can create an alliance, you can, too.

Six steps to grow your business with referrals

Do you have enough customers? Here’s a better question: Do you have enough of the right kind of customers?

Do you agonize and strategize over the marketing plan you’ve designed to position offerings in front of your profile prospect? What’s the right message, platform, frequency, etc.? And do you then pray that the precious cash you’ve commit to marketing crosses over that pivotal line from expense to investment?

Agony and prayer; not a great strategy, right? But if this sounds familiar, you’re in good company. Marketing legend, John Wanamaker (1838-1922) once lamented, “Half of my advertising budget is wasted; I just don’t know which half.” It’s true, marketing metrics have come a long way since Mr. Wanamaker’s time, but that emerging science has been somewhat marginalized by increasing pressure from the digital marketplace. Indeed, getting customers on the proverbial dotted line is still challenging in the 21st century, especially for small businesses.

Beyond marketing, perhaps the primary reason for our customer acquisition challenge can be attributed to a human trait that’s at once primordial and unfortunate: We make things harder than they have to be. There are many examples, but arguably one of the most dramatic is also one of the simplest to fix: failure to ask for referrals.

Business referrals are now, and have always been there for the picking. And they’re as old school fundamental as they are new school relevant. So why don’t more people take advantage of this low-hanging fruit? It’s that can’t-get-out-of-my-own-way thing. Too many salespeople and organizations don’t have a referral strategy and teach referral practices.

Even though getting referrals is fall-off-a-log easy, there are specific practices to follow. Here are six I recommend to help you get started with your strategy.

  1. Spend as much time developing a referral strategy as you do a marketing strategy. When you do, two things will happen very quickly: you’ll gain new customers you weren’t getting from marketing, which will take performance pressure off of your marketing plan.
  2. Identify existing customers who like what you do. Each one is that valuable asset called a center-of-influence (COI).
  3. Explain – in person – that you need their help and how they can help you. For example: “Mr. Smith, thank you for your business over the years. We’d like to have more customers like you. I’m sure you ask your customers for referrals, and would like to ask if I may do the same with you.”
  4. Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International (BNI) furnishes the next critical question: “Who do you know who …has your high standards?” “…uses the products we offer?” “…you would like to help do business with good companies like ours?” (Your “Who do you who …” here.)
  5. When you get a referral, thank the COI profusely before, during and after the subsequent contact, especially if you get the business. One thing I always say to my COIs is, “If a referral is a friend (or customer) before I contact them, I promise they will still be after I talk with them.”
  6. For millennia, business referrers have been paying it forward. As Ivan Misner says, “Givers gain.” The best way to have a sustainable referral strategy is to be an active referrer yourself. It’s much easier to ask someone for a referral to whom you’ve just given a referral.

If you’re still not sold on referrals, look around and you’ll see many successful businesses that grow only by referrals – essentially no marketing. There’s one primal reason why referrals can be more productive than marketing: People are hard-wired to want to help other people when they’re asked.

Get out of your own way and make a full commitment to creating and executing a referral strategy.

Write this on a rock … Referrals are low-hanging fruit just waiting for you to harvest.

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.

The Power Question: Ask it and then deliver

One hundred twenty years ago, lawyer Paul J. Harris moved his practice to Chicago. While he enjoyed the new opportunity his adopted city afforded, Harris missed the friendly relationships he knew growing up in a small Vermont town.

One fall day in 1900, while walking around the Windy City’s North Side with Bob Frank, Harris noticed the connections his friend had made with local shopkeepers and it made him long for this kind of interaction. He wondered if, like himself, other professionals who had emigrated from rural America to the big cities, might be experiencing the same feeling of loss.

Over the next few years, Harris couldn’t stop asking himself this question: Could such human connection activity be channeled into organized settings for professionals and business people? Today we know the answer to Harris’ question is civic groups, but at the dawn of the 20th century, this innovation had yet to be invented.

Then on February 23, 1905, Paul Harris put his connection question to the test when he and three friends founded the world’s first civic club. They named it Rotary because they planned to rotate weekly meetings between each member’s office.

Now an international success story, 33,000 Rotary clubs around the globe are still based on Harris’s founding principle of “Service above Self.” Harris’ original dream was to connect people for the benefit of all parties. He probably didn’t use this term, but his 1905 connecting formula is the modern definition of networking.

Three-quarters of a century later, Ivan Misner had a dream of creating a structured networking model when he founded Business Network International. Misner’s goal was very much like Harris’s but with the specific purpose of business people meeting regularly to help each other grow their businesses.

Though not a civic organization, the motto of BNI’s 7,400 chapters worldwide, “Givers gain,” is completely compatible with Rotary’s founding pledge. If you turned either one into an offer to someone else, you get what I call the Power Question: “What can I do to help you?”

The significant international success of Rotary and BNI has revealed and reinforced two important truths: 1) networking is an essential professional discipline; and 2) putting others first is powerful.

This month Rotarians will celebrate the 111th anniversary of Paul Harris’ dream-come-true, and BNI celebrates International Networking Week. Whether you participate in a civic club, a BNI chapter, your local chamber of commerce or other group, become a more frequent, accomplished and selfless networker. Because face-to-face networking is the original social media and it’s still important.

Write this on a rock … You don’t have to join any group to ask and deliver on the Power Question.

Click here to listen to or download interviews with Ivan Misner.

VIDEO: Are you practicing Age of the Customer prospecting rules?

The rules of prospecting have changed and control of the primary elements have shifted along with it. As the Age of the Seller is replaced with the Age of the Customer®, it’s more important than ever to prepare for the moment of relevance. Are you ready?

Click the link below or click the image to begin the video.

Are you practicing Age of the Customer prospecting rules? from Jim Blasingame on Vimeo.




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