Seven annoying types met whilst networking

Here is a bit of amusement about seven types of network attendees I would prefer to avoid:

1.People who come straight up to me, announce their product or service and thrust a card or leaflet in my hand. Do not try to sell to me.

2.People who give no one any time. They say their piece and move on.

3.People who go to networking events to collect business cards so that they can subscribe everyone to their email newsletter without asking.

4.People who make a promise about something such has making a connection or referral and never follow-up.

5.People who interrupt a conversation to give their elevator speech.

6.People who criticize those whom they see as their competitors.

7.People who say this networking event is not as good as another one, unless they are being constructive in helping improve the one they are at.

Of course there are other annoyances. Which ones do you dislike most?

Manage yourself, manage your clients

In running our own businesses it is very easy to not allow ourselves enough recreation time, or time not just working. Of course we do not just keep regular working hours. Most of us attend to our tasks at odd hours, but part of the advantage of working for ourselves is that we can, now and again, take some personal time during the working week, either when we wish to or sometimes when it is thrust upon us, such as (in my case recently) helping elderly relatives.

We do need to stop ourselves from being at our clients’ or customers’ beck and call at all times. I have a quite technical business anyway, but I do not give out my mobile (cell) number unless absolutely necessary. The number is not on my business card. Usually if I am not available in the office during normal working hours it is because I am with a client or out and about seeing clients or at networking events. It is not convenient for me to take calls and probably I could not answer with confidence without my file any questions that might be asked. My assistant will take messages and I can call back when convenient.

Generally I do not do client work at weekends, except at the height of our tax season, and even then not the last weekend because I organise my clients to spare me the last-minute rush. I do write articles and blog posts at weekends because I enjoy doing it, and it is great when a sort of recreation has a useful marketing function (there, I admit it: I market; actually quite a lot).

So if my client calls on a Friday afternoon at 4.30 and asks if I can produce a document needed by first thing Monday morning, I may look askance at the request.

Firstly, I may have plans for the weekend. Secondly, I have to ask myself whether I should modify or abandon those plans and whether I have time anyway.

Thirdly, I ask myself whether this is a really good client, who has become a friend and who would not ask unless it was desperate. Alternatively is this an inconsiderate nuisance client who apparently thinks they are my only client, but does not go as far as paying me on time? This is where I manage their expectation and their presumption in deciding what to do. Of course, that is not to say that I won’t help with something I would have time to do on Monday morning. I am not cussed.

I look after all my clients well, but they do not own me or my leisure time. I will do a special favour based on its merits, but at weekends, home and family comes first.

Do you have this trouble from clients or customers? How do you deal with it?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Fear of the unknown in business

I wrote a little about being courageous in business a while back and was reminded that FEAR can stand for False Evidence Appearing Real (thank you Martin). Now we may often be worried about doing something that is a complete leap in the dark especially if there is a serious financial risk. We all have to be realistic, which is why I am not starting a bakery. I have no experience of baking bread (well, not much) and would not know anything about making fancy cakes, which I think I would need even if I brought in specialist bakers. The problem is I know nothing about the trade and would have to learn from scratch.

What does surprise me is when there would be no downside in trying something new. I thought of this yesterday as I was out walking and passed the long jump area on a school playing field. In the long jump, even if we think we are not great jumpers, we might as well have a go even if we shut our eyes at the moment of the big leap. After all, we are going to land in a nice soft sandpit, and you never know, we might just have performed a great jump.

As far as I am concerned, anything is worth a go if it might improve my business and it would not even cost me money. If there is a cost, we still should try it if we can weigh up and perceive a good chance of success.

What is the problem for many? Self doubt. People find excuses. “I have never tried it.” “I don’t think I can do it.” I have heard it this week from computer literate business people of my vintage. “I am too old to try Twitter.” Well, try it. Ask someone to point you in the right direction. If you don’t get it after a few weeks then give up, but in the meantime you do know how to have a conversation, don’t you?
Rain forest lizard
It’s the old instinctive reaction, the knee-jerk, the lizard brain which Seth Godin often talks about and which stops people doing what they know intellectually they should. Even very intelligent people may resist an unfamiliar experience.

My father is in his late eighties and manages to order my parents’ supermarket deliveries on-line. If he can do that, why can’t we try all the new opportunities and tools available to improve our businesses? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Some things start-up businesses need to know about

When we start our business, most of us have a good idea and a plan to carry it out. Everyone should have a plan, but we need to be flexible enough to alter it according to circumstances. What no one tells us if we don’t ask is about all the mistakes we might make which can cost us money. It is always useful to be armed with a few tips, so here are some things I have learned.

1. When thinking about advertising and marketing, consider the best strategy to promote your business. What do others in your area of business do, and does it work for them? I thought that it would be useful to be in Yellow Pages (or the on-line equivalent, Yell.com). It cost me a fair amount of money until I worked out that these sorts of directories are really only effective for tradesman and specialist retailers. This leads me to:

2. You may find that one of the best ways to find new business is to go out networking. This involves getting out of your comfort zone a little, especially if you have been an employee and you are an introvert.. There is plenty on this site about networking and vast amounts of information available on-line, so look at BNI and other breakfast groups, and think what most suits you in terms of networking: formal, less formal, morning, lunchtime and evening.

3. Do not be afraid to ask for advice. If you have a problem, it is not a failure, just a learning process. Most people will be happy to make a suggestion.

4. Going on from item 3, many of those who can help are in your business. Do not look on them as competitors. They are colleagues who have the same issues.

5. There are quite a lot of nuisance telephone callers. I do not mean the cold callers in general. They have a job to do. However, deal firmly with the really pushy ones, because they will often try to sell you something you don’t need. If the product or service sounds useful, do some research and call back.

6. Never give your credit or debit card number to a cold caller. It sounds obvious, but it is an easy thing to do in a weak moment.

7. Some cold callers are out-and-out scammers, or crooks. They will try to sell you advertising in a police or fire service magazine or in a magazine of a charity, or ask for a donation to help the poor children in your area. Any of these is a red flag. The magazines probably don’t exist or if they do, they have nothing to do with the scammer. The charity for children will be a fiction too and someone has your card number if you are not careful. If you are suspicious, ask for a number to telephone back, or ask for the name and address of the company calling and the name of the owner. Any resistance to this and you know you were right to be suspicious. I fell foul of this trap once, too.

8. Do not borrow money against your house, and if you do borrow make sure that the payment terms are reasonable and your plan really supports the repayment schedule. Don’t chance it because the worry isn’t worth it.

9. If you are not up to keeping your accounts in apple-pie order, get someone else to help. Do not leave it to your accountant at the year-end because completing a year’s accounts from scratch can be costly. A good bookkeeper is well worth the investment.

10. Make sure you have all the insurance you could possibly need. Of course things shouldn’t go wrong if we are careful, but sometimes they do. If we are insured it should not be a problem, at least in financial terms.

None of us gets everything right. We learn and move on, and we ask for help when we need it.

One thing we can say is that running a business is never dull. What pitfalls have you seen along the way?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Breakfast referral networking and gaining trust

When I started out running my own business I was lucky enough to be recommended to join BNI. In terms of business, it was not a huge success for me mainly due to local reasons, but it was great training for much more successful breakfast networking later; successful because I have met great people and won more business.

Networking for business involves getting to know other business owners and gaining their trust. We know that if we can help others to find business we will get referrals back. It is not always something that works instantly. We may have to wait for business to come to us because gaining trust takes time. Once we are part of someone’s network, they will think of us when talking to people they know who need a product or service we can provide, and they will refer us only when they have learned to trust us not to embarrass them.

Breakfast groups have the potential to become very tight-knit with true bonds between the members meeting every week. As we learned in BNI, attendance is important to gain that trust, and so it should be.

Why wouldn’t we want to have a weekly meeting with our sales team, for the breakfast referral group is our sales team? It is the most important meeting of the week and we should arrange our other appointments with clients and prospects around attending our breakfast meeting.

If attendance once a week at your breakfast meeting is not that important to you, you just don’t get it. But you do, don’t you? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Need a service? Get recommendations

A couple of people I know had a little success selling items on eBay, and not wishing to be wage slaves all their lives invested a considerable amount of money setting up a shopping website serving a niche market they know well. I am all for enterprise, and would always wish them good luck. However, usually we need more than good luck, because we need to do proper research.

Our shopping site owners realised that they needed traffic to their website, for which they had paid quite a lot of money. They settled on a company which promised to get them up to the top of the search engines. As most of us know, this service is called Search Engine Optimization, SEO for short. They paid £3,000 over the first year, which is just over US$4,600 at the time of writing. Was their site easily found for the top key words a year later? No, it was nowhere to be seen.

The SEO company owned up to the failure and promised to work for free until they had got a result, which would be to get the site up the search rankings. Even if they are successful, at least another six months will have been lost, and there had been very few sales after the first year. My worry would be that if they failed once, they may well fail gain.

I know several SEO experts who really can deliver results. One or two may even read this post. To you I say that I have recommended you, but unfortunately pride gets in the way of making a judgment about spending even more money.

Sixteen months on, the site is still nowhere to be seen. I have tried several searches on key words I would use, one even using a word which is part of their URL, but I cannot find them unless by typing in the name of the business, which of course no one will do if they are just looking for a particular product.

I have not pressed the business owners again with my recommendations. I feel reluctant to intrude on private grief, but if either of them comments again on their poor sales I will bring the matter up. In a way I am pleased for them they have not given up their day jobs, but that very fact may explain why they lack business focus.

As most of us know, when buying in a service, do not go for advertising hype. Get a recommendation or two or go to someone you already know and trust. That way, apart from knowing about that provider’s ability to deliver,.they will have an added incentive not to let you down.

What is your experience? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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