A clear business message?

The other day I had a connection request on LinkedIn. When I looked at the person’s profile, I was none the wiser as to what he did for a living. There were two paragraphs of jargon. I did not understand a word.

I did try some research and believe he might build websites or maybe write software for building environment systems, but I am not really sure. He probably thinks that a search on LinkedIn for his specific skills will have him found by a recruiter. However if I knew what he did I might remember when someone was looking for a person like him… if I knew what a person like him did.

Asking for help

I was having a chat the other day with the chairman of our local Chamber of Trade. He said that many businesses are struggling around our way. I guess he would be in a good position to know, albeit his business is a notable success.

It struck me that when we meet other local business owners socially or at networking meetings, few people admit to their difficulties. It is polite to ask “How’s business?” but apparently so many are actually ashamed to admit that maybe business is not so good.

There are cynics who believe that many networkers do not care about their fellow business owners. It is true that there are certain types who just wish to sell to you and if you do not want to buy they lose interest in you. We have a local guy just like that, but no names, no pack drill. Just the same, there are many who can help and it is there for the asking.

Often someone in your network may not know they can help you, but the help they could give might be of mutual benefit. You might have bought a load of widgets and do not know how to sell them now. They might have a market or a contact, and there could be profit in it for both of you.  You might be bogged down with a contract that will cost you too much time and money to do now. They might be able to take the work off you with a much lower base cost to do. Again passing on or subcontracting could leave profit for both of you. You do not know if you don’t talk. I subcontract some work permanently to others I met through networking. We all make money out of it; decent money too.

Sometimes we need help we should pay for, such as marketing of anything which involves the other party doing all the work. Just the same, our businesses can be improved considerably through mutual cooperation. Ask for help, and if the first people you ask cannot assist you, they may know someone who can.

Don’t be shy. Ask.

Networking with old friends

Successful Business People.I have been in business on my own account for a dozen years, now. In that time, I have met many people, both in formal organised networking and just in bumping into people in the course of business.

I enjoy networking, and have a long track record of meeting new people. Isn’t it great?

Now, people come and go from our attention as we move on and expand our informal networks, and maybe we over-stretch ourselves. I think that in my case, although I must have met thousands of people, Dunbar’s Number is relevant. I can only relate to around 150 business friends. Some come into the group and some fade out, but 150 is a fair estimate of those in my circle.

When I look back, though, I have had a greater connection with certain people whom I may not have seen for a while. Those people I can still help, and maybe they can help me, and what is more, it is great to work with those who make one feel comfortable.

So it is that I have been catching up with old friends, seeing how we can help each other, and at the same time it is great to reminisce, compare notes and generally enjoy ourselves.

Are you staying in touch?

Can you network when you are shy?

To move ourselves on

To move ourselves on

I am a shy guy. It is just how I am. In those psychological tests they had in the Eighties and Nineties, and even into the Noughties, I ended up on the quiet introvert spectrum. I would have been too shy to volunteer for these tests, but large firms I worked for made everyone take them, and I even had one sprung on me as an “entertainment” after dinner at a tax conference. I preferred the roulette and blackjack games to that test.

You will gather that I was not confident to speak in public. As it happens, I had done a course on public speaking at my old firm’s training centre. This was not because I wanted to, but because I had done all the other courses at one time or another, but was short of training hours that year. I still have the VHS video of my last performance (presentation) on the course. I was terrible, jumping about, wringing my hands, and looking like a startled rabbit as I was trying to look around the room to meet the eyes of different members of the audience.

As an independent business person, I learned early on that I would have to network. I started with the breakfast meetings, and was pretty scared when I found that I would have to stand up and tell everyone about my business, even if I was only on my feet for one minute. Still, I had to do it.

You know what? I got used to it. It was good training. I learned that I had the support of those listening. They did not want me to fail, any more than I wanted them to when it was their turn. They were on my side and we were in it together.

Later, I was asked to do my “ten minutes”. That was not a problem. I started to enjoy it. I learned to talk without a set script, though we all need something to remind us to cover all the points we want to make.

After a while, I was comfortable visiting business groups to do longer presentations. It is really quite fun, as is meeting new people.

That is the point. Once I had “broken the ice” in terms of getting out there, I became used to mixing with my fellow business people and enjoying their company.

I am not a different person, though. Most would still consider me an introvert, and that is fair. Learning to network and to speak in public are like learning to ride a bike. We all had to get on our bikes, didn’t we?

Religion, politics and small business

An amateur radio operator, Yvette Cendes, KB3H...

An amateur radio operator, Yvette Cendes, KB3HTS, at station W8EDU, Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the Dark Ages when I studied for my amateur radio license we learned that we must not discuss politics and religion with our fellow hams. That was actually a condition of our licenses, but it is easy to understand why such talk was forbidden. We all have different views and these would lead to arguments and bad feeling.

When I was first licensed I used to talk to radio amateurs all over the place, but many were in what was then the Eastern Block. It was really nice to chat about everyday life as well as technical stuff, but it might have caused bad feeling if we had ever strayed into politics or even talked about how much better life was in the West.

I never had an argument with a fellow ham, but instead was able to build genuine relationships over the air. It was great.

Now in our on-line digital world we have social media and the noise of it all is deafening. Like most people, I share news stories on Twitter and Facebook, but I try to avoid being political. I look for interesting techie stuff, and tweet news relevant to my niche and followers. The closest I come to politics is passing on stories of communities in crisis due to war, but I do not speak in support of or against any faction or Government.

Of course I have my views, but I also have my network on-line, my colleagues and my potential clients, and those to whom I would look to refer business if they were the best fit for someone I know. The last thing I need to do is antagonise anyone with whom I might work.

I think I need to treat my business network in the same way as my radio contacts. I respect the fact they may have strong views and a right to those views. If I do not have any conversations concerning politics and religion there is hope we might work together in the future, which we will not do if we argue and end up hating each other.

Do you treat politics and religion as taboos never to be discussed on-line?

The End of Business Cards?

I checked my drawer the other day to see how many business cards I had left from the last print. To my surprise it was a lot more than I had thought.

This leaves me with a dilemma. In one sense, I need my cards updated. My business has evolved, and although the call to action on the reverse side is still relevant, it does not precisely chime with my favourite niche.

On the other hand, I am not handing out many cards these days. Once upon a time when I started with breakfast networking groups, we handed out loads of cards, gave other members a supply to give to their contacts, and generally hoped they would bring referrals. Now, I mostly give cards to people who actually ask me at networking meetings and elsewhere. I think that is because everyone is now aware they can find everyone else on-line, or at least they should be able to do so.

A deterrent to handing out many cards is the likelihood we will get on people’s email mailing lists. I guess we know if we go to a trade exhibition and get asked for our card that is because we will be put on the trader’s email marketing list. I do not feel guilty about unsubscribing from those, but when someone I meet while networking adds me to their email list, I feel worse about unsubscribing even though I did not give them permission to add me in the first place.

The reality is that there is much less call on my supply of business cards. I am more reluctant to hand them out and do not feel I am expected to. My contact information, my skills and my businesses’ niche services are on-line for everyone to see. Do we really need to order 1500 cards at a time as I did several years ago? In five years’ time, will I need any at all when there will be some app for each of us to pass our details and spread the word?

What do you think?

Promoting your start-up business – Part 5 – Networking

 

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Don’t be a networking butterfly (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

What is networking?

What do we mean by networking? It means getting to know people. We are a social species, and of course some are more social than others. I am quite a shy person by nature, and really had to push myself to get out and meet people when I started my own businesses. Other people, such as my wife, are natural networkers and real social animals, knowing large numbers of people in the local community without thinking about it.

Of course what I am concentrating on here is business networking rather than general social networking.

It is not possible to categorize or talk about every sort of business networking opportunity. Meeting any other person in business, or who is a potential client, is business networking. However, I will discuss the different types of organized meetings which are available in most towns and cities.

  • The one category of business per group / chapter.
  • The several category of business per group type.
  • Networking lunches usually with a talk from a business person.
  • General gatherings organized by chambers of commerce or small business membership organizations, representative and lobby groups.

BNI and others

What do I mean by “one category of business per group”? This is the model started really by Ivan Misner with Business Network International (BNI) in the Eighties. The format is that in every “Chapter” each type of business is represented by one member. There are no duplications of businesses.

Originally all the meetings were over breakfast, although some are over lunch now. The emphasis is on the networking, not the meal. During the meeting, and often during the meal, each member has perhaps one minute to talk about her / his business and the types of referrals wanted. The talk-time is strictly managed and the whole meeting is very much to a format.

Members often take turns on a rota basis to have a whole ten minutes every few months to talk about their business in more detail. Towards the end of the meeting, each member has an opportunity to pass referrals from their referral pad, and all referrals are monitored for quality and success by the Membership Co-ordinator (I have been one, as well as run such meetings myself).

When I first started out with a business no one knew about, and the Internet was less advanced, my coach suggested I tried BNI.  I am very glad I did. It gave me confidence to speak in front of other people and to present my ideas, and most importantly I got to know other local business owners almost immediately. I gained some business and referred quite a lot to the accountant, the solicitor, the carpenter, the web designer, the heating engineer and the financial adviser.

BNI was not hugely successful for me at the time in terms of business gained, but the confidence gained was invaluable. Long after I left I got a huge amount of business from another ex-member.

BNI is great when you start out. I think my BNI “life” of about three years was typical, but some still benefit hugely after a decade or so.

Non-exclusive groups

There are some membership organizations which run breakfast or lunch meetings, like BNI require a significant joining fee and membership subs, and also like BNI are franchised to local organizers. Unlike BNI they permit any number of people in the same business to go to the meetings and indeed to go to multiple meetings in different towns. Whether this works very well is hard to tell. It helps you meet others in your own business as well as many others, but may produce conflicts in terms of getting referrals. 4N is typical of such organizations in the UK. There will be many varieties around the world. Try them out and see how successful they seem. Many will allow trial membership.

Business lunches

I mentioned networking lunches, usually with a talk from a business person. These groups are also often part of a franchise. They have an advantage in that they are focused on networking and you will get good opportunities to talk to the people around you at length. You never know who you might meet who could be an ideal referrer (you might be theirs) or even the perfect person for a joint venture.

The general gatherings I mentioned, organized by chambers of commerce or small business membership organizations, tend to be less focused, in that there is no real format. You may be fortunate to find and gain business at one of these, but especially if they are free at the door or there is simply an entrance fee and no on-going membership required, people turn up to sell. They tend to go to every meeting of this type so that you keep on bumping into them, when you really do not want to see them. I call these people who turn up at every meeting to sell networking butterflies. They never settle and probably never get or receive business, so they waste their time..

It is most important in business networking not to sell, but to be interested in other people and listen to what they have to say. That way you will get more respect and more referrals.

Less useful lunches

As for Chambers of Commerce lunches, I guess it is worth trying one or two, but you may be out of luck if the primary stated object is not networking. I have nothing against pensioners. I am related to pensioners and am going to be one myself one day, but I have found Chamber lunches to be the domain of the retired. If they are not in business any more they are not likely to be able to help you, and are unlikely to think about referring you to their friends.

Get out there

I enjoy getting out to network. I like meeting people, which BNI trained me to do. I have since run a “BNI clone” group. I have tried different sorts of groups, and you should try various types too, to see which you like and which might work for you.

Do not be disappointed if results in terms of business gained are slow to start with. You have to persevere, get known, gain the confidence of other business owners, and show that you really do a great job for your customers and clients. Remember not to sell. Business will come from networking, and maybe years afterwards as it did for me from an ex-BNI colleague.

I would wish you good luck with your networking, but you should not need luck if you work on it and give it time.

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More “how not to network”

English: I took this picture.

Attribution: Thesydneyknowitall at en.wikipedia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday I reported on Twitter a power supply unit failure in my office important computer-server. By the time I tweeted about the mishap my usual computer repair shop down the road had already repaired the machine and had installed a new PSU within the hour. I was a happy bunny. Great service!

However, it did not stop one of my Twitter followers, one with just the egg for an avatar, messaging me to up-sell me to their cloud systems so that I could not lose my data; as if I do not back up all my data to the cloud anyway.

Worse still, they then look up my telephone number on my website and call to press home their attempted sale.

So here is a little lesson in networking as I see it (and of course you may differ):

  • Never sell to me either via social media or face-to-face networking.
  • Try to get to know me.
  • Talk about your business in a non-salesy way and earn my trust and
  • you may get a referral or
  • I may value you enough to give you my business, but only if you never sell to me.

I never buy anything on-line or over the telephone unless I initiate the contact because I have made a buying decision. I bet you don’t either. Do you?

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The politics of networking or rubbing your contacts up the wrong way

iStock_000005618867XSmallI love networking. I have not been out and about for a few months for reasons beyond my control, but I do like to get out and meet people. It is not just because I like getting business, although it helps, and it is not about the joy of giving a referral. It is just great to talk to others in business and to learn from them and to hear their latest news.

However in a decade of networking meetings face-to-face I have never got involved in a discussion about politics. Politics is very divisive. People get heated. They say unkind things when they discuss an issue. There are ad hominem attacks on individuals whether in the room or otherwise. Networkers-in-person simply know better than to engage in any political discussion beyond the state of the economy, and that is usually talking about the present rather than who is responsible for it, good or bad.

So why do people in normally perfectly nice on-line forums sometimes start political arguments? It is very upsetting if one finds oneself involved, or even, as I read the other day, see one’s own views trashed by proxy. Of course I have political views. What reasonably intelligent person does not? I just do not mention them on-line except in pointing out when politicians are simply factually wrong on a subject where I have specialist knowledge.

Even reading someone else’s throwaway comment in a thread on Facebook can be very hurtful, and while it may not be intended, it can put one right off the person, even if socially you really like her / him.

It comes back to being really careful what we say on-line. As I have said before, when I got my amateur radio license or “ticket” a long time ago, we were bound by the ethical instruction not to engage in discussion of politics or religion. It was and is a good rule, and should be applied to business networking. Then we can get on with business without having our feathers ruffled by some unfortunate comment. Can’t we?

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The meaning of influence in networking

Photo by LordNikon

Photo by Lord Nikon

These days in business marketing, and especially on-line, we hear a huge amount about influence. How much influence does a marketer or networker have?

In social media, some measure influence in terms of their Klout or PeerIndex score. Actually they are very crude tools, especially Klout. What they really measure is how much we Tweet or post on Facebook. PeerIndex does index blogging, but all these tools really measure is how much noise we make on-line.

It is the same with off-line networking. We may put out our message to the room and we may do so in a very loud voice. We might go to every networking meeting there is in our area and eat breakfast out every day of the week. However it does not mean we will get loads of business.

The confusion is between, on the one hand, being seen everywhere trilling our message on Twitter or over our scrambled eggs, and on the other, our networks actually listening to us and taking notice because they believe we have something to offer. It is easy to shout the loudest and most often, but more difficult to get over our message that we are people to be trusted with business.

We do not want our Tweet or a fried breakfast message being taken with more than a pinch of salt. We need to be genuine, sincere and ourselves to get that trust, don’t we/

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