The Smart Aleck networker

iStock_000007991360XSmall cross businesswomanDo you know that person at your networking meeting? The one with the loud voice, saying “Hey, look at me”? The one who is always telling everyone how great their business is as opposed to the competition? In fact, the person who always disses everyone else as being inferior?

We try to avoid those “networkers”, don’t we? We try to get as far as possible from them as we can. We can do without those boorish opinions, and we know they will never connect us or refer us because they are too busy thinking about themselves.

It is the same in the world of social media. There are people who claim superior knowledge not just in their line of business but in every aspect of of the world. They rubbish other users of Twitter, they give their opinion of those who hold a different view within their expertise, they show their political prejudices by rubbishing certain politicians, and they have those Smart Aleck comments about any and everyone who doesn’t agree with their bigoted views.

We avoid that sort of person when eating our bacon roll at the local breakfast meet, and thank goodness we can un-follow them on Twitter and un-friend them on Facebook once we see the cut of their jib.

I don’t reckon the Alecks and Alecksandras get much business from their networking, but they are too arrogant to understand why.

Don’t you avoid them like the plague?

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Taking our business network leaders for granted

A Breakfast venue

A Breakfast venue

Getting the boot

I belong to a monthly networking group that has recently been unceremoniously ousted by the venue which has hosted us for a couple of years. It was not that we were a rowdy bunch. They just didn’t think they were making enough money out of us for the room we hired. No doubt they conveniently overlooked the amount we were spending in their pricey bar and café.

Our chairman had to find a new venue at rather short notice. His first attempt (and where we had our February meeting) was not a huge success. Not his fault. It turned out that other visitors made a considerable noise next door so that we were hardly able to hear each other. This is the sort of venue issue which only comes to light when you actually try it out rather than visit in the middle of a quiet morning.

Anyway, apparently we have a new venue for March and our leader thinks it will be a success. Let us hope so, but remember that he has spent a considerable amount of time researching and visiting potential meeting places. We owe him a vote of thanks.

Not a sausage

I have until recently been a long-time member of business breakfast clubs. I led one for a couple of years. The first venue went out of business and didn’t tell me or anyone else in the group. We turned up at 7 one Tuesday morning with the temperature at -4 Celsius (not a detail one forgets) and waited in the cold for about half an hour while we tried to find out what was going on.

In the glasshouse

I then had to find a new venue who would let us meet, serve breakfast and leave us alone for our meeting. It was difficult and I spent a lot of time on the telephone and then visiting possible meeting places. We stayed at the first place I chose for about three months.

We got great personal service but the room was noisy due to being rather open to other people coming in and out, and also because when it rained on the glass roof, no one could have much conversation without shouting. It seemed we would have to move again.

Out of the frying pan

I moved, partly at the request of a couple of members, to a posh new hotel on the seafront. The environment was better, but the service was corporate and therefore less personal except when one particular young lady was on duty, and who took the meaning of customer service seriously. We soldiered on until circumstances meant I had to quit as leader.

It would have been great to be thanked by everyone for all the hard work I put in in dealing with the venues, collecting the money and paying them, leading the meetings, thinking what was topical and canvassing members, keeping the records and generally contributing much more time than the weekly hour and a half. Yet when I stopped, only a couple of members took the time, and I had absolutely no thanks whatever from the group brand owners.

I did my best. I could not have done better in the circumstances, I don’t think. I made no real money from my efforts but that was never my intention. I am not complaining. It was an interesting experience. I would have just liked a bit more appreciation.

Do remember to thank your network group leaders for their efforts. They deserve it. They do it for you so that you can get more business. They are certainly not in it for the money that you pay each week, nearly all of which goes to pay for the meeting room and catering.

You would not want to deny someone that nice warm feeling one gets from being appreciated and thanked, would you?

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The trouble with breakfast networking

An English breakfast

An English breakfast (Photo credit: Riggwelter via Wikipedia). Hold the beans, please!

Sleepy time

A few days ago I went to breakfast networking meeting. It is several months since I last went to one and I wondered how I used to get up every week at such an unearthly hour to get to my breakfast networking group. I now seem to have a job staying awake if I have to get up at crack of dawn or even before.

Just the same I have a long history of breakfast networking. Nearly a decade ago when I first started out with my own business I joined BNI. There were very few breakfast networking groups then.

Halcyon days

I enjoyed BNI and although in my sort of business I didn’t get dozens of referrals unlike the florist who benefited from the “desperation referrals”, I did pick up some useful business, and most importantly one great referral which kept my wife and me out of the poor house.

BNI was good for me. Most of the members were fairly new business owners, but one of the important rules was that we were supposed to refer a particular type of business to a member of BNI rather than a business owner we knew elsewhere. We were not supposed to belong to any “rival” group. There was also some quality control via the membership committee in that they followed up on referrals and made sure that if we got business we delivered the best service we could. I am sure we did in the group, being mindful of our own reputations.

Being a member of BNI was not cheap in terms of upfront outlay. With joining fees, annual membership and the meeting costs including breakfasts we paid out about £1,400 (S2,200 in today’s money) or so in our first year and £1,000 annually thereafter. It was worth it though in terms of business.

Falling from grace

I enjoyed BNI while it lasted for me. However even an easy-going chap like me ultimately fell out with the franchise owner. Never mind.

In more recent years I enjoyed other breakfast groups. I have been a serial (not cereal) breakfast networker. I even ran a group for a while, but nowadays there are so many groups meeting at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning. Unlike the group I ran, most are not run on the BNI principle of exclusivity where there is only one of each type of business in the same group.

There are also many “free” groups which do not even have formal membership. This means that people tend to belong to a number of groups and are torn between members of different ones when it comes to referrals. Maybe they are so confused they never give any and forget the important tenet of networking, which is helping others.

In my most recent breakfast networking I did not find it very profitable. I met some nice people, but because of the sheer number of groups and divided loyalties, I think the age of profitable breakfast networking is over. Except maybe for those who swallow hard and stump up for BNI.

I would love to know what your experience is as a current or former breakfast networker? Does it still work for you?

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Wasting our most valuable resource – time

Am I wasting my time?

Neighbourhood watch

One of our neighbours – and I hope he doesn’t read this – spends hours of his time and quite possible six to eight hours a week cleaning and polishing his car. He seems to get a new car every year. I am sure anyone would find it satisfying to have a lovely shiny new car outside the house, but why spend all that time? No one will notice from any distance the odd speck or two. He won’t preserve the value any better. It seems a terrible waste of time.

Of course, it is not for me to say what he should do with the extra six to eight hours, but that is practically a working day a week. He could make something if he were good with his hands. He could do voluntary work. He could make some money with an eBay business. He would still have a nice shiny car and achieve something valuable for himself or for someone else.

Hot breakfasts

Our neighbour is not the only one to waste time. Many of us do it. I have been wasting time going to weekly breakfast networking meetings until the last year or so. They were not always a waste of time, but the environment for referral networking has changed. My business has changed too, so that the value of the meetings has become much less.

For me the weekly local breakfast meetings stopped working for me. I carried on too long because I enjoyed them, but in business terms that is not enough. We are in business to make money for our families. I gave a lot in terms of time, even ultimately running a networking group, and a lot in terms of referrals but with dwindling returns.

There was a point when the meetings ceased to be of much value at all. I think they do help new business owners starting out if only in overcoming shyness, as they helped me when I started a decade ago. I have stopped going to any morning meetings except the occasional local authority ones, which do at least provide an insight into local planning as it affects businesses.

Spreading our wings

My clients are now not just spread around the country, but also around the world, though rather scattered. The service my business provides is not just something which needs to be done locally. I do not need to meet every new client. We have Skype to talk, and we have Dropbox (I like Dropbox) or Google Drive or other cloud resources to exchange large documents where email does not quite suffice, and my web-based content marketing attracts the work. In addition on-line networking and social media provide opportunities for me to refer my friends and clients as well as receive referrals.

Although I have cut down local networking it does not mean I have no local business. I value my local clients and my main source of local new business is referrals from them and from the old-fashioned medium of paper advertising. I have one ad that works, and one only. The secret is that it appears in a monthly publication every single month, so that if potential clients have thrown away the last edition, they know they can find my business in the next one.

Bringing home the bacon

Not going to breakfast meetings saves me twelve or fourteen hours a month, which I use for paid value-sold work and in on-line marketing. I could use some time saved to clean my car, but not that many hours a month.

I think we all need to watch out for work time slipping into a black hole of waste. How can we make our businesses more efficient? What isn’t working for us?

How have you saved time in your business?

On-line networking when you don’t see the wood for the trees

Seeing the wood

The numbers

The other day I saw in my Twitter stream a conversation between two people I know moderately well, and like too. I don’t want to offend them if they read this, but one said she had increased her Klout score, and the other said he needed to work on raising his. Of course they might have been joking, but it isn’t always easy to detect irony in 140 characters.

Now, I am not going to have a go at Klout. It has its place in the world of social media, but really, it is a measure of activity. It is not a measure of useful activity. It cannot tell the difference. There are people with much lower scores than I have (yes, I looked :)) whom I consider more influential than I am.

Never mind the quality

What Klout mostly does is count the number of posts on Twitter and elsewhere, and presumably their algorithm looks at followers. However, what it doesn’t seem to do is distinguish between those who post only famous quotations, only sales messages, only stupid jokes etc. and those who have conversations and post useful information for followers.

People need people

To put it another way, on-line networking involves remembering you are talking to people who are your friends or may become friends. Perhaps you may recommend them and endorse their businesses as a happy customer. They may do the same for you if you deserve it. The most important aspect of any networking is being helpful, either in general or in particular. The more you help others, (and try to be altruistic) the more they may help you and if (no, when) you get business back, that’s all the better.

I am not quite saying Klout has no value. It may encourage you to drive your marketing as long as you are not making all the mistakes. Klout is really a game. On-line networking is not about the number of trees, but the actual wood and what is in it. It is not about the crowd but each individual person.

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Deserving of our full attention

On our recent travels we have had our peace disturbed by people who are unable to resist talking and texting on their mobile / cell phones in public places and especially in restaurants. Call me old-fashioned (did I say that?) but I don’t like to have my breakfast interrupted by people yelling (why do so many have to bellow). Then there is all that texting by inconsiderate individuals who haven’t turned their beeps off.

The real issue is one of respect for one’s fellow human beings. Especially if we are having a meal with others or in a business meeting it is disrespectful when some suddenly answer their phones or feel compelled to look at or send a message. Yes, we are all connected now but that also means that voice and text messages are saved until it is polite to check them.

If we are sufficiently dexterous to take meeting notes on our smart-phone then by all means we can use it for that purpose. Otherwise, keep it in our pocket or bag and give proper attention to those we are with. It is seldom that we will have a more pressing need than that.

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No thanks to me!

Connections

Having been at the networking game both on-line and off-line for nearly a decade, I know a lot of people, some of them really quite well. Because it is how this networking thing works, I connect my friends and acquaintances to people they need to speak to, depending on their needs. I expect you do too?

Help! I need somebody

Now and again I have people come to me with an urgent need for advice which is not tax or business advice within my own expertise. It might be concerning an investment or finance requirements or whether I know someone who could advise on the latest news in a particular sector of industry.

If I have helped someone I may well have generated business for a friend, and it will always be the person / business owner who is the best one for the job or project. Recently I gave someone a good referral which will generate ongoing business for them. I don’t work on commission of course since it could cloud my judgement. It is too uncomfortable anyway. However my friend, being the good guy he is, took the time to thank me. No problem of course. He does a great job for me so he will do a great job for the person who asked me to help.

 

Casting a shadow

Thankless tasks

However, recently several people who have asked me who I think is the best person to help them have been silent when I have emailed back the names and contact details of their ideal match for the requirement. I have not heard from them again either via email or telephone. How long does it take to thank someone? I always try to express my gratitude when I get help. Most people do. Apparently some people don’t. It rather casts a shadow over trying to help.

Trust

The trouble is that I lose trust in those who don’t thank me. I begin to think they are unreliable. They might have been the people I would recommend next time I was asked to suggest a business owner who could help one of my networking friends. Ultimately, by not thanking me they may lose out on lucrative work.

Saying “thank you” is something we are taught by our parents and elders when we are very small. It should not be easy to forget. When someone thanks me I get a good feeling. I like to give that feeling to others. Do you lose faith in those who don’t take the trouble to thank you?

Don’t turn your back on me

Not suitable for a profile pic

Have you ever been networking and come across one of those little groups who are closed off? Maybe three or four people who are having their own meeting within a meeting and will be darned if they talk to anyone else? Of course anyone is entitled to choose their companions but it depends on the environment, because within a larger meeting they just look rude and arrogant. It sends all the wrong signals.

We can all get upset if we want to network and people turn their backs. However, the same thing happens on-line. I don’t mean that our on-line connections have to pay attention to all our tweets or react to everything we post on Google+. That’s not going to happen. It is just that some are so impersonal in social networks.

We are used to the broadcasters and relentless sellers. But what about profile pictures and avatars? I don’t want to see a logo. I want to see a face. So I was amazed when someone asked to connect whose profile photo is of the back of his neck. What message does it send? It is not even funny. It is worse and more insulting than looking at a business logo.

I like people I connect with to be open and to show enough of themselves that I can get the flavour of their personality. I cannot talk to or trust someone in a business sense if that person hides themselves, turns their back or sticks out their tongue. How do you feel when someone turns their back?

Social skills and small business marketing

I think we all know that social skills are important in our lives but not everyone has them. That is a problem for small business owners lacking in this area unless they are geeks with a must-have app. Most of us get business from talking to people, whether it is in our store or shop and perhaps at our counter, or maybe it is at face-to-face networking events or on-line.

The guy who tries to sell all the time by in-your-face tactics at the local breakfast networking meeting or who spams his on-line network on LinkedIn or elsewhere has no social skills. He doesn’t understand how other people feel when they are harassed about a product they are not interested in, or even unfortunately made a tentative enquiry about to their later regret. The woman who follows you relentlessly to sign up to her email marketing products is lacking in empathy with her potential market, which is ironic.

Despite all this I believe that if we know we are lacking in social skills we can adapt and learn them.

I have a sort of confession. I used to lack social skills, due to (I believe) having had a rough time at school. Even when I went out to work I was terribly shy and quiet as a church mouse, so although I was quite the opposite of “in your face” I found it hard to deal with people, which had a lasting effect on my life.

I learned to come out of my shell later and stand up for myself, and succeed in getting promoted at work, but it was a conscious effort to learn to deal with people; to listen to their needs and wants and to understand their perspectives. Listening is so important in our lives.

Later still in the big wide networking world I had to take another step and learn to speak in public without annoying anyone too severely. 🙂

It seems to me that a lot of people lose business because when we dislike their approach, we become prejudiced against their offering. Whether the more aggressive OTT marketers can be reformed in quite the same way as us church mice I don’t know, because they would need some insight and self-awareness, which in introverts is often a strong point.

I should hate to think that all the obnoxious pushy types networking out there are beyond redemption. Do you think that they can save themselves?

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Referral networks and joint ventures need teamwork

The whole team should be on their bikes

Over the last ten years I have belonged to several breakfast groups and even run one. I have also belonged to networks meeting at other times of the day. Some of these groups produced great relationships and also business. One produced really a lot of business for which I will always be grateful.

Networking groups succeed when the members work together and help each other. After all it is not reasonable just to keep taking and not giving. Giving is what we should do first, and keep on doing it. Referral groups can only succeed where the members respect each other and work together.

Not all the groups to which I have belonged have been successful though. Those that have foundered on the rocks have suffered because not all the members were “on board” in spirit and working to support the group. Some people think all they need to do is to pay their subscriptions. They don’t turn up at the meetings often enough. They don’t look for referrals for others. They are passengers. We cannot carry passive people.

One or two of the groups to which I have belonged have worked together on major marketing efforts for the network and for its members. These sorts of joint ventures can also be very successful, but only if everyone participates by actually doing some work. You have to DO THE WORK as Chris Brogan would say.

I don’t know about you, but I need my valuable time to run my business which includes doing my marketing. I am happy to help others with theirs in joint initiatives if they really are that; not if I am doing all their marketing as well as mine (unless they are paying me suitably for doing it).

Have you come across these “hangers-on” who expect the world to come to them? Isn’t it so much better when you have all your networkers working with you rather than just coming along for the ride?

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