What works for us

 

lonleliness

Remember what works

When I started my businesses I took an ad in local monthly pamphlets which go out to probably about 20,000 homes. It worked quite well, but although I was at one time advertising in four of these booklets going to different areas, over the years I have found that two local towns did not want to buy from me. I do not understand why, but I stopped my ad in those particular pamphlets. I still have ads in the other two booklets because they do work and they reinforce my local presence.

I used to do a lot of breakfast networking. You may remember I even ran a breakfast group for a while. That helped my business locally. However, for family health reasons I backed away from that scene, and I cannot say that my business has suffered to any degree. Maybe that networking had stopped working for me, so I do not feel a great need to re-engage.  I do network face-to-face at meetings later in the day.

What works for me now in getting business is my on-line presence both through my own websites and through that of an alliance where I pay for my profile via commission when I close business received through that “external” website.

I have tried to recognise where marketing does not work or has ceased to work, and close it out. I will always try new methods too. We have to test and see what works, and notice what has stopped working, otherwise we end up wasting money and our valuable time.

Do not be lazy with your marketing because it can be expensive. I know myself it can be easy to let it slip.

 

Closed and open networks in the 21st Century

Under orders

Do you like being told what to do? As a small business owner, I don’t, and I don’t suppose you do either.

To be honest, I never really have liked being told what to do. When I was an employee I had to be at the start, but as I became more experienced and senior, generally most of my bosses allowed me to get on with it. A hands-off approach to management is usually the right way to go, and as I had been treated, so I treated others. I always thought that the best way to get employees to do their best for you was to be nice to them so that they liked you and didn’t want to let you down. Actually I am not sure that was mostly a conscious process; after all if you treat people well they should like you and aim to please.

Out of jail

So, when I gained my freedom, one advantage of having my own business was that no one told me what to do. Of course I have always sought advice. I would be stupid not to, but I have never been under an obligation to anyone other than my clients, for whom I do my best.

In order to gain more business, or indeed to get any at the start I joined several networks. One was a well known breakfast networking organization, but I also joined two business groups. Both operated on the principle that accredited members won work and that which they couldn’t or were not directly qualified to do themselves, they farmed out to other better qualified members, taking a commission for the work won. It was not the done thing to sub-contract to non-members.

The Dark Ages

I suppose that was OK in back in the mists of time a decade ago and when the internet was still a clumsy child and not the sophisticated fast-growing brash youngster it now is. It was OK when my business was also a child and the networks and I were products of a pre-internet age.

These days I want to work with the best people I can when I am managing a project. I have gathered a large network and would want to bring in whomever I wish who is most suited. I don’t expect a commission for subcontracting. Either I would hope for reciprocal referrals or I can sell on the sub-contracted work at a profit. I am not demanding that people give up to me some of what they consider their due reward.

Freedom

I know many more people than I did. I have met them through Ecademy, LinkedIn , Twitter and other on-line networks. I have met them off-line face to face so that I know that I like them. People move on from other networks, but they don’t necessarily move on from mine, unless I decide I couldn’t work with them. My network is in my head even if their contact details are not. I work with whom I like.

The trouble is the old closed networks still like control of their members. They like to tell them what to do. They like to tell them with whom they can work and with whom they can’t. Incredible isn’t it?

The Real World

I value my old networks very much, by which I mean the members with whom I have worked. The networks are the people in them, not the founders or owners. The founders are facilitators now, not controllers. If they don’t let their networks grow up and their members work as they wish the networks will not survive in formal form. Of course any network must have acceptable ethics, but not restrictive rules which might even constitute a restraint of trade.

Freedom and flexibility are what all businesses need now, not just small ones. As long as we are ethical in our approach and stick to what we are good at, please don’t tell us what to do, or with whom we are allowed to work. That is so Last Century, isn’t it?.

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We can’t micro-manage our network or you can’t please all the people

As you all know I care very much about reputation – not just mine but those who I like and think should be more careful. So as far as I am concerned, I don’t like open criticism of other individuals, any sort of abuse, and definitely no swearing.

That’s my opinion and how I feel about my network, and how people see me. I accept that some people do swear on-line and for some it is important to their reputation if they wish to appear (how shall I put this?) robust and combative and perhaps with their culture, by which I mean the people they mix with in a heavy or even heavy metal sort of way. So, if I go to a blog where there is a lot of swearing, I accept it. “When in Rome…” etc. but I can then leave and very likely will. It’s a bit like complaining about a TV programme when we have the off-switch or the zapper to change the channel. If we don’t like it, leave.

Just the same, I don’t work in that sort of edgy medium, and prefer to concentrate on business and on my business network. I have unfollowed people on Twitter because they used the “f” word all the time, and instantly when someone typed something even worse.

We don’t have to be boring just because we don’t swear and we don’t abuse others. As long as we add value, we should keep our connections. Well, mostly…

Sometimes we are seen to hang with a person whom another networker really doesn’t like. That other networker may take against us because of it. The dislike may be mainly about the personality of our friend, or their on-line or off-line way of doing business or promoting themselves.

For me, maintaining relationships with my business colleagues on-line is important, especially if we are really doing business together. However, recently someone whom I greatly respect, indeed like, told me he had unfollowed me on Twitter because I RTed (odd verb) someone he really didn’t like. Apparently I do it (RT the person) quite often too. I don’t know who he means and it would be silly to speculate. Fortunately my unfollower and I are still connected on Facebook for which I am thankful.

I can’t control absolutely everything people think about me. Nor can anyone else. Chris Brogan (but I am sure I don’t have to explain who he is) has apparently upset someone who thinks that he has changed his blogging approach towards selling more stuff. Other people don’t like it either.

I like Chris and have learned a lot from him. I think he has shifted his business model a bit, but who hasn’t? I have in the nearly nine years I have been running my independent businesses. We adapt to our market and for Goodness’ Sake, we are in business to make money. Free stuff is fine and you can find plenty of it on my other site and here.

You will still get free stuff from me and I know you will get it from Chris. I will still follow him and read his blog. I will learn from seeing how he adapts to his needs in a changing market. I will actually contribute to his income through Third Tribe of which I am a member. What I won’t learn there or anywhere else is how to manage what individual people think of me.

You can’t please all the people all of the time. Can you?

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Monitoring help from afar

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Image via Wikipedia

Recently I bought a couple of computer monitors for the office. I inserted the word “computer” in that last sentence to distinguish it from the other sort of monitor, which is someone who keeps an eye out. When I was ten I was the classroom door monitor, which meant I stood by to open and shut the classroom door and could also warn the other kids when teacher was coming for the next class.

Stupid message

Anyway, I digress. The first monitor I plugged into my main machine should have plugged and played, but it didn’t. I tried running the set-up CD, but set-up failed with a stupid message “incorrect parameters”. What was that supposed to mean? I couldn’t get the proper resolution satisfactorily by setting it myself. I called the vendor of the monitor and they referred me to the manufacturer, a Korean company. Their agent was not very polite, couldn’t offer an explanation, and issued a return number so that I could sent the monitor back to the retailer.

Solution

I had purchased a second monitor from another South Korean company, which worked with my other machine. I transferred it over to the main machine, and this didn’t plug and play either. Their set up routine also failed. If I were a real computer geek I suppose I might have started to think, but having failed to find a useful helpline to phone I contacted the customer agent through the chat facility on their website. After being interrogated for five minutes by the agent I was told that the problem was with Intel’s graphics driver, which was faulty. I was directed to the updated driver, and Hey Presto, the monitor plugged and played upon a reboot. Magic indeed!

Satisfaction

So, the larger South Korean company rather let me down with their attitude when surely they could have diagnosed the problem. The smaller one (though not that small) actually came up trumps. I will probably buy my next bit of computer gear from them and not from the first lot. They found a problem which wasn’t their fault and helped me out. I didn’t even need to send back the other company’s monitor.

We will probably purchase our next fridge from LG because Life’s Good and they won out on customer service. There is a lesson and we know what it is.

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The Daily Culture Shock

A great chippy

If we use social media in our marketing, we can easily get distracted by the latest fashion or the latest scare story. It can all get very confusing.

You know what I think of Klout and its ilk. I think Klout is a fun toy, but as a measure of how much noise we make it is hardly useful in measuring our on-line influence. The measure of that will be in how much engagement we have from our friends, followers, call them what you will, and ultimately in a business setting, how much pay-back we get from giving as much as we can. That sounds a bit mercenary, and I have some lovely friends I have met through various websites and platforms, but most of the time I commit is related to my need to market. OK, I admit to enjoying new friendships and straying from business matters.

Still, we cannot keep worrying about every new story such as whether Facebook will achieve world domination. Have you heard that one? Could we be totally reliant on Facebook for every human interaction, financial, business, social or in every other way? That is quite amusing in reminding me of the short story by E M Forster, written over a century ago, “The Machine Stops”. Would the world end if Facebook collapsed after taking us all over? You can download the story here.

The world changes and I have no idea what the on-line world will be in five years time or even twelve months from now and nor does anyone else.

In the Sixties, Woolworths was a successful business where one could by anything cheaply and the only fast food was from the fish and chip shop. The food was wrapped in newspaper and it was the only chance I had to see the Daily Mirror, which was frowned on by my parents. It was a greasy read though. My parents did not approve of the Beano and the Dandy either so you see what a strict upbringing I had.

Back then, going to an Italian restaurant would have been the height of chic (mixing two countries there) and there were simply no other cuisines available.

We had absolutely no idea what the next best thing was going to be, and we were swept along by events such as the Vietnam War and the pop culture and in my case the modern rock and folk culture.

We are still swept along. Back when I was growing up we didn’t worry about every new fashion or embracing every sort of movie or music. We chose what we wanted. That is what life is like.

Not worrying about certain on-line tools is not going to be fatal to our businesses. If something has legs for us, test it and see, but don’t dive in just because everyone else has. You might be wasting your time. See how they get on if you are not sure. If you fancy it, have a go. It is OK to be an early adopter. I had a ZX81. It was brilliant. I taught myself Basic and then DOS. Yes, I have a geek streak. However, you don’t have to adopt any and everything.

I believe that striving to have a high score on some index can be compulsive, like gambling or gaming. As a licensed radio amateur (ham) I have chased high scores for contacts and distance so I know what it can be like – a serious distraction from what we should be doing.

Of course what we should be doing is marketing our business and having fun doing it, and not striving to keep up with the Joneses. Follow your own instinct, not that of the chattering classes. Don’t you agree?

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Are you a leader and giver or a follower and taker?

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 14:  Prime M...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Like many people who may read this, I am a great believer in face to face networking, by which I mean actually getting out to meet people. I run a business breakfast group, and I have been involved in running other groups too. It is great fun to be involved in organizing events, and in working with other people to do this. I have found that I learn a great deal about them, and no doubt they learn a lot about me. That is partly how to build trust in a network; by shouldering some of the responsibility for actually running it.

Not everybody is like that. There are people who turn up to the meetings but they don’t take an active role. They are followers. They do not volunteer for office. They do not speak up in discussions. We don’t know what they think. They don’t encourage others to come. We don’t get support from them and that makes it harder to give to them, because we don’t know what they want.

Many organizations run by members do at times have difficult choices to make, and sometimes that choice is whether or not there is still a need to exist. Without enthusiastic members with vision, many groups can wither and die. I have seen it with local business groups and even those related to old-established international ones who do charitable work. Without strong and vibrant support from a small number of people in running things, even very worthy associations will disappear as passive members take what there is, but don’t participate.

Recently I have witnessed someone perceiving a problem and seizing the initiative in just such a situation. Because he has stepped forward, others have taken up the cause and are putting forward not only their support, but their constructive ideas. The passive will remain passive and still take, but there should still be something they can take from.

Leadership is about doing and about encouraging (not telling) others to do. Giving time and knowledge is often more valuable than money, and most of us have some time to volunteer. It is about taking control of our own lives. I guess that is what David Cameron is talking about with his Big Society, derided by the passive moaners, of course. It is certainly true that the best gifts are of our time, because that is how we can most help others. That involves leading by example.

What do you think?

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Living our lives in public

A Breakfast venue

I guess all of us who use social media tools and web applications are to a degree living a public life. After all, that is the purpose, isn’t it – to raise our profiles for marketing purposes? Well, OK, it’s fun too.

Some live more public lives than others of course. They report where they are through foursquare, so we know where they are having lunch, whether posh or fast-food and perhaps they tell us every thought they have chattering on Facebook.

I have a foursquare account although I have done nothing with it. I can’t quite make my mind up about it.

Concerning Facebook, it is my choice not to “let it all hang out”. I do make social comments on my Wall and on other people’s Walls, and if you are my Facebook Friend you could probably get a general idea of my tastes, preferences and interests, without knowing a great deal about my day-to-day life. That is the way I want it.

I don’t think we need to post only business though, on Facebook, FriendFeed or Twitter. I think that we can show something of ourselves through these media, so I am quite happy to pass the time of day on Twitter. I might recommend our local baker or even admit to having a curry. As long as someone does not share the details of every meal, I am quite happy to read about their preparation of Moroccan Lamb, whether they are having a beer with it, or a glass of wine. In fact I might be interested if they can recommend their wine.

You see, I think that having a general rounded idea of someone’s lifestyle and character without the nitty-gritty detail helps build the relationship and therefore the trust, and that is what networking is about, whether on-line or off-line. I don’t need chapter-and-verse of the social life or home life of my business connections, but knowing a certain amount about their tastes helps me to see some of them as business friends, by which I mean people with whom I might do business.

What do you think?

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Desperate networking

Two billion monarch butterflies (pictured) hib...
Image via Wikipedia

As we know, networking butterflies are rarely successful. I wonder whether some of them are driven by desperation that their networking has never worked even when they started and took it more slowly.

We know that if our marketing isn’t working we have to change it. Networking is a sort of marketing in which we give without expectation of getting business from anyone in particular but in the knowledge that those we know may think of us when it counts and they think they know someone who needs us.

Of course networking is a long game, but sooner or later it should dawn that if no business is coming in, it’s not being done properly. Then perhaps a more measured approach is needed with regular attendance of fewer networking groups is called for.

If that doesn’t work then maybe as with marketing failure, our failed networker is simply in the wrong business selling a product or service nobody wants. Or, if what she offers is normally popular, her demeanour doesn’t convince anyone she can deliver it and she should re-think her strategy from the ground up.

Related posts:

Networking butterflies

Networking, hunting and butterflies

Networking really is a long game

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Referral networking and Dunbar’s number

Six degrees of separation.
Image via Wikipedia

I have been thinking more about the networking butterflies and why I believe there is a need to concentrate on just a couple or so referral groups. We know that it is important to see our network contacts, who are of course people, on a regular basis. It is only because we see them often enough that we can be comfortable with them and trust them with our reputation when we refer them.

I think we can only have so many people in our trusted social networking community and beyond that we may have contacts we could suggest and but probably not have the certainty to recommend. Our close referral group is probably restricted to Dunbar’s number. Robin Dunbar, who came up with this number is a British Anthropologist and Wikipedia explains “Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person”. It is best you read the Wiki article, but many of you will have come across this theory before. The number is 148, rounded up to 150 and I can buy into that.

I don’t think we need to get confused with having large numbers of contacts on-line. Thomas Power, chairman of Ecademy, believes we should have as many as we can. That does of course give rise to the “you never know” factor based on the theory that we all have only six degrees of separation from anyone else on the planet. I don’t really buy that one, but we can get lucky, and it allows the random possibility which recently found me a client in Australia via Twitter, from where I am certainly separated by a considerable distance. Thomas has an exceptional memory for people, has met more than nearly all of us, and the random process gives rise to great connections. However, my more modest but large number of network connections would not allow me to recommend without checking the provenance of any offer and ability of any person or company to deliver.

So, back to off-line referral networking, and into my special area which is breakfast networking. I am not comfortable in trusting and recommending huge numbers of people because I am still rooted in the tribe or village size of about 150. Furthermore, in any village there are going to be a few villagers we are not so keen on and don’t like to be with. Of course, some people leave our network village, and some join, but if I go to too many networking communities I feel I will get confused as to who to refer to whom.

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

Related post: Networking, hunting and butterflies

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Riding the wave

So if we move with the times, let’s enjoy ourselves. If you are reading this you probably know that I have quite a significant on-line presence. I cannot claim to be one of the big hitters like Chris Brogan or Guy Kawasaki or even one of the biggest in the county where I am based, but I do try hard. Of course I do that because I know that on-line marketing is absolutely vital, and that includes all the social media stuff, but to tell the truth I also do it because it is fun.

It is fun, isn’t it? We have to keep reading, absorbing, learning and trying every new thing. Some innovative ideas never really get of the ground (like Google Wave) but we give it a go and see what happens. Even the stuff that comes to naught keeps us sharp.

In the past year or so I have moved from just using the on-line websites and having a static website to being a serious blogger (because I like it and it works), to learning a lot about WordPress though I need to learn a lot more. I have tried many different platforms and some I like and some I don’t. We just need to understand what works for business and if that brings some fun, it is just great.

The on-line marketing has made business so much more exciting and for me so much less isolated, because with Twitter and the various forums we have so much worthwhile conversation. Do you think I am getting carried away? Well, I am riding the wave or one of them, and if I fall off there is another right behind.

It is all so exhilarating isn’t it, and all the better when the money comes in? What do you think?

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