Being there – the secret of referral networking

I am back to one of my favourite subjects, but I make no apology. If you belong to referral networking group you have to turn up almost all the time. That’s how it works. You have to be seen, you have to communicate, you have to be trusted, and then your peers in the group will feel able to trust you as a reliable person to whom they can refer work from their clients and friends. Absentee members will not get work referred to them because they will not be seen as reliable. Indeed not honouring your fellow members with your presence on a regular basis is quite disrespectful.

BNI has a strict attendance policy and members can be removed for more than a couple of absences in six months. Not everyone can be comfortable with that formula, but founder Ivan Misner said recently “there is a direct correlation between the quantity of referrals generated in a networking group and the absenteeism of a group. The higher the absenteeism, the lower the referrals. The lower the absenteeism, the higher the referrals.” My experience in referral networking leads me to agree with that wholeheartedly.

Success in networking is about trust and reputation. I can refer another person only if I think they have a good reputation for reliability and therefore I need to know them well. If I refer them then my own reputation is on the line. It’s simple really. Be there!

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Networking and Chinese Walls

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When I worked in the City of London in the heady eighties there was always some big financial deal going on. Perhaps a takeover bid or an IPO could be on the cards. One of the ethical problems was that different parts of the same company could be working on a project in conflicting ways because they acted for different parties to a particular deal, or even opponents in a takeover battle. For that reason, confidentiality had to be preserved even within the firm one worked for, so one couldn’t afford a careless word over lunch in the canteen or on the park bench. These special arrangements where we could not talk about our work with members of staff on another team were and are called Chinese Walls.

A similar situation might arise at a personal level. Cousin Bill might not get on with Aunt Agatha. We would like to maintain good relations with both so we just don’t mention one to the other when talking. Much better to keep quiet and keep both happy. It is not dishonest; just diplomatic and in that way we could help either if need be without any acrimony.

In our on-line and off-line networking we can find ourselves in similar situations where we find that one good friend or business acquaintance has some animosity towards another. We can stumble unwittingly into a problematic situation if we are unaware, but once we do know then we have to treat them like Cousin Bill and Aunt Agatha and just avoid referring to one in the other’s company.

I have found myself in an embarrassing position not being aware of a problem between a couple of acquaintances, but once I realised, brought down the Chinese Wall between them. Have you found yourself caught between two adversaries? What did you do?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Networking, hunting and butterflies

As someone who runs a breakfast referral group, I follow-up visitors who have attended the occasional meeting in the past but who have not become regulars and signed on the dotted line as members. It is fascinating to hear the different responses, such as the person who obviously didn’t get networking because he was worried about just meeting the same people every week when he joined us for breakfast.

I caught up with another guy this week, and asked him why he hadn’t been to see us. He said “I already go to two networking groups and I don’t want to dilute my referrals too much”.

While I was disappointed as I had hoped he could be a valuable member of the group, I thought this was a great answer from someone who really understands networking and the importance of building trust in his inner circle of business friends. He has earned my respect.

The problem with the networking butterflies, those who flit from group to group and probably cover quite a few miles, is that they are in reality hunters. They have to be because they spread themselves too thinly to be capable of giving referrals to many people they meet.

What they hope for is a great and fortunate referral or at least a good lead in a conversation they may have with someone they hardly know. Of course it happens and it has its place in the business world in that such people are salesmen or saleswomen; let us settle for sales people. However they are not good networkers and are not expecting to be able to give anything back. Networking success usually involves giving first and receiving later.

Our hunting butterflies may protest that their larger business network may benefit from referrals. They may suggest that they can maintain relationships with one or two hundred people in a referral networking environment. They may refer to Dunbar’s number but the reality is that if they know ten printers and eight graphic designers, only one of those is up for each referral in those categories and that is the one they know best.

Do you agree? Have you seen these people fluttering around?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Networking butterflies

I am a keen networker. I do believe in getting out often to meet people in business and to build relationships. To me and to most of us the important part is about the building of relationships, because with that comes trust and the referrals we can give without embarrassment, and we hope the referrals we receive.

I usually go to two or three meetings a week, although sometimes it is only one. It depends on my work schedule and my clients of course. Some meetings are weekly, some fortnightly and some monthly. Pretty much all my networking is done in the same groups, though with an occasional sample of a new one. I expect that is pretty normal.

What I do not do is travel to lots of different meetings, hardly going to the same one twice. I also do not generally travel more than around twenty miles (overseas friends please remember how our dense population makes motoring slow at times) because in practice I know I will not be able to make time to visit regularly. As networkers we need to be seen as reliable and that means being at the meetings almost every time and not drifting in and out.

Yet I know there are networking butterflies who drift in and out of groups, flitting from flower to flower, never concentrating on a few. Maybe they find the odd serendipitous piece of business on their way, but what may seem the best serendipity is often the result of hard and careful networking and relationship building over a long time. Our butterflies are easily forgotten if we see them but once in a blue moon

I believe we should choose our networking groups carefully, and give them time to work What is your experience?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Ten Reasons I Won’t Follow Back On Twitter

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We all have our prejudices, and I guess mine are reflected in my approach to social media and indeed networking on and off-line. Here are some turn-offs as regards Twitter users – I won’t say the Twitterati, because I reserve that expression for those who seem to me to know what they are doing. At least I am for the purpose of this post. Others may disagree, but I won’t follow people:

  1. Who only sell.. “Have you seen our new luxury greenhouse?” “Look at our summer offers on greenhouses.” “25% off small greenhouses.” “Look at our greenhouse website”
  2. Who tweet about the minutiae of their day with nothing else. A bit of “time for elevenses” mixed in with some good content makes for a rounded reputation or profile.
  3. Who use bad language. If you are talking the odd swear word might slip out, but if you actually have to type it?
  4. Who just post recycled quotations from various well-known people, alive or dead. Do they have no original thought of their own?
  5. Who never take part in the Twitter conversation, the broadcasters.
  6. Who criticize other people in their network.
  7. Who do not re-tweet good comments and interesting links.
  8. Who are professional internet marketers with tens of thousands of followers gathered by some auto-follow site.
  9. Who tweet links to get-rich-quick websites you have difficulty navigating out of.
  10. Who just auto-feed links to websites they have nothing to do with in the hope they will raise their own profile on the search engines.

It follows from all this that I enjoy good conversation with my Twitter friends and like to be referred to good and useful content. It’s all good fun, or it should be, and done well it is a great way to grow our networks, and as far as many of us are concerned, grow our businesses.

What winds you up, and what makes you want to follow someone?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Being in business is not a game

I hope you enjoy running your business. I know I enjoy running mine. Business should be fun and give pleasure and a sense of achievement, as well, of course, as making money.

It might come as a surprise to some of you that there are people who just play at business. They enjoy what they do and may have a special talent. However, somehow they are easily diverted and want to do too much. They may want to dabble in some other activity which means they do not have the time to devote to their main business, which is of course their main source of income. They may decide to go on an extended holiday or take a sabbatical. Now that is OK if they have other good people to “look after the shop” while they are away, but often a small service business is about the person, and clients buy the business owner as much as the service they provide.

Customers or clients of a business like that need to feel special, to talk to the owner. Indeed the owner should keep in touch, check how they are if they have been quiet and generally give them a feeling of security. If the business owner is not always available or even goes away for a couple of months or half a year, the customers or clients will find someone else. What’s more, they won’t come running back when the owner returns.

So if you have a business which is all about you, your personality and your talents, you need to take care of your business and be there when needed. That applies whether you offer commercial photography, graphic design, Swedish massage or hairdressing. Look after your clients and give them continuity, because if you don’t they will feel neglected. You will lose their trust and probably won’t get them back again.

We are all entitled to have fun, but business is not a game; it is deadly serious.

(C) Jon Stow 2010

Do not rubbish the competition

I don’t know about you, but one of the most annoying aspects of advertising on the TV and radio is when large companies disparage their opponent’s products, or say that so many of their products cost less than those sold by their competitors. I always think those are cheap shots in more ways than one. I always think it best to promote the positive, the quality of service that they offer rather than criticize the opposition.

When someone talks to me about another business in my area, and I happen to know about the business and the owner, I would never say anything derogatory, criticize their approach to their clients or comment on their marketing. It doesn’t matter whether I am talking to an existing client of mine, a prospect, or someone I have met when networking. Being respectful of other businesses in important. I might even recommend one if their service would be more suitable than mine for the client.

I do not really think I have competitors anyway. I have colleagues and indeed in my business as a tax practitioner it is often useful to talk thorny client problems over with a sympathetic ear and get another perspective.

My approach to marketing is always to emphasis the quality of my service, and avoid any criticism of another firm. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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?

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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