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.

If you can’t say something nice…

There are a few people you come across in the flesh or in social media are like Marmite. You either love them or you can’t stand them. There is really nothing in between. Yet if you really don’t like someone, perhaps it is better to keep your own counsel.

In a private forum recently I saw some unpleasant comments about someone I know well. I rather took against the commenter and the people who “liked” her comments. We Marmite lovers really get put off those who say nasty things about it, or make snide comments about our friends. Do not the naysayers know that they damage their reputation?

As Thumper said “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.”

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Marketing, networking and evolution

A dozen or so years ago when I set up my own businesses, they were local. I joined various networking groups and met a lot of people. I belonged to on-line business networking sites and went to off-line meetings facilitated by those sites and their owners. In those days, I gained business from doing this, in return for doing my bit in referral networking. I recommended those businesses and their owners whom I felt could help my clients and contacts. That was the way it worked, and possibly still works for some.

Recent local networking has really not brought me any business. Of course I have had referrals from happy local clients, but I cannot remember the last local network referral I have had, and that is despite having referred many of my contacts to other people.

It does not matter in the sense that I get business from all over the world through marketing on-line, and advertising still works for me locally. I just wonder if local breakfast and lunch groups have had their day except maybe for start-ups. What do you think?

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.

 

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?

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?

Avoiding taking the rough with the smooth in your business

iStock_000020557146LargeI started writing On Our Bikes to help others who, like me, found themselves with no work and had to go out and find it as an independent business person. I had no experience of running my own business and had not expected to have to do so.

It was for me a really tough position to be in, especially when like many, I expected that someone was bound to want my services. Of course I did not understand that clients have to be convinced that they need us, and understand our value to them.

Someone I have known for quite a few years through social media and face-to-face networking is Rory Murray. He has written a great Kindle book, The Saw-Tooth Dilemma (this is not an affiliate link) on getting work as a consultant and how to avoid the “feast-and-famine” scenario so unfortunately familiar to independent service providers and consultants.

Here is my review of his book on Amazon:

“Rory has written a roller-coaster account of his feast and famine experiences in work opportunities, and most importantly he tells us how to avoid them. This is a very personal account which would help anyone who is unemployed, who is a contractor or a consultant without a guaranteed stream of work. You will learn how to apply your social skills to gain work and how to use the on-line networking sites to best effect.

I cannot recommend this book more highly.”

Other reviews are here.

This book gave me a lot of food for thought, and I have run my own businesses for a dozen years now. We are all learning all the time, or we should be.

Do buy the book and download it onto your Kindle, PC, Mac or whatever device you choose. As I said, I am not on commission for this. I must really mean it, don’t you think?

Come back and tell me what you think of it.

 

Promoting your start-up business – Part 6 – Making business friends

 

Widen your market

Widen your market

Most start-up businesses start with one person – you. You might have one or two part-time staff or subcontractors. However there is a danger of feeling rather lonely. After all, you have to make all the decisions, and while you probably have experience of working in someone else’s business, the buck definitely stops with you now.

The good news is that you need not feel lonely. You should make some friends in your own line of work, preferably others running small businesses. Do not worry that they will try to take your clients away. There are plenty of fish in the sea. I have found that you can pick up ideas from others and perhaps you can help them too. Maybe they can help out with certain types of work you are not so keen on, do not enjoy or are simply not to skilled act. Perhaps you can help them out with their less favourite areas which you enjoy.

So that means you have a potential for getting business from your friends and acquaintances. How do you find those people?

Networking is the obvious answer, but a local trade association or professional group would serve well too. I can vouch for this. My monthly lunches with fellow professionals not only helped me feel part of the local community in my line of business, but we shared and still share problems that we come across. That sense of belonging to the group is a positive and valuable asset.

Another way of finding support from fellow-professionals and others in your business is through social media. I value greatly the friendship and camaraderie from people in my line of business with whom I have connected on Twitter. Sharing repartee and swapping business has been very valuable for me and Twitter is a great asset. Of course I have shared business from people in other lines of business through Twitter, and gained work from them as well as having subcontracted to them. Any way you can get known is useful marketing.

I talk to people through LinkedIn too and contribute to the discussions with specialist forums, but Twitter has built my on-line community rapidly, and I have added many to my LinkedIn contacts later. Twitter and LinkedIn have helped my businesses transform from local to national and beyond in terms of where my clients are located.

Consider having a Facebook page for your business and make sure you are active with a business page on Google+, not only to build your community but also because Google will help people to your website and your business once it knows where you are.

The more people you know, the better it is for support for your business and the more business will come your way. If you remember that as with face-to-face networking it is a matter of “give and take”, with perhaps more giving of referrals than taking, actually you will receive a great deal of business.

Get out there virtually as well as physically.

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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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