Networking and raining on my parade

We have to accept that some networkers are very insecure. That would be because some people in general are insecure.

There can be a problem at some events which allow more than one of the same type of business to be represented. I do not feel threatened by other people in my general area of business. Actually I like to get to know them. I regard them as colleagues. I may be able to refer them if they and their businesses have strengths in areas which I and my business do not find profitable and interesting. At the same time we have the opportunity to share ideas and experiences. I have a rule never to try to tempt away a client from another business I know (known as tapping up). Actually I never ever criticise the work of someone else in my field. It would be very rude and unprofessional.

I was an an event a few weeks ago. I had the opportunity to mention my business briefly and in passing while giving a talk about something else. Later, an attendee representing a business in a similar field spoke at length about what their company could provide. It simply seemed that this person was trying to out-sell me and rather stridently too, even though I wasn’t there to sell and indeed had made no effort to do so.

My advice is that if you meet someone in a similar field, make sure you have a good chat with her or him to see if you might work together or co-operate. There is much more benefit from walking the same road in partnership than in trying to push the other person off.

Just don’t rain on someone else’s parade. That other person could be your key to more success.

© Jon Stow 2010

Mass unfollowing on Twitter

I do not pretend to be the greatest expert on on-line social media, but I do have quite a lot of experience and I am a keen student. Twitter is a phenomenon I had not thought too much about a year ago, but it is an incredible experience in real time conversation as far as I am concerned. Of course I post some small ads and links to my websites and blogs, but there is a lot of chit-chat and banter; as I said, conversation going on.

The latest fashion seems to be seems to be mass unfollowing though, and I am completely mystified by the way some have gone about this. I understand why some mass unfollow spammers, those who add no value and some of those whom they have auto followed. I do it myself. However there are people who have been following significant numbers with similar numbers following who have simply dumped nearly all those they follow, down to only double figures. Where does that leave someone who has say twelve thousand followers and is following fifty or so? That is not a conversation, it is broadcasting, The only exchanges that will ensue will have to be with the faithful followers who will have to initiate the conversation and hope that the Great One will deign to reply. The followers cannot even use direct messages any more but have to depend on “@” comments.

Well, I have been unfollowed in this way by a few. That’s life. However I have to say that if a self-styled Twitter expert does this it causes confusion. I am not into humouring such eccentricities or into reading broadcasting material. I unfollow back. I might now and again choose to read the relevant blog which is broadcasting I have selected, but I will take the person as much less of an expert than I used to, because Twitter is about people and social intercourse. It is about networking and maintaining contacts. It is not about faith or following the Master; at least not for me.

© Jon Stow 2009

Enterprise and risk

I have been talking about risk recently in another context. I was a little dumbfounded yesterday when my Mum said she was told by a family member that she should not sign up to Facebook because there was a risk of identity fraud. Of course there is a small risk. I am indebted to @royatkinson for this link and it could be said that I and all of us who are active with profiles on-line run some risk, but what is life without risk?

The reality is that most small businesses which offer services of any kind and very many who are making and / or selling a product need an on-line presence, and what is more, need to engage with their network. In fact, you need to be on-line to get a network beyond a comparatively small number of friends, which is not enough people to refer you. I was just trying to list how many websites where I have a profile. In terms of business and social networks I have at least ten, and must have more I cannot think of at the moment. I have four blogs: two for business and two personal.

The point is that we have to give some of ourselves in order to be noticed. There are then several steps until we get to business. We need to enhance our reputations (or hope to) and be helpful and give useful information to others, but we need a public presence on-line to get known to further our businesses.

I think the contrast between me and our relative telling my mother not to sign up to Facebook is that I am in business on my own account. The relation has been in a large, safe, cocooned corporate environment for thirty years and is involved in IT security, and she clearly cannot see beyond the small risk to her employer (“more than my job’s worth to access Facebook at work”) to allowing my Mum to have a bit of fun making friends and signing up to her favourite jockey’s fan appreciation society.

There is no success in business without risk. If we are in the front line with our own businesses then we assess the risks and take them if necessary, looking at the likely though seldom certain outcome. It will be hard for those coming out of large corporates in the recession job losses, because they may be too risk-averse to start well in the freelance world. Those of us who have been round the block have learned to live with the risks, which reminds me that I will help my Mum sign up to Facebook next time I drop in.

© Jon Stow 2009

Business cards, letters and first impressions

In my last post I talked about an embarrassing scene in which a miscreant alienated the entire meeting with his rude treatment of a guest. At the same meeting I was given a business card which might even have been passed round by the same person. At least, the card was not passed round but was put where I was sitting at the table, together with further cards in the other fifteen or twenty places.

The business card in question obviously showed the consultant’s name, and it was followed by five sets of letters relating to his qualifications, and there was at the bottom of the card a reference to a further accreditation. The trouble was that I have never heard of any of the (presumably) professional bodies to which they refer. I could not tell you what they are about except that I suppose they must relate to the practitioner’s particular discipline. I have counted up my qualifications too, and I have only four sets of letters plus one accreditation to my name, so the other guy is one up if we are counting. How many letters of qualification do I put on my business card? Precisely none and the reason is because they would be absolutely meaningless to anyone outside my business, in other words to my target market.

There is good reason with certain qualifications to put them on a business card, but only if they tell the recipient something about the person whose card it is. I have no problem with FCA or ACA for a Chartered Accountant, FRICS or ARICS for a Chartered Surveyor, or FRCS for a surgeon. Even here with the latter two examples you can see how all this can become confusing. However, if we already know what these letters stand for we have a start in understanding what these people do.

Even if someone is a Chartered Surveyor, it would be helpful to have on the card what the person actually does having gained the qualification. More to the point it should say what the card owner can do for his clients for customers; in other words, not talk about the offering but what service or help the client gets. To put it in sales talk, tell us the benefits and not the features.

My respective business cards (I have more than one business and more than one card) have my name, my business / company name and my position in it. On the reverse are the reasons why my clients need me and the benefits they will receive from engaging my firms’ services. The cards are nice thick ones you can get a grip on. I am not a business card expert; I have learned from others and I am sure my cards could be further improved.

So one of my first impressions of the business card placed around the table last week was that the owner was something of a peacock showing off all his letters, but that it told me nothing about what he could do for me or for my clients. Then again, “business card” was perhaps the wrong description of this scrap of what was little more than thick paper, and which was probably printed at home. My other immediate impressions were that the person was cheapskate and unprofessional, and certainly not very giving.

© Jon Stow 2009

Being lucky!

As I have been telling everyone, notably on Twitter, I have had a lot of problems with IT over the last three weeks. I am pretty dependent on the technology working to keep my business running smoothly. I use many on-line services, paid-for and otherwise. In fact, the way I work as a quite small business would not have been possible fifteen years ago, and not too easy a decade ago. I started seven years ago as a fairly early adopter originally being on-line with 24-7 dial-up before broadband reached our area. Without the technology I would be a lone voice crying in the wilderness and never heard, and whilst the recent problems bring headaches, I have to be thankful that when the technology works (which is usually) it is magic. I am genuinely lucky that my business is facilitated (made easier – but the thesaurus isn’t that helpful) this way as a while back I would have been one of the unemployed with little prospect of getting work in a downturn.

Lots of people have similarly been unshackled by the technology and have genuinely a much greater chance of getting businesses off the ground to earn some money in hard times. I am not talking about dodgy MLM and “network marketing”; I mean real B2B and B2C business. Of course there may be a difficult market but there are opportunities to make a difference, to help struggling businesses and to be innovative too. For those who are computer-literate and can be flexible there should be a viable business (even if only providing a subsidiary income) using their talents or exploiting their knowledge in a hobby to go in a different direction. If you have experience in a market as a buyer, you can probably be a seller.

Today we have through technology the potential to gain knowledge my parents could never have dreamt of, and a much greater insight into what is going on in the world. Political and economics intelligence is available to us all and at little or no cost, so in a way there is no excuse for ignorance, though we should never be afraid to ask for help where it is needed.

I could get into trouble for this kind of article because many do not like the optimistic perceived coach-type pieces we see published so often. Some of my best friends are coaches. Chuck what you wish in terms of virtual brickbats. We ARE lucky in that we do not have to do as we are told and can go our own way, and all because of technology.

Exemplary Consulting for Business Support
Follow me on Twitter