Emulating and bettering the best in business

 

My Yashica TL-ELECTRO with original 50mm lens

Cyber wars

There was an interesting take recently on the Apple v Samsung wars, in which accuse the other of violating their intellectual property particularly with regard to mobile or cell phones. Apple had a really big win on home ground in California, being awarded over $1 billion.

It is an interesting suggestion that if the Samsung products are really very similar to Apple’s in consumers’ minds, perhaps prospective purchasers might consider the much less expensive Samsung offerings. After all, if they are gadgets which do the same thing they would be better value for money. Of course Apple wants some Samsung products taken off the market, but maybe the seeds might have been sown in the minds of some consumers?

Apple fans will not be convinced. It is the other market, mainly Android and those who look at functionality first who may be swayed. No one should underestimate Apple’s clever closed marketing, and the fact they have a fan-base so well managed.

Photo days

The whole issue takes me back to when I was a very young lad keen on photography. The new much-desired 35mm camera when I was starting out was the Pentax Spotmatic SP 1000, a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera. It had through-the-lens light-metering and the advantage over compact cameras was that you saw through the view-finder exactly the photo you would be taking, courtesy of the mirror which flipped out of the way when you pressed the shutter button. That was really something back then.

In the early seventies I couldn’t afford a Pentax Spotmatic and made do with my Mum’s old camera, with which I had some good results.

Some years later I had enough money to buy an SLR second-hand. The camera I chose was a Yashica TL-Electro. It was cheaper than a second-hand Spotmatic, but actually it is a very good copy with only minor differences to the metering and design. Yashica had taken an excellent camera made by a competitor and made one quite like it. In my opinion it was as good as the Spotmatic, and used the same “Pentax Screw” system of interchangeable lenses.

I still use my TL-Electro today with excellent results, and yes, there is still a second-hand market in suitable lenses. Over the years I have acquired several.

Our unique services

These days we cannot copy a product without getting into serious trouble. Large companies will threaten even if they do not have much of a case, because they have the financial clout. Yet excellent service can be reproduced by anyone. There is no copyright on services, add-ons, making our customers and clients as comfortable as they can be, and making sure we are better than the rest. That means paying attention to other people’s offerings and keeping up with our industry standards and expectations.

Many of us in business are in the same market as very large companies and corporations. Offering the very best service as good as or better than they can will bring customer loyalty, and the additional personal attention will bring us referrals. We can all do it as well or better than the others, and get our noses in front.

We can out-do the others if we make the effort and offer great value and comfort in doing so. After all, as customers ourselves, we know we can’t beat that nice warm feeling, can we?

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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?

Delivering the goods

Delivering satisfaction (and fish and chips)

A lot of people who don’t have a business think that there isn’t a difference between a large one and a small one except in scale. But managing and running a small business is nothing like big business.

I have had difficulties dealing with large businesses such as the telecoms giants. If I didn’t know before, I know now that they don’t much care what an individual customer feels about them and very often they will treat the “small person” with contempt. After all, the fall-out and any losses incurred when an individual customer moves on leaves hardly a scratch when you have a big marketing budget and TV campaign and you can lure more people in with special cheap introductory offers. No need to mention the long and onerous contract and the twelve month notice period for anyone wanting to change.

Those of us running a small business know that our business is personal. We need to make sure that every customer or client is not only happy with our service, but absolutely delighted. That way we keep our customers and we get recommended. If something goes wrong in our process we must fix it immediately because we need all our good customers and they are our best marketing tool.

Telecoms companies and utilities can make all sorts of promises and can afford “wastage” of their customers who leave them because of their failures. We cannot afford to let people down because we would lose them and let ourselves down too. We must not make promises we can’t keep.

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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Being aware of our surroundings

I always like to think I am a fairly tolerant kind of guy, but I guess we all have our Achilles Heels. Even on-line I am irritated by people who constantly sell rather than engage. Of course we all have the ability to un-follow or block or simply ignore, depending through which medium we encounter them.

It is not always quite so easy with face-to-face networking. There is this chap I bump into now and again who goes on his merry way leaving in his wake rather bruised networkers he has battered with his sales talk and confused by his various business offerings. He doesn’t listen for a moment to what others have to say, and he doesn’t seem interested in what they have to offer or whether he could help them.

In fact this “networker” seems oblivious to other people feelings and to his surroundings. If he read this piece he wouldn’t recognise himself because he doesn’t stop to think. Of course he won’t read it anyway because he wouldn’t think it was about him, which it is. Yes, he is his favourite subject.

This gentleman (a term used loosely) is not even stupid in intellectual terms. He purports to offer complex legal services. One of his websites is well up the rankings in keywords which interest me. He may have a clever SEO person but I expect he does it himself. But being clever doesn’t mean he is sensitive to other people’s feelings or that he even cares. He seems to have no empathy.

I guess this serial networker (or even “cereal networker” since he likes breakfast meetings) doesn’t actually get much business from networking. That will be because he puts himself ahead of others as well as in front of them when they would dearly like to escape.

Have you met someone like this? How do we get him to reform when he doesn’t listen, or is it a lost cause? Shouldn’t we all show our fellow networkers a fair degree of respect?

Can small businesses live off referrals?

Mountains don't travel well!

In my work I talk to many small business owners, and on a daily basis. Some in professional services are doing pretty well without making any effort to market. This is because they provide their clients with reliable, dependable support, and in return their clients recommend them to others. That way they have a steady stream of new business to replace the natural wastage, which is often due to other clients retiring and very often selling up.

These established businesses living off recommendations generally are not looking to grow too much, but their owners find themselves able to live a comfortable living. That’s great, isn’t it, in a time when the general business is difficult?

The whole world of small business isn’t like that though. I was talking to the owner of a start-up business two years old, and he told me that business was really very poor. They had hardly any clients coming to them. I commented that they did not seem to have a website and that they were almost invisible in the search engines. The owner said “But in our line we get all our business through word of mouth”; in other words through referrals. Except they aren’t getting any. This is two years down the line.

In some ways I understand my friend’s comment. I believe that once he worked in one of those established businesses I mentioned at the beginning; one where the work just kept coming in because their good service reputation was passed on by word of mouth. In a start up business you just don’t have that. You have to take the initiative. It is no good expecting the mountain to come to Mohamed.

A small business has to market. Any professional service business must have a website, and preferably a blog or good content showing the expertise of the owners. Content marketing for goodness sake! Then once a few clients come along and sign up, rightly convinced you know what you are talking about, they will talk about you. Your best marketers are your client advocates, but you have to have a virtual shop to display your wares.

It’s no good hiding your light under a bushel, especially as we all need money to live on. It’s really not true that if you build it they will come (sorry, Kevin).  You need publicity, your potential clients need to know where to come and they need to know what great stuff they will get when they arrive.

Are you hiding or is it easy to find you?

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Your customers are not a process

English: Kent's Department Store in Bathurst, ...

Old-fashioned shopping

Most of us here provide a personal service to our customers, whether that is as in my case providing help and support with my clients’ businesses and taxes, or for you perhaps web design or delivery of packages. In a small business every individual customer gets a service and we cater for their individual needs.

It should be like that for big businesses too. I guess that if we are in a large department store queuing to pay, or at the supermarket checkout we are part of a process. Even then, a chatty and helpful assistant when it is our turn to part with our money helps the day go better. Sharing a little conversation or a brief joke along the way through makes everyone feel better.

Old-fashioned department stores would have floor-walkers to chat to customers and help them find what they want, and buy. In our local gym the staff are friendly and chatty. In a social atmosphere our customer process is more pleasurable.

Still, cheeriness doesn’t help in some larger organisations because they are too distant and anonymous, a bit like my former telephone provider.

It is easy to forget when we have a rush on that our customers are people. In my business the next two months may be a bit of a rush though I plan it to go smoothly. All my clients will get what they need and more, and individual needs will vary.

Do you treat each customer according to, and beyond, their own expectations? Don’t you find you get great feedback and more referrals?

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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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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 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