Get Your Act Together

Let’s face it: As a businessperson, you’ve got a lot going on. There are people to see, places to go and a whole lot of stuff to do. Can you do all this, and look and act presentable at all times, too?

Quite frankly, getting and keeping your act together can be a little overwhelming for even the sanest of people, so here are some tips:

1. Look the part before going to a networking event.  You’d be surprised how many people fall short in the fundamental area of appearance. If it’s a chamber of commerce networking breakfast, don’t dress casually–wear a good suit or outfit. You need to be well-rested and clearheaded when attending a morning networking session; make a conscious effort to get plenty of sleep the night before. If you’re not a morning person, hit the sack earlier than usual, so you don’t look like the walking dead. Regardless of how many cups of coffee you’ve had, people can tell if you’re not all there.

2. Make sure your body language sends the right message. When it comes to forming networking relationships, most of the important information–trustworthiness, friendliness, sincerity, openness–is communicated through nonverbal cues such as posture, facial expression and hand gestures. When engaging in conversation, look the other person directly in the eye and stay focused on what he’s saying. Lean a bit into the conversation rather than away from it; don’t stand rigid, with your arms crossed.

3. Be prepared. Make sure you know which pocket your business cards are in, and have plenty on hand. Nothing screams, “One of these days I’ve got to get organized!” louder than handing a potential referral partner someone else’s card.

4. Remember to smile. Studies have shown that if you smile when you talk, you seem more open and forthright. Obviously you don’t want to go overboard with this, and start grinning and shaking hands like a hyperactive clown; just show that you’re having a good time, and that will send the right message.

Perception is reality when it comes to meeting people for the first time. If people perceive you as not being right for them, they simply won’t be inclined to refer business to you, regardless of the work you can actually do. However, by keeping the above tips in mind, you’ll go a long way toward creating the right impression in the blink of an eye.

What Are the First Words Out of Your Mouth?

When someone asks you what you do, what are the first words out of your mouth?  If the words aren’t ready to roll off your tongue, then read on . . .

When someone asks you what you do, make sure you’re ready with a response that is succinct but memorable. The attention span of the average adult is only 20 seconds; a long, drawn-out answer to the question isn’t going to work.

Focus on creating a unique selling proposition (USP)–a mini commercial that you can readily use while networking. I think of this as a personal answer to the age-old “Whattaya do?” question, which we’ve all been asked about a million and a half times.

Here’s an example. When someone asks what you do, don’t reply with a bland, general statement such as “I’m a consultant.” Half the world could say that, and it doesn’t tell anybody anything. Instead, you could say, “I work with small to medium-size businesses to help them attract more clients than they could possibly handle.”  This is short, powerful and informative.

A USP is obviously something you’ll have to tailor to your specific business, but can you see how it packs more punch than just telling people you’re a consultant? Whichever 12 or 20 words you choose, make sure your answer is quick and informative without sounding rehearsed or contrived.

So, make it your goal this week to come with a USP. Not only will this make you much more effective at networking events and functions, being prepared in this way will also make you more comfortable with introducing yourself to new people because you’ll have the confidence of knowing exactly what to say.

Once you’ve used your new USP a handful of times, come back and leave a comment letting me know what kind of response you got from people and how it worked out for you overall. As always, I’d love to hear from you!

My Philosophy About Competition

My philosophy about competition is best summed up by Henry Ford, who once said, “The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.”

In my business organization, BNI, members or directors often express concern about other competitive networking groups that are forming and bad-mouthing our company or attacking our program in some way. I tell my team that if they feel like someone is biting at our backsides, it’s because we’re out in front. Success in business is about constantly improving your product or service and making it better all the time. The process is a journey, not a destination. However, if you are constantly working to improve the system, improve the product, improve the culture and improve the team, you will also improve your position in the marketplace.

Almost 10 years ago I had a particularly aggressive competitor publicly state that he was going to bury our organization. Since then we’ve grown by almost 400 percent. I haven’t heard about his company in years. I’m not sure whether it’s still in business. Ford got it right. Keep making your business better, and you’ll have no need to fear your competitors–your business will be the one competitors fear the most.

Become a Customer to Become a High Priority

One of the friendliest and most natural ways to make contact with a referral source is to buy her products or services, whether in large or small dollar amounts.  It’s important to note that the purchase doesn’t necessarily have to be from her primary line of business–perhaps a ticket to a fundraiser, a used car, a computer, even a box of Girl Scout cookies from her daughter.

By purchasing something from your network member/referral source, you become one of her customers. As a customer, you are high on her priority list; she will be more inclined to do business with you and give you information, support and referrals.  This approach also increases your source’s interest in getting to know you and staying in touch.

Tips for purchasing from your network:

  • Analyze how you are spending your money now.
  • Decide how much you want to spend.
  • Test your relationship with the people you buy from now. Do they know you? Do you benefit from doing business with them?
  • Identify the products and services your sources offer that you want or need–or the purchase of which might benefit your business in the long run.
  • Are you buying products and services from people and organizations that see you as an individual? Do the people you buy from know your name and think of you as their customer? There’s a big difference between being a customer of Sears and being a customer of Joe’s Shoe Store.
  • Use your purchasing power in a way that gives you more benefits and builds relationships.  Buy at least half of your products and services from people you know; however, don’t do it in a way that makes them feel obligated to buy things from you.

Save Time and Money by Source Seeking

Are you looking for a networking approach that will help you save time and money?  Yes? . . . I had a feeling you’d say that. 😉

Source seeking is a great way to save time and money, increase your number of sources, discover some of your best sources and opportunities, and broaden your knowledge of your sources’ networks.  It involves contacting your prospective sources to identify people they know who can help you achieve a particular goal.  For example, you may ask a source to name someone who can help you with a problem, can sell something you want, owns something you want, knows someone in a certain area, or has been somewhere you want to go.

Here are some tips for source seeking:

  • Determine what you need; be as clear as possible.
  • Identify which sources you will contact for recommendations.
  • Contact more than one source for a recommendation; this way, you may find several prospects who can help you with a particular problem.
  • Be sure to let your sources know approximately how many options you plan to investigate before you make a final decision.
  • Be aware that some of your sources may be protective about the people in their network.  They may want to check with their contacts before they give you their names and numbers.
  • Since this approach is primarily one in which your sources give to you, it is important to follow up with thanks and status reports.  Be sure to let them know your final decision.

Use Reporting to Strengthen Your Network

Playing the role of reporter by interviewing a member of your network for an article or while doing research on a subject he’s familiar with, for example, is a great way to elicit information and advice from members of your network.

How can this benefit you? The reporting approach benefits you in two ways. One, you learn more about your network member. Two, he appreciates the visibility you give him. Also, he will probably be more willing to meet and cooperate with you in other situations, thereby strengthening your relationship, and others will seek you out as an authority or ask you to do articles or research on them. People in business like exposure, especially if it’s free.

Here are some tips on how to properly begin playing the role of reporter and getting more from your network:

  • Interview your subject to get information worthy of being publicized–something he’s doing or has achieved, or simply his opinion.
  • Take pictures of, and with, your subject when appropriate.
  • Publish the information for its largest possible audience in school, church, community, local or national publications.
  • If appropriate, offer to include your network member’s name in any article or research to which he has contributed information.
  • Distribute complimentary copies of your articles or findings to people important to your targets.
  • Make no guarantees that what you write will be published.

After you’ve interviewed one or two of your network members and gotten some exposure for them, come back and leave a comment letting me know what occurred as a result of your efforts. I’m betting you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. 🙂

Clueless When It Comes To Conversing?–Four Tips

Networking is about building relationships and one of the main ways to build relationships with people is to have effective, productive conversations.  However, that can seem like a daunting task for some people who are at a total loss when it comes to the art of conversing.

If you shy away from going to networking events because you’re consumed by the fear of not knowing what to say, pay attention to these four conversation tips from my good friend Susan RoAne (a.k.a.: The Mingling Maven®):

  • Always keep in mind that a conversation should be balanced dialogue.  It’s good to ask questions that get people to talk about themselves, but remember: people who ask too many questions are sometimes perceived as prying probing busybodies.
  • If you haven’t brought something to the banquet of conversation, make an “ask” of yourself.  Though most people don’t mind a question, even two or three, if you are asking all the questions, there is no exchange, no real conversation, just an interrogation or Q&A.
  • Try reading local and national newspapers and a pop-culture blog or a popular magazine.  Pick three to five items to use as emergency restarters in case there’s a lull in conversation–national news, local topics, sports, fitness, movies, books, hobbies.  And food–everybody likes to talk about food.
  • Tell stories about things that have happened to you or others.  People connect with stories, not the factoids and figures of life.

If you liked these tips, you can find more of Susan’s networking advice and resources by visiting www.SusanRoAne.com

What’s the Best Way to Follow Up?

When I taught management-theory classes at a Southern California college, students would sometimes say to me, “Look, you’ve just walked me through ten different theories of management.  What’s the best one to use?”

I would answer, “The one you consistently apply.  Why would I say this?  The reason there are different ways of managing people is because people are different.  They have different personalities, different approaches, and different techniques.  The tried-and-true method that you consistently and effectively apply is the one that’s going to work best for you.

Follow-up is a similar issue.  For example, I know that handwritten notes are considered to be the best way to follow up.  The problem is . . . I just don’t do them consistently.  Therefore, are they really the best technique for me? No, because I know I’m not going to do them regularly.  I prefer to follow up with an e-mail message, a phone call, or better yet, a card using something like the SendoutCards.com system.

The truth is, almost any follow-up method will work if you use it well and consistently.  The best method for you is whichever one you are most comfortable with and can do every time the need arises. 

The reason is simple: whatever you do, you’ve got to do it well, and if you feel obligated to keep doing something that you don’t like to do, you won’t do it well–at least not consistently.  And, a late-arriving, clumsy, or half-hearted note in your own messy handwriting is going to make a worse impression than a less “proper” but more heartfelt and immediate telephone call.

It’s Not WHAT You Know, But WHO You Know–True or False?

How many times have you heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know” when it comes to determining success??  I’m willing to bet that over the course of your life to this point, you’ve heard it a lot.  Do you think it’s true?  Well, it’s not–it’s false.  It’s not what you know, or who you know–it’s how well you know them that really counts.

Here’s the difference.  How many people do you know?  Open up your e-mail address book and count the names.  You know as many people as are listed n your e-mail address book and probably a lot more.  Now, reach into your pocket and pull out your car keys.  How many of the people you know would you hand your car keys to?

Surely, now you understand that the importance of how well you know a person.  A contact is a person you know but with whom you have not yet established a strong relationship.  A connection, on the other hand, is someone who know you and trusts you because you’ve taken the time to establish credibility with that person.

Your network must not only be broad but also deep.  When you rely on others to cross-market your business or promote your program to a client, you’re not asking a simple favor.  For true referral networking, you need relationships that are deeper than mere contacts; you need strong connections, established well in advance.

So, beginning this week, focus on taking the time and energy to cultivate deep relationships by giving your referral sources anything and everything you can to help them succeed.  These will be the relationships you can count on when you need powerful connections because it really isn’t what you know or who you know–it’s how well you know them, how well they know you, and how well they know the people you want to meet.

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