Successful Businesses Need an Edge

It’s no secret that the economy goes through cycles. Each time it takes a downturn, unfortunately, salespeople, business owners and professional service providers feel the fallout.

Data released by various sources, including the SBA and American Entrepreneurs Association, reveal that more than 50 percent of all businesses close their doors within their first seven years. During a recession, the rate of business failure rises more dramatically. Not included in the statistic cited above are the departments, plants or whole divisions closed by large corporations when times are tough. In today’s ever-changing business environment, if you want to be successful, you need to have an edge over your competition.

Most businesses rely on advertising in one or more ways to try to get an edge. However, if you offer the same products or services through the same means to the same targets as your competitors, it’s difficult to achieve an edge. This means you need to be very creative in order to be competitive in today’s marketplace. Creativity in marketing your business has become a basic tenet for today’s successful company or professional practice. Here’s a great story of how one business exemplified creativity at its finest in order to gain an edge:

Three store owners shared adjacent storefronts in the same building.  Times were tough. In hopes of picking up sales, the store owner at one end of the building put a sign over his front entrance that said, “YEAR-END CLEARANCE!!!”  At the other end of the building, a second owner responded with his own sign: “ANNUAL CLOSE-OUT.”

The store owner in the middle knew that he had to act fast or he’d lose a lot of business. After careful consideration, he hung a larger sign over his front door that read, “MAIN ENTRANCE.”

The moral of this story: You can’t control the economy. You can’t control your competition. But you can control your response to the economy. And you can control your response to your competition.

If you have a great example of how you’ve used creativity to get an edge over your competition, I invite you to share it in the comment section. Your story could be just the encouragement other business owners need to get their imaginations in gear!


The Handy Guide to Networking

I have just released my first e-book.  It is called The BNI Handy Guide to Networking and is available to the public for FREE.   The book includes topics such as: 6 Types of Networks Every Networker Must Know About, The Top 10 Traits of a Master Networker,  The 5 Most Common Networking Mistakes to Avoid, The Layman’s Guide to Networking Online,  Using Technology to Network Better , as well as other topics.

You may download the book for free by going to this link: The Handy Guide to Networking .

Download the book and comment here about what you found most valuable from the book to use in your business.

Make No Assumptions

Many people make the fatal mistake of assuming that others know a lot about their business. I heard a florist tell a networking group, “I’m not sure what else to say.  You all know what a florist does, right?”  Wrong!  We didn’t know the variety of products this florist provided.  He knew his business and assumed that everyone else knew it as well.  Later, I asked him whether his shop was an FTD florist and . . .

  • Did he accept credit cards?
  • Did he offer seasonal specials for holidays?  If so, which ones?
  • Did he handle emergency orders?
  • Could he do a good job for weddings?
  • Did he give a discount to members of his networking group?
  • Could I set up a billing arrangement with his company?
  • Could I order online?
  • Do certain colors of roses signify certain things?
  • What type of floral arrangement would be appropriate for a graduation?
  • Could he give me any tips on keeping flowers alive longer?
  • What was his most challenging order?

I told him there were hundreds of things I didn’t know about his business, and others surely felt the same way.  Not using his time with the networking group to tell everyone something about his service was an opportunity lost.

Everyone has something he can say that will educate people about the services he has to offer.  Don’t pass up a chance to teach people more about what you do!

Try making a list of questions, such as the ones above, that people might ask you about your business and then try focusing on answering one question each time you attend a networking meeting — you’d be surprised at the things people really have no idea that you do!

Stand and Deliver

Whether you’re introducing yourself to an individual or to a group, you have a choice of how you deliver your message. The primary vehicle for your introduction is your verbal presentation.  Does your introduction work?StandandDeliver

People will judge not only the message, but the messenger as well. How you look, carry yourself, listen, and leave the conversation will affect what others do with the message you’ve delivered.  The important thing to remember is to speak as if you’re addressing a single person, a good friend.

As you network with friends and associates and tell them what you do, your underlying hope is that they will use your services and pass the message to others, who will also use your services and in turn keep spreading your message.  When someone such as a strong or casual contact speaks on your behalf, the same rules apply.  What you do and say sets the pattern for duplication. As in the “telephone game” you may have played as a child, you need to keep checking down the line to ensure that your original message is being accurately passed along.  As you continue to build your word-of-mouth network, you need to know how much information your fellow networkers are actually hearing and understanding and, at times, you may need to make adjustments in the way you disseminate your message.

Each messenger may have used a different technique and had different motives for participating in the race, but the essence of each message is what needs to cross the finish line.

Don’t Give Up Five Minutes Before The Payoff

I received this story from one of my readers. I think it is a GREAT example of how networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. Don’t give up too soon. It  is all about relationship building, and that takes time!

In any endeavor, there is an objective in mind . . . a goal line to cross. When I first joined my networking group, it was to get enough referrals and closed business that I could make more money than the cost of membership. Being an investment advisor, I was made aware that the time horizon for a quality referral was the longest of any profession represented around the tables.

The first time I joined a networking group was in November, 2007, and even though that group eventually dissolved, I was fortunate enough to find a seat in another flourishing group in November of 2009. During the declining period of my first networking group — through its loss of charter, core group restart process and eventual dissolution — I was beginning to despair. I was approaching the two-year mark with no referrals, and my group was washing out from under my feet. My friends and colleagues started asking me, “What are you getting out of it?” Driving to one of the final meetings before my group disbanded, I was contemplating giving it all up. Then I remembered an affirmation from years ago: Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle happens.

Anything one believes must withstand self-scrutiny, so I really took a hard look at why I kept attending. The answer was simple: I believed it would eventually provide the results I expected. Additionally, there are other intangible benefits that are hard to quantify. My networking group provides a business education that is not taught in schools, and the larger bonus . . . it’s also the practice lab. I believe in systems. If you focus on the right systems, the results will follow. You (Ivan Misner) say networking is about “farming,” not “hunting,” which requires the nurturing of relationships in order for them to yield anything fruitful, much the way a farmer must attend his crops or orchards.

So the payoff? After two years and three months, I received my first referral from one of the relationships I built from my first group. The size of the account was four times what I expected, and since I work on a fee-based schedule instead of commissions, the income stream from this exceeds my yearly dues and renewal fees. One referral has and will pay for my membership in perpetuity.

Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle happens!

Expanding Your Overall Sphere of Influence

The foundation of any word-of-mouth marketing effort is people.  Your sphere of influence represents the overall number of people with whom you network. These are people you know either very well or as casual acquaintances.  To evaluate your sphere of influence, take inventory of the people you already know.

Surprisingly, many people have never established effective networking relationships with others they’ve known for a long time.  Preparing your inventory is as simple as asking yourself, “Whom do I know?” or, “Who knows me?” This includes everyone with whom you interact or might interact with, personally or professionally:

  • Clients
  • Business associates
  • Vendors
  • Creditors
  • Employees
  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Others

Go through your software database, e-mail contacts, Rolodex, mobile phone contacts and business card collection. Discard the names of all people who have moved on or with whom you’ve lost touch. Analyze your relationships with the ones you feel are still current. Ask yourself, “How well do I know them?” Then determine whether each individual is a Strong Contact (a close associate with whom you will network actively) or a Casual Contact (an acquaintance with whom you will network passively).

Remember, the more people you network with actively, the greater your sphere of influence will be.

Bob Burg’s 10 Networking Questions That Work Every Time

My good friend, networking expert Bob Burg, has 10 questions he personally uses when networking that he believes every networker should memorize.

Bob explains that these questions are not designed to be probing or sales-oriented in any way; they are all friendly, fun to answer, and will tell you something about the way the person answering them thinks.  You’ll never need or have the time to ask all 10 questions during any one conversation but, still, you should internalize them.  Know them well enough that you are able to ask the ones you deem appropriate for the particular conversation and time frame.

Here are the 10 questions:

1.  How did you get started in the (______) business?

2.  What do you enjoy most about your profession?

3.  What separates you and your company from the competition?

4.  What advice would you give someone just starting out in the (______) business?

5.  What one thing would you do with your business if you knew you could not fail?

6.  What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession through the years?

7.  What do you see as the coming trends in the (______) business?

8.  Describe the strangest or funniest incident you’ve experienced in your business?

9.  What ways have you found to be the most effective for promoting your business?

10.  What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you do business?

Like Bob says, you’re not going to get to ask more than a few of these questions during an initial conversation,  so don’t worry about sounding like you’re conducting an interrogation. These are feel-good questions people enjoy answering, and they are meant to establish an initial rapport.  So next time you’re at a networking event, try using a few of these questions and then come back and leave a comment about how using them worked out for you; I’m more than willing to bet you’ll be pleased with the results.

A Win-Win Way to Reward Referral Sources

If you’re looking for creative ways to give referral incentives, it’s worth considering a technique I like to call “Incentive Triangulation.” This is a powerful way of leveraging other people’s services to benefit your customers, clients or patients and reward those who refer you.

The concept is simple and can be designed to fit the needs or requirements of any business. For example, a retailer might negotiate an arrangement with another local business, such as a florist, printer or appliance store owner, whereby that store will provide its customers with a discount of 10 percent or more on their next purchase. After that, each time someone gives you a referral, reward him with whatever you would normally give as an incentive and also a coupon good for the discount at the prearranged business.

This form of joint venture is beneficial for all three parties, hence the term “Incentive Triangulation.”  You benefit because you are providing another incentive for people to refer you. The other business benefits because you are sending your clients to it, along with a recommendation, of course.

Finally, your clients will benefit because they got recognition for their effort as well as an additional product or service at a reduced rate.

If you have an example of how you’ve successfully used Incentive Triangulation, leave a comment and explain how you’ve used it. Your example could spark great ideas for other blog readers on how they might use the technique for their business.

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