Does Your Business Card Take Care of Business?

Earlier this week, Danealle Marshall of a BNI chapter out of Orlando, Florida, BNI Gold Partners, reached out to me via Twitter to ask a great question that a lot of business professionals will face during their career.

I love this question. Why? As I often say, giving out and receiving business cards is an extremely powerful part of connecting with new contacts. That being said, sometimes your business card can be what sparks someone’s memory of you. Why wouldn’t you want yours to stand out?

In 2003, I released a book with Candace Bailly and Dan Georgevich titled “It’s In the Cards!” In this book, we discuss the powerful tool that is your business card, and how so many people may be under-utilizing this networking tactic.

ID-100275566To answer Danealle’s question, and to build off of some of the ideas we published over a decade ago in the aforementioned book, here are four things that I have seen in my years in business that have really elevated some business cards.

  1. Mix up the orientation. It is such a small change, but making your business card vertical instead of the more traditional horizontal orientation can really help it stand out. People receive and look at innumerable horizontal business cards on average, but you are likely able to remember the last time you saw a vertical card.
  2. Utilize graphics. And no, I don’t just mean your company’s logo. If you include your Twitter handle, consider using the Twitter bird logo instead of using the word “Twitter” on your card. Another option, though use with caution, is including your picture. This can work, but only if the rest of your card is completely spot on and has more of a creative feel. I recommend this more for marketing agencies, or those more right-branded ventures.
  3. Color your card accordingly. Have you ever heard that fast food companies frequently use red and yellow in their logos because these colors subconsciously promote hunger? Think about your product, and about your brand, and if you choose to use color on your cards (which I recommend to at least do minimally), use a color that conveys what you want contacts and consumers alike to associate with your brand.
  4. Consider your company and alter your card accordingly. I’ve seen some very cool cards that really cater to what services or goods a company provides, but I will warn that these can get costly. I’ve seen a video company with cards shaped like a clapboard, and a software engineer whose cards looked like HTML coding. Where this gets ineffective is where you take it too far – bakeries should steer away from an edible business card, despite the appeal.

Have a question you want me to answer in a future blog post or podcast? Write me at AskIvan@bni.com to submit your questions.

How to Leave a Conversation at a Networking Event

conversationEvery conversation must end, some earlier than others. When you’re at a networking event, your top priority should be to get to know someone well enough to begin developing a lasting professional relationship with them. Even if you establish a foundation for a business relationship, eventually the conversation must end. So how do you leave without souring the mood? Or, more difficult, how do you end a conversation that may not being going well?

Schedule a follow up meeting

If you are positive that this relationship will benefit both of your businesses, why end the conversation by planning the next one? Exchange contact information, say you’ll reach out later to meet, and make good on your word. Literally pull out your calendar and schedule time to connect again. If your new contact feels your relationship could be mutually beneficial, they’ll have no problem scheduling something or agreeing to try to in the near future.

Simply exchange cards

If you are still trying to decide if this individual will be a good relationship for you in the long run, simply exchange business cards and perhaps send a follow up email to them later. Starting to get to know this new person will help you figure out how you can help them grow their business, or how they can help grow yours.

Bow out pleasantly

If you’re really struggling keeping the conversation going, end your conversation by thanking them for their time, telling them how wonderful it was to chat, and say you are hoping to catch up with them later. Bowing out gracefully can feel awkward, but is your most painless option here.

What is your go-to method to end a conversation? Let me know in the comments below!

Three Essentials for Women in Business

femalesIn my decades as a professional networker, I’ve seen the professional atmosphere change dramatically. The internet, of course, has been a huge influence on this change. However, outstandingly, more and more women have begun to take the plunge and start their own business. Earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau released a study that said that women were starting businesses at 1 and a half times the national average.

Despite this though, not all recommendations for starting a business will succeed equally for men and women, and some are more true for women. Here are three quick tips especially helpful for a female entrepreneur.

Don’t be afraid to be wrong

Sometimes, we worry that being wrong or having a problem is a sign of a character flaw. Women, particularly, can be susceptible to feeling this way due to societal pressures. When you allow yourself to ignore a problem, or try endlessly to stop a problem from existing (despite the fact that it is very much present), you allow the issue time to manifest. Instead of letting something spiral out of control to save possibly your ego or pride, identify your problem and quickly do something to correct it.

Create a brand that you would want to use

It seems like a no-brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how passion can play into the success of your business. If you ensure that you are creating a brand that not only are you passionate about, but you would want to use, then the chance for burn out diminishes exponentially.

Ask for help when you need it

Research has shown that women frequently feel more hesitant to ask for help if they need it than men do. Why? This ties in with the fear of being wrong. Struggling to handle everything on your own will just ultimately lead you to downward sloping. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap.

If you are a female entrepreneur, what tips to do have for others who may be aspiring to follow that path? Leave your thoughts in the comment field below!

Five Easy Ways You May be Networking Wrong

wrongnetworkingNo matter how much practice you have networking, there are always ways that you can improve. I’ve noticed a few common mistakes with networking that you can easily fix to get the most out of your relationships.

 

1 – You’re showing up late to a networking event, meeting or one-to-one.

This should be a no-brainer, but so often someone will slip into the back of a meeting five, ten or thirty minutes after it has started. How many times have you gotten a text from someone saying they were running late? Or, worse, not gotten a text at all? Such a minor issue can leave long-lasting negative ramifications in your personal and professional relationship. Avoid it, and leave to your meetings or events aiming to arrive early.

 

2 – You’re giving the appearance of untrustworthiness.

No matter what anyone says, your outward appearance can and will affect how you are perceived by potential business connections. If your first impression of someone involves their messed up hair, wrinkled pants, and an overall disheveled look, you’re not going to want to do business with them. That being said, would you expect someone to work with you if that was their first impression? Get your act together, iron your shirt, and always be prepared with your name tag and smile.

 

3 – You’re not making meaningful connections.

A referral-based relationship is more than just, “I do business, you do business, let’s do business together.” It is important to establish real relationships with your connections to encourage a long-lasting, prosperous relationship. If you’re only talking shop, you’re selling yourself short.

 

4 – You’re only thinking about your own gain.

You simply cannot expect to get anything out of a referral relationship if all you care about is getting something for yourself. Your connections will be more likely to give you business if you show your willingness to help them. Learn to use the law of reciprocity, and see your networking efforts become prosperous.

 

5 – You’re forgetting the follow up.

Most businesspeople love working with someone who is considerate, and your follow up etiquette is an easy way to show just how considerate you can be. Bonus points, your follow up technique can leave a lasting impression on someone who may have not thought you were memorable. Remember, thoughtfulness always counts in the end.

 

Are you offending any of these networking commandments? Did I forget any cardinal mistakes? Join the discussion in the comment field below.

Thoughtfulness always counts

Many spend their time at a networking event working the room, making meaningful connections with those around them, receiving and handing out business cards. As the event winds down, businesspeople go their separate ways, looking forward to their next event to grow their network.

It’s a nice story, but it really only covers part of your responsibility as a networker. Thoughtful, heartfelt follow up after events continues establishing those connections and makes your networking stronger. Your connections don’t have to be your best friends, but it certainly helps if they think you’re a caring person.

For those wondering, “Am I a thoughtful networker?” here is a quick checklist of three ways to be thoughtful. If you don’t already, try implementing these into your networking route.

 

handwritingSend handwritten cards

Thank you, happy birthday, condolences. There are plenty of excuses to bust out the stationary and send a handwritten card to a colleague or peer instead of an email. What makes this thoughtful? This effort involved. Emails are simple – you sat at your computer, typed a quick message, scanned it for typos and made necessary connections, and hit send. Done. Handwriting a card requires thinking through your message before you write it, and requires your attention to prevent errors. Not only that, but sending requires more than a click of a button.

 

Remember to follow up

Did you close your conversation with someone by saying, “Let me ask so-and-so about that and get back to you”? If you did, actually do it! You might forget that you promised to find out some trivial piece of information for them, but they certainly didn’t. Nothing could be more embarrassing for you than being called out for having forgotten to follow up on something you’d given your word that you would. As networkers, one of our greatest assets is our word – don’t let something as minor as a memory lapse steal yours.

 

Schedule time outside regular networking events to get to know them

This may seem like Networking 101, but it seems to be a frequently forgotten step of networking. Not only is it vital in helping you get to know your business connections (and vice versa), many will be flattered that you are interested in getting to know them better. Not only is this step thoughtful, it is critical if you want your connections to truly help you grow your business. People love to talk about themselves, and the more you learn about the new members of your network, the more they’ll want to know about you in turn.

What does thoughtfulness in networking mean to you? How many of the above steps do you do? What do you think is missing from this list? Let me know in the comments below!

How social is your social network?

relationshipsIn my video blog two weeks ago, The Six Degree Myth and the 29 Percent Solution, I discussed the inspiration for the book that I co-wrote with Michelle Donovan, The 29% Solution. After watching the vlog, one reader brought up an interesting point, and I would love to discuss it further.

Social media changes the game of networking, but not really how you might think. A common social networking misconception is that the number of people that you are connected with online is directly related to the number of people that you truly have a connection with in your day to day life. When widely known networking theories are applied to social media, results can vary.

This is because studies relating to social media connectivity, in this case referring to a study done by Facebook in 2011 which attempts to recreate Stanley Milgram’s Six Degrees of Separation experiment via Facebook, have one fundamental flaw.

These studies assume, and rely on the possibility, that a connection on Facebook is the same to an actual, real life relationship. I have 5,000 connections on my Facebook page. This doesn’t mean that I have 5,000 people that I know well enough to ask for a favor, or that they would actually do it for me if I asked. Facebook has essentially redefined what a “friend” is so that any contact on a profile is considered a legitimate, personal relationships. According to the Dunbar Study, the true number of contacts that one person can have meaningful relationships with is around 150, and naturally this varies from person to person.

That being said, with social media, and in our day-to-day lives as well, it is not the number of links, but the quality of links that makes a difference in our networking attempts. The purpose of The 29% Solution was to explain what things I thought anyone could do to be part of the percentage of people with close, meaningful connections.

What do you think? How has social media changed how you connect with others? Share with me in the comments section below.

Use Your Networks to Build Your Business

It's not net-sitBusiness owners are always looking for new ways to expand their client base and grow their business. Many, as they work to bring their business to the next level, join networking organizations. These organizations can be great ways to meet new people, expand your pool of referral partners, and hone key skills like public speaking and delivery. The key to being a part of these organizations, however, is really working the networks that you are a part of. Remember, “It’s not called ‘NET-SIT’ or ‘NET-EAT” – it’s called ‘NET-WORK.’”

When looking for organizations to join, also remember that it can be beneficial to even join organizations from three or more of the categories of networking groups. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, as one group likely won’t meet all of your networking needs. There are seven key types of networking business organizations. These are:

  1. Casual Contact Networks
  2. Strong Contact Networks
  3. Community Service Clubs
  4. Professional Associations
  5. Social/Business Groups
  6. Women’s and Ethnic Organizations
  7. Online/Social Networking

Join as many or as few as your time allows, but always give your best effort to promoting yourself and your business in each. Which groups you select will directly affect your referral marketing’s success.

To pick the groups that are right for you, first take some time and think about what types of organizations you truly want or need to join. Your participation in the group is what will make you successful, not how many you join, so be sure to join the ones that you have time for and want to take part in. Second, you must find some of these organizations in your area. You can try to join an organization across the world from you, but if you can’t physically commit yourself to the group then you won’t get return on your investment.

Next, be sure to visit as many of these groups as you can and get testimonials from current members. Just as you want referrals for your business, you would want current members to give referrals for their organization. Finally, visit the group one more time before you decide to join. Many groups have nuances that you may not pick up on at your first meeting, so give yourself plenty of time to see the whole group.

There is no quick fix, and growing your business will take effort. Above all else, dedicate the time to your networking strategy that it deserves, and meet other qualified business professionals regularly to develop your referral-based business.

How many networking organizations are you a part of? Have you found a combination of groups that gives you the most bang for your buck? I’d love to hear your thoughts on networking organizations, so please leave your comment in the forum below! Thanks!

What Is Your Intent? Do You Know Your Purpose?

Photo courtesy of Boykung at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Boykung at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

All great teachers assert the importance of having intent and purpose in our lives.  According to Benjamin Disraeli, “The secret of success is constancy of purpose.”  Before you go into a networking scenario, make sure you know your purpose.  If your underlying pupose is to exploit the group, you will communicate differently, both verbally and nonverbally, than if you intend to give to the group.  You expect an eventual return, of course, but a good networker goes in with the immediate benefit of others uppermost in mind.

We are, at most times in our lives, a dynamic mixture of intentions.  We seek to do good for others, and at the same time we seek personal benefits in many different forms.  When we attend networking events, our attention instinctively and constantly jumps from situation to situation, searching for opportunities that favor us.  To fix your intention firmly on benefitting others, it is useful to organize your thoughts before the event by formulating, in writing, a clear statement of your main purpose–a mission statement.  Focusing on your number-one priority helps you push your many other impulses into the background.

With your attention and intentions focused, you will communicate clearly and unambiguously your willingness to help others solve problems and satisfy needs.  You will be more self-confident and open to the messages of others, and they will sense it and be attracted to you.  Your message will foster trust and rapport with your networking partners, enabling you to establish and strengthen mutually beneficial relationships.

For the networker, the most authentic message of all is this: “I would like to be your friend, and for you to be my friend.  I think we will both benefit from it.  And I want to start this friendship by doing something to help you.”  If you communicate this orientation toward others in all possible ways, with integrity, you will easily form valuable, rewarding, long-lasting networking relationships.

What have you personally found to be an effective tactic in relaying your genuine networking intent/purpose?  Please share your feedback in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

3 Tips for Putting the Butterfly Effect of Networking in Motion

IvanRichardBethSome years back, I posted a blog detailing how my introduction to Richard Branson was completely the result of the Butterfly Effect of Networking.  In thinking about that blog post, it occurred to me that an important part of the reason I was able to make such effective and rewarding networking connections was the way that I thought about, and therefore went about networking. Here’s what I mean by that . . .

While it’s important to know the right things to do while networking, it’s equally important to start thinking the right way to make your networking efforts as successful and dynamic as they can be. This involves altering your mind-set. Here is an up-close look at some elements you’ll want to include in your mind-set to ensure networking success:

  1. The law of reciprocity or Givers Gain® approach.

Don’t approach networking thinking ‘I did this for you, now what are you going to do for me?’ Instead, remember the old adage Give and you shall receive? The law of reciprocity takes the focus off of what you stand to gain from the networking relationship, and in doing so, creates bonds based on trust and friendship. Put it to the test. You’ll be amazed by the outcome.

  1. Diversity in networking.

Look for groups that don’t target people just like you. In this way, you’ll broaden the net you seek to cast for referrals.

  1. Farming mentality.

It’s a long, drawn-out process to go from seeding a field to harvesting the crops and there’s no quick return. But, when you spend time and take care in building relationships, your networking will yield extraordinary results.

Approaching networking with a mentality that focuses on the process of cultivating referrals will create the results you desire. Make an effort to spend more time strengthening your friendships with those whom you wish to have as part of your networking circle and you will certainly make more and better connections.

Do you have any tips for developing a networking-friendly mindset which positions you for success?  I’d love to hear from you, so please leave your thoughts, comments, and ideas in the forum below.  Thanks!

Networking Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The fact is, networking truly is a marathon of an endeavor–it’s most definitely not a sprint.  I have met so many people who practice what I call ‘hyperactive networking’ and they mistakenly approach networking at the speed of an all-out sprint–they want to be absolutely everywhere and meet absolutely everyone and they go, go, go ALL of the time until they soon inevitably burn out, ‘collapse,’ and give up.

It’s a real shame because if these people would, from the beginning, just slow down and take the time to develop a networking strategy and understand that networking takes time, patience, hard work, dedication, commitment, and endurance, they would be reaping great rewards from their networking efforts instead of exhausting themselves with nothing to show for it in the end.

Networking at its core is about taking the time to build genuine, trusted relationships.  Sure, visibility is important, but without building trust right along with it, visibility won’t get you very far in the long run.  You can run around all day long going to networking events and shaking people’s hands, but if you’re not spending time following up and developing trust with the people you meet, then you haven’t really achieved much of anything that will actually give you results from your networking efforts–do not confuse activity with accomplishment. 

So, what are your tactics for pacing yourself in the marathon of networking?  What actions do you take to strategically build relationships?  I’d love to hear from you so please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment forum below–thanks!

Being Your Own Chief Networking Officer


CNOIf you work in an organization, you might be familiar with the increasingly popular position of chief networking officer (CNO).  The CNO is the person who handles many corporations’ business networking and community-related activities.

The role or position of CNO has changed over the years.  In the past, the CNO could have been the person responsible for such things as running the computer or IT department, or for computer-related functions in general, because networking was thought of as a matter of electronic connection.  CNOs are still tech related, but these days we’re seeing many executives with that title in charge of completely different functions, handling business networking activities such as these:

  • Community Involvement
  • Internal & External Communication
  • Public Relations
  • Corporate Culture
  • Social Capital
  • Human Resources
  • Diversity
  • Client/Customer Relationships
  • Developing a Referral Marketing Campaign
  • Departmental Collaboration
  • Relationship Advertising & Marketing
  • Improving Vendor Relationships
  • Referral Generation Strategies

As you can see, a CNOs responsibilities can be broad and complex.  However, I believe the two key responsibilities to be: 1) relationship-marketing campaigns and 2) referral generation strategies.  These roles should be top of mind if you’re going to network like a pro.  They should be the principal job focus of a CNO.

First, however, let’s address the thought that’s probably just popped into your head: “Hey, I only have a ten-person (four-person/one-person) organization; how can I afford to hire a CNO to do my networking?

As business professionals ourselves, we remember what it was like trying to get a company off the ground.  And, quite frankly, there never seemed to be enough resources to take care of all the things the business needed, let alone hire an executive-level person.

What I suggest is to create a CNO position in your company and then fill it yourself, at least in the beginning.  In other words, don’t hire a CNO; just take on a CNO mindset.  How do you create a CNO mindset?  Start off by adopting a Givers Gain® attitude.  This gets you in the spirit of finding ways to help others while simultaneously overcoming the scarcity mentality that can creep into your thinking.  Lay out a clear set of guidelines and action items that you’d like the CNO to take, and then fill that position yourself for two or three hours a week.

 

Quantity Is Fine, But Quality Is King

Photo Courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo Courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the biggest misconceptions I’m aware of in regard to networking is the notion that it’s an “all you can eat” affair.  In other words, people go to an event, work the room in an effort to meet everyone there, and then judge their success by the number of cards they accumulate.  Although I see a certain superficial logic in that, there’s only one fatal flaw with this kind of thinking:  it assumes that the more people you meet at an event, the more successful your networking efforts are–and that’s simply not the case.  Instead, the quality of the connections you form is much more significant than the quantity of connections you make.

Businesspeople unfamiliar with referral networking sometimes lose track of the fact that networking is the means–not the end–of their business-building activities.  They attend three, four, even five events in a week in a desperate grasp for new business.  The predictable result is that they stay so busy meeting new people that they never have time to follow up and cultivate those relationships–and how can they expect to get that new business from someone they’ve only just met?  As one of these unfortunates remarked to me, “I feel like I’m always doing business but rarely getting anything done.”

I certainly agree that meeting new people is an integral part of networking, but it’s important to remember why we’re doing it in the first place: to develop a professional rapport with individuals that will deepen over time into a trusting relationship that will eventually lead to a mutually beneficial and continuous exchange of referrals.

When meeting someone for the first time, focus on the potential relationship you might form.  As hard as it may be to suppress your business reflexes, at this stage you cannot make it your goal to sell your services or promote your company.  You’re there to get to know a new person.  A friend of mine told me something his dad always said: “You don’t have to sell to friends.”  That’s especially good advice when interacting with new contacts.

This certainly doesn’t mean you’ll never get to sell anything to people you meet while networking; it does, however, mean that you’ll need to employ a different approach.  Networking isn’t about closing business or meeting hordes of new people; it’s about developing relationships in which future business can be closed.  Once you understand that, you’ll stand out from the crowd with everyone you meet.

When you’re networking like a pro and treating new contacts as future referral partners, you’ll absolutely blow away any competitors who still feel compelled to meet as many people as they possibly can.  Why?  Because when you call your contacts back, they’ll actually remember who you are and be willing to meet with you again.

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