Networking is Simple But Not Easy

Networking is simple; it’s just not easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it and do it well… and people don’t! This not a blog piece about the step-by-step process you need to employ to network effectively. No, this is to get you to stop and think about all the articles, books, blogs, podcasts and audios that you have read or listened to and aren’t following. This is an article to get you to stop and think about what you should be doing rather than what you know (or should know).

I do presentations around the world talking about how to apply networking to your everyday life. Sometimes I have someone come up to me and say, “I’ve heard people talk about some of those things before.”  Hearing it for a year versus doing it for a year are completely different things. Success is about the “doing,” not just the “knowing.” In fact, I believe that ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice! The only thing more powerful is knowledge on fire.

There are so many things in life that look simple but are, in fact, not easy. Cooking is one of those for me. It always looks so simple. My wife can go into the kitchen and put a gourmet meal together in 30 to 40 minutes. Then I get into the kitchen and burn water.

Small repairs around the house–these things look so simple. Then I pick up a hammer and, well, it’s just not pretty. That’s when I’m reminded that I’m missing the”handyman gene.” It skips a generation in my family. My dad can fix anything. He’s incredibly capable with a toolbox. I’m not. When I was 17 he brought me into the garage and solemnly said to me, “Son, you’d better go to college, because you’re never going to make a living with your hands!” Good advice, Dad. Thanks.

Golf. Looks simple, right? I’m not talking about professional competition, I mean just going out and smacking the ball around some grass. Looks simple. I’ve learned however, that it’s not easy.

There are so many things in our lives that look simple but are not easy. Networking is one of them. It’s a skill. A skill that takes commitment and effort to learn and apply consistently.

So I’m giving you an assignment (sorry, my inner professor is coming out). Your assignment after reading this blog today is to think of one idea in a book, article, recording–anything–that you’ve read or heard over the past year or so that you wanted to apply to your life but never got around to doing. Your assignment is to find that article, locate that “something” you wanted to do and do it within the next seven days. If it’s something you do on an ongoing basis, then find a way to incorporate it into your life and/or your business. All excuses are equal – just do it.

Success is the uncommon application of common knowledge. You have the knowledge. Now apply it with uncommon commitment. It won’t be easy. But I assure you it’s simple.

Storytelling and Business? Absolutely!

I was invited to a very unusual event recently. It was a meeting about “storytelling.” It was hosted by Peter Guber. Peter is an Academy Award-winning producer of movies, including Rain Man, The Color Purple and Batman. He is the past CEO of Sony Corp. and currently chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment.

Peter is clearly passionate about the power of “story” and considers it the “secret sauce” that has enabled him to achieve his success. Consequently, he decided to create an opportunity for a diverse group of experts to come together to exchange ideas–be inspired, enlightened and enriched–but, most important, to share stories!Story Telling Summit

Peter invited about 16 people (including “yours truly”) along with individuals such as Warren Bennis–one of the world’s foremost experts on leadership; Keith Ferrazzi–author of “Never Eat Alone“; and Mark Victor Hansen–co-author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, as well as many other “storytellers” from various businesses, backgrounds and areas of expertise.

Effective storytelling is an important part of one’s emotional intelligence. I’ve always believed in using stories to make a point but never really gave a lot of thought to some of the “hows” and “whys” of their effectiveness. There were a number of “take-aways” for me from this meeting that I would like to share with you.

Storytelling is about tapping into a passion about some topic. It is about taking the listener to a place that is visceral, visual, concrete, emotional and possibly unexpected. One of the participants, Dr. Mark Goulston, said that “a story is a portable storage unit for one’s dreams, fears, hopes, humor and sorrows that people visit–or visits people–from time to time for them to stay in contact with their humanity.” [The group really liked this definition, and so did I.]

Mark Victor Hansen said that when the authors were working on the Chicken Soup series, they were looking for stories that gave or gave people:

  • God bumps or goose bumps
  • Happy tears
  • A change in perception
  • Weakness in the knees
  • Change in your life

One of the best comments of the day came from Peter, who said, “what if” is more powerful than “how to” in a story. Very true, indeed. Getting people to think of the possible rather than simply look at the present can truly help make a great story.

After spending an entire day talking about what it takes to make a good story, I verified the fact that it is very difficult to describe to someone “how” to tell a good story. However, you sure know one when you hear it!

Entrepreneurs, Stay in Your Flame

While attending the Kuala Lumpur Global Networking Conference for BNI in Malaysia last week, I heard a presentation that really resonated with me. The presentation was given by Penny Power, founder of Ecademy.com. Penny is not only an extremely knowledgeable and successful entrepreneur but also a good friend of mine.

Penny’s presentation focused on the concept of entrepreneurs “staying in their flame.” She explained that an entrepreneur’s “flame” is where he or she is the most passionate and excited about his or her business and where he or she truly enjoys what he or she is doing. When an entrepreneur is in his or her flame, work doesn’t really seem like work and the entrepreneur perceives his or her tasks as effortless. If entrepreneurs are able to focus on the aspects of business which keep them within their flame, it allows them to achieve their best.

On the flip side, Penny explained that entrepreneurs  can get caught up in aspects of business that don’t come naturally to them and that they aren’t good at. Working their way through such tasks takes away their energy and leaves them exhausted and devoid of passion. Entrepreneurs  stuck in this situation are “working in their wax,” and they are not nurturing their full potential or doing what will allow them to thrive.

The solution to this problem is that “your wax is someone else’s flame.” In other words, your weakness is someone else’s strength, someone else’s passion. As your business grows, the key to staying in your flame is to delegate the things you don’t like or aren’t good at to employees who actually enjoy doing those tasks and are great at them. Learn to recognize what kind of work keeps you in your flame and what kind of work keeps your employees in their flame because, as Penny says, “flamework” is infectious!

Networking Group Basics

I’m aware that it’s not just the networking die-hards who may be reading my blog, and I wanted to post something that I think is very important for networking newbies. (Don’t worry, it’s a good refresher for you die-hards as well.) When you’re just starting out in the networking world, finding a networking group can sometimes be intimidating and confusing, but it really doesn’t have to be. For those of you looking to join a networking group, here are some networking group basics.

There are at least seven types of business networking organizations to consider joining to develop your business through networking. Depending on your time constraints, you should select at least two or three groups to participate in. There are:

  • Casual contact networks. These allow many people from overlapping professions and meet monthly.
  • Strong contact networks. Their primary purpose is exchanging referrals. They meet weekly.
  • Community service clubs. They provide an opportunity to give back to the community you do business in while making contacts and getting PR.
  • Professional associations. They tend to focus on one specific industry. The primary purpose is to exchange information and ideas)
  • Social/business organizations. They combine social activities with business or networking.
  • Online networks. Includes groups such as Ecademy, LinkedIn and Ryze, which are social networks for businesses.
  • Women’s business organizations. They are non-threatening groups for women to increase business. Many also allow men.

Don’t let chance decide where you’re going to spend your time and effort. Diversify your activities and consciously select a well-rounded mix of organizations. If you have associates, partners or employees, consider their participation when deciding which groups each of you will target.

Global Networking Conference – KL 2008

I am attending the Global Networking Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week. Roughly 550 people from more than 22 countries are attending the event. It has convinced me that “thinking globally and acting locally” is no longer true for entrepreneurs. We are living in a global economy, and it is becoming easier and easier to do business around the world.

When a local dentist (Dr. Fay Yunus) can give an international referral, you know this is true.

This is a GREAT VIDEO showing the power of local business networking in a global community!

How To Work A Room

As I sat on a plane bound for Orlando, Florida, this week, I began sorting through a stack of books that various authors have sent me as gifts, and I came upon the updated version of Susan RoAne’s How to Work a Room. I immediately had to smile because Susan has been a friend of mine for quite some time.  Anybody who knows her can tell you that she not only knows how to work a room, but she knows how to do it with what she calls “charm and chutzpah”–in other words, she is one funny lady!

I looked around at the other passengers surrounding me on the plane, some with their nose buried in a book or a magazine, others closing themselves off to any kind of communication by leaning back with their eyes closed and cranking up their iPod; and I thought, Susan could walk right up to any of these people and have them laughing and talking in a matter of minutes.

Some people, like Susan, are born networkers; but for most people networking is a skill that has to be learned. I would encourage anyone who isn’t necessarily known for having undeniable charm or chutzpah–but who often walks into events, meetings, conferences, or parties wanting to ease into meeting the people he or she doesn’t know–to pick up a copy of How to Work a Room. The recently updated version offers practical strategies for mingling, interacting, schmoozing and building common bonds. It includes chapters on roadblocks and remedies, preparation, small talk, specifc events–and how not to work a room.

The basic social and business dilemmas are the same as when the book was first published, but (judging from the countless iPods, Bluetooth devices, laptops and other technological gadgets that I observed people devoting every shred of their attention to in the airport and on the plane) it’s easy to see that technology has changed, giving us more opportunities to be rude. Susan addresses how those breaches could impact our careers, businesses and reputations, and offers some great suggestions on how to avoid and overcome them.

To learn more about Susan and How to Work a Room, please visit: http://www.SusanRoane.com

Twilight Zone Management

Someone recently asked me about some of my more unusual moments in business, and that took me back to a short stint I did working as the general manager of a light-manufacturing plant in Los Angeles.

This story actually begins many years earlier when, as a young boy, I stayed up late watching old Twilight Zone episodes with my mother. There was one in particular that I loved about a little boy named Anthony who had incredible powers and completely controlled a small town. He would do horrible things to people and animals with his mind, and then his family would beg him to send the misshapen or deformed beast to the “cornfields.” As soon as he’d done it, one of the townspeople would inevitably utter the infamous words . . . “It’s a good thing you done that Anthony, it’s a real good thing you done that.” Then everyone would nod their heads in agreement in total fear that Anthony might do it to them next. This made for great science fiction and, because I love science fiction, it stuck in my mind for many years.

Fast forward some 15 years later when I worked as the general manager of a light-manufacturing plant. There, I had the misfortune to work for the absolute worst, most dysfunctional team of people I have ever seen. It was headed up by Sally, the co-owner, whose idea of good management was yelling at everyone who didn’t do what she said–immediately. This woman was Genghis Khan in female form.

As soon as I started the job, I realized it was a horrible mistake and I dreaded coming to work almost every day. Finally, after three months, it happened. “It” being the most surreal experience of my management career. I was in the middle of a meeting with some employees from the production department along with “Ms. Khan” when she went into an absolute tirade, screamed at an employee and then summarily threw the young lady out of her office.

At that moment, one of the horror-stricken production employees remaining in the room looked solemnly at The Khan, nodded, and said . . . “It’s a good thing you done that, Sally, it’s a real good thing you done that.” I couldn’t believe it! It was at that very moment that I thought, “Oh , my God ,  I’m in the Twilight Zone! I’m THERE . . . this is it . . . the cornfields have to be next!! I AM OUT OF HERE!” The very next day I gave my notice.

I have never regretted leaving the company. It was the experience that prompted me to start my own business. Leaving there and starting my own company was the best decision I ever made, and I’ve never looked back (except to chuckle from time to time).

Do you have a Twilight Zone Management experience? If so, please share it with us.

Six Essentials for Networking

Recently, I was handed a copy of a book called Rules for Renegades: How to Make More Money, Rock Your Career, and Revel in Your Individuality by Christine Comaford-Lynch.

In the book, she names six networking essentials that are not necessarily the ones people might traditionally think of as the keys to networking success, but I think they can be of significant value–especially her advice on equalizing yourself with others. So I’d like to reprint them for you here, and I invite you to leave comments. Here’s Comaford-Lynch’s list:

1. Practice “Palm Up” Networking. When you network, are you giving or grasping? Palm up networking embodies the spirit of service, of giving and wanting nothing in return. When you network “palm down,” you’re grasping for personal gain. Palm up = heart-oriented interaction. Palm down = greedy grasping. Give to others; it’ll all come back to you in time.

2. Exercise Daily Appreciation. Appreciate at least one person daily. Sometimes I do this via e-mail so I can be thorough. And often, to my delight, the recipient will tell me that they are saving the message for when they need a pick-me-up. You can also express appreciation over the phone or in person. Simply tell someone how much you appreciate who they are or what they do–whatever about them moves you. They’ll be flattered, and you’ll feel great.

3. Equalize Yourself with Others. I believe we all have one unit of worth: no more, no less. No one can add to it; no one can take it away. We’re all equal. Just because someone is powerful, rich and famous doesn’t mean they are better than you. Practice equalizing yourself with others. This will enable you to more comfortably interact with others and to reach out to people of all walks of life.

4. Rolodex Dip. This is a fun practice when you want to connect with someone but aren’t sure whom. Flip through your contact database and pick a name. Then think of all the things you like about them. Now call them up to see how they are doing. They’ll be surprised and delighted.

5. Pick a “Sensei of the Day.” Each day I pick a sensei, a teacher. This is someone or something that has taught me a lesson or reminded me of what’s important in life. Your sensei can be a person, a pet, a plant; it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to acknowledge that there is much to learn and you are being offered valuable lessons constantly.

6. Do the Drive-By Schmooze. Parties and conventions–groups of all sorts–are great opportunities to network. But sometimes you’ll be tired, not in the mood or have too many events in one evening (like during the holiday season). This is when you’ll want to use the Drive-By Schmooze. Here’s how:

a. Timebox your networking. Decide that in 30 minutes you’ll do a check-in to determine if you need to stay any longer.

b. Set your goal. Determine the number of new connections you want to establish. Remember, your goal is meaningful connections, not simply contacts.
c. Let your intuition guide you. This may sound flaky, but it works! Stand near the door, in a corner, out of the way. Stop your thoughts. Internally ask to be guided to the people you need to connect with. Then start walking. You’ll be amazed at whom you meet.
d. Connect. You’ll always resonate with someone at an event. When you do, ask questions about them, such as: How did you get started in your field? What’s your ideal customer? We all love to talk about ourselves, and these questions will not only help you form a connection with this person, but will also tell you how to help them.
e. Offer help and follow through. If you can provide help, jot down ideas on the back of their business card, commit to follow up, and then do it. If you’ve had a fruitful conversation and want to take it further, offer to meet for lunch or coffee. People say life is 90 percent about showing up. Nonsense! Life is 90 percent about following through!

For more information on Christine and her bestselling book, Rules for Renegades, please visit: www.RulesForRenegades.com.

I ‘Absolutely’ Refuse to Participate in a Recession!

Last month I wrote a blog article headlined: “I Refuse to Particpate in a Recession.” It clearly resonated with many entrepreneurs. A lot of people posted responses to this blog with a clear understanding of how to apply this idea. There were, however, some who e-mailed me directly with a bad case of the “Yeabut Syndrome.” It goes like this, “Yea but” Ivan, things are different for me or different in this area or different in this business or different in my situation or different in my alternate universe, etc., etc.

Sometimes I feel like saying to these people, “Yes, you are different than the people I am talking about. You will fail; they will not” (oh, sorry, gotta remember–must keep that as internal dialog).

I’ve been through three recessionary periods in my business. I don’t need a crystal ball; I have history. Here’s what my history tells me: People with a strong network will survive and even thrive during downturns in the economy. I’ve seen this repeated over and over. Here’s how it plays out in my networking organization, BNI .

[Cue music and fade away to a vision of the past].

The first three to four months of all the past recessionary periods, membership tends to slow. Not as many people join. They say things such as, the economy is bad, I can’t afford it, things are different in my universe, etc., etc. Then something amazing happens. People start to realize that they better do something and do it quickly! They finally recognize that a recession is here and their business is going to “hell in a handbasket” right before their eyes. At this point, the magic happens. They get “networking religion.” They realize that they better get out of their cave and really, really network to build their business and that they’d better do it quickly. Then we start getting more and more people trying to join the organization (some can’t join because they waited too long and their profession is already taken)!

[Cue music and fade back to today].

So here we are today. It looks like we are in the beginning of an economic downturn. You have a choice to make. Are you going to wait six months, like many of the people I’ve seen in the past–or are you going to take control of your business and get a head start on your networking efforts? Only the strong, smart, and “networked,” suvive a recession.

You still have time to start and/or improve your existing personal network. If you’ve been active in networking, now’s the time to get back to basics and reintroduce yourself to the fundamentals. If you’ve done some networking but need to really expand it, take yourself to networking school. Immerse yourself in materials that will help you. Here’s a good place to start for almost 80 free articles on networking: Entrepreneur.com Networking column archive. If you haven’t done much to build your personal network, what are you waiting for? The recession to be over? By that time, your business will be over! Start now!

There’s an old Chinese proverb: When is the best time to plant an acorn? The answer is 25 years ago. When is the second best time? The answer is today.

So, share with me–what are you doing to improve your network today?

Why Make Mistakes When We Can Learn From Others?

This week, I was having a conversation with one of my employees about a guy who was exposed as a total con artist on national television, yet somehow he still manages to get people to send him millions of dollars in donations each year for his supposed “good cause”–which is, in reality, a complete joke. My employee said, “I just don’t get it! Why in the world are people still sending this guy money when they’ve been told about the thousands of other people who made the mistake of believing him and got ripped off?”

This brings up a good point. Why do we sometimes ignore the lessons we can learn from others’ mistakes and doom ourselves to making the same bad decisions? People in business and sales do this all the time. There are “tried-and-true” sales techniques that are so simplistic it doesn’t seem as though they can be really effective. Many times, we try to re-evaluate, improve upon and complicate them. Oftentimes we end up making things harder than they really are.One of the biggest mistakes that people in business (and especially in sales) make is not listening to the people who have experience. For some reason, they assume that they have to know better . . . and the truth is, they don’t.There is nothing like experience. It beats education every day of the week. The only thing better is a combination of education and experience . . . or a willingness to learn from other people’s experience. There are many basic sales techniques that any good salesperson knows to be effective. They don’t look for something more complicated or involved because they know from their own experience, as well as the experience of others, what works in sales and what doesn’t work in sales.

If you’ve read my book, Masters of Sales, you may have read things that seemed too simple to be effective or you may have seen ideas that you’ve heard before. Instead of being dismissed, these tactics and ideas should be embraced. Masters of Sales learn from other people’s success. Learn from other “Masters” that sometimes the simplest ideas can have the biggest impact.

For more info on Masters of Sales, please visit: www.MastersBooks.com

Are You ‘Really’ in Business?

I was speaking at a conference for small business owners last year where the following list was given to all the businesspeople in attendance. The speaker said; “If you don’t have all these things in place, you’re not really in business!”

  1. I have business cards for myself and my team.
  2. I have a distinct phone line specifically for my business.
  3. I have a registered domain.
  4. I have a current website.
  5. I have an e-mail that corresponds with my business domain.
  6. I have a dedicated office or business space (even if it is home-based).
  7. I know what my target market is.
  8. I have a contact database system in place to communicate with my prospects.

As obvious as this list seems, half the participants did not meet all the requirements. I spoke there again this year, and I’m glad to report that virtually all of the participants this time around met the above requirements (and more).

So here’s my question for you: Are you really in business?

[For those of you who are really in business, what would you add to this list, if anything?]

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