Making Connections to Start Your Own Business

I recently got asked a really great question on Ask Entrepreneur: Where do I get connected with people who can help me open a business?

Though there is evidence that business is currently on the rise and the economy is moving in a positive direction, the recent downturn in the economy prompted many people who found themselves unemployed to tap into their entrepreneurial spirit and consider starting their own business.

This begs the question above–are there efficient ways to get in touch with people who can help you start your own business?

The answer is yes, and here are my three recommendations:

1) Go through your contacts and talk to people you personally know who have started a business. Set an appointment.  Let them know what you are doing and ask if they’d give you an hour of mentoring.  If possible, meet with them in person.  Show up with specific questions written out in advance.  Send them the questions prior to the meeting so they have a good understanding of what kind of information you’re looking for.  When you meet, focus on those questions, write down the answers, and stick to the time frame you promised.  If the conversation goes well, ask if you can meet with them in the future.  Follow this process with two or three people who have opened a business successfully.  I guarantee you will find this to be very valuable.

2) Find a business coach who has experience with start-up businesses. Hire them to coach you through the process.

3) Read, read, read!  There are a lot of books out there on opening a business. I have personally reviewed many of the books published by Entrepreneur Press on starting a business and they are excellent.  Go to EntrepreneurPress.com to see some of them.

I strongly encourage anyone genuinely interested in starting their own business to pursue the endeavor. I have owned my own business for almost thirty years (that’s a picture of me at top right, when I first started my company, BNI, and was running it from my house and garage with only one other employee in the mid ’80s) and it continues to be an amazing and fulfilling journey. I don’t think I would ever go back to working for someone else.

How to Make Networking Comfortable

Very few people argue with the value of networking, so why do people resist doing it? Aside from all the excuses–I don’t have time, I’m not a good networker, I don’t like to network–what’s the REAL reason people resist networking?  I was reading a book the other day called “Manifesting for Non-Gurus,” which was written by my friend Robert MacPhee (pictured at right) whom I’m in the Transformational Leadership Council with, and the book explains a concept which I think gets right to the core of this question–Comfort Zones.

The real reason most people do not network is because it makes them uncomfortable.

We’ve all heard about the concept of Comfort Zones before.  However, Robert explains it in a very unique way. He talks about how our resistance to doing something new often shows up as wanting to continue to do what is comfortable–even if it is not working well for usIn outlining his “Manifesting for Non-Gurus” approach, Robert explains that a comfort zone exists when our beliefs about who we are match the results we are getting. Think about it . . . if you consider yourself to be a great networker, do you show up at a networking meeting or event and present yourself differently than someone who thinks of himself as a poor networker?  Who is more comfortable?

Are you a great networker?

Hopefully you can answer this question with a highly-confident YES.  Unfortunately, most businesspeople would probably answer with a resounding NO.  Their image of themselves is of not being a great networker so, to remain comfortable, they will avoid networking, despite the fact that they know networking is valuable. Crazy, right?  Yet, we all know people who do this.

Fortunately, Robert explains that there is a very simple solution for anyone stuck in this kind of comfort zone.  It starts with a simple decision that part of who you are is a great networker. To declare that you love meeting new people, sharing what you do, and helping them in any way you can.  Start thinking about networking events as the valuable, exciting opportunities they are, instead of as dreaded situations that will pull you from your comfort zone.  This is the way successful networkers see themselves and perceive networking functions and that is a huge part of why they are successful networkers.

So, what about that voice in your head saying, “What about the evidence that seems to support the fact that I am not such a great networker?”  Well, according to Robert, that’s just your comfort zone crying out to reel you back in because the “I am a great networker” statement doesn’t match your current results.  If a “great networker” is who you want to be, the next step is to continue to declare that you are a great networker and “act as if” until the results you want start to show up!  This is the same thing you have done your whole life with any new skill you successfully learned.

Robert teaches a simple five step approach to making these kinds of changes more quickly and easily, getting out of our current comfort zones, trying new things and creating the lasting results we want.  I highly recommend his work.  Maybe we can get him to write “Networking for Non-Gurus” next . . . 😉

For more information about Robert and his work, please visit www.ManifestingMonth.com.

What Richard Branson Can Teach You about Networking

I recently had a phone conversation with someone who was asking me about the importance of eye contact when networking.  I answered his question with an interesting story about Richard Branson and I’d like to share that story with you here because I think it demonstrates a point that’s definitely worth remembering.

One of the many intriguing things about Richard Branson is that he has this laser-focus eye contact.  When he is talking to you, he’s not looking to his left, looking to his right, or anywhere else other than directly at you–he gives you his full attention.

I remember talking with Richard, one time in particular, about kids and raising kids.  I was telling him about my son, Trey, who was fifteen at the time and very sharp but not as committed to school as he could be.

Six months later, I saw Richard at a party and introduced him to my son.  Branson remembered who Trey was from our previous conversation, and I have this photograph of him, where he has this laser eye contact with my son (see picture at right), and he kept that laser eye contact with Trey for three or four minutes straight while he was talking to him. All these people were around, vying for Branson’s attention, but he was completely focused on my son during their conversation. Branson wasn’t intense in terms of his speaking—he was actually very relaxed—but he was impressively intense in his focus. The only person in that room, during that three or four-minute time span, was my son. Here’s a guy who never went to college, and he was telling my son. “Go to college. I spoke to your dad! You can do better. I have faith in you!”

Now, keep in mind, Trey doesn’t get impressed by anybody (or at least, like a typical teenager, he certainly doesn’t make a habit of showing that he’s impressed–if you have teenagers, I’m sure you’re more than used to being responded to with a shrug, a bored expression, and the words “it was okay,” or “yeah, (so and so) was cool, I guess . . .”   ;-)) .  Actually, I don’t think my son even understood who Branson was at the time of their conversation but I asked him afterward, “What did you think of that conversation?”  His very uncharacteristic response was, “That was amazing!”  I’m more than confident that what really did it for Trey, what really impressed him, was how, for those few minutes, he had Branson’s undivided attention.

I’ve had a chance to see Branson several times now, and he’s just a master at giving people his undivided attention. After his conversation with Trey, when he moved to the next person, the next conversation, he gave that person his undivided attention.

The thing is, giving people your undivided attention is one of the most important things you can do in order to become a master networker, and making a concentrated effort to maintain eye contact when engaging a conversation is imperative in order to demonstrate to somebody that they are receiving your undivided attention.

So, the next time you’re networking with someone and distractions surrounding you are tempting your eyes to stray from the person you’re speaking with, think of Richard Branson and remember to keep a laser focus on the person and conversation at hand–it’s one of the things that will make you a true master.

Do you have an interesting experience about networking and eye contact?  If so, share it here.

"New Year’s Resolutions and Networking"

A friend of mine, TR Garland (pictured with me in the photo at right), just wrote a great blog entry which contains some very timely information for many people across the globe and I’d like to take the opportunity to share it with you today as a guest blog.  Enjoy . . .

“New Year’s Resolutions and Networking” by TR Garland

In about 30 days, the majority of people around the world are going to be faced with the same thing we’re all faced with once at a certain point every single year.

No, I’m not talking about keeping a smile on your face while spending the holidays with your in-laws (wink-wink).  I’m talking about setting New Year’s Resolutions.

Every year, one of the top resolutions is to “get in shape.”  The truth of the matter is that most of us already know how to get in shape:

1.  Design a nutritional plan and stick to it

2.  Design a workout schedule and stick to it

3.  Track your actions and results daily and recalibrate if needed

The problem is, a large percentage of people don’t reach their goals because:

1.  They don’t write out a formal nutrition plan or workout schedule

2.  They don’t hold themselves accountable

In other words, life gets in their way.

So what can be done about this?  Well, there’s something about human psychology that pushes us to not let someone else down. Because of this, people who invest in a personal trainer to help keep them accountable tend to achieve desired results much more consistently than they ever would by attempting to get in shape on their own.

It’s important to note that this same concept holds true for business networking and referral marketing.

Many people are spending a lot of time networking by just chatting away with others and maybe grabbing others’ business cards.  By doing this, they then expect results; they expect that the people whom they’ve met and exchanged business cards with will eventually pass a referral to them.  This mindset is called being reactive ( . . . and hoping for the best!).  Being reactive is an employee  mindset or mentality that, in my opinion, gets placed into the same category as punch cards, guaranteed smoke breaks, assembly lines, benefits entitlement, and cubicles.  In other words, this mindset is something that isn’t really that viable anymore in today’s economic environment.

If you don’t believe me, look around and note which businesses are thriving and hiring.  I’m confident you’ll discover that the businesses which are doing well are those that do not have a reactive mindset and, instead, maintain an entrepreneurial mindset.

An entrepreneurial mindset is one that takes ownership and focuses on being proactive versus reactive.  Just like the “getting in shape” example above, being proactive and accountable in your business networking and referral marketing efforts is a sure-fire way to get results–plain and simple.

So, especially if you’ll be out attending holiday parties in the coming 30 days with your spouse, significant other, family, or friends, remember to be proactive with your networking efforts.  Go to each event with a purpose (in addition to your goal of having fun).  Don’t simply gather business cards, that’s not what I’m talking about.  Instead, set relevant and realistic networking goals and ask the person you went with to hold you accountable to your goals.

And, of course, there’s a time and a place for everything.  You need to respect the event you’re attending and if the environment doesn’t warrant you achieving certain networking goals . . . grab a celebratory beverage and some festive treats and remember, there’s always next year!

* TR Garland is a Referral Marketing Strategist for the Referral Institute® in Orange County, California where he is a consultant to top performers and entrepreneurs on maximizing their ROI/ROT from business contacts and networking.  Starting in 2011, you can follow TR for his tips, tactics, and techniques on effective networking at his newly launched blog located at www.BeABetterNetworker.com.

 

A Networking Trick for the 21st Century

Years ago I wrote about a great technique to get people to come to me for their referral needs.  However, I recently saw a modern twist to this great idea that I’d like to share with you today.

Here’s a little background information on the original concept:

Since the late ’80s I’ve been training people to use a little networking trick that will enable them to give referrals to more people (which of course leads to getting more referrals for themselves).  I talk about this trick in one of my early columns for Entrepreneur.com as well as a blog I wrote last year entitled: Use This Networking Trick to Increase Business.

In a nutshell, the technique is to compose a letter that you give to your clients and contacts which states that an important part of your business is to give referrals to people looking for services that you recommend (you can find a more detailed explanation, along with a sample letter, by clicking on the link given above).

Here’s the interesting, modern twist:

Terry Burkot has created a 21st century version of this same networking technique by adding video to the equation.  She still sends a personal message to all the people in her network; however, she doesn’t write a letter, she instead sends a video message which really utilizes the tools we have available to us in this world full of constantly-evolving technology.

Terry used my idea (which was so last century :)) and really improved on it.  Well done, Terry!

I’d love to hear your comments on what you think of this modern twist to networking.

Taking Charge

The best word-of-mouth programs I’ve seen happen by design, not by accident or wishful thinking. Unfortunately, many businesspeople view word of mouth somewhat like the weather: “Sure it’s important, but what can I do about it?”

Based on more than two decades of research, observation, and practical experience, I’ve found that in addition to focusing on the important issue of customer service, the average businessperson has much to do in order to build a referral business.  Word of mouth can be planned and nurtured.  Anyone, including business owners, entrepreneurs, sales representatives, staff employees, even individuals serving in a volunteer capacity in any field, can accomplish plenty with a well-structured and systematically executed word-of-mouth plan.

All too often I have seen businesspeople waiting for business to walk through the door. They think because they are good at what they do, people should be flocking to them.  I’m afraid the truth is, it doesn’t work that way!  You have to take charge, no matter what business you’re in or how good you are, and bring the business to you.

I once saw a cartoon strip of two large, ravenous-looking vultures perched on a tree limb, overlooking a dry desert plain.  After quite a while, one vulture turns to the other and says, “Wait for something to die?  Heck, let’s kill something!”  So it is with word-of-mouth marketing.  You can’t simply wait for people to come to you.  If you do, one of your competitors who also provides good customer service will most likely find them before they show up at your doorstep.

If you want to succeed, you have to go get your business, or better yet, have someone else get it for you through referrals.

Finding Your Starting Point

If you have little or no experience with referral marketing, it would be a mistake to jump into action without preparing yourself. Central to the referral-marketing process is getting people to send you referrals. To do so, they must know exactly what you do — what product or service you provide or make, how and under what conditions you provide it, how well you do it and in what ways you are better at what you do than your competitors. You have to communicate this information to your sources. And to communicate effectively, you must know the same things.

It may seem a no-brainer; don’t we all know what we do for a living? Yes, of course, most of us do. But can you communicate it clearly and simply to your potential sources? When you try to do so, you may find that you’re not quite as clear on the facts as you thought. And if you can’t tell your potential sources what you do or what you sell, how can they send you good referrals?

Before you map out where you’re going to take your business with your referral-marketing campaign, pause and get a clear picture of where your business stands today. Try to answer, in simple terms, the following questions:

  • Why are you in business?
  • What do you sell?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How well do you compete?

Answering these questions for yourself will help you tell others what your business is about. This will make you more effective at implementing your comprehensive and systematic referral system.

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!

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.

Becoming a Notable Networker–Tips and Insights

If you really want to succeed at networking, take a look at the following tips and insights:

  • Notable Networkers are people who are skilled at networking and committed to the idea that givers gain. By helping other businesses get new clients or customers, they get new business sent their way.
  • The key to building a word-of-mouth-based business is mutual support, not necessarily friendship.
  • Organizations that network effectively provide opportunities to develop and exchange quality business referrals. Being a member of a well-organized network is like having dozens of salespeople working for you, each referring prospective clients your way.
  • A Notable Networker must have a positive and supportive attitude. Good networking involves providing a positive and supportive environment for other businesspeople.
  • A Notable Networker must have and use the right tools to network skillfully, including an informative name badge, business cards and a business card carrying case to hold others’ cards.
  • Networking is an acquired skill; it requires listening to CDs, reading books and articles, talking to people who network well, and practicing what you’ve learned.
  • Effective networking requires practice, practice, practice–and then more practice.

Is there a bullet point in this list you would like me to expand on? If so, leave a comment and let me know; I’m more than happy to oblige. 🙂

The Networking Disconnect

I was at a big networking event with more than 500 people in the UK this summer, and the person who spoke before me asked the audience: “How many of you came here hoping to do some business–maybe make a sale?”  More than half the people in the audience raised their hands. He then asked, “How many of you are here hoping to buy something?”  No one raised a hand–not one single person! This is the networking disconnect.

If you are going to networking events hoping to sell something, you’re dreaming. Don’t confuse direct selling with networking. Effective networking is about developing relationships. I know, I know . . . there’s always someone out there who says, “But, Ivan, I’ve made a sale by attending a networking event!”  OK . . . I’m not saying it doesn’t ever happen–it does.  I’m just saying it happens about as often as a solar eclipse. Face it, even a blind squirrel can find a nut. Any businessperson can stumble on some business at a networking meeting from time to time. However, when you have most of the people at an event trying to sell and virtually no one there to buy, you’re crazy if you think the odds are in your favor to “sell” at a networking event.

So why go?  You go because networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about developing relationships with other business professionals. Sometimes you go to a networking event to increase your visibility, sometimes you go to establish further credibility with people you know, and sometimes you may even go to meet a long-time referral partner and do some business. In any case, the true master networkers know that networking events are about moving through the VCP Process and not about closing deals.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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