Entrepreneur Magazine’s Winning Strategies for Business Conference

Entrepreneur magazine’s Winning Strategies for Business Conference is being held in Long Beach, Calif., on Oct. 5. If it’s possible for you to attend, I highly recommend that you go. This event offers serious educational value, plenty of opportunities to network and, best of all, registration is FREE!

I’ll be giving the keynote presentation, “Networking Like a Pro,” during the morning session and I’ll be talking about how to create, maintain and serve a wide network and enjoy great business and personal rewards as a result.

If you can make it out to the conference, I’d love to have the opportunity to meet you, so please take a moment to introduce yourself during one of the networking sessions or after my presentation.

The focus of the Winning Strategies for Business Conference is to show you everything you need to know about how to go further and achieve more by teaching you proven tactics that will impact virtually every aspect of your business. Bruce Kimbrell of Disney Institute will be giving the afternoon keynote presentation, “Disney’s Approach to People Management,” and there will be a handful of other dynamic speakers presenting on topics such as SEO, social networking and PR, fundraising, launching a new business, brand building, driving sales and more.

There will also be a one-of-a-kind opportunity for you to pitch your business to Entrepreneur‘s editors for a chance to have your business featured in either Entrepreneur magazine or on Entrepreneur.com

(Now that is a great opportunity!)

Hope to see you at the event! CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR FREE or to get more information on Winning Strategies for Business.

How Soon Should You Expect Profitability from a Relationship?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve written a few blogs on the VCP Process® of networking and, since I’ve already covered visibility and credibility in detail, today I’m going to tell you what you need to know about profitability, the third and final phase of the VCP Process.

The mature relationship, whether business or personal, can be defined in terms of its profitability. Is it mutually rewarding? Do both partners gain satisfaction from it? Does it maintain itself by providing benefits to both? If it doesn’t profit both partners to keep it going, it probably will not endure.

The best piece of advice I can give you in regard to when to expect to get to profitability is to be patient. The time it takes to pass through the phases of a developing relationship is highly variable.  It’s not always easy to determine when profitability has been achieved: A week? A month? A year? In a time of urgent need, you and a client may proceed from visibility to credibility overnight. The same is true of profitability; it may happen quickly or it may take years, but most likely it will be somewhere in between. It will depend on the frequency and quality of the contacts and especially on the desire of both parties to move the relationship forward.

Shortsightedness can impede the full development of the relationship. Perhaps you’re a customer who has done business with a certain vendor off and on for several months, but to save pennies you keep hunting around for the lowest price, ignoring the value this vendor provides in terms of service, hours, goodwill and reliability. Are you really profiting from the relationship, or are you stunting its growth?  Perhaps if you gave this vendor all your business, you could work out terms that would benefit both of you.  Profitability is not found by bargain hunting. It must be cultivated. And, like farming, it takes patience.

Visibility and credibility are important in the relationship-building stages of the referral-marketing process.  But when you have established an effective referral generation system, you will have entered the profitability stage of your relationships with many people–the people who send you referrals and the customers you recruit as a result. It’s an essential part of successful relationship marketing and networking.

The First Phase of the VCP Process–Visibility

Last week I wrote a blog explaining the VCP Process, which is a huge part of the foundation of networking. Because this process is so crucial to effective networking, I promised to write a blog entry for each of the three phases (visibility, credibility and profitability), and today I’m going to talk about why it all starts with visibility.

The first phase of growing a relationship is visibility: You and another individual become aware of each other.  In business terms, a potential source of referrals or a potential customer becomes aware of the nature of your business–perhaps because of your public relations and advertising efforts, because of your social media presence or perhaps through someone you both know. This person may observe you in the act of conducting business or relating with the people around you. The two of you begin to communicate and establish links–perhaps a question or two over the phone or via e-mail messages about product availability. You may become personally acquainted and work on a first-name basis, but you know little about each other. A combination of many such relationships forms a casual-contact network, a sort of de facto association based on one or more shared interests.

The visibility phase is important because it creates recognition and awareness.  The greater your visibility, the more widely known you will be, the more information you will obtain about others, the more opportunities you will be exposed to, and the greater will be your chances of being accepted by other individuals or groups as someone to whom they can or should refer business.  Visibility must be actively maintained and developed; without it, you cannot move on to the next level, credibility.

I’ll talk more about credibility next week, but it’s important to understand that visibility brings the opportunity to build credibility, and credibility is what will get you to profitability, where you’ll actually benefit from your efforts. So many times people try to jump straight from visibility to profitability, and that’s not real networking; it’s just an obvious ploy to get something from your new contacts. That’s nothing more than a bad attempt at direct selling and a big waste of time.

So, how do you go about creating more visibility for your business? What are some strategies that have really worked out well for you?  I’d love to hear your comments.

What is the VCP Process?

The key concept in referral marketing is relationships. The system of information, support and referrals that you assemble will be based on your relationships with other individuals and businesses. Referral marketing works because these relationships work both ways: They benefit both parties.

A referral marketing plan involves relationships of many different kinds. Among the most important are those with your referral sources, with prospects these referral sources bring you and with customers you recruit from the prospects. These relationships don’t just spring up full-grown; they must be nurtured. As they grow, fed by mutual trust and shared benefits, they evolve through three phases: visibility, credibility and profitability. We call this evolution the VCP Process(R)

Any successful relationship, whether a personal or a business relationship, is unique to every pair of individuals, and it evolves over time. It starts out tentative, fragile, full of unfulfilled possibilities and expectations. It grows stronger with experience and familiarity. It matures into trust and commitment. The VCP Process describes the process of creation, growth and strengthening of business, professional and personal relationships; it is useful for assessing the status of a relationship and where it fits in the process of getting referrals. It can be used to nurture the growth of an effective and rewarding relationship with a prospective friend, client, co-worker, vendor, colleague or family member. When fully realized, such a relationship is mutually rewarding and, thus, self-perpetuating.

This simple concept has made a bigger difference in more people’s networking efforts than any other single idea I’ve discussed. For this reason, I’m going to devote the next few blogs I write to explaining each step of the VCP Process individually. Come back on Monday to learn why it all starts with visibility . . . I guarantee you you’ll want to read this one!

7 Ways to Connect with Networking Partners

1.  Arrange a one-to-one meeting. Meeting a referral source in person is an excellent opportunity to learn more about his business and interests. Prepare some questions in advance so that the conversation flows smoothly. Be ready to give an update on your business and to ask lots of questions about your source’s interests.

2.  Extend an invitation. Invite a referral source to a networking event. Introducing her to other businesspeople you know gives your source an opportunity to meet others in your target market and may also provide new business opportunities.

3.  Set up an activity. A recreational activity, such as a golf outing, fishing trip, concert or play, is a great opportunity to let your referral source see a different side of you in an informal setting. The activity should be one that will give everybody time to relax, but it may also include an element of information such as a speech or educational presentation. To maximize the effectiveness of your time with your sources, you should invite no more than four people and spend at least one hour with each.

4.  Arrange a group activity for clients. Gathering your clients together creates an excellent environment for synergy and for raising your credibility with all. The one thing the people in this group will definitely have in common is you, so you’ll certainly be the focus of a good many conversations. Group activities may be social, such as a barbecue or a ball game, or they may be educational, such as a seminar or demonstration.

5.  Nominate a referral source. Watch for opportunities to nominate a referral source for an award. Local service and civic organizations often present annual awards recognizing contributions to a particular cause, and local periodicals often sponsor awards contests for businesspeople. Find out what groups and interests your referral source is involved in, and check to see if there is any form of recognition associated with them.

6.  Include a source in your newsletter. Even a brief mention of a referral source in your newsletter can pay dividends down the road, including the opportunity for your source to reciprocate with his newsletter.

7.  Arrange a speaking engagement. Help your referral source get in front of a group that would be interested in her business or area of expertise. Local chapters of service organizations, such as Rotary and Kiwanis, are always looking for good speakers. If you belong to a group that invites people to speak, use your contacts to help your source make the rounds among various chapters.

What are some other ways that you recommend to stay in contact with your networking partners?

6 Simple Actions

Last week I gave you a list of actions you can take to strengthen your relationships with your referral sources. I promised that in the next few weeks I would give you some more information on each action. So, since we all love it when things are easy, I’ll start by giving you further details on the six simplest actions you can take.

1.  Send a thank-you card.  Always a nice gesture, a handwritten thank-you card makes a great impression, especially in this age of electronic communication. Be sure to write a personalized note that mentions what you’re thanking your referral source for. SendOutCards.com is a great resource for this.

2.  Send a gift. A gift is always welcome. Like a thank-you card, a gift, however small or inexpensive, builds visibility and credibility with your referral source. Try to find out what your referral source likes (favorite foods, hobbies, etc.), and send a gift that is personalized to her tastes.

3.  Call a referral source. An occasional phone call is a good way to keep the relationship strong, if you take care to call only when it’s least likely to be an unwelcome interruption. It’s also a good idea to have a piece of news or some tidbit of information to pass along that will benefit or interest your source.

4.  Offer a referral. Giving your referral source a referral is a wonderful way to build your relationship. By helping build your source’s business, you create a debt of gratitude that will encourage your source to respond in kind.

5.  Display a source’s brochure. Doing a bit of sales work on behalf of a referral source can only enhance your relationship. If you have a public area for your business, offer to place your source’s materials where your clients can read them.

6.  Send an article of interest. Set up a file for holding newspaper and magazine clippings that may be of interest to people you would like to be your referral sources. Sending an article, especially one that is pertinent to your source’s current business or personal circumstances, says that you are thinking about your source’s needs.

These are some of the easiest ways to grow your networking relationships. Check back next Monday to read about some great actions you can take that will require a little more effort on your part.

If You’re Not Inviting, You’re Missing Out

Inviting prospective referral sources to an event you’re attending, hosting or participating in as a featured guest, exhibitor, panel speaker or award recipient is a great way to enhance your contact with them and build credibility.

If you’re not inviting your prospective referral sources to events, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to keep them informed of activities you’re involved in. When the event is one where you have a chance to share your expertise or where you are being recognized for an achievement, using this tactic contributes to building your credibility and image as a successful and knowledgeable professional.  This tactic also helps acquaint your targets with others in your network and transforms strictly business relationships into friendships.

If you haven’t been inviting prospective sources to events and you’re not sure whom to invite or how to invite them, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Make a list of the events you’ll be attending and a list of network members you might invite.
  • With plenty of lead time, call or write each prospective source to invite him or her to the event; explain the reason for the invitation.
  • Pay your network member’s admission fee, if there is one.
  • Make sure the event offers benefits to your prospective sources, such as an opportunity to meet someone they admire, to be entertained or to be recognized.
  • Whenever possible, allow your guests to invite guests of their own.
  • It’s OK to invite people you do not expect to attend.  Remember, one of your aims is to keep your sources informed of what you are doing.

So, what events are you attending in the coming weeks?  Make use of the tips above and make it your goal to invite someone to each event you attend from here on out. Chances are you’ll not only reap some great benefits, you’ll probably enjoy the event even more with your network member along.

Give Valuable Information, Get More Referrals

Last week I posted a blog on the benefits of turning to your network for advice. It’s also very important to remember that everyone benefits when you give valuable advice to your network.

Think about how you can give your prospective referral sources valuable advice related to your specialty or profession, such as advance notice of a change in procedures that will affect them, tips on how to initiate the changes they will need to make, or other information that can help your network members achieve satisfaction or success.

One of your goals is to get network members to feel that you are a link to privileged information–that you’re an insider. The advice you give may lead your prospective sources to seek you out for answers to their questions or to feel that you’re looking out for their best interests. It’s a great way to remind your prospective referral sources of what you do.

Use these tips to help pinpoint what to share with your network and how to share it with them:

  • List the topics that you feel comfortable giving advice on, then list network members who might need advice on each topic.
  • Decide whether you will apply this tactic formally, such as by newsletter, or informally, such as in a personal note.
  • Decide how frequently you will send updates.
  • Ask your sources to name others who might benefit from your advice.
  • Periodically ask your network members whether they find your advice useful.
  • Tell your network members to let you know if they don’t wish to receive your updates.

Offering valuable information to your network will not only help them, more important for you, it will keep you on their minds and encourage them to refer you and speak highly of your professional knowledge.

Need Advice? Your Network Can Help!

Have you ever purposely sought advice from your network members?  If not, you should definitely take advantage of this opportunity because we all need advice at one time or another and seeking advice from your network is a win-win situation.

You see, people like for others to listen to their opinions and advice.  By inviting your network members to talk, you can get better acquainted with their knowledge, decision-making ability, and attitudes.  Receiving someone’s advice also gives you a perfect reason to contact her again, thank her, and let her know what you plan to do.  This is a great way to keep your resources informed and, of course, to get their opinions about what you are doing.

When preparing to ask your network for advice, here are some important tips:

  • Ask your network member for advice or opinions on something she enjoys talking about and to which you expect her to have an answer.
  • Listen carefully and respond appropriately.
  • Direct your questions toward what your network member says in conversation.
  • Have a logical reason for wanting the information.
  • Avoid potentially controversial and sensitive issues.
  • Don’t ask your network member to give you advice that she would otherwise charge you for.
  • People are more likely to remember their own words than others so if you want someone to remember your conversation, let her do most of the talking.

Become a Customer to Become a High Priority

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

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

Tips for purchasing from your network:

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

Save Time and Money by Source Seeking

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

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

Here are some tips for source seeking:

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

Use Reporting to Strengthen Your Network

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

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

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

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

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

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