Achieving Excellence in a Networking Group

During a recent interview, I was asked what my thoughts are on why my networking organization, BNI, has become so successful. Well, I’ll be the first to admit that success didn’t happen overnight. It took me 23 years, and a lot of bumps along the way, to learn what it takes to operate a successful networking group anywhere in the world. But as I told the interviewer, I attribute BNI’s success to some key steps that are sure to move any networking group toward achieving excellence. I’d like to share some of them with you here:

1. Education, education, education. Take advantage of the staggering amount of resources on networking that are available. Some examples are:
SuccessNet archives, networking articles at Entrepreneur.com, networking books, Audio CDs, etc., etc.

2. Choose quality business professionals to join your networking group. Don’t take the first person with a pulse and a check.

3. Follow the system! When a system is proved to be successful, there is a reason it works. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

4. Pass quality referrals. The only thing more important than passing a lot of referrals is passing quality referrals. Both are important, but quality must lead the way.

5. Attendance is key to a group’s success. Networking groups that have poor attendance always end up having problems down the road. Have you ever gotten a haircut over the phone? Of course not. We’ve learned that you cannot get or give referrals if you don’t show up.

6. Pick great leaders! Don’t settle for who’s willing, but select who’s best! Leaders can make or break a group. It happens all the time.

7. Keep positive people with a solutions-focused attitude in your group. OK, here’s another way to say it–move out the constant whiners! Some people complain as though there were an award for it. Replace them. Find people who focus on building something great rather than complaining as though it were an Olympic event. Seriously, why accept mediocrity when excellence is an option? People, just like water, tend to seek the path of least resistance. The problem is that the path of least resistance may not be the best path. If you expect the best from your fellow networking group members, you will get it. If you expect less than the best from your members . . . you will get it. Expect the best. You’ll get better results, really.

After all, if following these steps could build BNI into an organization with more than 5,000 thriving chapters in more than 36 countries, then I’d say it’s worth giving them a try!!

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?

Entrepreneurial Excellence

A good friend of mine, Frank De Raffele Jr., recently launched a radio program called “Entrepreneurial Excellence.”  I wanted to take a minute to let everybody know about it because not only is it an excellent educational resource for entrepreneurs and businesspeople alike, it is also accessible from anywhere in the world because it is broadcast online.  Even if you miss a broadcast, the shows are all archived and available to download at any time.

I listened to the show’s premier last Monday and I am very impressed with the quality of the insights presented on how to start and run a successful business. A lot of the information that Raffele is giving for free on his show wouldn’t even be given to you if you paid a bunch of money to attend classes on this stuff. 

Besides the educational forum, the show features a series of entrepreneurial tips on legal matters, tax savings, marketing, web/internet, employee benefits and human resource issues, plus interviews with some of the world’s top entrepreneurs and authors such as Zig Ziglar, Jay Conrad Levinson, Harvey Mackay and Stephen Covey. 

But forget those guys . . . the best thing is that Raffele managed to land an interview with the most exciting guy on the planet—yep, you got it, I’m talking about yours truly! All joking aside, though, Raffele has managed to assemble quite the panel of experts, and I think that gaining access to the expertise of top entrepreneurs for free and from anywhere in the world is an opportunity nobody should miss.

For more information, to listen, and/or to download past shows, go to: www.EERadioShow.com.

Customer Service Alone Won’t Ensure Referrals

This past weekend I found myself explaining BNI to the father of one of my son Trey’s friends. After I gave him the basic rundown, he said, “That sounds like a great concept. But I’m known for giving excellent customer service, so I don’t really think I need to go out of my way to get referrals.”

I wasn’t at all shocked to hear him say that because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard others assert that giving good customer service will guarantee that people will refer business to them. This is a common misconception, but it is not based on reality.

Many, many business owners believe that good customer service is the number-one way to cultivate word-of-mouth marketing and referrals. It’s not. It’s a good policy–one that’s vital to the health of your business–but it’s not at the core of building a referral-based business.

People have come to expect good customer service. In fact, they demand it in today’s marketplace. When considering customer service and its role in the referral process, it unfortunately works much more effectively in reverse: People are more likely to talk about your business when they’re unhappy with you than when they’re happy with your service.

So if you want to build your referrals, as I told the man I was speaking with on Saturday, you have to actively cultivate your referral sources and not rely on good customer service alone.

 

Referral Marketing A Risky Business

During a recent radio interview I did, the host of the program asked me whether I consider referral marketing the safest form of advertising. Without the slightest hesitation, I confidently answered, “By all means, no.” Based on his response, I’m sure he was shocked by that answer.

I went on to explain that I believe very strongly in the tremendous benefits that word-of –mouth marketing can bring. However, there are unique risks associated with referral advertising that are not an issue in commercial or other forms of advertising.

When you give a referral, you give a little of your reputation away. If the business you’ve referred someone to does a good job, it helps your reputation. But if it does a poor job, your reputation may be hurt.

As I said, the payoffs of referral marketing are immense—when it’s done correctly. But referral marketing involves a really big risk: giving away a piece of your reputation every time you give a referral to someone. When you tell a valued customer that a friend of yours is going to take good care of them, you must have confidence in that friend.

But what happens if your friend lets your customer down? It comes back to haunt you. Your customer begins to lose faith in you and, because of that loss of faith, you just might lose that customer down the road. This is why it’s so important to develop strong relationships with those to whom you’re referring business and vice versa. Once those strong connections are forged you can rest easy, knowing when you tell someone a business associate or a networking partner is going to take good care of him or her, that’s what will happen.

I Refuse to Participate in a Recession!

Many economic gurus are saying the “R” word …. recession.For the most part, the U.S. economy has been strong and business has been good for the past decade.However, the economy goes through cycles. Even if we don’t see a full-blown recession, business is slowing for many people.

Unfortunately, every time the economy takes a downturn, the fallout is felt strongly by salespeople, business owners and professionals alike.Successful business professionals learn from the past.For some, this will not be our first recession.

So what did we learn from previous economic downturns?In the early ’90s, right in the middle of a nasty recession, I was at a business mixer in Connecticut meeting many local business professionals.It seemed that everyone was feeling the crunch from the slow economy.Throughout the entire event, the favorite topic of discussion was how bad the economy was and how things were getting worse.The whole affair was depressing because nearly everyone was obsessed with the problems of the economy and its impact on his or her business .

I was introduced to one of the many real estate agents attending.Given the decrease in property values in the state, I was leery of asking this gentleman the standard “How’s business?”question.He shared with me, though, that he was having a great year.Naturally, I was surprised and asked, “You did say you were in real estate, didn’t you?”
Yes.”
“We are in Connecticut, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” he said with a slight grin.

“And you’re having a good year?”I asked.

“I’m actually having my best year ever!” he said.

“Your best year!”I said in amazement.

After thinking for a moment I asked him, “Is this your first year in real estate?” “No,” he replied with a laugh. “I’ve been in real estate for almost 10 years.”I asked him how he was doing so well, given the conditions of the economy and the stiff competition.He reached into his pocket and pulled out a badge that said:

I AbsolutelyRefuse to Participate in a Recession!

“That’s your secret?”I asked.”You refuse to participate in the recession, so business is booming?”“That’s correct,” he said.”While most of my competitors are crying the blues about how bad business is, I’m out drumming up a ton of business networking with my contacts and generating referrals.”

Considering what he said, I looked around the room and listened in on people for a whileas they complained about how bad business was.While nearly all were commiseratingwith one another, I concluded that very few were actually networking and working on seeking new business.As a result, very little business was actually being accomplished.If you want to do well in business, you must understand that it does absolutely no good to complain to people about tough times.When you complain about how bad business is, half the people you tell don’t care and the other half are glad you’re worse off than they are.

While you cannot control the economy or your competition, you can control your response to the economy.Referrals can keep your business alive and well during an economic downturn.During the last recession, I watched thousands of businesspeople grow and prosper.They were successful because they consciously made the decision to refuse to participate in a recession.They did so by developing their networking skills and learning how to build their business through word of mouth.

Don’t let a bad economy be your excuse for failure.Instead, make it your opportunity to succeed.While others are looking at the problems, those of us looking for opportunities will not only get through a bad economy but will prosper.

"What’s In It For Me?" Networking

I recently received an e-mail from someone who read an article I wrote about collaboration and working together.  He said, “The type of networking you talk about describes the way things should work, but in the real world most people seem to have an attitude of what’s in it for me.”  He asked, “How can I prevent wasting my time and efforts on people, only to find that they have this kind of attitude?” 

The short answer to his question is this—stop hanging out with the wrong kind of people and start actively seeking out the right kind of people.  Trust me, I’ve been there and done that when it comes to getting stuck with the wrong people and in order to move beyond that and build the kind of network that wants to help YOU (knowing that you also want to help them) is a journey—not a destination. 

I have two suggestions to make finding the right networking partners easier. First, look for some of the signs relating to people who fit the profile of good networkers.  They include: 

  • People who ask how they can help you or what they can offer you (and mean it), before they ask anything from you.

 

  • Individuals who show that they are willing to work on creating a professional relationship over a period of time because they understand that they must develop credibility with you before asking for your business or your referrals.

 

  • Those who make the time to go beyond the normal business interactions with those from whom they want to be able to ask for support.

 

  • Professionals who understand that networking is more about farming than hunting and show it in their actions by making the effort to get to know you outside of the business environment whenever possible, knowing that the more of a friendship there is between you, the more expectations you can both have from each other’s networking efforts.

 

  • People who do what they can to bring business and contacts to you and their other networking partners, who share pertinent information with you, and invite you to business meetings that’ll position you favorably with others you need to get to know.

 

  • Individuals who give of their time and knowledge in order to help their referral sources succeed.

Second, immerse yourself in the process of relationship building.   

A network that is a mile wide and an inch deep is not a strong network.  Create a personal network that is both wide and deep.  Meeting with people regularly is the key to making this happen.  Participate in networking groups where you are going to see the same people on a regular basis.  This will help you develop relationships and screen out the what’s in it for me networkers.

The Levels of Referrals

A BNI member asked me the other day if it’s possible to learn to distinguish the difference between weak referrals and quality referrals. The answer is YES. Below are the things to consider in distinguishing between weak and strong referrals.

There are varying levels of referrals, starting at a level that’s just one step above a cold lead. These types of referrals are ranked in quality from lowest to highest. Number one is the lowest-ranked type of referral (the least desirable) to give and receive, and number eight is the highest (most desirable). You can use the referral level rankings below to help distinguish quality referrals from weaker ones.


1. Names and contact information only: Getting the name and contact information from a referral source is better than nothing—but not much.
2. Authorization to use name: This indicates you’ve established good credibility; however, the work of developing the prospect still rests with you.
3. General testimonial statement and/or letter of recommendation and introduction: This is a noteworthy accomplishment, and it demonstrates that the referral source trusts you.
4. Introduction call: This takes the effort on the part of the referral source up another notch and paves the way for communication from you.
5. Note or letter of introduction, call and promotion: This implies an even higher level of commitment on the part of the referral source. It is an outright recommendation of your business accompanied by a description of its features and benefits.
6. Arrange a Meeting: Here your referral source is acting as a facilitator for you. This conveys to your prospect that your referral source has a deep trust in and approval of your business.
7. Face-to-face introduction and promotion: Your referral source is now actively engaged in selling your product or business, rather than just being a meeting facilitator.
8. Closed deal: After your referral source has described the features and benefits of your product or business, he then closes the sale. This is the highest level of referral you can achieve.

Scorched-Earth Networking

I recently spoke at two different events in Southern California and I found it interesting that at each event, questions about whether there is a right or a wrong networking style were brought up by audience members.

It is a given that people can be very different from one another; therefore, there are some very different styles of networking. However, there is one style of networking that results in the ground practically smoking wherever some networkers tread. This style can be referred to as “scorched earth networking.” It is important to avoid this type of networking in cultivating a successful business networking model.

Avoid the hallmarks of a scorched-earth networker, which are listed below:

  • Moves from networking group to networking group—constantly dissatisfied with the quality of referrals received from each.
  • Talks more than listens.
  • Doesn’t “honor the event”—networks at inappropriate opportunities.
  • Thinks that being “highly visible” is enough to make business flow his or her way—ignores the need to build credibility.
  • Expects others to be consistently referring him or her—has a “get” and not “give” mentality. Views networking as a transaction, not a relationship.

Scorched-earth networking doesn’t work, because building your business through word-of-mouth is about cultivating relationships with people who get to know you and trust you. People do business with people they have confidence in.

 

As you network, look around at what you leave behind. Are you creating relationships by building your social capital (farming as opposed to hunting), or are you leaving a scorched earth and many bodies in your wake?

Better yet, have you experienced someone practicing scorched-earth networking? If so, share the story here.

Business, Networking, and Sex!

Look around… make sure no one is watching. You just clicked on a link from a business website to a blog article about “sex.” Well, I’m afraid it might not be what you think.

Do you wonder whether men and women approach networking differently? Well, I do. So do two associates of mine by the name of Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele.

Sex is about how your body is put together. Gender is about the role you engage in daily. Male and female brains are hardwired differently. According to some experts, the male tends to be about taking action as related to goals (called instrumental functions by the scholars) and the female for the talking or for nurture that is related to relationships (called agency or interpersonal functions). Studies in 39 different countries highlight these differences.

Well, we want to see if this is true and how it plays out relating to the way that men and women network. So take a few minutes (really it will only take a few minutes) and join the 5,000 people who have already answered this survey. We will be sharing the results in an upcoming book, and you can say you were part of the survey!

Take the networking gender survey here.

In addition, feel free to post a message below relating to your thoughts on the subject.

Networking Globally

As the 2nd annual worldwide celebration of International Networking Week (www.InternationalNetworkingWeek.com) wound to a close earlier this month, I found myself being reminded of how important it is to pay attention to some basic networking practices when networking internationally.

First of all, you need to make sure you are building a personal network of trust no matter what geographic location you are in.  If you want to build relationships that generate referrals, you have to take the time to gain trust and credibility within your network.

Here are a few basic networking lessons you should keep in mind when building relationships with foreign—and local—businesses:

  • Whether you like it or not, you do become part of a network, so make sure you leave a good impression.
  • Maintain and cultivate your network—even if only by sending holiday cards every year.  Encourage people to visit and stay with you whenever they’re in your area.
  • When seeking to use your network for information or advice, try to empower individuals in you network to feel that by helping you they’re helping someone else.
  • Be prepared to quickly build rapport and reinforce the positive expectations people have been given by their contacts.
  • Be cross-culturally aware.  There is a great website that helps people be aware of cultural differences that I highly recomend.  It’d called www.ExecutivePlanet.com and I use it before traveling to almost any country around the world.

The value of having your personal network of trust applies wherever you operate.  It’s particularly valuable in areas such as the Far East, where the culture of the community requires you to take time to build a trusting and mutually respectful relationship first.

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