Better Yourself by Asking Questions

questionNo matter who you are, or what you do, there will always be something that you are not an expert in. As businesspeople, we are always working on honing our craft, profession, and interpersonal skills. Part of this never ending journey to better ourselves is asking questions to those who may be able to help us along the way.

Last week in the BNI Podcast, I started a new segment called “Ask Ivan.” Simply by emailing in, listeners of my podcast will be able to submit any question they would like to hear me answer. Shortly after launching the new segment, it occurred to me that podcast listeners aren’t the only ones who may have interesting questions. Readers on IvanMisner.com are just as likely to have burning educational questions.

Whether you have a specific question about referral marketing, would like me to discuss a segment from one of my books, or are curious about anything networking related, your question could be featured in a future blog or vlog.

As networking evolves, the questions on the minds of businesspeople around the world evolve, too.  That being said, be sure to send in your questions to askivan@bni.com and include your city and country. There is no such thing as a stupid question!

Networking Is an Acquired Skill

The Third Law of Notable Networking: Networking Is an Acquired Skill
(Click Here to read about the First Law of Notable Networking and Click Here to read about the Second Law)

Most people are not born networkers; they develop the skills through education, training, the right attitude, and long practice.  Any technique of value requires a commitment to learning how to use it effectively.  The next generation of business professionals will operate under a different model of management, in which networking will be an integral element.  Take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn to network more effectively.  It is a skill that will only grow in importance.

Remember Will Rogers’ statement about being on the right track:  “If you’re just sitting there, you’re going to get run over!”  If you are active in a networking organization, you’re “on the right track.”  The key, however, is to take advantage of the opportunities that these groups have to offer.  This means you need to be an active participant in the networking process to get any substantive results.

Curiously, many people invest time in networking, but not in learning how.  This is like trying to play tennis or golf without lessons.  Sure, you can perform, but how well?  Simply attending meetings is not enough.  You need to listen to CDs, read books and articles, talk to people who network well, and most important, practice what you’ve learned.  This is no less than what you would do to learn how to play golf, manage people, or sell a product.

Always keep in mind that in order to develop a successful word-of-mouth-based business, you must attend every networking event that you can and practice, practice, practice!  Practice greeting people, handing out your card, asking for their cards, listening, excusing yourself, and introducing yourself to others.  If you have questions about what to do (and/or not do) in order to most effectively greet people, exchange cards, listen, excuse or introduce yourself, please let me know in the comment forum below.  I’m more than happy to do follow-up blog posts on any/all of those specific aspects of networking (as well as any other aspects you may have questions about). Thanks!

Making a Mark with Marketing . . . How Are You Making Yours?

Marketing isn’t something I was always confident about.  When I first started out in business, my degrees were in Political Science and Organizational Behavior.  I had very little marketing experience until I went to work for a transportation company in Southern California and, within a two week span, went from a role in purchasing to a significant role in marketing–a huge change that was an even bigger learning experience.

My marketing experience was trial by fire and reading.  I just started reading books on marketing and learned as I went, and it was that experience that gave me enough knowledge to do some marketing on my own when I later set out as a business consultant. 

If somebody had asked me when I was 25 where I saw myself career wise in thirty years, I would have had no clue that my career would be all about marketing . . . that I would be the Chairman of the world’s largest referral marketing organization.  Sometimes we go places in life we never expected to go but I wouldn’t change a thing about the career path I chose.  I am passionate about helping people grow their businesses and achieve great success through effective referral marketing and after spending over two decades devoted to this work; I really enjoy knowing that the work I do allows me to pass on the marketing knowledge and experience I’ve attained in order to benefit to others.

I was recently asked what my top marketing tip would be and I think it’s really all about building the brand–either the brand of the company or of the individual, depending on the kind of business that you’re in.  Name recognition–that’s the biggest challenge, especially for small companies.  It’s not the same for everybody because every business is a little different and people’s skill sets are different.  For me, in my business, brand building has largely been about writing.  Before the internet I was trying to get articles in newspapers and magazines.  Now it’s much, much easier.  In this age of blogs and social media, even small companies have a global reach.  The problem is all the white noise that’s out there: with so many people wanting a piece of the action you have to be able to stand out.  So, for me, the top marketing tip would be to write, write, write.  Become an expert in your field so people want to follow you because when they follow you, they’re more likely to do business with you.

I’d love to hear how you’re making your mark with marketing–what is your top marketing tip for the other business owners out there reading this blog?

 

Position Yourself as an Expert by Becoming an Author

Years ago, an associate of mine who read one of my books and attended some of my training sessions called me and said, “I really love your material, but why don’t you put more emphasis on your ideas about ‘creating your identity as a brand’ and how it affects your networking efforts?  These ideas have made a huge impact on my business, but I don’t hear you talking about it very often.”

I admitted that this associate of mine was right.  I haven’t talked a lot about identity in my material, and I agree that I should say more.

When I started my first business decades ago, I had no idea how important it was to focus on branding my company and myself in the marketplace as a way of enhancing my networking efforts.  I understood the concept from an advertising and marketing perspective, but with a small business I didn’t have the advertising budget to mold myself or my company into any kind of brand—at least, that’s what I thought at the time.  So I ignored it.  I realized later that I’d made a big mistake in not pursuing any strategies to brand my identity.  It wasn’t until the early ’90s that I started to think about branding and how it would help in my networking efforts.

Networking is all about relationships.  Relationships are about establishing credibility.  Credibility takes time.  What I needed to do was expedite that process as much as possible while still creating genuine credibility in the marketplace at large.  Not having much of a budget, I had to get creative about how I would make this happen. 

I saw that if I wanted to increase my visibility and enhance my credibility in the community, I needed to be viewed as the local expert.  The way I decided to start creating that brand was to begin writing articles.  Now, you may say, “What’s so special about that idea?  I’ve heard people suggest it before.”  Well, here’s the bottom line: hearing it and doing it tend to be very different things.

You can derive the same identity-building, brand-boosting benefit from writing articles as I did.  It may surprise you, but editors and reporters need good story ideas and will use them wherever they can find them.  Think about the things you know and understand best.  What elements of that knowledge might be of interest to the general public, a specific industry, or some targeted demographic?  Review the types of media outlets that write for your chosen audience.  Consider newspapers, magazines, and industry journals, but also take a good look at online opportunities such as e-zines, online newsletters, and information sites.

Either by phone or letter, tell the editor why readers will be interested in the feature idea you have or why it is newsworthy.  What are you doing in your business that strikes a chord in the community?  What can you share that will educate the editor’s readers?  A word of caution, though:  too many people who seek to be featured in newspapers or magazines send the equivalent of a company brochure.  They fail to realize that editors and reporters need hooks, angles, ways to relate to a distracted, overworked, frenzied readership. 

Guided by the Certified Networker training I developed for the Referral Institute, the associate of mine that I mentioned earlier chose a topic he knew about and worked with it for some time.  He is in the travel industry, so he wrote a series of articles about travel and sent them to various outlets each month for several months.  He received some responses—all “No, thank you”—until, finally, one local newspaper called him and said they’d like to use his piece in the next day’s edition.  After it came out, they contacted him again and asked if he’d like to do a monthly piece.  Before long, another media outlet saw his work and asked him if he’d like to write for them.

Today he writes regular articles for several media outlets.  More importantly, it has totally changed his business.  Although many travel companies are going out of business due to vast changes in the industry, he is actually growing and thriving, because his articles have created an identity or brand for him and the company he owns.  Moreover, he is still an active networker, and he notes that the articles he writes put him way above his competition by enhancing his credibility with the people he meets.  He capitalizes on this regularly by bringing his recent articles to networking meetings.

This businessman’s experience serves as a great example of what’s possible for your own networking efforts.  When you get some of your pieces published, promote themThey won’t necessarily increase your sales overnight, but they will greatly enhance your credibility throughout the networking process, which absolutely increases your sales over time.  My friend also told me that he now includes links on his website to some of the online articles he produces as a way of enhancing his credibility with existing and potential clients.

So, if this is such a great idea, why haven’t I said more about it in the past?  Well, in my book Masters of Success, I talk about success being the “uncommon application of common knowledge.”  If you ask a successful person the secret of his success, you will almost never hear a secret!  Writing articles regularly and continually to increase your credibility and enhance your networking opportunities is not a secret.  It’s simply an idea that most people are just too lazy to implement. 

The bottom line is, 98 percent of people won’t actually do it.  Or, they’ll do it for a little while and give up.  The associate that encouraged me to talk more about this strategy agreed, but he said, “Do it for the 2 percent of people like me who will apply the idea.  It will make a difference for them, as it did for me.”

If you believe you can stick with this strategy over time, sit down and jot out topics of four articles you could write that fit with your business and networking goals—and that you believe would serve the readers of a particular publication.  Then, draft a letter addressed to the editor of that publication, and pitch your ideas.  If he says yes, it’s time to start writing!  If the answer is no, consider following up with him to determine what kinds of articles would better fit his needs.  

Well, there you go.  That’s a lot of advice and my associate should be happy that I took his good suggestion to talk more about branding for the 2 percent of people that will follow through.  So, the question now is: Are you part of the 2 percent or the 98 percent?  It’s your choice.

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.

Have a Good Story… Share It!

Before television there was radio. Before radio there were books. And before books there were storytellers. No matter what the medium–stone tablets, movies, grocery store tabloids, the internet–the story is central.

A good story stays with people and compels them to share it with others. It’s as true today as it was 2000 years ago–and it’s especially true of success stories. Everyone likes to hear them; everyone likes to have one. Do you see how this aligns perfectly with word-of-mouth marketing, where referrals are based on thousands of individual success stories? You see, every time one networker passes a referral to another, she is telling a story about a need fulfilled successfully or a problem solved effectively.

You can empower your network by writing down success stories about your business so that they won’t be forgotten and they can be told to other people. You also want to encourage your networking partners to swap stories with you so you can each keep the stories on file and use them to help find and refer great business opportunities to each other.

The key is to capture a truly compelling story–one that practically begs to be shared, one that the people in your network would actually have trouble keeping to themselves. The anatomy of a successful word-of-mouth story about your business is quite simple. It has a captivating beginning, an action-packed middle and a happy ending (and, conveniently, it will in most cases naturally outline for your referral partners what your perfect customer looks like). If you’re expecting other people to act on your story and share it, it must be a compelling story–and must have a positive outcome.

Chances are you have several great success stories about your business but, if not several, I’m sure you have at least one. So to start with, I’d like to challenge you to write down your business’s most compelling success story, ask at least one person on your word-of-mouth marketing team to do the same, and then share your stories with each other.

The more stories you share with other people, the more high-quality referrals you’ll get and the more success stories you’ll generate as you continue to network your business.

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