Using Your Passion to Sell Your Business

ID-100228591Are your referral partners excited about your business? Getting your referral partners excited about your business is one of the top ways to generate more referrals, and build your contact base more.

You’re probably sitting there thinking, “Oh, but nobody could be excited about my business. I do XYZ, and that’s boring.” Are you excited about what you do? Are you passionate about what you do?

Hopefully, the answer is yes – as a business owner, you should be excited and passionate about your business. That passionate you have for your business should show in how you describe it, and excite your referral partners. If you’re not excited about what you do, no one else will be either.

Think back to a time when you heard a motivational speaker, perhaps as a keynote at a convention or during a seminar. When you left the room that you heard the speaker in, was there an energetic buzz in the air? Were the other attendees excited about what they heard? Usually, the answer to that question is yes. But why?

Motivational speakers have an uncanny ability to share passion through their words, which increases their credibility and helps listeners remember their messages better. The very same end goals should be what you have in mind when educating potential referral partners about your business.

Increasing the excitement about your business can be easy. Take time to think about why you are excited about your business. What about what you do makes you look forward to waking up in the morning and going to work? Your personal challenge in networking is to have an extraordinary message that not only captures, but highlights, your passion and the essence of your business.

My challenge to you this week is to explain something about your business that excites you to a referral partner who may not have known about it before. See how they receive this information, or if they start to get excited, too.

Let me know in the comments below how that passion-fueled conversation goes!

How Well Do You Know Your Business?

ID-10063353Established business owners often hit a point where they don’t think that they need to continue improving themselves or their businesses. Even if you have thus far been successful, it is important to continue identifying strengths and weaknesses. Businesses evolve, and the needs of an organization easily change over time.

As your business evolves, you may need to take time to focus on the facts of your business. Even though it sounds silly (we all know what we do, right?), taking time to identify the basics can be helpful in the long run.

To start, reexamine who you are. Not you personally, but your business. Where does the business stand today? What are your motivations for keeping it going every day? These things can change over time, and are likely different than they were when you first started. Other questions you may want to ask yourself to get to the bottom of this:

  • Who are your customers? Your target markets?
  • What are your core competencies?
  • Who are your competitors, and how well are you competing?

Next, you must clearly communicate who you are to your network. This can be people you work with who pass referrals to you, this could be friends, family, and coworkers. Anyone who may pass a referral to you, or at the minimum connect you with someone who could help you grow your business.

Your newly developed understanding of your business can even come in handy when you are asked what you do by strangers – telling people your job title does nothing to strengthen a relationship.

To learn more about this topic and more, check out my book with Brennan Scanlon, The Networking Disconnect.

What’s in a Name (Tag)

ID-100397028All businesspeople know how vital a name tag can be for developing new contacts and presenting yourself professionally.

That said, there are a few cardinal elements of a name tag that can really make or break its effectiveness.

  • Name size. The whole point of a name tag is to allow people to see your name. Make sure your name is printed in a legible way – this includes making sure it is big enough for people to read!
  • Company name. You’ll want to include your company name, your position, or both, on your name tag so that new contacts can connect you and your business together easily in their minds.
  • We often recommend putting your name tag on your right-hand side, and high enough up to where it can be easily seen when someone is looking at your face, or chin. The lower you put your name tag on your shirt or jacket, the more awkward it will be when someone tries to strain to read it.
  • I’m not a huge fan of those sticky, cheap paper name tags. They have their uses, but I like to carry a plastic or laminated name tag with me at all times so I never have to use one of those stickers. They come off very easily, get wrinkled, and are overall unruly.

Equally important to the make-up of a name tag is when you wear it. I think many professionals tend to wear their name tag anytime it even seems mildly necessary, just to prevent uncomfortable situations arising when the name tag was needed but wasn’t being worn. Here are a couple times when you may want to leave your name tag in your briefcase:

  • During one-to-one settings. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often the name tag is put on for a group meeting, then is left on well after the meeting when the individual is meeting with someone one-to-one.
  • When on stage. First of all, your audience will be so far away from you that they likely won’t even be able to read your name tag – no matter how big your make your name. The name tag can also distract from you and what you are saying, and often when you are on a stage in front of a large group you are giving a presentation that requires the audience’s attention.
  • When on video. A primary reason for this is many cameras flip your image, so your name tag will be backwards, unreadable, and will very obviously be unnecessary to the individuals you’re speaking with.
  • When in an intimate group. The exception to this is of course if every other member of the group is wearing their name tag, because your lack of name tag will draw (negative) unnecessary attention to you. However, in general, when a group is intimate enough to where you can easily remember everyone’s name and profession, or where you already know all of the individuals in the group, your name tag is unnecessary.

What tips do you follow for your name tag? Let me know in the comments below!

Negotiating With Clients is in Your Best Interest

ID-1009160How did you determine how to price your services? One reason you may be suffering with finding new clients could be due to how much you charge. If this is the case, more than likely you’ve heard this objection from current or potential clients before. While you may not want to consider negotiating, it really is in your best interest. Here’s why:

  • If you agree to at least negotiate on a price with a potential client, they may see you as empathetic and willing to work with them. Many people allow their emotions to help decide how they will spend their money, so developing a positive rapport may help you close with a client who otherwise was considering not spending money on your services.
  • Negotiating allows you to explain to your potential client why your fee is fair for the value of service they’d receive. If they can search the internet and find others in your industry who offer similar services for cheaper, this is especially important. You know you are worth the extra money; you just have to justify it to the client.
  • While negotiating, a potential client may mention a service that you don’t offer, but your competitor does. Hearing this kind of feedback can help you later when you’re looking to expand what you offer.

In the end, some people will be impossible to negotiate with. No matter how low you go, they will never buy your service. Don’t continue to lower your prices to try to get them to use you. Remember that your business first and foremost is a way for you to earn income. Never negotiate lower than you are willing to go.

What tips do you have for negotiating your price with potential clients? Share them with us in the comments below!

Why We Need to Stop Reinventing the Wheel

ID-10026461As business people and networkers, and even in our personal lives, we are often trying to make things harder than they need to be. There is an abundance of techniques, for sales, communicating, and general business practices, that are tried and true, so much so that they seem too simple to truly be effective. We re-evaluate them, we “improve” upon them, and we overcomplicate them. Possibly worse, we sometimes just scrap the old way and try to start over from scratch.

Often, we think we are smarter than those who came before us. Our egos prevent us from listening to those who have more history. The danger here with reinventing the wheel is that it puts us in danger of history repeating itself.

Here are three common warning signs that you may be falling into the danger zone of repeating work, and what to do about them.

  • Instead of solving a problem, you come up with new features to cover it up. First and foremost, this is poor customer service to add features to try to distract from a known issue with a good or service. Instead of wasting your time coming up with new features on an old issue, spend time diving into the old issue and make minor changes on existing features to elevate the whole product.
  • When something with history doesn’t work perfectly, you think it might be easier to start over. Without a doubt, there was a reason things got to where they are. Instead of erasing all of the work of those before you, do a little research. Take time to talk with your predecessors and learn what the motivation behind choices were. Chances are you will discover the core problem, and be able to instead make moves to target that issue, instead of starting over.
  • The wheel you’re looking at reinventing is a common wheel that many business people are faced with. Is your wheel unique to you, or is it something that many in your profession are faced with? If the latter, it is highly possible that there are many people also working to reinvent that wheel right now. Perhaps it is a standard business practice in your field that simply doesn’t work. Instead of putting forth resources (including time and money) to tackle it on your own, see if there is a group in your field working on this issue. If you are working to forge new paths at the same time others are trying to do the same thing, you’re all wasting resources and could likely work more effectively as a team.

Have you ever tried to reinvent the wheel? What happened?

Can You Quantify How You Strengthen Your Network?

connectionsHow are you tracking your business success? You’re probably not, which is fine, but can make it extremely difficult to not only expect, but quantify, growth and success. You’d be surprised the number of businesspeople I talk to from all industries who say they want to grow their business, but when I ask by how much, they simply stare at me. Even worse are the stares I get when I ask what they have actively done to grow your business.

You cannot expect change and growth without actively working to strength your network and business. It simply won’t happen.

Most people can name specific things they do to improve their skill at a hobby they are passionate about, but so rarely is that passion carried over into their own business. Below is a list of quantifiable things you can do to strength your network, improve relationships with referral partners, and ultimately help foster the growth of your business.

How many can you check off? Let me know in the comments!

  • Send a Thank You card – but make sure it is handwritten!
  • Call to check in
  • Arrange a 1-to-1
  • Offer a referral to someone without them having to ask for one
  • Include them in a regular newsletter for your company
  • Send an article of interest to your contact
  • Set up a group activity to bring together your networks
  • Attend a networking event (and bring someone with you!)
  • Display your partner’s brochure or flyer at your business

You should aim to do one to two of these things a week to consistently be developing your relationships with your network. And, of course, there are plenty of things you could do that aren’t on this list. What could you add?

Never Stop Educating Yourself

ID-10041080I’m a huge believer in the value of continued education. No one is ever at a point where they can stop educating themselves, and if you do stop, you’ll surely fall behind in your field.

We can’t always be enrolled in a higher education course, though, so what is the most logical way to continue educating yourself well into your professional life? While the best way to learn indefinitely depends on your lifestyle, your specific field, and your learning style, here are my three favorite ways to keep on top of new (and old!) developments in business.

Read articles and books. Thought leaders are always writing articles and books about their fields, sharing their perspectives on the ins and outs of their specialties. While these pieces will always have some degree of opinion in them, and you won’t always agree with everything you read, well written articles and books will get you thinking, get you interested, and leave you wanting to do your own follow up research.

Attend conferences. When you attend a conference and you listen to the keynote speaker, if those in charge of organizing the event did their job, the speaker not only taught you a little something, but got you fired up to go out and learn more. Not only is the keynote speaker a great source of continued education at conferences, smaller sessions and even other attendees can help get your gears turning, and teach you something you didn’t know before.

Practice practice practice. You probably haven’t reached the point where you can do anything perfectly every time, and even if you have, going without practice can cause you to lose your skill. How can you get better at something if you don’t do it? What’s more, talk to colleagues, people you respect in your field, or consult the internet for new techniques as you’re practicing. If you keep practicing something the wrong way, you’ll get really good at doing it wrong. If you practice something in new and different ways, you’ll be more likely to round out that skill level.

How do you continue your education? Let me know in the comments below!

Tips and Tools of the Trade…Show

For most business professionals, a trade show in your field is a great opportunity to get out and meet other professionals who own or work for businesses similar to yours. Here, you can garner new ideas to bring home with you and make your business better, receive valuable feedback on what you’re currently doing from other professionals, and possibly develop relationships and connections with people who may help you grow your business as part of a Power Team.

ID-10069835While trade shows can be extremely beneficial, they can only really help you if you go into it prepared and ready to grow. As the new year began, many organizations begin promoting their 2016 trade shows, and I’m sure countless of you have already registered for one, if not multiple.

Before you go, consider some of these do’s and don’ts to get the most out of your trade show experience.

DO research the multiple trade shows happening in your field for the year before making the final decision on which to attend. While you can attend more than one, you should only attend as many as will benefit you. Talk to contacts whom you know have attended a specific trade show in the past to get their feedback, do a quick Google search, and always read all of the promotional brochures you can get your hands on. 

DON’T go to the trade show without a specific goal in mind. Want to meet someone who can give you advise on using social media to hit your target market? Looking to build a relationship with someone who has been in the field 20 years longer than you have? Going in with a specific goal can go a long way.

DO become familiar with the layout of the space that the trade show will be in. You can identify quickly if there are certain booths you’d like to make sure you hit, and perhaps even mold your own booth to fit in (or better, stand out) from those positioned near you.

DON’T just hang out by one booth, or if you’re working the show, your booth. You can’t expect your potential contacts to come to you. We never expect this in our day-to-day business, so why would we expect this at a business convention with hundreds of busy professionals, all with their own businesses and goals in mind?

DO make sure you get to as many seminars that make sense for you, and attend group activities. You’re there to make contacts and get to know others in your field, or in the fields represented at the trade show. Don’t waste your time at the show by not circulating and getting to know people.

DON’T forget the follow up! Meeting someone in the first place is only have the battle. You have to actually follow up with them after that initial introduction to really begin to establish a meaningful relationship.

DO go into the trade show with an open mind, and a willingness to both learn and teach.

Are you planning to attend any trade shows this year? What are your goals for them? Share with me in the comments below!

How Many Referrals Do You Expect Per Month?

ID-10025778The number of referrals you should expect to receive is dependent on the type of business you’re in and the effort you exert to develop your network. Some professions receive more referrals than others.

For example, a florist is going to get many more than a real estate agent. However, the florist will have to sell a lot of flowers to make up for one real estate sale. Hence, the type of profession can somewhat determine a range in the quantity of referrals.

Having said that, however, the actual number that someone in a specific profession can get varies dramatically depending on their efforts to develop those referrals. This variation depends on how they “work” their networks. You remember the old computer adage “garbage in, garbage out”? It means that if you put bad information into the system, you’re going to get bad information out of the system. Well, one’s networking efforts are very much the same.

The results you can expect to get out of your efforts will be based on the quality of people you put into it. I recently conducted an Internet survey of business professionals in which I asked, “What percentage of your business comes from word-of-mouth or referrals?” Even I was surprised by the results. More than two-thirds of the respondents said they received 70 percent or more of their business from word-of-mouth. Only 14 percent said that referrals accounted for less than 30 percent of their business, and only 2 percent said they got no business from word-of-mouth!

Clearly, word-of-mouth and referrals are critical to the success of many businesses today. The question is, how do you increase it? First, consider professions that are part of your contact sphere. These are businesses that have a symbiotic relationship to yours. Contact spheres are the building blocks of your referral business because they help to build a solid base of repetitive referrals for you. Read “Developing a Networking Contact Sphere” for a more thorough explanation.

Next, you should diversify your networks. That is, you should participate in different kinds of networking groups so that you may have a diverse cross section of businesses and professionals as part of your center of influence. It’s important for you to understand that you must first build the foundation I speak of above before you can have high expectations for developing referrals. Based on research that I conducted at the University of Southern California a number of years ago, I found that the average participant in a strong contact network or a business development network (groups that meet weekly and allow only one person per profession, and whose primary purpose is to pass business referrals) generated, on average, 4.2 referrals per member, per month, or roughly 50 referrals per person, per year.

See Chapter 8 of my book The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret for additional information about the payoffs of networking. Please note that there are many intervening variables to this number. In my study, these variables included such things as length of membership, the profession they represented, the years of experience, the level of participation and more. One thing that didn’t seem to make a difference was gender. Both men and women generated substantially similar numbers of referrals throughout their participation.

To summarize, the number of referrals you can expect will vary depending on your profession and your efforts in the networking process. However, on average, I’ve found that many businesspeople can generate more than 50 referrals per year via their participation in a single networking organization. What makes this number truly significant is that most people would agree that a referred contact is much easier to close into business than other types of contacts. I believe this is the reason that so many businesses say they generate most of their business through referrals and word-of-mouth.

Marketing Your Business for the Holidays

holidayAre you taking advantage of the holiday season when it comes to marketing your business? You should be! Festive posts really attract audiences who are feeling sentimental, or those who are looking for some services specifically around the holiday season.

Marketing for the holidays doesn’t mean adding a few snowflakes to your Facebook page, and seasonal networking doesn’t mean drinking egg nog with a contact you haven’t spoken to all year. Instead what this means is utilizing the season to show others how much you appreciate them, whether you appreciate their business or their support. Get small gifts for your clients, send out a sweet holiday-appropriate email blast, or even mail a card via snail mail. People love feeling like they’re being appreciated, and it really does increase your reputation with them to show those feelings.

Other ways to take advantage of the holiday season is to offer discounts or other offers to customers who follow your social media. Announce on your Facebook that you will have free shipping on all orders placed between a certain time frame, or say when someone makes an appointment for your service, if they use the phrase “Happy New Year” they get a discount. There are plenty of ways to get creative around the holiday season.

How do you market and network during the holiday season? Share with me in the comments below!

Three Basic Ways to Network Your Startup

startupWorking in a startup is completely different than an established company, and comes with its own unique set of challenges. Not only do employees or founders of a startup need to be conscious of these different challenges, there are also keys to business that become even more important when you work with a startup.

Not only do you need to attend networking events, you should host them. When you attend an event, you will stick in the minds of those who were also in attendance. Ideally, you’ll make positive impresses on everyone you connect with. When you host an event, however, not only will people who you connect with at the event remember you, so will everyone you invited but couldn’t make it. While their impression of you won’t be as developed as those who attended, invitees who couldn’t make will remember that they were invited, and it will be easier to hit the ground running with them when you finally do make that connection.

The follow up is vital. A huge part of networking is that follow up, and letting those that you connect with know that their time is appreciated and that you want to continue developing that relationship. When you are working on starting your business, that follow up becomes a tool of its own. Your number one priority needs to be growing your business, gaining notoriety, and establishing new connections in your industry to help support that growth. Letting people know that you’re thinking of them, whether they are new contacts or old, helps to develop those relationships and can keep you moving forward.

You need to lose some ego. As business people, we’re smart. Not only that, but we need to be confident to succeed in business. What that doesn’t give you the right to do is to allow your ego to control your actions. Whatever reason you’re involved in a startup, whether you were looking to break into a different industry, or you’re on the latest of many new businesses, your reputation cannot carry you here. With a new venture, you need to develop a new name for yourself, so you cannot rely on what you have accomplished before. It can help you get part of the way, but you must lose the ego if you want to go far.

Have you ever worked with or owned a startup? What advice would you give to those just starting out? Let us know in the comments below!s 

Does Your Business Card Take Care of Business?

Earlier this week, Danealle Marshall of a BNI chapter out of Orlando, Florida, BNI Gold Partners, reached out to me via Twitter to ask a great question that a lot of business professionals will face during their career.

I love this question. Why? As I often say, giving out and receiving business cards is an extremely powerful part of connecting with new contacts. That being said, sometimes your business card can be what sparks someone’s memory of you. Why wouldn’t you want yours to stand out?

In 2003, I released a book with Candace Bailly and Dan Georgevich titled “It’s In the Cards!” In this book, we discuss the powerful tool that is your business card, and how so many people may be under-utilizing this networking tactic.

ID-100275566To answer Danealle’s question, and to build off of some of the ideas we published over a decade ago in the aforementioned book, here are four things that I have seen in my years in business that have really elevated some business cards.

  1. Mix up the orientation. It is such a small change, but making your business card vertical instead of the more traditional horizontal orientation can really help it stand out. People receive and look at innumerable horizontal business cards on average, but you are likely able to remember the last time you saw a vertical card.
  2. Utilize graphics. And no, I don’t just mean your company’s logo. If you include your Twitter handle, consider using the Twitter bird logo instead of using the word “Twitter” on your card. Another option, though use with caution, is including your picture. This can work, but only if the rest of your card is completely spot on and has more of a creative feel. I recommend this more for marketing agencies, or those more right-branded ventures.
  3. Color your card accordingly. Have you ever heard that fast food companies frequently use red and yellow in their logos because these colors subconsciously promote hunger? Think about your product, and about your brand, and if you choose to use color on your cards (which I recommend to at least do minimally), use a color that conveys what you want contacts and consumers alike to associate with your brand.
  4. Consider your company and alter your card accordingly. I’ve seen some very cool cards that really cater to what services or goods a company provides, but I will warn that these can get costly. I’ve seen a video company with cards shaped like a clapboard, and a software engineer whose cards looked like HTML coding. Where this gets ineffective is where you take it too far – bakeries should steer away from an edible business card, despite the appeal.

Have a question you want me to answer in a future blog post or podcast? Write me at AskIvan@bni.com to submit your questions.

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