4 Questions to Start the New Year off Right

With 2014 having just kicked off, it’s a whole new year and a perfect time to re-examine why you’re doing what you’re doing. You may think you know why you’re in business, but perhaps it’s been years since you gave it serious thought.

 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my business mission? — Beyond simply making a living, what are my long-range professional goals? Do I wish to become the standard by which my competitors are judged? Is it my dream to help make the world a better place?
  • Where is my organization going? — Am I achieving my mission? Am I making plans to accomplish it? How can I change policies, procedures or personnel to improve my chances of achieving my mission?
  • What environment is my organization operating in? — What are the social, economic and technological trends that affect the way I do business and my progress toward my goals?
  • What are my core competencies? — What do I like to do? What is it that I do better than my competitors? Is my business mission compatible with my values and aptitudes?

I’ve seen too many business professionals and companies make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. Starting out with the fundamentally sound goal of finding a niche that will make them successful, they go astray by changing direction every time a customer or associate suggests a new product or service. The mission gets lost in a frantic scramble for business before the original idea ever gets a chance to pay off.

So, even if you think you know your mission, it will serve you well to pause periodically, analyze your business and, if necessary, refocus on your mission and philosophy.

If you found the questions above helpful in identifying where you and your business currently stand and where you’d like to go within the next year, I’d love to hear what you discovered.  Please share your thoughts in the comment forum below. Thanks!

What’s Your Burning Networking Question?

Do you have a burning question about networking that you just can’t seem to get a decent answer to?  I have great news . . .

You can go to www.AskIvanMisner.com and submit your question directly to me!  Watch this video where I explain what the website is all about and then go to www.AskIvanMisner.com to submit your question and get FREE access to the quarterly Ask Ivan Misner live telebridge call. 

After you’ve visited the site, come back to this blog and leave a comment letting me know what you think of AskIvanMisner.com and, if you submitted a question, give me feedback about your experience . . . how easy was the submission process?  Will you submit a question again?

The Importance of Knowing Your Products and Services

When your referral marketing plan is working well, prospective customers buy from you the first time because they have been referred by your sources. They may continue to buy from you because they trust you and develop a good relationship with you.  But whatever the reasons they come and whatever the reasons they stay, they are your customers primarily because they need your products and services.

A clear idea of your range of products and services is something your sources need to communicate to prospects. For each product or service you plan to market during your referral marketing campaign, you must be able to articulate for your sources the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of your product or service?–What needs does it satisfy?
  • How would you describe it?–What are its shape, size, functions, key features, principal activities, benefits?
  • How is your product or service delivered to the customer?
  • How much does it cost and under what conditions?

There are other questions concerning your products or services that you should answer for your own strategic purposes. Is your product becoming obsolete?  Is there a newer or better way to provide the same service?  What are the social and environmental effects of your product or service?  Will economic or regulatory trends force you to change your products or services or the conditions under which you provide them?  In the long term, will you be satisfied to continue to offer these products or services?

Knowing the answers to the questions above will help you clearly communicate your products and/or services to your referral sources.  This is extremely important because only when you’re able to do this will your referral sources be able to effectively refer business to you.

What Is Your Company’s Competitive Position?

To find out how you stack up against your competition, take a little time to analyze your competitive status. This exercise will help you understand and emphasize your unique selling position.  How do you differ, and how can you position yourself for the best competitive advantage?

There’s no single formula for conducting a competitive analysis; it’s mostly just good business sense.  Try to stay aware of what your competition is doing and how your business stacks up against it.  For example:

  • Are your prices and costs competitive? — Do customers who compare costs come back to you?
  • Do you compete effectively in terms of product or service quality?
  • Are you seen as the vendor of choice? — Why do people seek you out?
  • Are you growing, losing ground or just holding onto your market share? — Are you waiting to see what will happen and hoping to react in time?

Staying competitive also implies being aware of trends and reacting to changes faster than your competitors. How will changes in technology and society affect the competition? Are your products or services more advanced than those of your competition? Do your competitors have the jump on you with online marketing/social media?

Understanding the driving forces in your industry — growth rates, shifts in buyer demographics, product and marketing innovations, the entry or exit of other competitors, changes in cost or efficiency and so forth — will make you a top competitor.

I highly encourage you to take some time this week to sit down and ask yourself the questions listed above. Once you’ve done this, come back and leave a comment explaining what you learned about your company’s competitive position.

Do You Know Your Mission?

You may think you know why you’re in business, but perhaps it’s been years since you gave it serious thought. There’s no better time than now to re-examine why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my business mission? — Beyond simply making a living, what are my long-range professional goals? Do I wish to become the standard by which my competitors are judged? Is it my dream to help make the world a better place?
  • Where is my organization going? — Am I achieving my mission? Am I making plans to accomplish it? How can I change policies, procedures or personnel to improve my chances of achieving my mission?
  • What environment is my organization operating in? — What are the social, economic and technological trends that affect the way I do business and my progress toward my goals?
  • What are my core competencies? — What do I like to do? What is it that I do better than my competitors? Is my business mission compatible with my values and aptitudes?

I’ve seen too many business professionals and companies make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. Starting out with the fundamentally sound goal of finding a niche that will make them successful, they go astray by changing direction every time a customer or associate suggests a new product or service. The mission gets lost in a frantic scramble for business before the original idea ever gets a chance to pay off.

So, even if you think you know your mission, it will serve you well to pause periodically, analyze your business and, if necessary, refocus on your mission and philosophy.

Finding Your Starting Point

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

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

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

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

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

Make No Assumptions

Many people make the fatal mistake of assuming that others know a lot about their business. I heard a florist tell a networking group, “I’m not sure what else to say.  You all know what a florist does, right?”  Wrong!  We didn’t know the variety of products this florist provided.  He knew his business and assumed that everyone else knew it as well.  Later, I asked him whether his shop was an FTD florist and . . .

  • Did he accept credit cards?
  • Did he offer seasonal specials for holidays?  If so, which ones?
  • Did he handle emergency orders?
  • Could he do a good job for weddings?
  • Did he give a discount to members of his networking group?
  • Could I set up a billing arrangement with his company?
  • Could I order online?
  • Do certain colors of roses signify certain things?
  • What type of floral arrangement would be appropriate for a graduation?
  • Could he give me any tips on keeping flowers alive longer?
  • What was his most challenging order?

I told him there were hundreds of things I didn’t know about his business, and others surely felt the same way.  Not using his time with the networking group to tell everyone something about his service was an opportunity lost.

Everyone has something he can say that will educate people about the services he has to offer.  Don’t pass up a chance to teach people more about what you do!

Try making a list of questions, such as the ones above, that people might ask you about your business and then try focusing on answering one question each time you attend a networking meeting — you’d be surprised at the things people really have no idea that you do!

Bob Burg’s 10 Networking Questions That Work Every Time

My good friend, networking expert Bob Burg, has 10 questions he personally uses when networking that he believes every networker should memorize.

Bob explains that these questions are not designed to be probing or sales-oriented in any way; they are all friendly, fun to answer, and will tell you something about the way the person answering them thinks.  You’ll never need or have the time to ask all 10 questions during any one conversation but, still, you should internalize them.  Know them well enough that you are able to ask the ones you deem appropriate for the particular conversation and time frame.

Here are the 10 questions:

1.  How did you get started in the (______) business?

2.  What do you enjoy most about your profession?

3.  What separates you and your company from the competition?

4.  What advice would you give someone just starting out in the (______) business?

5.  What one thing would you do with your business if you knew you could not fail?

6.  What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession through the years?

7.  What do you see as the coming trends in the (______) business?

8.  Describe the strangest or funniest incident you’ve experienced in your business?

9.  What ways have you found to be the most effective for promoting your business?

10.  What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you do business?

Like Bob says, you’re not going to get to ask more than a few of these questions during an initial conversation,  so don’t worry about sounding like you’re conducting an interrogation. These are feel-good questions people enjoy answering, and they are meant to establish an initial rapport.  So next time you’re at a networking event, try using a few of these questions and then come back and leave a comment about how using them worked out for you; I’m more than willing to bet you’ll be pleased with the results.

Clueless When It Comes To Conversing?–Four Tips

Networking is about building relationships and one of the main ways to build relationships with people is to have effective, productive conversations.  However, that can seem like a daunting task for some people who are at a total loss when it comes to the art of conversing.

If you shy away from going to networking events because you’re consumed by the fear of not knowing what to say, pay attention to these four conversation tips from my good friend Susan RoAne (a.k.a.: The Mingling Maven®):

  • Always keep in mind that a conversation should be balanced dialogue.  It’s good to ask questions that get people to talk about themselves, but remember: people who ask too many questions are sometimes perceived as prying probing busybodies.
  • If you haven’t brought something to the banquet of conversation, make an “ask” of yourself.  Though most people don’t mind a question, even two or three, if you are asking all the questions, there is no exchange, no real conversation, just an interrogation or Q&A.
  • Try reading local and national newspapers and a pop-culture blog or a popular magazine.  Pick three to five items to use as emergency restarters in case there’s a lull in conversation–national news, local topics, sports, fitness, movies, books, hobbies.  And food–everybody likes to talk about food.
  • Tell stories about things that have happened to you or others.  People connect with stories, not the factoids and figures of life.

If you liked these tips, you can find more of Susan’s networking advice and resources by visiting www.SusanRoAne.com

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