Whatever You Do, Make a Difference

Sometimes it’s easy to wonder if anything you do makes a difference in the world.  When I feel like that I remind myself of this story adapted from a story by Loren Eisely:

differenceA young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them.  In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

What do you do to make a difference, even a small one? Leave your comments in the field below!

Perception is Everything

I saw a presentation at a BNI Conference a couple years ago by Chick Gallagher, my Executive Director in Delaware and part of Pennsylvania.

In his presentation he talked about “perception” being relative and how small things can substantially alter one’s perception.  On one of his Power Point slides he had the words:

A woman without her man is nothing.

As you might suspect, it got loud boos from the audience.  Then, he added two commas to the wording.  It still fell in disfavor with the audience (especially the women):

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

Finally, without changing any words he simply changed the first comma to a colon and moved the second comma to a different place in order to make this sentence:

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

As you might suspect – this sentence got loud applause from the audience (especially the women).  His point was that small changes in communication can completely alter the meaning of what is being communicated.

Punctuation is like people’s perception. A minor change can make a big difference in how the message is received and understood.

Have you run into this during your lifetime?  If so, share it here. 

ps. Before I posted this blog, I showed it to my wife.  She told me about a FaceBook page called: Let’s Eat Grandma OR Let’s Eat, Grandma.  The site says – see, punctuation saves lives!

 

Great Opening Question

A good networker has two ears and one mouth and should use them both proportionately. When you meet someone in a networking environment you should ‘listen’ more than you ‘talk’ (especially if it is the first time you’ve met). Consequently, in books like The 29% Solution and Networking Like a Pro, I’ve written a lot about the kinds of questions you should ask when you meet someone for the first time.

Recently, I was at a networking event and, at the end of the conversation, someone asked me a question that no one has ever asked me before at a networking meeting. She asked, “What is the most amazing thing that has happened to you today?”

I love that question because it is so positive and unique.  It made me stop focusing on anything other than the question at hand and required me to be completely present in the moment because I truly had to think about what the greatest thing was that had happened in my day so far.  At the time, I shared what came to mind with the woman who asked me the question.  However, it’s interesting to note that today, many months later, what I remember most is that question . . . not whatever “amazing” thing happened to me that day.

If you have a great opening question, I’d love to hear it. In the comments section, share a stand-out question that you, or someone you’ve met, has asked at a networking event.

The End is Near!

No, not the end of the world, silly . . . I’m talking about the end of the recession. Recently, I wrote about “Business Looking up in 2011” which was based on a survey of over 5,000 businesspeople and entrepreneurs at www.BNIBusinessIndex.com.  The survey was a global survey that was taken by people from every populated continent in the world.

The survey found that almost 68% of the respondents say that business is growing or growing dramatically compared to this time a year ago.  What the survey doesn’t explain is why those businesses are growing.

I have a few thoughts, based on my observations recently, which may shed some light on this and also provide insight into how you can grow your business:

  • Innovation in adversity is a key factor. I know a commercial real estate broker in Southern California who said that he had his best year ever in 2010 (and he’s been in business for 26 years).  He cited the fact that he did dozens and dozens of one-to-ones during the year to find ways to work together with other businesses.  His opening approach was to help them.  However, at the same time, it built his business in the process.  This is counter-intuitive to most commercial real estate people he told me.
  • It all starts with attitude.  A product sales company in the UK was about to do layoffs to meet payroll.  One of the sales reps wrote on the whiteboard – “we refuse to participate in the recession.”   Everyone in the office signed it.  They ended up with their best month all year and no one was laid off!
  • Look for new or emerging opportunities.  I met a residential Real Estate agent on the East Coast of the U.S. who told me he had his best year ever last year.  He said he went to investors he’s worked with in the past and told them that “real estate is on sale!”  He said to them, “don’t be one of those people who come to me in a few years and say… “I was crazy not to look at these opportunities.  I should have bought back in 2010!”  He told me this strategy has helped him sell more than any year in recent memory.
  • Be creative with your offers.  I recently met a business coach in the mid-west of the U.S. who created a guarantee for his coaching.  He said, if you follow my weekly coaching program and you don’t raise your income to at least six figures, I’ll continue to coach you for free until you do.  He said it has dramatically increased his sales and has not had to provide any clients with free coaching yet.

If you have any insights / observations about the current upward slope of business or outside-the-box tips on how to boost business despite a challenging economy, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

What Richard Branson Can Teach You about Networking

I recently had a phone conversation with someone who was asking me about the importance of eye contact when networking.  I answered his question with an interesting story about Richard Branson and I’d like to share that story with you here because I think it demonstrates a point that’s definitely worth remembering.

One of the many intriguing things about Richard Branson is that he has this laser-focus eye contact.  When he is talking to you, he’s not looking to his left, looking to his right, or anywhere else other than directly at you–he gives you his full attention.

I remember talking with Richard, one time in particular, about kids and raising kids.  I was telling him about my son, Trey, who was fifteen at the time and very sharp but not as committed to school as he could be.

Six months later, I saw Richard at a party and introduced him to my son.  Branson remembered who Trey was from our previous conversation, and I have this photograph of him, where he has this laser eye contact with my son (see picture at right), and he kept that laser eye contact with Trey for three or four minutes straight while he was talking to him. All these people were around, vying for Branson’s attention, but he was completely focused on my son during their conversation. Branson wasn’t intense in terms of his speaking—he was actually very relaxed—but he was impressively intense in his focus. The only person in that room, during that three or four-minute time span, was my son. Here’s a guy who never went to college, and he was telling my son. “Go to college. I spoke to your dad! You can do better. I have faith in you!”

Now, keep in mind, Trey doesn’t get impressed by anybody (or at least, like a typical teenager, he certainly doesn’t make a habit of showing that he’s impressed–if you have teenagers, I’m sure you’re more than used to being responded to with a shrug, a bored expression, and the words “it was okay,” or “yeah, (so and so) was cool, I guess . . .”   ;-)) .  Actually, I don’t think my son even understood who Branson was at the time of their conversation but I asked him afterward, “What did you think of that conversation?”  His very uncharacteristic response was, “That was amazing!”  I’m more than confident that what really did it for Trey, what really impressed him, was how, for those few minutes, he had Branson’s undivided attention.

I’ve had a chance to see Branson several times now, and he’s just a master at giving people his undivided attention. After his conversation with Trey, when he moved to the next person, the next conversation, he gave that person his undivided attention.

The thing is, giving people your undivided attention is one of the most important things you can do in order to become a master networker, and making a concentrated effort to maintain eye contact when engaging a conversation is imperative in order to demonstrate to somebody that they are receiving your undivided attention.

So, the next time you’re networking with someone and distractions surrounding you are tempting your eyes to stray from the person you’re speaking with, think of Richard Branson and remember to keep a laser focus on the person and conversation at hand–it’s one of the things that will make you a true master.

Do you have an interesting experience about networking and eye contact?  If so, share it here.

Successful Businesses Need an Edge

It’s no secret that the economy goes through cycles. Each time it takes a downturn, unfortunately, salespeople, business owners and professional service providers feel the fallout.

Data released by various sources, including the SBA and American Entrepreneurs Association, reveal that more than 50 percent of all businesses close their doors within their first seven years. During a recession, the rate of business failure rises more dramatically. Not included in the statistic cited above are the departments, plants or whole divisions closed by large corporations when times are tough. In today’s ever-changing business environment, if you want to be successful, you need to have an edge over your competition.

Most businesses rely on advertising in one or more ways to try to get an edge. However, if you offer the same products or services through the same means to the same targets as your competitors, it’s difficult to achieve an edge. This means you need to be very creative in order to be competitive in today’s marketplace. Creativity in marketing your business has become a basic tenet for today’s successful company or professional practice. Here’s a great story of how one business exemplified creativity at its finest in order to gain an edge:

Three store owners shared adjacent storefronts in the same building.  Times were tough. In hopes of picking up sales, the store owner at one end of the building put a sign over his front entrance that said, “YEAR-END CLEARANCE!!!”  At the other end of the building, a second owner responded with his own sign: “ANNUAL CLOSE-OUT.”

The store owner in the middle knew that he had to act fast or he’d lose a lot of business. After careful consideration, he hung a larger sign over his front door that read, “MAIN ENTRANCE.”

The moral of this story: You can’t control the economy. You can’t control your competition. But you can control your response to the economy. And you can control your response to your competition.

If you have a great example of how you’ve used creativity to get an edge over your competition, I invite you to share it in the comment section. Your story could be just the encouragement other business owners need to get their imaginations in gear!


Networking Minus Follow-Through Equals a Waste of Time

Smart, enterprising businesspeople know the importance of networking and how it is a huge opportunity to increase word-of-mouth and gain business referrals. However, one of the biggest mistakes people can make is failing to follow through.

One of my employees recently told me a story that should serve as an important lesson to all of us on how networking without follow-through is nothing more than a waste of time.

Note: The names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent . . . and the guilty.

My employee, whom we’ll call Winnifred (since she’d like to remain anonymous and it’s the most unfitting name for her that I can think of . . . well, aside from maybe Gertrude ;-)), was in need of a graphic designer to assist her with the creation of a website for her father’s business. She attended a local networking mixer where she met a graphic designer, “Blake,” who seemed excited about the project and claimed he could accomplish exactly what she needed at a very reasonable price.

They exchanged contact information and connected the next week by phone to discuss the project in further detail. Winnifred was pleased with Blake’s ideas and liked the examples she’d seen of his work. She told him he seemed like the perfect person to help her with the project and that she’d like him to send her a price quote as soon as possible.

A week went by and Winnifred heard nothing from Blake.  When she called him, he said he was working on a quote and gave some lame excuse about being busy. Another week went by and, again, nothing from Blake. Frustrated, but willing to give Blake another chance because she really did like his work, she sent him an e-mail and left him a voicemail saying that she would love to give him her business and was really anxious to hear back from him.

After two weeks went by without hearing back from him, Winnifred found another graphic designer. To this day, Blake has never responded.

Here is what blows my mind . . . I know for a fact that this guy, “Blake,” is still frequenting local networking mixers (which cost money to attend, by the way) trying to drum up more business. Yet when he had money practically sitting on the table in front of him, he failed to follow through. No matter what his reason was for not getting back to Winnifred–being too busy, too lazy or whatever else–he shouldn’t be out there networking if he can’t follow through on what he claims to be able to deliver. He’s wasting his time (and money) and, more important, he’s wasting other people’s time–which is earning him nothing more than a bad name.

The moral of this story: If you aren’t prepared to follow through, networking is no more than a big waste of time.

If you have a “Blake the Flake” story of your own, I’d love to hear about your experience. Please feel free to share your story in the comments section.

Whoopee in the Cornfields

Here’s the thing with networking: If you want to get more business, you have to  be willing to give business to other businesspeople. That’s why I founded my networking organization, BNI, on the central, guiding philosophy of giving benefit to others–Givers Gain®. It’s an ethical theme that is common to all religions, all cultures: Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you want to get referrals, do the best job you can of giving referrals to others.

I’d like to share with you a story that I originally heard from one of my BNI directors, Art Radtke, which will help you remember this concept.  It was originally called “Sex in the Cornfields,” but I figured “Whoopee in the Cornfields” would be a more decorous title. 😉

Whoopee in the Cornfields

A farmer in Nebraska won the state fair four times in a row with his corn. Nobody had ever done that before, so the paper sent someone out to interview him.

The reporter asked, “What is your secret? Do you use special corn seed?”

The farmer said, “Absolutely. I develop my own corn seed, and that’s an important aspect of it.”

“Well, then, that’s your secret,” said the reporter. “You plant a type of corn that’s different from your neighbors.”

“No, I also give it to my neighbors,” said the farmer.

“You give it to your neighbors?” asked the incredulous reporter. “Why in the world would you give your award-winning corn to your neighbors?”

“The farmer said, “Well, you’ve got to understand how corn is pollinated. It’s pollinated from neighboring fields. And if you’ve got fields around you that don’t have this top-quality corn, your field is not going to grow top-quality corn either. But if my neighbor’s field has this really strong corn, I have awesome corn. And that’s how I’ve won at the Nebraska State Fair the last four years in a row.”

This story is a great metaphor for how networking works.  Put simply, if you’re going to be an effective networker, you need to go into networking with a commitment to helping other people because that is how you’ll be helped in return.

Carrots, Eggs and Coffee Beans

There’s an old story about carrots, eggs and coffee beans that I’d like to share with you this week. You may have already heard it, but I’ve come across several people lately who have told me about situations of adversity they’re currently facing, and I think the lesson this story teaches about adversity is timeless. It’s a lesson that’s extremely important for people across the world to remember both in business and in life.

Carrots, Eggs and Coffee Beans

A young woman went to her mother and explained that life was very hard for her. She didn’t know how she was going to survive and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling, and it seemed that each time one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen, filled three pots with water and placed each pot on a high fire. Soon, the pots came to a boil. In the first pot she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed a pouch of ground coffee beans.

In about 20 minutes, the mother of the young woman turned off the burners. She fished out the carrots and the eggs and placed them in separate bowls.  She then ladled out the coffee, which had resulted from the coffee beans in the third pot, and poured it into another bowl. Turning to her daughter, she instructed, “Tell me what you see.”

“I see carrots, eggs and coffee,” the young woman replied. Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. Upon feeling the carrots, the young woman noted that they were soft. Her mother then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed a hard-boiled egg.

Finally, her mother asked her to sip the coffee. The young woman smiled as she inhaled the coffee’s inviting aroma and savored the taste of its rich flavor. Then she asked,  “But, what does it mean, Mom?”

Her mother explained to her that each of the objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. However, each reacted very differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting but, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior but, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans, on the other hand . . . they were unique.  After being subjected to the boiling water, they had actually changed the water.  “So,” the older woman asked her daughter, “which one are you? When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”

So, it’s time to ask yourself . . . Which am I? Do I seem strong but then become soft and lose my strength when faced with pain and adversity, like the carrot?

Am I more like the egg? Did I start out start out with a malleable heart and a fluid spirit that became hardened or stiff after the death of someone close to me, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial? Does my shell look the same, even though I’ve become cold and tough on the inside?

Or, am I closer in character to the coffee bean, which releases its fragrance and flavor when faced with hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain? In other words, when things are at their worst, do I make things better by changing the situation around me?

When the hour is darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?  How do you handle adversity?  Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean? 

In my experience, the happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

Take a minute to reflect on the people who mean something to you; those who have touched your life and inspired you in one way or another; those who make you smile when you really need it; those who make you see the brighter side of things when you are really down; those whose friendships you appreciate.

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to make you happy, and . . . May we all be COFFEE BEANS!!

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