Can You Quantify How You Strengthen Your Network?string(49) "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 Yourselfstring(29) "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…Showstring(38) "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?string(43) "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 Holidaysstring(40) "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 Startupstring(40) "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?string(46) "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.

Three Essentials for Women in Businessstring(38) "Three Essentials for Women in Business"

femalesIn my decades as a professional networker, I’ve seen the professional atmosphere change dramatically. The internet, of course, has been a huge influence on this change. However, outstandingly, more and more women have begun to take the plunge and start their own business. Earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau released a study that said that women were starting businesses at 1 and a half times the national average.

Despite this though, not all recommendations for starting a business will succeed equally for men and women, and some are more true for women. Here are three quick tips especially helpful for a female entrepreneur.

Don’t be afraid to be wrong

Sometimes, we worry that being wrong or having a problem is a sign of a character flaw. Women, particularly, can be susceptible to feeling this way due to societal pressures. When you allow yourself to ignore a problem, or try endlessly to stop a problem from existing (despite the fact that it is very much present), you allow the issue time to manifest. Instead of letting something spiral out of control to save possibly your ego or pride, identify your problem and quickly do something to correct it.

Create a brand that you would want to use

It seems like a no-brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how passion can play into the success of your business. If you ensure that you are creating a brand that not only are you passionate about, but you would want to use, then the chance for burn out diminishes exponentially.

Ask for help when you need it

Research has shown that women frequently feel more hesitant to ask for help if they need it than men do. Why? This ties in with the fear of being wrong. Struggling to handle everything on your own will just ultimately lead you to downward sloping. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap.

If you are a female entrepreneur, what tips to do have for others who may be aspiring to follow that path? Leave your thoughts in the comment field below!

A Little Story About a Powerful Business Ideastring(45) "A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea"

Throughout my years in networking, I have worked and connected with countless amazing businesspeople. I have seen successful business campaigns, and I have seen drives that could have used a little more planning. After seeing all ends of the spectrum, it is gratifying when a close friend takes a leap and succeeds.

Go-Giver-Print-flatBob Burg, whom I have known for more years than I could count, recently re-released his wildly successful The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea. Co-authored between Bob and John Mann, The Go-Giver focuses on the story of Joe, a young businessperson, who is trying to make his way in his field and searching for success. Despite being ambitious and working hard, Joe isn’t getting the results he wants. While working with The Chairman, his mentor, Joe beings meeting Go-Givers, whom are friends of The Chairman. Here, he learns the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success: The Law of Value; The Law of Compensation; The Law of Influence; The Law of Authenticity; and The Law of Receptivity.

After selling over 500,000 copies, Bob went back and expanded on his powerful novel and released the new edition earlier this month. The Go-Giver closely aligns with many of the core philosophies that I have encouraged over the decades, and Bob himself is the embodiment of ‘Givers Gain®.’ After reading both versions, I can say that the expansion truly adds another dimension to the work, with a new introduction, foreword, author Q&A, and discussion topics, so even if you have already read the original release, take some time to pick up a copy of the 2015 re-print. Click here to get your copy.

Have you read The Go-Giver? How do you use the principles expressed in the book everyday for your business?

Use Your Networks to Build Your Businessstring(40) "Use Your Networks to Build Your Business"

It's not net-sitBusiness owners are always looking for new ways to expand their client base and grow their business. Many, as they work to bring their business to the next level, join networking organizations. These organizations can be great ways to meet new people, expand your pool of referral partners, and hone key skills like public speaking and delivery. The key to being a part of these organizations, however, is really working the networks that you are a part of. Remember, “It’s not called ‘NET-SIT’ or ‘NET-EAT” – it’s called ‘NET-WORK.’”

When looking for organizations to join, also remember that it can be beneficial to even join organizations from three or more of the categories of networking groups. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, as one group likely won’t meet all of your networking needs. There are seven key types of networking business organizations. These are:

  1. Casual Contact Networks
  2. Strong Contact Networks
  3. Community Service Clubs
  4. Professional Associations
  5. Social/Business Groups
  6. Women’s and Ethnic Organizations
  7. Online/Social Networking

Join as many or as few as your time allows, but always give your best effort to promoting yourself and your business in each. Which groups you select will directly affect your referral marketing’s success.

To pick the groups that are right for you, first take some time and think about what types of organizations you truly want or need to join. Your participation in the group is what will make you successful, not how many you join, so be sure to join the ones that you have time for and want to take part in. Second, you must find some of these organizations in your area. You can try to join an organization across the world from you, but if you can’t physically commit yourself to the group then you won’t get return on your investment.

Next, be sure to visit as many of these groups as you can and get testimonials from current members. Just as you want referrals for your business, you would want current members to give referrals for their organization. Finally, visit the group one more time before you decide to join. Many groups have nuances that you may not pick up on at your first meeting, so give yourself plenty of time to see the whole group.

There is no quick fix, and growing your business will take effort. Above all else, dedicate the time to your networking strategy that it deserves, and meet other qualified business professionals regularly to develop your referral-based business.

How many networking organizations are you a part of? Have you found a combination of groups that gives you the most bang for your buck? I’d love to hear your thoughts on networking organizations, so please leave your comment in the forum below! Thanks!

If You’re Only Talking Shop, You’re Selling Yourself Shortstring(70) "If You’re Only Talking Shop, You’re Selling Yourself Short"

Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

People often think that networking is all about talking business and exchanging cards, but that’s a definite misconception.

In a networking group, you should talk about more than just business. A referral relationship is more than just, “I do business, you do business, let’s do business.” A much better approach is to find common ground on a personal level, then relate your business to it.

The longer I’ve been involved in networking, the more I’ve seen the power of personal interests in making connections. Networking is about building personal relationships. If you remove the personal from the equation, you limit the amount of business that can happen.

In one networking group I worked with, I introduced an exercise called the GAINS Exchange, in which people share personal and professional information about themselves. Two of the participants in this group had known each other for more than a year but had never done business. During the exercise, they discovered they both coached their sons’ soccer teams. They quickly became close friends and were soon helping each other conduct soccer practices. After a few months, they began referring business to each other–two guys who had barely spoken to each other the first year because they seemed to have so little in common.

By finding a common interest and starting with that, we can make connections that have a very good chance of turning into business. Try this strategy out for a while and then come back and leave a comment to let me know what your experiences have been–I’d love to hear about them!

‘Full-Calorie’ Networking vs. ‘Networking Light’string(72) "‘Full-Calorie’ Networking vs. ‘Networking Light’"

A while back, I published a blog about networking and, in it, I mentioned that the networking organization I founded, BNI®, is structured around weekly networking meetings.  In response to that blog post, a gentleman wrote to me saying how much he loved the idea of networking meetings and everything about the concept of networking for business appealed to him, but that he just absolutely didn’t want to have to commit to going to a meeting every week.  He proposed that a once-a-month BNI meeting would be much more appealing.

In this video, I detail my response to this gentleman’s proposition of monthly, as opposed to weekly, networking meetings–in other words, his suggestion that networkers should have a ‘Networking Light’ option as opposed to going for the ‘Full-Calorie Networking’ system.

Suffice it to say, opting for ‘Networking Light’ has never done anyone any favors, and my secret to success in business and life (which I share in this video) has a lot to do with never cutting corners or skimping when it comes to my daily recipe for goal achievement.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this video!  What has your experience been in weekly networking groups vs. networking groups that meet much less often?  Please share your thoughts in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

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