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Five Tips That Make Asking for Referrals Less Intimidating

Five Tips That Make Asking for Referrals Less Intimidating

Asking for referrals can be tough. It can feel like you’re being pushy or imposing on someone’s time. But in reality, the majority of happy customers are more than willing to give a referral when asked.

While the first hurdle in asking for referrals is getting over your own insecurities or mental blocks associated with the process, here are five additional tips that make asking for referrals less intimidating.

1. Provide Great Service

This one might seem obvious, but the first step to feeling good about asking for a referral is providing the best service possible. Of course you’re going to feel sheepish approaching a customer who had a less-than-stellar experience with your company. But if you are honest, responsive, and helpful from start to finish, then why shouldn’t your customer be excited to pass your name along to others?

We’re all human and mistakes do happen. There will be times when a customer has a sub-par interaction with your business. That doesn’t mean that you should run away and consider that customer a lost cause. If you are proactive about reaching out, apologizing, and asking for a second chance to wow them (and then delivering on your promise the next time), you might just create an even more loyal customer. People appreciate honesty and businesses who are willing to go the extra mile, so when you make that effort—even if it’s after an initial mess-up—you should feel confident asking for a referral after you’ve proven your mettle the second time.

2. Start a Conversation

Sometimes it can feel difficult to ask for a referral because it feels like you’re selfishly asking for a favor out of the blue. One way to mitigate this feeling is to establish a meaningful conversation with someone before you ask them for a referral. Send them a congratulatory note when you see on LinkedIn that they reached a milestone in their career. Forward them an article that you think would be of interest to them. Donate to a Kickstarter related to their business’s newest product launch. There are lots of simple ways that you can show support for someone that will make asking them for a referral further down the line feel like more of a part of a conversation rather than a demand coming out of nowhere.

Of course, there is an art to doing this. You don’t want to make a grand gesture of kindness and then turn right around and ask for a referral. No one wants to feel like they’re being bribed into saying something nice about you and your business. But if you show a genuine interest in what someone is doing in their business life, they’ll feel even more open to saying something genuinely kind about you when you ask.

3. Provide Various Ways to Gather the Referral

It’s always best to ask someone for a referral directly; people are far more likely to refer when they’re asked than they are to go out of their way to do it on their own (even if they had a positive experience with your company). However, you want to be sure you’re making it easy for customers to refer you, whether you’re asking them directly or not.

Include a link to sites where customers can provide a review (whether that’s Yelp, Facebook, or a tool like Grade.us) in your email signature. Customers who see this reminder each time they communicate with you might be more likely to review you when they have a spare minute if they’re presented with the opportunity to do so on more than one occasion. You can also create a “refer a friend” button or page on your website. This makes it easy for you to collect referrals from customers by sending them a link to the page, while it also allows customers you haven’t reached out to directly to still submit a referral if they feel so inclined.

4. Create Partnerships

One of the best ways to generate referrals is by creating partnerships with other business owners. They’re facing the same struggles as you when it comes to generating referrals, so it’s easier to ask them for referrals. They understand how intimidating it can be to ask customers to pass your name along, and so they’ll be all the more willing to do so for you and your business (and you will be willing to do the same for them).

Work to find businesses that are providing a good or service that makes sense with the work your company does. If you own a shoe store, talk to the cobbler down the street. If you’re a DJ for weddings and events, speak with the local party equipment rental company.

Asking a fellow business owner for referrals is not only a bit less intimidating than asking a customer, it also establishes a steady flow of referrals. Business owners will continue to come across prospects who are in need of your services, whereas past customers might only meet someone every once in a while who’s looking for the good or service you provide.

5. Be Specific In Your Ask

Some people are hesitant to ask for referrals when it seems like a broad ask: “If you know anyone who needs what I do, let me know!” One way to counter this is to do a little research.

Let’s say you’re a website designer who already has a list of local businesses you’d like to target. You’ve looked at their sites and have some specific thoughts on how to strengthen each of their designs to help them grow their business.

Go onto LinkedIn and see if any of your current clients have connections at these businesses. If so, you then have a specific referral ask that you can make. Reach out to your current client and say, “I see that you know the marketing manager at Company X. I’ve been wanting to get in touch with someone over there about their website design; I’ve got some concrete ideas about how to organize their site that could help grow their sales. Would you be willing to put me in touch with your connection?”

This serves a few purposes. It shows to your current client that you’re serious about your business, know your stuff, and do your research. This makes them feel more at ease in referring you to their connection. It also makes you feel more empowered in your ask. You know exactly what you want, and you’re confident enough in the services you provide to be unafraid to ask for that referral.

Asking for referrals can be scary. But if you provide excellent service to your customers, there’s no need for you to feel shy. People are excited to spread the word about a great business, and if you’re able to drum up the courage to ask for referrals, you’ll be sure to get great new leads for your efforts.

If you liked this post, check out our Small Business Guide to Referrals.

The Introvert’s Guide to Networking Successfully

The Introvert’s Guide to Successful Networking

Networking is a critical skill for any business owner to develop. It allows you to find the best talent for your company, establish new strategic partnerships, and expand your client base. There is definitely an art to networking, and there are some steps that everyone should take before they head out to their next conference or industry cocktail mixer.

For introverts, though, networking can prove to be a real challenge. If large groups and chatting with strangers is something that makes you cringe, then networking is not going to come easily. But that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. There are some tips and tricks that can help even the shiest of the shy make meaningful business connections that can help them to grow their business and further their career.

Network From the Comfort of Your Home

The advent of social media has been a dream come true for introverts. A site like LinkedIn allows introverts a bit more control over the situation—they can reach out on their own terms, have time to consider how they want to open the conversation, and then are able to talk over a written chat. This removes the fear of having to maintain a conversational volley like you would in a real-life setting, and it gives you the opportunity to craft thoughtful responses to those you’re speaking with.

Joining LinkedIn groups is a good way to meet new people online. Target groups that are related to your field or a niche in your industry. You might also consider tapping into alumni networks or trade organizations. Once you’ve joined a group, join in on the conversation. Share some content that is useful and relevant, and once you get into a conversation on a thread, that opens the door for you to then reach out to that person one-on-one in a direct message.

Once you’ve chatted with someone on LinkedIn, it’s easier to make the leap to meeting in real life. If you’ve found common ground or have talked already about a business issue you share, it can be easier to then make the ask and invite them out to coffee or lunch to continue the conversation in person.

Build In Quiet Time

Once you work up the courage to attend a networking event or meet with a colleague, client, or prospect one-on-one, it’s okay to take time to assess what you need to make your interactions successful, and to give yourself some breathing room before and after the meeting.

For a lot of introverts, crowded networking events or even one-on-one conversations are draining and stressful. Build a half hour buffer into your schedule before the meeting or event to allow time to decompress, gather your thoughts, run through the questions you plan to ask or topics you’d like to cover, and to really get your head in the game.

And you should go into these meetings with a game plan. Don’t leave it to chance. If you’re going to an event, do some research about who else is attending and learn a bit about them. Write down a few questions that you’d like to ask. Sometimes it’s helpful to even rehearse asking these questions at home with a friend or loved one who can act out the role of another networking event attendee.

It’s alright to take some time after the meeting, too. Grab some fresh air and walk back to the office rather than hopping right in the car or on the subway. Take the time to do a mental debrief, focusing on what went well rather than dwelling on the one or two awkward silences or flubbed lines.

Be a Good Listener

For a lot of introverts, their biggest fear is having to hop into an already established group at a networking event, dazzling them with insight and wit. It’s perfectly fine for you to not be the life of the party at a networking event. In fact, there are a lot of extroverts jockeying for that role, so you can benefit from doing something that, as an introvert, already comes easily to you: listening.

When people are in a networking situation and are either the extrovert vying for everyone’s attention or are the introvert terrified of having to make small talk, they sometimes forget that conversation is a two-way street. Rather than trying to be in the driver’s seat in a conversation, let the more extroverted person lead the way. You can contribute a lot just by listening intently and asking thoughtful questions of the other person. In fact, if you’re listening carefully, you’re probably making a great first impression—you come across as someone who’s attentive, smart, and engaged. This is actually an important part of building meaningful business relationships, rather than purely transactional interactions, that can serve anyone well in the long run—introverts and extroverts alike.

Phone a Friend

Big networking events and large conferences often strike fear in the heart of a true introvert. If you don’t think you can go it alone, find a friend to bring along with you! Having an event buddy, someone you like and trust, will help to put you at ease. When you’re more at ease, you’ll be better equipped to handle conversations with strangers and a large group dynamic.

It will also take some of the burden of carrying every conversation off of your plate. Your event buddy may even help to push you out of your comfort zone and get you to tag along for the conference cocktail hour or post-event impromptu karaoke night.

Don’t Forget to Follow Through

Sometimes just surviving the networking event is stressful enough. You might be tempted to pat yourself on the back just for making it through, and then move on mentally to your next task. But attending the event is only half of your work!

The next day, you want to send a personalized follow-up to anyone you spoke with. This is the easy, low-stress part, since you can send an email or LinkedIn message from the comfort of your desk. Because it seems easier, it can be an easy step to gloss over or forget, but in reality it is the most important part of networking.

If you go to an event and then let all of the business cards you collected just gather dust in a drawer, what have you accomplished? Or if you wait a month to reach out to the people you met, they’re not going to be able to place you, or if they do, they will be unimpressed by how slow you were in reaching out.

Setting aside an hour the next day to write thoughtful notes that reference a specific thing you discussed with that person will really help you to stand out. They might not have an immediate need, but when they are looking for someone who does what you do (or a friend asks them for a recommendation), if you’ve created a positive impression, you just might be the person they think of first.

For most introverts, attending a networking event sounds about as fun as getting a root canal. But when you approach networking with a plan in mind, it can be a lot easier to get over the discomfort of interacting with strangers in a group setting, and to really make meaningful connections.

How to Network Effectively

Marketing Podcast with Dave Delaney

Networking has always been a powerful way to generate leads.

In the same breath, it’s often seen as something to dread on both the hunting and being hunted fronts.

People are very good at networking don’t even seem like they are doing it, they’re simply always connecting people and that’s the key.

My guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is Dave Delaney. Delaney is the founder of Networking for Nice People and Futureforth. He is a consultant and speaker, as well as the author of New Business Networking. He and I discuss tips and techniques to grow and nurture your professional networks.

Delaney is best recognized for his work in the digital marketing, social media strategy, and business networking spaces. He has been featured in Billboard Magazine as a digital marketing expert to follow on Twitter, and in 2015, Forbes featured him as a professional networking expert to watch. Delaney has also appeared in articles in USA Today, BBC, Entrepreneur, Mashable, and Venture Beat.

Questions I ask Dave Delaney:

  • What is Networking for Nice People?
  • Is there an effective, systematic way to network at an event?
  • What role is there for content in networking?

What you’ll learn if you give a listen:

  • How to approach networking
  • What to do if you don’t like networking
  • How to get a meeting with just about anyone

To learn more about Dave Delaney, click here. To buy New Business Networking, click hereTo receive your Networking for Nice People discount, click here.

This week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Office Small Business Academy, a monthly web series from Microsoft Office featuring experts with real-world advice for those would rather be the boss than work for one. Learn more at aka.ms/ducttapemarketing.

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1 How Working Collectively Can Create a Better Customer Experience

Today’s Guest Post is by Duct Tape Marketing Consultant, Jamie Patterson-Kaulmann – Enjoy! 

via PhotoPin

via PhotoPin

The concept of the Marketing Hourglass is ubiquitous in the marketing world. An improvement on the traditional marketing funnel, it expands the traditional funnel by adding a back half to the equation and putting the focus of marketing on the total customer experience. In the same way that John has introduced the Marketing Hourglass as a systematic way to improve your customers’ experiences, he has also advocated for focus on strategic partnerships as a way to add additional value to your customer.

Today I’d like to talk to you about the power of collectives and how not only projectizing your organization around collective knowledge and your strategic partnerships, but how actually forming strategic networks can add exponential value for everyone involved. There are several ways you can leverage the power of your network to provide increased value to your customers by working with partners to increase their knowledge, provide them additional services and create projects around their needs.

Leverage collective knowledge

One place to start is by looking within your network or extended network for anyone who could augment your expertise. Look for people with whom your combined expertise could add value across functions and disciplines in areas where you might not personally be an expert. An example of this would be a former executive at a company I once worked. Bob Stangarone recently formed an agency Stangarone and Associates, a powerhouse of Aviation Industry experts who collectively provide value across all disciplines and knowledge areas of the industry.

The Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network is another prime example of a network of independent companies working together to provide collective value to the market. We frequently work together and share experience to provide added value to our customers. The beauty of this type of network is that any customer who engages with one network consultant gains access to the collective knowledge of 80+ other marketing consultants in the network.

Form a collective network

Work on becoming a super connector. By looking at your network differently and placing a priority on finding opportunities to bring people together who can add value to each other and who might not have had the opportunity to work together otherwise, you become even more valuable to your entire network. This is especially true when the parties you bring together might have seen each other as competition previously, and you help them see how they can actually add more value to the market together than was possible independently. If you need some inspiration, look to the following examples as guides.

Collective entrepreneurship is epitomized in female entrepreneur Lisa Chuma, who created the Women’s Expo shortly after immigrating to Switzerland. Her Expo allows women business owners to present their products and services to the Swiss population, but her guidance and leadership has created an environment where many of the women now work together to provide enhanced packages and services. This not only has the added value of providing better products and services to the market, it has increased the respective customer bases of everyone in this network.

Unity Mark, a fellow Duct Tape Marketing Consultant, is another example. Their UnityMark project is a social directory platform that allows non-profits and cause-based projects to develop powerful online profiles so that the real story behind their cause can be heard, found and shared. It is a place where businesses, consumers, and causes can connect, communicate and support each other.

And lastly, www.addictlab.com is a platform in existence for almost two decades which encourages sponsors, members, and clients to come together from anywhere in the world to collaborate on innovation co-creation projects. They have recently launched www.yourownlab.com, a platform where you can create your own innovation lab for creative collaboration.

When looking to build a collective network, think of yourselves as a neural network. In a neural network, not all neurons are firing all the time; they only fire when they are needed for delivery of the task at hand. By forming such a multi-disciplinary, comprehensive network and bringing together your respective communities into a larger community, you provide more people with the power to collaborate, increase ideas and provide a value far greater than what would have been achieved independently.

Patterson-Kaulmann Jamie 2 (1)Jamie Patterson-Kaulmann is the founder of Alight Business Solutions GbmH, dedicated to helping mission-driven small businesses implement systematic, workable agile and marketing solutions. Jamie is a Certified Duct Tape Marketing Consultant and a PMI certified PMP. A displaced Kansan, she currently resides in Switzerland with her husband and daughter. For more articles like this, visit the Alight Business Solutions blog or connect via LinkedIn.

1 How Big Things Are Getting Done Today

Marketing Podcast with Erica Dhawan

There was a time when people toiled away in remote suburban garages hammering out their big idea. Many of the world’s greatest companies and innovations happened this way, but today there’s a decidedly different option available known as connectional intelligence.

Connectional intelligence, or the capability to consistently deliver breakthrough innovation and results by harnessing the value of relationships and networks, is being used by organizations to solve complex problems and innovate growth and may just be one of the most powerful ways to get really big things done today.

We see connectional intelligence at play in the way people connect with intention in social networks to build a business or create a wave of social change, but developing this form of connecting is something that organizations are just now learning how to tap for everyday innovations.

My guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is Erica Dhawan, a speaker, strategist and co-author of the book – Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence

During our interview Dhawan shares a story of an organization that had a formulation problem with one if its products and although they employed a host of chemists they eventually decided to put the problem out to the science world and a physicist showed them that the problem wasn’t a chemical formulation one and they quickly solved the problem with his input.

For me, this concept is something that can inform any idea. I’ve developed a marketing system and brand and now taken that to other independent marketing consultants as way spread this idea. The thing I’ve learned is that the connectional intelligence of the group, as it grows, is surely making the idea better as well as bigger.

Now that we have the tools to connect so easily around the world, the key is to get very, very intentional about building the highest quality relationships around your big ideas.

Some of the questions I asked Erica:

  • What is connectional intelligence?
  • What are some ways people can activate their connectional intelligence?
  • How do you create connectional intelligence internally within your organization?

What you’ll learn if you give a listen:

  • How to connect with people in order to get big things done
  • How businesses leverage this idea of connectional intelligence to build trust
  • How our understanding of connectional intelligence will change the way businesses operate in the future

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast was brought to you by VeriSign and the Make Your Idea Internet Official Contest. Register a new .COM domain name with a participating registrar during the contest entry period and enter for an opportunity to win up to $35,000! Learn more about the contest and its rules at www.verisigncontest.com

 

5 Is Networking a Waste of Time?

Marketing podcast with Derek Coburn

The simple answer to the question posed in the title of this post is – maybe.

always be connecting

photo credit: dgray_xplane via photopin cc

Networking is actually one of the most powerful strategic activities you can engage in if you do it right. In fact, when people ask me what they should do to market their business when they are just getting started I tell them to start networking.

However, I don’t simply mean print off a bunch of business cards and head out to the next wine and cheese Chamber event and start passing out your new cards.

Effective networking today has taken on a vastly different look but one thing has not changed – networking is not about selling, it’s about connecting people.

Technology, social networks and our propensity to turn online for every need have greatly expanded the elements of networking but connecting is, and I suggest always will be, at the core.

Today networking is the richest source of organic backlinks that still drive SEO. Today networking is building stakeholder maps as a way to shorten sales cycles. Today networking is how you make yourself more valuable to your existing clients.

My guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is Derek Coburn. He and his wife Melanie have created a unique network in Washington DC called cadre. The network is based on the idea of people connecting people rather than people promoting themselves.

[Tweet “The ironic thing about focusing on connecting rather than selling is that it’s a crazy powerful way to sell.”]

You know of course the ironic thing about this idea of focusing on connecting and adding value rather than selling is that it’s a crazy powerful way to sell.

Derek is also the author of Networking Is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections, the best book I’ve read on the idea of connecting.

As he shares in our interview this book and his Cadre community were born out of frustration with having spent thousands of fruitless hours attending traditional networking events. Coburn’s book offers fresh, effective, unconventional strategies for growing and nurturing a powerful network. These strategies grew Coburn’s revenue by 300% in just 18 months and can have a major impact on your business.

Some of the most ideas contained in the book include:

  • How to become the Ultimate Connector
  • How to become the Ultimate Resource
  • How to identify and develop relationships with world-class professionals
  • How to enhance the value you deliver for your best clients
  • How to position yourself for more quality introductions to ideal prospective clients

Connecting is the master skill no matter if you are a salesperson, business owner or someone starting a career.

39 How to Raise the Energy Level of Your Next Meeting with One Simple Technique

I want to share a very simple technique today that I think can add tremendous value.

I attended a meeting the other day and before we got down to the business of the agenda the leader asked us each to reflect on one thing in business and one thing personally that we were really excited about. After a moment or two we were asked to share those two items with the group.

I’m sure meeting facilitators have been doing this kind of thing for years, but I’m sure we’ve all attended meetings that began by simply diving in without pause.

What I observed gave me reason to believe every meeting I ever conduct should start this way – all hands meetings, one on one meetings, project meetings, planning meetings, even meetings with outside vendors and suppliers.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • You could physically feel the energy in the room lift as each individual shared something positive
  • Everyone in the room became centered – yesterday and the last email were put away
  • The meeting was immediately collaborative
  • I deepened my relationship personally with each attendee
  • I learned more about each professionally than I had in a year

I think the rush to get on with on it keeps us from understanding each other. With understanding comes empathy, compassion, knowledge and perspective – and from these things we are all better prepared to work with each other.

Try this technique in your next networking setting and see how much deeper and more interesting your conversations are.

If you have large group meetings that make sharing with the entire group unmanageable simply ask people to pair up and share individually and then call on a couple people to share with the entire group.

I think you’ll find that this little, simple technique can change the entire dynamic of your meetings and eventually impact the culture of your business and quality of your relationships.

So, tell me what’s one thing your totally excited about right now in your business and in your life.

5 Effective Networking Takes Commitment and Clarity

These days the word networking has any number of meanings and context.

There’s social networking, the kind of networking you do wherever two or more of you are gathers and of course that pesky wiring together of far flung computer nodes that might come up in a random search on the term networking.

SXSWi

I’m at SXSWi this week in Austin and hidden in all those tweets and posts from giddy geeks gone gonzo is the fact that this event is one of the premiere networking events for people in the online and interactive world.

But, networking in your world, no matter where that takes place, is still one of the most important elements of small business relationship building. Like many elements of marketing, however, it’s even more effective when you learn how to blend good old “hi, tell me about your business” with “Let’s connect online.”

Commitment

  • Networking takes commitment because:
  • You’ve got to actually get out and go where people are
  • You’ve got to take some time to learn about who might be at the event
  • You’ve got to make an effort to get uncomfortable
  • You’ve got to actually care about what the new person you just met is saying
  • You’ve got to hold off launching into a sales pitch
  • You’ve got to commit to meeting everyone in the same way
  • You’ve got to accept that people need to meet you
  • You’ve got to be willing to approach anyone

Clarity

  • Networking takes clarity because:
  • You’ve got to know exactly how you add value
  • You’ve got to know exactly whom you can help
  • You’ve got to keep your business card from becoming a reflex
  • You’ve got to have an online connection plan
  • You’ve got to have a follow-up plan
  • You’ve got to know who else needs to meet who you meet

Today, pick an event and make a plan to make it amazing. Stuff this list in your pocket and then move fearlessly around the room making meaningful connection with every single person you don’t already know.

10 Is It Time To Practice a Little Selfish Networking

This post is a special Make a Referral Week guest post featuring education on the subject of referrals and word of mouth marketing and making 1000 referrals to 1000 small businesses – check it out at Make a Referral Week 2010

You know him. He’s the perfect networker. He’s at every event. He’s a brilliant conversationalist. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He follows up. He keeps his commitments. He’s always happy to make an introduction.

And yet he’s always broke. He drinks water at every event. He skips the meal if that’s an option. He’ll spend hours on Twitter doing essentially nothing, but won’t spend $50 for a tool that will actually help his business. There’s always a hint of desperation hidden in his voice (or his blog posts) because his business really isn’t doing that well.

He’s drunk the networking & social media Kool-Aid. It’s a poison, and if you’re not careful, you might easily fall victim to it too.

Networking is fun. Furthermore, there’s generally no rejection in networking. People can succeed at networking even if they’re not succeeding in their business. And if you’re any good at it at all, occasionally it will work and actually generate you some business. “See? Networking works!” That becomes a validation of whatever you’ve been doing. It doesn’t matter that if you did things a little differently, you could have had ten times the results with the same amount of effort – what you’re doing “works”.

It’s an addiction. And it’s an insidious one at that. Why? Because…

More networking is not necessarily a good thing.

First off, it can pull your attention and financial resources away from other, more important things. Secondly, more networking means more exposure of anything in your business or relationship management practices that’s not absolutely rock solid.

Now I know you’ve all heard that “givers gain” – that you should give first in a networking context, without thinking about what’s in it for you.

I’m not going to disagree with that…I’m going to qualify that, and I’m going to tell you that…

It’s OK to be selfish sometimes when it comes to networking, or at least to appear that way.

Let’s look at a few facts:

· In order to take care of others, you must take care of yourself. On a plane, they tell you to put your mask on first – you can’t help your child if you’re unconscious. The more resources you have at your disposal – money, time, connections, etc. – the better you can be of service to the people you know. “Love your neighbor as yourself” requires you to first love yourself. Perhaps spend less time networking and more time becoming someone that people would want to network with.

· Time is a zero-sum game. 24 hours, 7 days…that’s it…same as everybody else. An hour you’re spending networking is an hour you’re not spending with your current clients, your employees, your close friends, your family, or personal development. Sure, networking is rewarding, but really think about this when you consider attending a particular event or whether to spend an hour on Facebook – is it more rewarding in the long run than all of the other things you could be doing with your time? You can’t help everybody.

· Your networking contacts are not the most important people in your life or your business, even for referrals. Who really gives you the most referrals (or at least the best ones)? New networking contacts? Or your current happy customers? If it’s not your current customers, “you’re doing it wrong.” The single most important thing you can do to drive referrals is to make sure your current customers are not just satisfied, but RAVING FANS. And your employees are what make your business possible. In most cases, clients are more easily replaced than good employees. And your family and close friends? They’re what make it all worthwhile. Don’t ever sacrifice those relationships on the altar of networking.

· If your business isn’t solid, your network is a house of cards. More exposure means exposing the weaknesses as well as the strengths. If you’re stretched so thin that you can’t even begin to keep up with all the little commitments you make — “Sure , I’ll get that over to you” or that stack of “let’s talk next month” people – then why are you spending your time meeting a lot of new people? Do you really think all those new people will create more value for you (or that you’ll be able to create value for them) greater than those opportunities that are already in front of you? I’ll be the first to admit – I’m terrible about this. I get massively over-extended, because I have a really hard time saying “no” to people. That’s why I frequently disappear from social media for days or even weeks at a time – I’m taking care of business that’s more important.

· People who don’t understand the items above are not your friends. If a networking contact can’t understand that in the event of a commitment conflict, you’re going to take care of your customer over them, do really even want them as a customer?

Now I’m not suggesting that people start thinking “what’s in it for me” about every interaction. What I am saying is that you need to be selective with your time. You are going to have to make some choices. And sometimes the choices suck.

Once I was scheduled to do a teleclass and cancelled the day of the event. There were a couple of hundred people registered and a very good networking contact of mine had arranged for the event. I knew it would damage my reputation to cancel and put a dent in my relationship with the friend who set it up.

Why did I cancel? Because a client of mine had a meeting for a $2 million funding deal the next day, and we weren’t done with the presentation and prospectus. Taking even a couple of hours out for the teleclass could have meant a botched meeting for him. Maybe not, but I also had to be able to give reasonable notice to the teleclass organizer and attendees, so I made the call.

Sure…in hindsight, I didn’t plan it all well. But as of the morning of the event, I had to make a very difficult decision. If I had it to do over again, I’d make the same decision. I’d risk my reputation with a couple of hundred people I don’t know and have never worked with to make sure that my current client knew I would do whatever it takes to keep the commitment I made to them.

So go ahead…put yourself first. Take care of your business. Develop yourself. Stay healthy. Spend time with your friends and family. Put your customers ahead of your networking contacts.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself “What’s in it for me?” about your overall networking activities. If you’re not getting the returns you want, maybe it’s time to push away from the networking buffet table, go on a networking diet, and spend more time getting your business into shape.

A 20-year veteran technology entrepreneur, executive and consultant, Scott Allen is the Entrepreneurs Guide for About.com, one of the top ten websites in the world with over 37 million readers, and a subsidiary of the New York Times. He is also the coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online, published by the American Management Association.

85 The ROI of Social Networking

meetupOne of the most common reason stated by small businesses for not embracing social networking is that they can’t measure or, worse yet, don’t believe there is any solid return on the investment of participation. I get emails almost daily from frustrated marketers who want to dive more fully into social networking, but can’t convince the boss that it’s worth it.

My response to the ROI roadblock is this – How does your boss measure the ROI of attending Chamber mixers, participating in Associations, and dropping in on networking luncheons? Done correctly, social networking on sites like Facebook is really no different – you don’t measure participation based on direct sales, you measure success based on identifying one potential strategic partner, acquiring one actionable bit of advice, or striking up a conversation or two that may eventually lead to developing a new customer. That kind of sounds like a set of solid networking objectives doesn’t it?

Of course this line of thinking assumes that you have identified a set of objectives for your offline networking, which often is not the case. But, the primary point here is to align digital networking with face to face networking and then create a set of objectives and subsequent strategies and tactics to get the most from both. But, job one is to wrap your head around social networking as, just that, networking.

Now, with job one out of the way, you’ve also got to tackle something I alluded to earlier – “done correctly, social networking on sites like Facebook is really no different” – this is where the boss is really coming from when they say there’s no ROI. So many people see social networking as a 24/7, hang out all day excuse for a job – and it can easily become that if you don’t identify and state objectives. You could also quite easily hang out at every at every networking event or meetup, join unrelated trade groups, and sponsor the local knitting club. (which would only be good if you sell yarn)

By identifying and clearly stating your objectives for social network participation (objectives not unlike those of participating in your local Chamber) you can more easily identify the networks that make sense, the type of engagement you need to create, and, most importantly, how much time and energy you can afford to invest to reach your objectives.

When you think strategically about all forms of networking the ROI picture becomes much clearer.

Image credit: AurelioZen

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