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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.

19 7 Ways to Have Character (and Show It) on LinkedIn

This is a special Make a Referral Week 2009 guest post

Scott AllenBy Scott Allen, author of The Virtual Handshake

The best way to increase the number of referrals you receive is to increase your worthiness of receiving them. Part of that has to do with your competence, i.e., how well do you know your stuff? All other things being equal, people prefer to work with experts, not amateurs. But that’s obviously beyond the scope of a single blog post to cover!

The other part of it is your character. Are you someone that people in your network not only know, but also like and trust? Do your friends and associates trust you to treat the people they refer to you well? Show and grow your character, and you’ll receive more referrals.

Character isn’t just what you are, it’s what you do. There is little that rings more hollow than for someone to say, in one form or another, that they are a person of “high character” — honest, a hard worker, helpful, easy-going, etc. — and then have their actions be inconsistent with that. Furthermore, one of the best ways to build stronger relationships is by helping people actually accomplish their goals.

In The Virtual Handshake, we introduced the idea of “Seven Keys to a Powerful Network”, one of which is your character:

Character: Your integrity, clarity of motives, consistency of behavior, openness, discretion, and trustworthiness. This is driven by the reality and the appearance: the real content of your Character, and what each Acquaintance thinks of your Character.

We also point out that:

As an absolute rule, credibility – your Character and your Competence – must underlie your network. A massive network will not aid you if you are selling an inferior product or trying to get a job for which you are unqualified. In fact, a big network will rapidly become a liability, as too many people will be aware of the inferior goods you are peddling. No matter how much your friends like you, they will not recommend you for a job if they see that you are consistently unethical, tardy, sloppy, or otherwise unprofessional.

There’s a line from an old church song that I remember from my childhood: “If your light’s under a bushel, it’s lost something kind of crucial.” If you are a person of character, you need to show that, and LinkedIn is a great opportunity to do that. Here are seven ways that you can actually demonstrate your character on LinkedIn, rather than just talk about it.

1. Answer questions well. Don’t just rattle off a quick opinion – put some thought into it. Provide some additional resources. Refer people to an appropriate expert from within your network. Most of the questions on LinkedIn Answers are from people actually trying to solve a problem or accomplish something, not just looking for something to talk about. What better way to be of service than to actually help someone accomplish something?

2. Add value to introduction requests. If you buy into the idea that LinkedIn is designed for “trusted referrals”, then you need to participate in that. A trusted referral isn’t just, “Joe meet Sally, Sally meet Joe.” A trusted referral adds context to the introduction which will help the two people get off to a good start. How do you know this person? How can you recommend them in the context of their request?

3. Make good recommendations. Don’t just wait for people to recommend you and then reciprocate – be proactive. Go through your network. Who among them do you feel strongly about that you could give a good recommendation to for their profile? When you add someone new, do you know them well enough to go ahead and recommend them? Also, recommendations on your own profile are a great way to show your own reputation, and the best way to ask for an endorsement is to give one. And don’t write empty, generic recommendations; write good ones.

4. Respond in a timely manner. Forward introduction requests right away. The rest, get to as quickly as you can. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty slow in responding to invitations and to introduction requests for me if they are just general “I’d like to meet you” requests. It’s not that I think they aren’t important — I’m just plain busy, and I place my existing clients, business associates and family in front of new networking contacts. But forwarding requests I almost always handle within 24 hours, 2 days at the most.

5. Help your contacts learn how to use LinkedIn effectively. Most people don’t have a clue how to get beyond the basics of a simple profile with their last couple of jobs and connecting with a few colleagues they keep up with. Help them! Go through your contacts list and see which people have less than 10 connections. Drop them an e-mail asking them if there’s anything you can do to help them make better use of the system. Refer them to this blog and the LinkedIn-related Yahoo Groups. Doing so not only helps them, it also helps you and all of your network if more people become actively engaged.

6. Be proactive. One of LinkedIn’s shortcomings is that it doesn’t have a mechanism for proactively introducing two people that you know. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it for that. For example, let’s say you meet somebody new and they’re looking to meet people with an interest in, say, process management. Now, even though you know your contacts fairly well, you may not be able to remember (or even know) which of them have a background in process management, and I’m betting that’s not in your contact management system either. But it is in LinkedIn. Search your network. Find the matches. Copy their profile URLs and send them to the new person you met and tell them you’d be happy to make an introduction. Or say someone you know posts on a mailing list or forum that they’re looking for someone to fill a certain position. Search your LinkedIn network and send them the list of people in your first and second degree and tell them you’d be glad to introduce the ones they’re interested in talking to. Great networking is proactive, not just reactive.

7. Use LinkedIn to enhance face-to-face networking. You can use LinkedIn to fill out a business trip, meet fellow travelers in your network, help you break the ice at a meeting or research a prospective client so you can communicate with them more effectively. Every one of these things helps show that you have a genuine interest in other people and are willing to make the time to develop those relationships.

Think of your character as being like a muscle… if it doesn’t get enough exercise, it will atrophy. So go give your character a workout at the LinkedIn gym!

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44 Snackfest Continues – 2009 Marketing Advice

This is part two of a two course helping of snack sized small business marketing advice for 2009. Find the 1st course here.

With 2009 just around the corner I thought it would be fun to collect the thoughts of some of the leading marketing folks around the web, but do so in what I am calling snack size fashion – so welcome to Snackfest 2009.

In keeping with the current trend in social media for small bites of info, think twitter sized responses – Plain and simple I asked some thought leaders this question:

2009 will be the year for small businesses to . . .

Want to play along? Here’s how, post your comment answer to the same question, comment on the snack answer of each expert and tweet your thoughts using #snack09.Follow the Twitter Stream on this here

Here’s how some thought leaders responded to my question.
Guy Kawasaki, author of Reality Check said . . .Stop believing that Wall Street and investment bankers are any smarter than they are.Twitter ID

Ann Handley, chief content officer for Marketing Profs said . . .Swell in ranks. Corporate downsizing spawns a host of new businesses. Many decide to cut their own path, as traditional paths close up.Twitter ID

Clate Mask, CEO of Infusionsoft said . . . market to prospects and customers without increasing marketing expenses or staff size.Twitter ID

Bob Burg, author of the Go-Giver said . . .focus on adding even more value to existing and future relationships and being truly authentic.Twitter ID

Laura Lake, Guide of About.com/Marketing said . . . make a major shift into social marketing and online relationship building. It’s no longer an option, it’s vital.Twitter ID

Scott Allen, author of The Virtual Handshake said . . . get funded. Cap gain tax cuts & revitalization of SBA = available equity & credit $$$. It’s time to make a big move that needs big capital.Twitter ID

Chris Baggott, CEO of Compendium Blogware said . . . take advantage of their inherent advantage in local SEO. Targeted business blogging empowers small business to control their own destiny and win the online battle.Twitter ID

Anita Campbell, editor of Small Business Trends said . . . Get serious about making money! When times get tough, tough business owners get going. 2009’s economy means no fooling around.Twitter ID

Rich Sloan, co-author of StartUpNation said . . . Home-Based businesses will be launched at unprecedented rates. Attrition will decrease as people use tools like email marketing.Twitter ID

Jim Gilmore, co-author of The Experience Economy said . . . act boldly and take sales from retrenching big businesses.

Andy Sernovitz, author of Word of Mouth Marketing said . . . Stand up and say “Happy customers are our greatest advertisers. We’re going to find a million ways to make people happy.Twitter ID

Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE said . . . get back to the true managerial basics of running their businesses. Businesses that were marginal in previous years will really struggle and well run businesses will survive and hopefully thrive.

Lee Odden, publisher of TopRank blog said . . . stop wasting time on tactics du jour, and start looking their online marketing holistically to find the right mix of measurable marketing efforts that generate sales and build value over time.Twitter ID

Bo Burlingham, editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine said . . . take advantage of the opportunities for growth in a recession.Twitter ID

So, what do you have to say?