3 Keys To Effective Business Planning

3 Keys To Effective Business Planning

Effective Business Planning is more than deciding where you are going and setting a plan to get there. In my estimation we need to look at it holistically, from a 30,000-foot view. What are all of the components to being successful?

Summed up, I would say they are Vision, Action and Monitoring.

The Elements of Effective Business Planning

Vision

Where are you going with your company? What are the goals? How does your department play in that vision? No matter if you are the owner of the company, the head of a department, or a supervisor of a group of people, you need to know the overall goal of the organization, and how you play a role.

Most organizations have a vision, a mission statement. That is the guiding star around which all decisions should be made. Business planning happens in direct relationship to that mission. When you know where the company is going you then ask the question – What is it going to take to get there?

Take a moment and ask yourself – what is your goal? It could be the company goal, or the goal of your department. There might be more than one goal. If so, consider whether they are part of a greater goal or really separate. If they are part of a greater goal, stick with the greater goal for a moment.

If they are separate, you will have to consider them separately, and consider the plans for them separately.

If you are responsible for a department within a company, one of the questions you want to be sure you can answer is what impact will your success have on the company as a whole. Your success should be directly tied to the overall mission and goals of the company. Your goal is a significant part of the whole.

One of the most important questions you now have to answer is:

Who is involved in helping you make it a reality? Staff, vendors, clients, resources . . .

It’s important to know who you need to help you make your goal a reality because they have to be included in your plan. Even if you were a department or company of one, you still will have people or companies whose help you will need to enlist.

Take a moment and make a quick list of the people and or companies that come to mind. Remember, these can be coworkers, associates, employees, contractors, or vendors. It could be your superiors. Often times we need to enlist their help so we can meet our goals.

So, now you know where you are going and who you need to help you get there. A critical component of effective business planning is communication.

How will you communicate with each of those constituencies? I submit this is an area that falls down a lot in business. We get so caught up in the doing that we don’t think about communicating. And we think everyone knows where we’re going, how we are getting there, and their role in the process.

I don’t believe that people really embrace a mission, and their role in achieving it as quickly as we’d like. I believe it is our responsibility to communicate consistently, clearly, and in a compelling way.

It starts with sharing your vision and your plan with everyone. Don’t leave it to chance. You want to be talking about this early, and often. In addition, talk with each person or company about how they play a role. When you are clear about what you need from them, and the impact they will have, you gain their buy-in, and energy.

If they don’t know, they won’t be passionate about it; they won’t work toward it in the way you need and want them to. So tell your story. Tell it a lot. Talk about progress, about challenges. Pull them in to the decision making and problem solving where you can.

Action

We can get so involved in the day to day that we aren’t doing the things that will really move us forward. Have you ever stopped and realized that you weren’t any closer to the goal? It might be because while you had a goal, and maybe even a plan, you didn’t have that plan mapped out in a way that you could work it effectively.

And, sometimes the goal seems so big that we have a hard time deciding how to accomplish it. so we just do stuff. But that stuff doesn’t get us where we want to go.

Try taking your goal and breaking it down into smaller sequential goals. One step at a time. Ultimately, those smaller goals will get you to your goal. The ultimate key point here is to put those steps on your calendar – not on a todo list.

When you want to be sure you get them done, you want to make them actual things, actual appointments on your calendar. Keep them small – no more than 30 minutes. You’ll notice how much you are accomplishing.

And remember – when there are other people who impact your progress you want one of your small steps to be checking in with them to be sure they are making progress as well.

Monitoring

One of the reasons I like shorter term goals is they are easier to monitor and track. And they make it easier to adjust your plan based on how things are going.

I like a 30-day short term goal. I think it’s enough time to make progress but not so much time that you won’t be able to identify what, if anything, you need to change.

When you use a 30-day plan, you schedule a time to review. So on the last day of the month for instance, you take a look at the previous 30 days and ask yourself 4 questions.

  1. What worked
  2. What didn’t work
  3. Did I hit my goal
  4. What am I going to do for the next 30 days

Having the answers to these questions will help you to move forward. You may find that you have the wrong people in the wrong places. Or maybe a process you are using isn’t working. Having a clear monitoring system will really help you identify in real time what’s going on and therefore, help you reach your goals.

Your goals and your plan are things you should be talking about a lot. With everyone! The plan should be broken down into smaller goals with action steps that are small, and scheduled on the calendar. And monitoring your progress should be a way of life.

Three Keys Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “3 Keys To Effective Business Planning” was first published on Small Business Trends

Sometimes Small Business Strategy Shifts are Needed For Success

Sometimes Small Business Strategy Shifts are Necessary For Success

Sometimes in business we start with a product or service, a solution to a very specific problem. It’s very clear to us, and it’s clear to our prospects and our clients.

We have great messaging because it’s easy, because we understand the problem we solve. We can build our message around it.

And then something happens that changes where we are.

The economy takes a turn, the market shifts, the problem ceases to exist. We have to be watching for those signs, not so we can lay people off, hunker down, and wait for better days, but so that we can shift; so we can make a change in order to continue to be successful.

Small Business Strategy Example

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: A snowplow business will do great as long as there is snow. Imagine what happens to that business when it is winter and there is little to no snow; when it is 40 degrees outside.

That could destroy a business. If they don’t have contracts so they are dependent on the number of pushes, they could go out of business. Suddenly there would be no work because there is no problem for them to solve. They were expecting that winter was when they were going to make the revenue that was going to carry them through the rest of the year. After all, it usually snows in the winter in their state.

There are two things all businesses can learn from a situation like this:

  1. All businesses, especially seasonal ones, should try to adjust so that they aren’t totally dependent on a particular season, or target market. They should watch the signs. Are there things they could be doing in the off season? Are there other people or companies who could use what they have to sell? In this way they could level out their cash flow.
  2. If they find themselves in a situation like the snowplow driver in winter in a state like Ohio with no snow, they have to ask themselves the question — what else could they be doing?

In our example, the snowplow is on the front of a … pickup truck. That means there’s a truck bed in the back.

They could start doing moving, or rubbish removal, or connect with flippers and remove the debris and all of the junk from the house that is being flipped. They could talk to people who help with cleaning out houses where hoarders are living. They don’t have to take on this work when it’s snowing and they have plenty of plowing work to do.  But they could take on the work when there isn’t snow.

Thinking like this increases flexibility. It provides the company with another service, target audience, and revenue stream. It’s this sort of watching for the signs and then planning, shifting, adjusting that makes all the difference. Being able to plan for the possibilities, and consider other uses for your equipment, skills or assets, will help you avoid being the victim of circumstance.

So, watch your environment, be open to the signs, and shift as necessary.

Shifting Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Sometimes Small Business Strategy Shifts are Needed For Success” was first published on Small Business Trends

The Benefit, Or Danger, Of Doing Client Surveys

Client Surveys

So you want some feedback from your customers. That’s great! Are you prepared for what you might hear? And are you setting up the survey so that you can actually gain valuable information?

Preparation Needed When Doing Client Surveys

How you structure your survey can work for you, or against you. Here’s an example.

I received an email from my Internet/landline/TV vendor asking me to take a survey. They, of course, said they were interested in learning about my experience with their company. Well, I’ve had some difficulty with them so I considered this a positive event. I thought, ‘Wow, they are actually asking for information. Maybe that means they are interested in making some changes.’ So I clicked the link in the email and set time aside to take their survey.

In addition to asking for some demographic information, the survey consisted of two questions. The first was how I would define my satisfaction with their company. I gave them a 3 on a scale of 1 -10 where 10 was extremely satisfied. The second question was how likely I would be to recommend them to my friends and family. Here I gave them a 2 on the same scale.

And that was the end of the client survey.

What did they learn? They learned I was unhappy and wouldn’t recommend them. But they didn’t learn why I was unhappy. So, again, what did they learn? Nothing. They cannot make any significant changes to their service or programs to get those numbers to change. They don’t know where to focus energy. They have no idea where they’ve gone off the rails.

There’s one more problem with this, and it’s a biggie. I gained very valuable information. I confirmed that they don’t care at all about how their customers feel. They were going through the motions. Someone, somewhere, in the executive suite decided it would be a good idea to survey their customers. So they did. If surveyed again, I would give lower ratings.

The next time I have to deal with them, and negotiate my package, I will be hardened. I will not give. They have created a worse relationship with me, their customer.

Good Survey Questions Get Thoughtful Answers

As small business owners, we can learn from this client survey experience. We can ensure that we craft questions that will truly garner valuable information from our clients. First off, we want to know their level of satisfaction. The key is this — once we have that number we need to discover, what is behind it. Even if it is a 10, we should want to know what makes it a 10.

When the number is low and we find out why it’s low, we now have information to work with. We know where we need to make changes. We know where we are falling down. And when we ask for that depth of information, we are letting our clients know we care enough to ask.

When the number is high and we ask why we are discovering what is working. We can then bounce off of those attributes to market and sell to more prospects. When we know what works, we can use those things to make ourselves attractive to future clients. We now have stories to tell.

If you are going to conduct client surveys, do it so you get the information you need and can use to improve your company. This process will help you improve your relationships with your clients as well.

Survey Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “The Benefit, Or Danger, Of Doing Client Surveys” was first published on Small Business Trends

What FounderDating Is All About

founderdating logo

Recently, I received a request to join FounderDating. The request came from someone I respect in the business world so I decided to check it out. Interesting concept, FounderDating is set up to connect entrepreneurs with potential partners and advisors. The theory is that those looking for funding, advice, partners, and mentors can explore the membership database and find what they are looking for.

It appears that a main goal of the site is to help entrepreneurs find their ‘cofounder;’ when they are looking for someone to partner with to start and build a business. They can use FounderDating to explore and discover.

The Nuts and Bolts of FounderDating

The approval process for becoming an advisor has a couple of layers. It’s not enough to be recommended by someone already in the community. You have to provide other people who can vouch for you. Like so many sites this one is connected to LinkedIn. This makes it pretty easy to identify the people who you want to ask to vouch for you.

Some people respond right away, and others ask if the email actually came from you. This points to an interesting thing. It might be better for FounderDating to allow the applicant to format the subject line themselves, something that could possibly sound more authentic. Having said that, I had no problem assuring these people that it was, indeed, me asking for the help and they willingly posted a recommendation.

Once in, you can select industries you’re interested in and topics you have expertise in. On the entrepreneur side you can provide a lot of information in your profile so that funders can find you.

Like most sites, you can follow people or request to connect with them. One issue I see is that there are people who have signed up for the service for reasons other than what the site intends. It’s not uncommon to receive an email that someone is interested in meeting you only to find they have been removed due to violating the TOS.

When an entrepreneur finds an advisor who they trust they can enter into an official relationship with them. The advisor gains equity in the company as a means of compensation.

The entrepreneurs, as well as the advisors, come from all over the world. There isn’t a lot of explanation on the site about how to best use it. Because of this it seems a little awkward when trying to connect.

The best part of the site, as I have seen it, is the discussion section. There is a wide range of topics that are discussed and a variety of answers provided to the person who poses the question. This is the part of the program that seems to really have legs. Anyone can ask a question about something going on in their business in the moment and get input and feedback.

Overall, it looks like the site is building an ecosystem of entrepreneurs and advisors. Whether you are looking for someone to enter into business with you or you are just looking for answers and advice, FounderDating can help you get where you want to go. And if you are looking for a way to pay it forward, help someone out, or give for the sake of giving, check it out.

Image: FounderDating

This article, “What FounderDating Is All About” was first published on Small Business Trends

Take The “Pitch” Out Of The 30-Second Commercial

woodrow wilson

Think about when you go to a networking event. Everyone is primed and ready with their routine, polished, standard and canned 30-second commercial. They are so routine that nobody listens to them anymore. They are totally ineffective.

Moreover, calling them a 30-second pitch, or 30-second commercial, really says this is your opportunity to sell to somebody. Yuck! That’s not the point of networking at all! So what’s the point of doing them?

I submit we should stop.

We should stop calling them commercials and pitches. We should stop the overly processed robotic statement. What we should really be doing is introducing ourselves. The point is to start a dialog with someone by telling them who we are. Think about it this way. If you were with family and they asked what you are doing these days, you would just tell them. You wouldn’t (hopefully) give them your smooth, practiced and memorized schpiel.

We need to change this thing up. We need to stop doing the 30-second pitch.

I’m not suggesting that we take more time describing what we do. That is also dangerous. I believe the 30-second commercial started in order to stop people from going on and on about their business. It was to force people to be concise. Because otherwise, they go on and other people stop listening.

Moreover, talking longer does not mean the person talking does a better job of explaining what they do. It’s usually the opposite. The more someone talks the less we understand what they do! And, the less we are interested in continuing a conversation with them.

How Do We Change the 30-Second Pitch?

We still have to say who we are, who we work with and how we can help.

Try this on — tell my 16-year-old daughter what you do. This totally changes the conversation. A 16-year-old doesn’t have the frame of reference of business, doesn’t understand jargon, and doesn’t know acronyms. A 16-year-old doesn’t really know all of the industries that are out there. But she can relate to what someone is doing for someone else. And she can understand plain English.

So, let’s call it a 30-second introduction instead of a 30-second pitch.

Let’s think about it in these terms and try it out. Chances are you’ll be much clearer. You’ll use plain English words and you’ll describe what you do by explaining how you spend your time.

For example, I would tell my daughter that I spend a lot of time with small business owners. I listen to their challenges and goals and then, with them, make decisions about things they can do to remove the challenges and reach the goals. Then they are happier and more successful. Plain English! It describes what I do, who I work with, how I help them, and is less than 30 seconds! And it’s not so canned that she, or anyone else, would stop listening.

What do you say? Ready to give it a shot? I submit you’ll feel much better because you will be more relaxed. And because you are more relaxed you’ll connect on a better level with the people you are talking to.

President Woodrow Wilson First Pitch Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Take The “Pitch” Out Of The 30-Second Commercial” was first published on Small Business Trends

Sell Like Sanders … and Trump

donald trump sales lessons

The great thing about an election season is the sales and marketing lessons we can learn watching the candidates.

Why have Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump done so well in the polls and with voters?

It’s because they speak to people’s hearts and emotions. Their messages resonate on an emotional level with voters.

Barack Obama had the same impact when he talked about hope and change. People wish for a better world; they want to believe that things can be better and more just.

Sanders has a clear view of who his audience is and he speaks directly to them in an authentic way.

Trump is doing exactly the same thing. He’s talking off the cuff. He’s not scripted. He’s saying what comes into his head. And he’s saying it in a very passionate way to a specific constituency. It’s not necessarily the substance since, realistically, Trump doesn’t have much substance to what he says. He’s not saying HOW he’s going to do certain things.

What’s he’s saying is – I will get it done, trust me.

And because of his history, because of how he’s saying it, because he’s tapping into the things people are worried about, the things that they want solved, they are saying to themselves – okay, I’ll trust you. I’ll trust you because you are genuine, because you are authentic. He is totally different from the ‘establishment’ candidates who speak for sound clips and from prompters.

People feel like Trump is one of them, even though he isn’t, because of the way he is communicating.

How can we use what we see these two candidates doing in our businesses, in our sales effort, and use it to sell better?

They say people buy because of pain, either to avoid it or stop it. So, if you think about sales and marketing in that way, we can say people part with money when they believe that what they are going to buy is going to help them solve a problem. It’s going to either make them money or save them money.

It’s going to solve some sort of problem they are having, it’s going to make their life better, or their business better.

There are three key elements of what Sanders and Trump are doing that impact their ability to tap into the ‘pain’ of their market. Those three things have the same relevance to sales and marketing. They are:

  • Authenticity
  • Trust
  • Clear, simple communication

These three things work together. You develop trust from other people when you are authentic and you speak clearly and plainly.

The more complicated your communication is, the less people trust what you are saying. It feels like you are trying to convince them.

You are overselling. When you are authentic, when you are honestly and passionately sharing with someone the solution you bring and it solves the problem they are having, you are going to gain their trust. Remember, you are only speaking to the problem you solve. You aren’t trying to fit your product or service into everyone’s world.

Prospects are more likely to want to work with you, to buy what you have to sell because what they are hearing is that you passionately believe you have a solution for them. And you aren’t trying to force it down their throat.

Just like Sanders and Trump, you state your position clearly. You say it to the right audience – the audience that is experiencing the problem your product or service solves. You believe passionately in the solution you bring.

And it is that passionate authenticity that will resonate with the prospects who should, and will, become clients.

Donald Trump Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Sell Like Sanders … and Trump” was first published on Small Business Trends

Do You Know How to Network Like A Teenager?

network like a teenager

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to the seniors in a class at Medina County Career Center about sales. I was sharing thoughts about how there is no selling in sales. How sales is about matching a solution to a problem. And then I started talking about networking and what that really looks like.

Suddenly, while talking with the students it occurred to me that they already know how to network. They do it all the time. So I took a step back and examined networking from a different perspective.

Do you know what I discovered?

We’ve known all along how to network. We knew it as kids. Somewhere along the way, as with so many things, we changed the way we look at things and therefore changed the way we network.

Let’s explore, shall we?

How to Network Like a Teenager

Remember when a boy liked a girl in high school? He probably went to one of her friends and asked the friend to find out if the girl liked him. Kind of like asking for a referral. You go to someone who knows the girl (prospect) well and ask if they’d be open to a date (conversation).

When you were in high school you had friends. Sometimes they were in your classes and sometimes they weren’t. So, you most likely got to know some of the other kids in your classes. Back then we had an interest in getting to know something about them so we could decide if they were someone we wanted to add to our circle.

Most of the kids we knew on a surface level. And then there was the handful who we took the time to get to know. In some cases, we became very good friends with them. There were also people who we just didn’t jive with at all. Maybe they were self-absorbed, or not interested in talking with us. And when there was someone we wanted to know better we sought them out to learn about them. Or we reached out to someone who knew them and asked some questions to try to learn more about them.

Now, fast forward to your adult business networking experience:

  • Do you go at it from a position of gaining a sale or telling everyone about your product or service?
  • Do you expect to meet everyone in the room?
  • Or do you seek to get to know a couple of people to see if there is any synergy?
  • Are you comfortable talking to one or two people at an event and having a deeper, more meaningful conversation?
  • Do you try to learn more about someone before you approach them?
  • And do you reach out to someone they know and ask for an introduction?

I think if we approach networking like we approached relationship building in high school we’d probably be better off.

We’d understand that we weren’t going to connect with everyone. And that while there will be a lot of people who we will be familiar with, there will only be a handful who we will have a solid relationship with.

It is those solid relationships that will help us grow our businesses over time. It’s not really new. You’ve known how to do it since high school.

High School Image via Shutterstock

This article, “Do You Know How to Network Like A Teenager?” was first published on Small Business Trends

The Top 10 Sales Don’ts to Avoid at All Costs

ten

Every day people enter sales positions or start businesses.

They are either taught techniques and tricks of the trade, or they assume that certain behaviors are appropriate. Unfortunately, many of these people are doing the wrong things and therefore, not getting the results they seek.

Below are the top ten sales don’ts, listed from least offensive to screaming hot bad.

10. Do Not Hand Your Business Card to Everyone You Meet

First of all, they don’t want it. Secondly, you are telegraphing that you are interested in what you can get, not what they need. Only give your card to people who ask for it. This way you’ll know who really wants it. DO ask for the other person’s card every time. You’ll want to follow up with them, if only to send them a short note saying it was nice to meet them.

9. Do Not Prospect by Email

I’m not talking about email marketing which I believe in. I’m talking about prospecting; sending an unsolicited email to someone trying to gain their business. It doesn’t work for a whole host of reasons. Remember, the prospect wants to know that you want to do business with them specifically. Make them feel like you are working to gain their business by going the extra step of regular mail or phone.

8. Do Not Pitch on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a place to build relationships and position yourself as an industry expert. No one wants to be sold – anywhere. Plus, you don’t know whether you want to do business with someone just because you’re connected to them on LinkedIn. Use the platform to connect and build. Business will come naturally when and where it makes sense.

7. Do Not Connect with People Just to Sell to Them

People see that coming a mile away and will avoid you like the plague. Remember, people don’t like to be sold to. Have a reason to connect with people outside of selling to them. Or, if you find someone you think might be a potential client find out how you are connected to them and ask for an introduction.

6. Do Not Give a 30-second Commercial That is 2 minutes Long

I see this happen all the time. Someone starts and just doesn’t stop. The more you talk, the less people listen. So create a 30 or less second commercial and use it. If you can’t figure out how to say what value and results you bring in 30 seconds or less, get help figuring it out.

5. Do Not Lie

Enough said

4. Do Not Over-promise

It’s better to be realistic with what you can do. A lot of salespeople want the money so badly that they will agree to do anything the prospect wants. Then they find out that they can’t deliver.

3. Do Not Tell People Everything You Do

When you are in that sales appointment do not go on and on about your products/services, bells and whistles. To tell you the truth – they aren’t listening! They only care about a solution to the current problem they are having. So talk about your solution to their problem. Later you can share more as you build the relationship.

2. Do Not Sit Around and Wait for People to Call You

Sales is a verb. It’s an activity you have to engage in daily in order to grow your business.

… And the #1 most offensive Don’t?

1. Don’t Sell

Yep, I said it. There is no place in sales for selling. We see selling as convincing, cajoling, or persuading. That’s not what it’s all about. Sales is about matching a solution to a problem. So don’t sell. Listen, learn, and connect what you have to offer to the problem they are having.

Have you committed any of these don’ts? That’s okay. We all have at one point or another. Moving forward, remove them from your practices and you’ll see your sales increase.


Guitar Amp Dial Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “The Top 10 Sales Don’ts to Avoid at All Costs” was first published on Small Business Trends

The 59 Commandments of Business Networking

Commandments of Business Networking

Business networking is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting tools you can use to grow your business.

Of course, done incorrectly it can actually be harmful to your business.

People have to trust you before they’ll do business with you or refer you. How can you make sure you are presenting yourself as someone who is trustworthy? Following the commandments of business networking below is a good start.

Commandments of Business Networking

Networking at Events

There are various aspects of this type of business networking, from preparation to follow up, and everything in between:

  1. Identify where you should go. All venues are not right for all people. You owe it to yourself to do your research and find the venues that make sense for your business.
  2. Make a decision about which organizations. Decide the ones you should join and which you don’t have to join in order to gain value from their events. For example, does it make sense to join a local chamber of commerce, or just go to the events that sound interesting and will most likely include people you should meet?
  3. Register for the event and schedule it like a business meeting. Many people either don’t sign up for events or sign up for them and then forget to go.
  4. Determine how often you should be networking. How many times should you network in a given week, month or quarter? This will help you narrow down where you should be going.
  5. Develop open-ended questions. You can use these to ignite a conversation. Try to find unique questions; don’t ask the same old “So, what do you do?” if you can help it.
  6. Attend events with a plan. And always try to learn something new. This will keep you from talking too much about yourself and your business.
  7. Prepare yourself physically and mentally for the event. Dress appropriately. Bring business cards. Turn your phone off or set it to vibrate. (I’m not kidding!)

Behavior When You Enter the Room

  1. Don’t forget to mingle. Are you going with someone? If so, split up once you get to the event.
  2. Get the lay of the land. When you arrive, step to the side. Take a deep breath and scan the room. This will give you a chance to regroup and focus before you approach anyone.
  3. Don’t sit down right away. Wait until the program begins. If there is no program, you can sit once you’ve connected with someone.
  4. Try to sit with strangers. This is no time to stick with people you know.
  5. Be a good Samaritan. Is there someone sitting alone? Go to them and introduce yourself. You’ll be saving their life! They are alone and nervous. You can even take them with you to mix and mingle with others.
  6. Don’t give your business card to everyone you meet. Rather, give it to anyone who asks you for it.
  7. Do get the business card of everyone you meet.
  8. Have a firm but not killer handshake. Your handshake is a key indicator of your level of confidence. So think about what your handshake is saying to those you meet.
  9. Be present — always. When you are talking with someone, look them in the eye and really pay attention to what they are saying. You may learn something about them that tells you whether you can help them. It’s also the only way you’ll determine whether you should continue to get to know them after the event is over.
  10. Don’t look around the room. And don’t look over someone’s shoulder when you are talking with them. It’s rude. You are letting them know that you aren’t really interested in them.
  11. Don’t take phone calls. If you are expecting a call or have a situation that may need your attention, let the person you are talking with know there is the possibility you’ll have to excuse yourself.
  12. Or take necessary calls in private. Leave the room and go to a quiet place. It doesn’t make you seem important if you take a call in the room. It makes you seem impolite, silly, rude, arrogant … take your pick!
  13. Disengage politely. How do you get away from someone politely? There are a couple of tactics: You can tell them you don’t want to monopolize their time. You can tell them you see someone you need to speak with. You can excuse yourself to go to the restroom. You can tell them you’d like to continue meeting people.

Follow Up — This is Critical!

  1. Don’t follow up via e-mail. The only exception would be if you have been expressly asked to do so.
  2. Do at least send a note.
  3. Don’t pitch too early. Quite frankly, don’t “pitch” at all. When you build relationships it will become apparent to you and the other person when it makes sense to do business with each other. Remember, business networking is about relationships, not selling.
  4. Don’t sign people up for your newsletter. Be sure you get their expressed permission before you put them on any kind of list.
  5. Don’t assume. Just because you met someone doesn’t give you license to gain a referral from them, use them as a resource, or give them your promotional and sales materials.
  6. Do err. But make it on the side of good manners and the golden rule.

Referral Groups

Referral groups work best for growing your business when you approach them with the idea of what you can provide to the group and its members. Here are some commandments to consider:

  1. Focus on giving. Networkers don’t get referrals until people trust them. And they aren’t trusted until they’ve been giving quality referrals for a while.
  2. Show up regularly and on time. When you show up late and/or infrequently, you send a message to your fellow group members: You tell them that you only care about yourself because you don’t take the time to learn about their needs. You show them how you deal with business meetings and associates. Why would they trust you with their clients? How can they be sure you’ll treat them well?
  3. Come prepared. Have a specific list of referral needs. The more specific you can be, the more referrals you’ll receive.
  4. Always ask for what you need. You are never so busy that you don’t need more prospects in our pipeline. If you don’t ask all the time, you’ll run the risk of getting to a place where you never ask. If you think it may be a couple of weeks before you’ll be able to get to those referrals, just let the members know that. It’s okay to ask when you are forthcoming with information.
  5. Focus on the group. Once again, be sure you are really listening to the needs of the group members. Don’t play with your phone or answer e-mails while others are talking. Really listen and think about how you can help them.
  6. Meet with the members individually. Do this between meetings so you can get to know them better.
  7. Do not prospect among group members. You’re not targeting your fellow group members when you have your one-on-one meetings with them. You’re simply trying to build connections.
  8. Do not expect to get until you give.
  9. Do not expect to get right away. It takes time to build those relationships with group members so you trust them and they trust you.
  10. Consider the other group members as resources to you and your contacts. When you know how they do business and trust them, you can use them as resources when people mention needs those group members can solve. This can elevate you in the eyes of your contacts, prospects and clients.
  11. Do give quality referrals and leads. I knew a man who would write up a referral and put “Do not use my name” on the sheet. That is not helpful. I’ve also seen a situation where someone gave a referral but called the referee later and said, “Don’t call that person.” That’s not helpful! Don’t give garbage. It’s better to not give at all.
  12. Check with your clients, contacts and associates first. Are they open to you giving their names and contact information to your group members? One of the worst things that can happen is for you to refer a group member to a client, only to have the client get mad.
  13. Follow up! If someone gives you a referral, treat it like gold. You want to be sure that you follow up on it right away. Imagine how you’ll make the other person feel if they refer you to someone and you don’t follow up in a timely manner. It won’t make them want to refer you again. It takes time to build relationships with the people in your referral group. Don’t destroy that trust by failing to take a referral seriously.

Social Networking

Just like event networking, online social networking has guidelines you should follow when participating.

  1. Decide who you want to be. Of course, you should be you! What I mean is that before you say something in your news feed or in a discussion, make sure it maps with how you want others to know you.
  2. Don’t spam. No one likes spam and that includes pitch messages on social networks. Use the platforms as a way to continue to build relationships and expand your network. Irritating people won’t help you accomplish that.
  3. Limit the self-promotion. You can let people know what you are up to as long as that’s not your only topic of conversation. When it comes to Facebook, you should only provide business-related posts on your business page. Your profile is your personal page and if you post too much about business, you may find people blocking you.
  4. Share information. People love to learn things. Use social networking as a way to share relevant information with other people. When you share your expertise on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and more, you show your relevancy and position yourself as a subject matter expert. Google will reward you for it which will help you gain exposure.
  5. Tell people why you want to connect with them. Don’t use the standard connection script if you can help it. If they aren’t your closest friends, you want to give them a reason for accepting your connection request.
  6. Participate. You’ll get out of it what you put into it. That means you should be starting and participating in discussions, retweeting posts you like, commenting on posts, and sharing posts.
  7. Don’t assume. Again, being connected to someone does not give you permission to pitch. So don’t.
  8. Explain all requests for introduction. Want an introduction? If you’re seeking that through one of your contacts, make sure you explain why you want it.
  9. Treat your online connections as valuable. Your online connections are just as valuable as your offline connections. So don’t forget that.
  10. Take the time to get to know them. When you engage in a conversation with someone, belong to a group with them, or read something they wrote, ask them to connect directly. Then, build the relationship. Remember that relationship building includes getting to know the other person, their business, and their needs.
  11. Pay attention to the chatter. Social networking is just like in-person networking. You want to approach it as a way to learn things. When you pay attention to the chatter, the events, groups and conversations, you’ll learn an awful lot about the people in your network. You’ll also learn about people you should be connected to.
  12. Don’t sell. This goes along with spamming and self-promotion. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Of course it does. That’s because social networking has nothing to do with selling. It has everything to do with building relationships so you can grow your business.
  13. Don’t feel obligated. You can make decisions about who you connect with on different platforms. Just be consistent. If you decide that you don’t want to be connected to business associates on Facebook, then don’t. If someone you don’t knows requests a connection to you, you are under no obligation to connect with them.
  14. Be as helpful as you can. Whenever you can connect people or help someone with a question, do it.
  15. Let them know you’re real. Don’t hide behind a persona. Remember that people do business with people they trust. You have to be you in order for people to get to know you.
  16. Use your picture as a profile photo. No one does business with an avatar. And make sure the picture is the right kind for the platform. On LinkedIn, you should be using a professional photo like a headshot. On Facebook you should use your logo on your business page. On your personal page you can use anything, because it’s personal. On Twitter, a logo makes sense.
  17. Don’t carry on private conversations in public. Use common sense and good judgment and contact people privately when you want to have a one-on-one conversation.
  18. Go to events — whenever possible. When an online group you are in has an in-person function, go to it. Meet the people with whom you’ve been interacting. It helps to build the relationship. Remember that you are still relationship building when you are face to face.
  19. Suggest a meeting. When you connect with someone via social networking, follow up and suggest a meeting. The meeting can be via phone Skype or in person, depending on geography. Don’t let physical distance get in your way. In this day and age, it doesn’t have to be a deterrent to growing a business relationship.
  20. Be approachable. I’m not going to get the chance to know you and like you if you are aloof. No one is so special that they are untouchable. Besides, who would want to build a relationship with someone distant?

Although increased sales is the end goal, we don’t participate in business networking to sell. We do it to find and develop relationships with people who we can help and who can help us.

When we detach ourselves from the emphasis we tend to put on selling, we actually improve our ability to build relationships. The sales will come naturally from there.

Moses Statue Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “The 59 Commandments of Business Networking” was first published on Small Business Trends

The Importance of Open Discussion in Leadership

PresidentObama

The great thing about our government is that they keep giving us examples of business and leadership practices. This morning I was listening to President Barack Obama talk about the new nuclear agreement with Iran. What I’m about to say has nothing to do with whether I agree or disagree with the plan — it has to do with something he said during his speech.

President Obama said:

“So I welcome a robust debate in Congress on this issue and I welcome scrutiny of the details of this agreement. But I will remind Congress that you don’t make deals like this with your friends. We negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union when that nation was committed to our destruction and those agreements ultimately made us safer … So, I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.”

Wait, what? I welcome debate — but it will not change anything?

Let’s change the scenario and see how that plays. Let’s say there’s a business owner who has employees in various departments.

She tells her executive team that she welcomes their input and ideas. She says that she has an open door policy and that if they ever have an issue with a business decision she has made she welcomes them to bring their concerns to her attention. And then she says that she isn’t going to consider that input or make any changes based on what anyone has to say.

She welcomes their ideas — but isn’t going to implement any of them. What did she really just say?

She really said that it’s a waste of time for anyone to say anything, that their opinions don’t matter and that she’s going to do what she wants to do regardless of what anyone else says or thinks.

Worse than that, she’s telling her executives to keep quiet.

Yep, that’s right. When you tell someone that you welcome a discussion but it isn’t going to change your mind, you are really saying — don’t bother.

The impact this policy can have on an organization can be significant. Whenever you send a mixed message, you run the risk that people will tune out. They’ll lose that feeling of commitment to the mission.

We have to ask ourselves what we want.

Are we right-fighters as Dr. Phil says? Do we have to always be right? Or are we interested in the best options for our business? And do we trust the people who work with us to help us achieve those best options?

Leaders get the best results for their organizations when they are open to ideas and suggestions; when they realize they aren’t the only ones with the good ideas. The more we can encourage input from others, the better off we will be.

When people have the opportunity to contribute to the planning and decision making they have buy-in. They have a stronger desire for the organization to succeed and they will work harder to make that happen. When we shut the door on them and clearly communicate that we have no real interest in their input — we are encouraging them to detach from the outcome and to not work as hard.

The wise leader is the one who asks themselves what their goals really are — do they want to be right. Or do they want to be successful?

When they decide they want to be successful, they will embrace the assistance of others. They will listen to other people’s ideas and encourage people to participate. They won’t ask for input and at the same time say they aren’t going to consider that input — because that’s not the true definition of the leadership of open discussion.

Obama Image via Shutterstock

This article, “The Importance of Open Discussion in Leadership” was first published on Small Business Trends