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ACT: The May Schmooze
Wednesday 29 May at 1730-1930
Schmooze's founder, Phillip Jones' shares his expert insights into professional relationships and networking strategies & tactics.
When not Schmoozing, he offers a range of consulting services including facilitation, training, communication and marketing strategies and more via Two Degrees Group.
He is also often invited to be a guest speaker, facilitator and trainer for a wide range of organisations on those topics. He also runs regular workshops via Schmooze on Networking and LinkedIn.
Phillip can also be commissioned to develop a bespoke networking strategy and coaching for individuals and organisations.
Comments: We welcome your feedback and suggestions for future articles- email him
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Being hardwired to form communities and seek out kindred spirits as we are, in the context of networking its tempting to find a comfort-zone group and stay there.
Which is fine, as long as you know that’s what you are doing.
The upside of that is that you have a community that is supportive and affirms you, plus a feeling of safety in numbers. The downside is that you may not be challenged to grow or test your professional mettle, or have the chance to learn from diversity.
When you travel and encounter other cultures you can learn as much about yourself as the places you are visiting by experiencing the contrast, and how they react to you.
These insights can be powerful and useful, and by mixing in professional circles outside your comfort zone you can get a more accurate read on your values, how your brand is perceived, and learn from others different from your home group or tribe.
I advocate that a good networking strategy should have a clear intent and a diverse mix of groups. The diversity can be in several forms: the industry sectors represented, event format, the types of participants.
Some things to consider when choosing groups or events to engage with outside your home tribe:
1. What Level of Participant
Networking works best between peers who are on a similar level professionally. You may wish to work your way into a meet with a CEO, but you have to start somewhere in the food chain.
Young professionals can try their luck in a room of company directors, but need to bring their A-game.
The relative size of organisations or companies represented is also a factor, depending if you’re looking to market or be marketed to.
2. The Intent
This is a key element, for the intention of those in the group (and the group itself) sets up the experience, conversation themes and often the outcomes of the whole experience.
A social meet-up with the same folks will be a quite different experience if they attended a Press Club lunch with a guest speaker for example.
Two things to be clear on: your intention for being there, and the premise of the group or event, they should be aligned.
3. Structure of Events
How the events are run can make a big difference. Attending a breakfast for 400 may sound good on paper, but how many people do you actually meet or talk to at those events, 3 or 4 on your table?
If you’re looking to make new contacts, then perhaps a more informal stand up event will give you more opportunities to mingle.
Also, within the same group, different events will attract different people, so workshop topics or discussion themes will present an opportunity to expand your contacts with new people.
Your money and your time are precious, so how well run is the group and events? Do they provide additional services to help you promote your expertise or connect?
Can they facilitate introductions for you, or provide advice on making the most of your investment?
5. The Opportunity to Shine
Coming back to your intention in participating in a particular group or event, are there opportunities to stand out in a targeted or relevant way?
Perhaps a door prize, or guest speaking opportunity can be arranged, article in their newsletter. Or you could volunteer to assist running the group and that gives you both a role, profile and a position of influence.
With the Festive season and end of year party season upon us, I thought it timely to provide some tips on making the most of it all, without harming your health or reputation in the process.
Catching up with colleagues, meeting new people, maybe even a lead or prospect, what’s not to love about that? Even if you pop in for an hour and scoot back to the office, you’ll be glad you did. Besides your competitors are out there, don’t let them take the cake too.
KEEP IT LIGHT: Good, you’ve shown up, now for the small talk. The good thing about events this time of year is that they’ve got a social vibe to them, people are more relaxed and more open than usual.
So don’t do the speil thing, or scan for prospects, talk about more social things: holiday plans, the kids, dogs, golf, how the year’s been, that sort of thing and deepen the connection with the person, not the organisation.
STAY IN TOUCH: When you get back to the office, make a calendar reminder to drop them a line and say hi again, perhaps in the new year to keep the ball rolling.
Also a quick email the next day to say how good it was to talk to them is always nice. Then you can do the LinkedIn thing and stay connected that way.
ROLL OUT THE WELCOME WAGON: Now’s the perfect time to host a little something of your own. It doesn’t have to be big, just invite some colleagues, clients or friends of the company out for drinks somewhere afterwork, or for a glass of wine at the office for an hour. It can be nice and simple and a good excuse to reconnect.
You never know where that conversation will lead and you’ll have home ground advantage which is also good.
SAY THANKS: Remember to call or email your host to thank them for their hospitality, a handwritten card is even better. Old School manners always get noticed. These things are all part of your brand experience, so model your values.
KEEP IT TIDY: You’ve been working on your contacts and reputation all year, don’t blow now with a session of one too many. People can let their hairdown a bit, but its still work, you’re still on, and your company is being represented by you and your colleagues.
Besides,there are legal and safety issues to keep in mind, not to mention keeping one’s hands to oneself.
So perhaps a quiet word to the team is in order about good behaviour, and some talking points so they can represent the firm professionally, confidently and you can relax knowing the worst thing that can happen are a few sore heads the next day.
Small and micro business owners are motivated by all sorts of things: passion, desperation, inspiration, and at times with a clear hard eye on the opportunities in the market.
People start businesses to be independent, to challenge themselves, lots of reasons, and often in the hope of making it big, rich even. But as I often say, we can’t all be Steve Jobs and all be zillionaires, despite what the books, webinars and courses may promise.
But we can find a business sweet spot that is profitable, fullfiling and makes the world a better place as part of the deal.
In our frenetic activity to be active in social media, market ourselves, deliver our products and services, improve our offering, we often forget the thing a business can’t survive without: money and a good cash flow.
From my perspective of running Schmooze, being the hub for hundreds of businesses, we get a pretty good take on who’s doing well, who’s representing a stronger hand than they have, and those, well, who aren’t going to make it.
As we see everyday in the news, governments and big businesses struggle and fail all the time with revenues and debt, so its natural smaller businesses will too.
We’ve all been there, and will be there again no doubt, for that’s the market, and that’s business.
What is different for sole traders and small business is that the owner is the company and their own brand reputation is caught up with their business.
This is often a strength, but when its financially challenging its embarrassing, hard to talk about, and can be very confronting and stressful.
What is overlooked often is how we deal with others financially is also part of your brand experience, and bad communication and behaviour can undo your reputation faster than a social media campaign ever could.
Late payments, or worse, no payments, can impact on your ability to do business in the future (forgetting credit risk for the moment) and ruin your business and professional relationships.
So here are a few quick tips to consider to mitigate the risk of brand damage if you’re in difficult waters for a time:
I think we’re outgrowing social media in some ways now. There, I've said it.
Maybe I should clarify: It’s here to stay certainly (well, some of the current crop anyways), but it won’t solve all the world’s problems, turn us into millionaires overnight, nor turn our company into the next apple.
We’re all time poor, so we expect a return on our investment of energy and whilst our usage of social media has grown more sophisticated beyond ‘I’m about to have a coffee’ tweet I think we’re realising its limitations on getting real world results.
Certainly company’s are being more discriminating in their usage of social media, some even dropping out completely when they realise the ROI in minimal despite the evangelists big talk.
So, where does that leave us?
As humans, we’re hardwired to connect and form communities, and social media is a boon for introverts and the socially challenged everywhere who can find kindred spirits from the safety of annonymity and home.
But we still need a face to face connection to get a read on someone (just try internet dating for a bit), for rapport, trust, or otherwise.
We’ve become pretty good at schmick profiles and descriptions, but the real you may be something else.
I think social media excels at two things: discovery and staying connected.
So in the context of a networking strategy once you’ve found the right group or event to get in the loop with, you can then attend the event, meet some real people (gasp!) and then stay in touch via LinkedIn, or whichever platform works for you. You keep things ticking over, sharing articles and news with each other with regular does of real world catch-ups.
But good things happen when people come together, as the song goes, ‘Life is Cabaret old chum, come where the music plays’.
The serendipity of who you might meet, the common connections you may find you have in common, the introductions made, won’t happen to the same effect online.
So yes, challenging at times? Of course, but we’re all the same boat and to stretch the analogy, why not dive in, the water’s fine.
‘She never bothers with people she hates.’ The Lady is a Tramp, Cole Porter
Most networking articles are big on how to work a room, or how to intro yourself or maintaining your contacts online. So far so good, you’re out there and building up your contacts and profile.
But it’s inevitable if you network long enough that you are going to run into people who you simply can’t stand, or rub you the wrong way (or vice versa), or are simply unethical.
Unless you’re a politician or have a career in PR we can’t be everyone’s best friend and sometimes we don’t just gel, or have very different world views.
So whilst business is business and sometimes you have to deal with folks you’d rather not, how to manage these situations?
Remember, we all operate in a community and other’s poor form will come back to them eventually. Take a longer term perspective, they may seem ‘successful’ now but they’ll come unstuck eventually, and people will see you for the class act that you are.
The Favours Bank
Often in the movies, the heroine or hero calls in some favour. Some pal they knew back in the day in the special forces, CIA, newspaper business, college alumni, an ex they still speak to. They might be after access to someone, 5 minutes with the President, the codes to stop a rogue missile - that sort of thing.
But for most of us, we trade more routine favours all the time as a natural currency. Helping each other out professionally with recommendations, referrals, lending equipment, leads and introductions that can open doors for colleagues.
It feels good to help, and it can build up your favours bank to draw on down the track, and build your reputation as the go-to connector.
Sometimes you do a favour to get in the good books of the person asking, they could be handy down the track, sometimes as a leader or manager, its de rigour.
There are a few pitfalls to be aware of though:
Who's Keeping Score? There are those who will happily take the opportunity you give them and you never see them again, or not return the favor down the track.
Its easy to move on to the next thing and not follow up, but it doesn’t hurt to book a follow-up call or email to see what become of the favour done, and make sure you’re properly appreciated.
Did they thank you? Did that referee report you gave get the new job? Not feeling the love? Then close the door to helping them down the track again.
My Brand is your Brand. When you recommend someone to another you're putting your own judgement on the line. If they let your colleague down, it looks bad for you too.
So by all means recommend someone but if you don’t know their work, say so, and place a caveat on the introduction, or do your due diligence first.
Another thing to consider is time: if they worked for you 2 years ago and are applying for a job now- is the experience still relevant to the new role?
And a pet hate: not being in touch for years, then suddenly your contacted and best pal, and by the way can do you this thing for me? Umm, I don’t think so.
A recommendation or referral is a very powerful thing, so use yours wisely and selectively. You’ve earnt your reputation, so don’t squander it with being risky in who you recommend in the hope of being seen as the nice guy or gal.
No Such Thing as Free. Everything takes time, to call, to be a referee, to write a recommendation, to look someone up.
Does the person value your time? If you’re not careful you might be taken for granted by being so helpful.
It doesn’t hurt to point out, nicely, the effort or resourcing needed to fulfill the request to make clear that you’re a busy person too.
Recently I was sent a gift by an intern who won a job through us and a referee report I provided him. I was happy to do so, but the effort taken to acknowledge my support means that I’ll be very willing to help again down the track.
The Golden Rule applies always.
I’m sure you’ve read all the tips on the things you should be doing when networking. In theory they are all straightforward enough. But we’re only human and forget some key steps that can make the difference between wasting your time and getting a result.
1. No Plan
Serenditpity is nice, I like it too, its often where the good stuff is.
But if you don’t have a reason for your networking you won’t know which groups to join, what events to attend, what to talk about, who to follow-up and what success looks like.
Get yourself a basic 3 month plan about the who/where/what and a reason or 2 to network and be systematic and consistent about the process. Then see how your travelling against your goals and refine, mix and pour.
2. Pitching Too Soon
Do you want to be sold to the first time you meet someone? Probably not.
There is a time and place for pitching your idea or spiel, and if the event is set up purposely for that, then fine, go for it, as long as everyone else is.
But most of the time you’ll be a mixer, or lunch or seminar and its small talk time. These are opportunities to just meet, get some some basic facts about you and your expertise established and move on to start cultivating the relationship.
At the end of the day, most people will choose someone they like and trust to do business with, that takes time, so work on that, pitch downstream.
3. Wrong People, Wrong Group
Sometimes you don’t have a lot of choice in your networking options, but consider three things:
Another letdown by managers is not prepping their younger team members appropriately and they’ll outmatched by the level of executive or manager in the room and don’t represent your company the way you’d like them to, no fault of theirs.
4 No Maintenance
This is so common its not funny. Why invest in memberships, time and effort attending events if you don’t stay in touch with the people you meet. And I don’t mean just connecting them on LinkedIn afterwards.
Coffee anyone? Time is the biggest compliment you can pay someone these days.
Meeting people is just the starting point. You may not know their potential right away, and besides even if they’re not ‘relevant’ to you now, they may be when they change jobs in 6 months or indeed, who they know. Be nice to them and they just be nice back.
5. No Teamwork
My pet peeve. Seeing several people from the same organisation turn up at an event, stick together, sit on the same table, talk to the same people. Do the math. Try splitting up and multply the number of people you can meet.
The other let down is after the event when you get back to the office. Do you debrief, share notes of who you met and who’s going to stay in the touch with them.
This article was first published as a guest blog on the invitation of Uber Global.
“I know what networking is”, I hear you say, but do you know how to use to use it in a systematic way that will drive your business forward in a competitive market? When I use the term ‘networking’, I include all engagement with clients, prospective clients and the general market place, whether in the real world, or online.
What’s common to all these attitudes is the hit and miss approach to what can be the most powerful way to drive revenue and corporate reputation. Most all companies have a communications/marketing strategy, an online presence (including social media), a business plan, training schedules and a contacts database.
Finally, you should divide your activities into three broad categories:
All of the above is not rocket science, but you need to be systematic in order to identify and exploit the opportunities that come your way as a result. Don’t leave the results of your efforts to chance.