Monday, April 2, 2018

I am at a Networking Event, so How Do I Start a Conversation?

So you made an executive decision and decided to start going to business networking events, since that is what everyone is recommending for you to get ahead in your career and in business.  So you check the latest Meetups and Eventbrite listings and start scheduling some dates to get out there and meet some successful professionals and start building up that old Rolodex of contacts.

OK, you got through step one, but now when you get to the event, what do you do next?

I always like to start slow at an event and observe my surroundings, maybe get a drink and look for the extroverts and even if I know anyone, just to break the ice.   The next step when you introduce yourself to the first person you met, what do you ask.   Honestly, everyone dreads that ol' question, "So What Do You Do?".   The recipient may also dread that question, since it may open the door to a long winded answer, you know, the one that can go on and on until you are begging and pleading for your phone to ring or the fire alarm to go off to break free.

I have been networking for quite a few years now and I do not like asking someone simply what they do.   It is like opening the door to, why don't you give me that paper resume in your hand or just talk about your life story for the next three hours.

Here are some questions I like to ask in no particular order.   Hopefully, they can help you engage in more meaningful conversation at your next business networking event.

- What is your biggest professional accomplishment and how did you achieve it?

- Who is your favorite business mentor, whether it is a colleague or a celebrity?

- What is your favorite business book, show or podcast?

- What is your biggest challenge in business?

- Who is your perfect client and who can I introduce you to, that will help your business?

- What is your top marketing and networking strategy?  What social media platform do you use the most to market your business?

- What is your favorite business networking group?  Hint Hint, Mass Professional Networking!

- What other talents do you have?  For example, do you play a musical instrument?

- What is your recommended follow-up strategy after you meet someone at an event and in what setting?  Phone call or over a coffee/ drink?

There are many other questions you can ask to engage in conversation, but chances are is if you pick four or five of the above questions, you are well on your way to a very engaging conversation and the start of a great business relationship.   You are probably wondering how you can remember all of the answers to your question.  What I recommend is to write some key words on the person's business card or take notes on a small pad, so it is easier to follow-up.

So now you know how to look for events and know how to break the ice at an event, so go ahead and start networking.  It is the one and only way to get ahead in this fast paced digital world.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Business Networking is About Relationships and Not Transactions

I have been networking for over ten years now and have run my own group for the past five years, however even with my experience, I feel like I am always in learning mode when it comes to the right way to network at business events.    Going to a business networking event can be awkward especially if you are not a natural extrovert or have been through vigorous sales training where they teach you how to talk to people.

Business Networking is a profession and the correct way to network is a skill that you develop over time.   The correct way to look at networking is that is it one of ways that you can help build your personal brand and expand your career or business opportunities.   It is important to have a plan and make the most of the time that you spend at events.   After all, you need time for follow-ups and client work, right?

There is of course the wrong approach to networking and the correct approach.

Here is an example of what not to do.   I will use a recent experience I had with a fellow networker.

I was at an event in Boston and briefly met a young professional who appeared nervous and was giving out his business cards faster than a blackjack dealer at the casino, hoping he can close some deals that night and report back to his boss the next day.    I received a Linkedin connection request from him at 11:55pm that night.    Of course, I was still up doing work and connected to him right away.   At the stroke of midnight, I received a length follow-up message from him explaining to me everything about his company and asking me for a meeting so I can buy his service right away.    His service?  Digital Marketing.  What is my business?  Digital Marketing.    How about, it was nice to meet you Jeff and I enjoyed learning about you and your goals.   You can see dollar signs in his message and no personal references whatsoever.

If you go to business networking events with the sole purpose of closing deals, it is not going to work, plain and simple.    Savvy networkers can sense this a mile away.   It is like a bad cold call.

Instead of the "all about me" approach, when you meet someone at an event or even on social media, build a personal relationship first.   Ask how they are doing?  What brings them to the event that night?  What are YOUR goals?    This will immediately build trust and make the person think, you genuinely care.   At some point, they might even be the one to follow-up and ask to meet for coffee before you even mention to them what you do.   

When you build a professional relationship with someone, over time, the transaction (i.e. the potential to do business) is easier and less forced.  You would feel more comfortable asking for the sale and in return you help them with their business.

I will close with some quick tips to complement what I mentioned earlier:

  • Only talk to between 4-6 people at a networking event.   Don't be a mayor and shake everyone's hand at the event.    You want people to remember you for good reasons.
  • Do not, I repeat DO NOT send a Linkedin request to someone and then immediately send a sales pitch.   Instead, simply say Hi and How you can help without mentioning what you do.
  • Go to a networking event with a plan.  Your plan can be to make between 4-6 new friends that evening and that is it.  Your plan can be to simply help 3 people tonight with their business.
  • Become the one people gravitate to, not run away from.  If you are a magnet, the business will come with less effort.
  • Understand second level networking.    That person that you build a great personal relationship may know someone that can be an ideal client for you.  Powerful stuff!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How does Business Networking and Relationship Building compare in 1985 to 2018?

Even though, my family has had its fair share of sales professionals and entrepreneurs over time, it is interesting that I originally took the route of a Corporate Information Technology career after I graduated college.  I eventually "smarten up" and have since ventured into business ownership and am proud to have carried the torch held by my entrepreneurial family.

One grandfather was an insurance salesman and my dad was a food salesman.  My other grandfather was part owner of a jewelry company in the what was the at one time the Jewelry Capital of the World, Providence, RI.   I also had cousins that owned businesses and others that simply did not take the typical route through Corporate America.   Entrepreneurship was alive and well back in 1985 but it was how you built your business that was different than today.

I remembered growing up in the 1980s and how both my dad and grandfather had a gift of gab and the ability to relate to all types of people.  My Dad was a food salesman, so he frequently the many restaurants in Rhode Island and it seems every time we went somewhere, he would engage in multiple conversations with just about anyone that was within three feet of him.  He was the ultimate extrovert.  He demonstrated networking before there was networking.   Back in 1985, there was no such thing as social media or formal business networking.  I think BNI was around, but that was about it.    When you were in sales, you had to really hustle like my Dad did or go door-to-door selling insurance like my grandfather did.

The difference today is that we have so many tools available from social media and email campaigns that even the introvert can venture into sales.  Imagine what my dad or grandfather could have done with a smartphone?

So how does 1985 compare to 2018 when it comes to business networking?

In 1985,  door-to-door sales and cold calling were king.  The local newspaper was your main method of mass advertising and your networking event was your local church group or soccer field.   I think it was a better time to network since there were no smartphones and people actually had to get out of their shell and talk to people.   Another networking scene that was pretty prevalent back in 1985 was your local pub or restaurant.   Case in point with my dad, he closed a lot of his deals over a scotch and made more of his connections meeting people that led to more people that would match anyone today with tools available.   In 1985, there was no Facebook, Twitter or texting.   You had to pick up a phone with a cord and call people.  Relationship building was easier since you really got to know someone and understood their reaction right away.  Today, you can never know the tone from an email or a text message.   Thinking back to 1985, the world was more social and interactive.  Relationship building was happening in places that today would not be thought of.    You mean, I need to pick up a phone?

Fast forward to today, you have everything I mentioned that we had in 1985, plus social media and formal business networking.   So why does it seem things are harder today?   Yes, there is relationship building like back in 1985, but it is now normally done through a screen.  The cold call simply does not work and the pub scene is not like it was in 1985.  The soccer field is a big click.  The culprit seems to be that damn smart phone.  Go to any bar or sports event today, what do you see?   Everyone's hand is glued to some device.  Relationship building is harder despite the many options to meet people and potential business prospects but because of all the technology, everyone seems to be introverted and simply afraid to pick up the phone, go door-to-door or go to a business event.

So in summary, the difference between 1985 and 2018 is simple.    1985 was all about personal interaction and instant reaction.  Networking was not know as networking.  It was socializing.    2018 was all about using technology to cover up the fear of interaction and people's reaction to your inquiry.   There are a lot more business networking events today, but it is forced.   You can tell by all of the elevator pitches you hear at an event and LinkedIn requests you get after the event.  One way communication, no interaction and immediate reaction.   Now does LinkedIn help you pick up the phone and call someone?   Not really.     Sometimes, I think, take me back to 1985.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

You Have Only One Life - So What You Going to Do About "The Dash"

A little over two weeks ago,  I attended the MA World Conference in Miami like I do every February.  It is a time of learning, positive energy and of course that warm Florida sunshine.  Every year there is that little nugget that sticks with me after the event and this year it was no different.

My nugget this year was during Market America CEO, JR Ridinger's epic closing presentation.   During one part of his presentation, he had a few tombstones scattered in one section of the stage, with the name "Joe Nobody" on it.    A first glance at this, and you though, what the heck is this all about?   As JR's presentation went along, it had a deeper meaning that you could imagine.

JR was making a point that you only have one life and it is detailed on your tombstone.   You have your name, your birth date, your death date, and "The Dash" in the middle.   JR stressed that you have complete control of what you do during the dash. like being a Joe Somebody, including building your own legacy after your life is complete.    JR also made it clear to the 25,000 entrepreneurs in the audience is that you have one dash, unlike a cat with nine lives.

There are different ways you can view "The Dash"
- How you take care of your health and well being
- How you take care of your own financial well being
- How you related to people including your family and friends

First, your health.

We all have bad habits, including eating the wrong foods, not exercising or not getting enough sleep.   Every time we do something not good for our body, we are shortening the dash on our tombstone.   You always hear if you have a diet of sugar, smoke or you don't exercise, chances are you will have a life-shorting disease.   So why do people do that?   Do they feel invincible or are they lazy?    Most of the time it is lack of focus and not realizing that they are only shortening their dash.    When someone reaches middle age, if they change their lifestyle to be focused on a healthy diet, exercising and avoiding drama and stress, they will in fact extend their dash and build their own legacy.

How about your financial well-being?

For those who know me, in addition to my IT career, I got a few side hustles going on and invest on a regular basis so I will never have to suffer from the "45-year plan".   So what is the "45-year plan"?   It is you go to college, get in a lot of debt, then work at some company or multiple companies over the course of 45 years and then hope you got a little retirement saved up to continue your life as it should.    Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore.   You need to treat your career as if you are the CEO of yourself.  I recommend having a few side hustles to ensure your own financial well-being, especially if you live a healthy life and extend your dash.   If you don't think about yourself,  other people make the decision for you and who knows what that can lead to.  Believe me, living check to check or not living the life you want sucks.   So next time someone is offering to help you or has an opportunity to share, listen, since you never know what it will lead to, including extending your dash.

Finally, the most important of all, how you related to people.

We all live one life and being miserable, self-centered and generally negative, will definitely shorten the dash.   Why, since stress is known to cause health problems and even financial problems.   You see it a lot on social media today, especially Facebook.    A political post here, another controversial post there and everyone is up in arms if there is disagreement.   Avoid the drama and think of the good in people, be happy and positive and you will not be stressed and will enjoy your dash.    I get a kick out of people that complain about where they live.   If you don't like where you live, move!   Or, they complain about a negative person they see at a coffee shop they go to.  Go to a different coffee shop!  At the end of the day, it is all about who you hang with so, stick with people that are positive and are enjoying their dash and you will enjoy your dash too!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Diverse & Successful Network is Your Best Career Insurance

Did you know there is such a thing as Career Insurance?  We are all used to Car Insurance, Home Insurance, Boat Insurance and Business Insurance.   However, when you are a planner and investing in your career, it is almost like your investment is like paying a premium toward your Career Insurance.

Being proactive and not waiting until you are in job search mode to connect with people is obviously the best path toward maintaining your career success.   

Of course, so many of us get caught up in doing our jobs that we neglect our network... until we need them. Problem is, if you haven't been actively networking, you cannot expect too much from them when you suddenly need help.

A recommended suggestion when at an event is a gentle breaking of the ice to begin reconnecting, rather than leading with "Hey there! I'm in job search. Can you help me out?" What we suggest is sending them an article and saying something like, "Hi there! I saw this article. Made me think of our days at Example Company. Thought you might be interested. Would love the opportunity to catch up." Another idea is to see what groups they belong to and send a note saying, "I see you're a member of Example Group. I'm interested in joining. What can you tell me about them and their membership? What's been your experience as a member of the group?"

No matter how you do it, if you've let a connection become dormant, you need to find ways to revive it before you start asking for help. While you're reviving a connection you need, you may want to consider reviving connections you don't currently need. Send them a link to an article you find relevant to them; comment on something they’ve posted; ask them about a group; give them a call; take them for coffee; find something you can offer to help them with. 

Successful networkers are always looking for reasons to connect with their network so that their network is active and healthy.

If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won't succeed. 

We can't pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships. So invest in your network in a planned, ongoing manner.

We suggest scheduling one hour a week to reach out to people in your network to share articles, comment on posts, offer help, and connect people with others in your network you think they'd be better off knowing. 

If you don't schedule it, you won't end up doing it, and you'll end up with a neglected network that isn't helping you and won't be much use to you when you need it. 

Invest in yourself. Consider it career insurance. You have life insurance. You have car insurance. You have homeowner's insurance. You have medical insurance. You should have career insurance. 

Career insurance is a healthy network. Pay your premiums in the form of reaching out to your network one hour per week. Pay those premiums now and you’ll be able to make withdrawals down the road when you need to.

Go to your calendar out right now and set a recurring weekly one-hour meeting titled "Build a Healthy Network." Go ahead, your career will thank you for it!

Monday, January 8, 2018

How Video Can Help You Beat Your Fear of Public Speaking

When it comes to what people's biggest fear, what are the first things that come to mind?

Going to the dentist?
Dealing with your ex after a breakup?
Going through tunnels in a big city?

How about public speaking?  25% of Americans say public speaking is their biggest fear.

Imagine if your boss or business partner pulls you into their office and asks you to present a key topic that in front of hundreds of people or on a smaller scale, you have to give a speech at a wedding in front of a bunch of intoxicated guests.   The first thing you want to do is hide under the nearing table.

Public speaking is one of the most fearful things anyone can do.   They stutter, say "Um" or sometimes pass out in mid-sentence.   It is much easier to be in the audience versus being the focus of the audience.

I personally had a fear of public speaking.  I remember getting in front of a room to present an IT project at a large retailer and proceeded to sweat so much, I had to put my dress shirt in a dryer to dry it out.   My speech was full of those "Um's" and "Ahh's" and the famous "You know" after every other word.

I ended up taking a Toastmasters class back in 2008, which really helped me beat the fear of speaking in front of others.  Case in point are some of my videos on my YouTube Channel where I had to get in front of people to talk about business networking and social media.

However,  there is a more immediate way to help beat the fear of public speaking instead of Toastmasters, and it happens to be that little device in your pocket.    It is the video camera on your smartphone.   I do recommend checking out Toastmasters at a later time.

Ok, I am going to cut to the chase.   My suggestion to you if you hate public speaking is to use your smartphone and video record yourself taking about your favorite topic and then work your way up to a topic that you may have to speak about in a public forum.   The old saying is practice makes perfect, so why not use something that is free, easy and personal to practice talking to people?

There are also all sorts of live video applications out there that you can practice doing live videos.   I look at live videos on social media as the next step after you practice doing videos on the Camera app on your smartphone.   By doing live videos on Facebook Live, Periscope or Instagram, you can ask your connections to critique your video and if there are any suggestions to improve your speech.   After all, your social media connections are your friends, right?

Start doing videos on a regular basis on your favorite topics such as sports, the weather, owning a business and other topics, and then over time you will notice your confidence increasing, especially if you start getting those social media likes for your recent live video.   Ask for feedback and note how much engagement there is after posting your video.

Ok, finally, you are asked to speak in a public forum.    So what really is the difference?   If you like the topic you are talking about, and if you look at your audience through the screen of your smartphone and think the audience are there to support you, then go for it and have confidence that you will rock it and woo your audience with great insight!  It gets easier more and more.

I am at a Networking Event, so How Do I Start a Conversation?

So you made an executive decision and decided to start going to business networking events, since that is what everyone is recommending for ...