How to network without networking

In the first of this three part ‘Networking for people who hate networking’ article, I went in on why networking is an actual thing – why it is necessary, how it can help you and, hopefully, assured you that you are already doing it.

Networking has had a bad name because corporate types with lofty egos (or hot air merchants) turned it into a ‘who’s got the bigger portfolio’ contest. The “Hi I’m Reginald Covington III and my business is turning over £18 billion with agencies in seven countries” routine. How is a start-up business going to compete with that? “Erm hi, I’m Somi and I’ve got some pretty business cards?”

Well, I have good news. The gospel is social media which has the same effect as well as some unexpected pluses –  HALLELUJAH! We can use the internet to shortcut some of the awkward parts of face-to-face networking.

Firstly, why do you need to get in touch with this person and for what reason? Think about  the outcome you want to get from contacting this person. Then satisfy yourself that they are the right person to answer your questions or partner with.

  • How accomplished are they at what they do – check articles they have written, awards and recognitions, endorsements by their peers, are other people in their industry following them, etc.?
  • How accessible are they – often the biggest names in your industry are the least available, so who is number 2 & 3 in that circle? You might have more luck going slightly further down the list.
  • What do you have to offer them? Some people will gladly give you a paragraph or two of advice for free. Most people remember what it was like to start in their success journey. They might recommend a book or website that can answer your questions.  However, if you are looking for something more like a partnership or working together, first understand how that could actually work for both of you to benefit. 
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image source: sentraloker.net

Here are three effective ways of networking which don’t involve feeling too nervous about awkward questions.

Stalking

There’s nothing wrong with approaching someone on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Think about it. The reason why they have created a profile that you can see is so they can be seen (although not necessarily to be approached). So begin by doing reasonable research on them. You don’t need to know about their family or where they went on holiday.

You can find out more from forum discussions, a panel on the area you are interested in and wild card searches on Google. The more specific you can be, the more helpful your research will be. Just typing ‘success’ in a Twitter search is less helpful than ‘success + Nigeria + UK + female + media’, for example.

Fishing

Yes you guessed it. It’s just like the first but instead you ask your contacts, friends and followers to recommend someone. Post a simple message on your status asking for an expert in this or anyone with experience in that. Your contacts will give you a shortlist that you can research at leisure. You can also find out who those people follow and engage with.

That’s the best part. The hard work of vetting someone has been done for you. People will suggest contacts from their own networks that they are proud to endorse. No one wants to endorse a wasteman (unless you are actually looking for someone to collect your waste). We are most likely to suggest the best people we know rather than the worst. You’ll have no excuse to be stuck for leads.

Blogging

Just by setting out your stall and sharing your story, you attract people to your corner of the internet. Here’s how it works – as you talk about what you’re doing, you use words that come up in other people’s searches. Most blogging platforms either suggest ‘tags’ and keywords, or ask you to add them yourself. Those words are used to suggest to other people blogging on the topic that they might like to read your stuff. The internet does the work for you. All you have to do is just write or record your experience. That could be on YouTube or Soundcloud as well as Tumblr, WordPress or any of the many platforms available.

The same rules apply. Once you have identified someone you would like to connect with, look them up. See what else they are into and who else is plugged into their network. Remember that everyone has something to offer – especially you. Even if someone is less experienced than you, they might just be able to contribute something that you hadn’t considered yet.

Right. So you’ve got the right person. They aren’t Richard Branson or Bill Gates so they are likely to get back to you. Finally, you’ve worked out what you need from them and what you have to offer. Great! Now what? Let’s approach them.

PAUSE!!!!!!

The difference with Social Media Networking vs. Face-to-Face is… you often get one hit to make the right impression. One email, one approach, one message. The other person forms their opinion based largely on the five or six lines you send. Imagine if you get a message from someone you don’t know who is being over familiar about something you’ve spent years and sacrificed much to build; or they are sound vague and wishy-washy. Delete. Delete. Delete. Here are some tips to help you out:

Have a Social Profile. Before you send make your move, be sure you can be found online. That’s you as a person rather than a brand. People value interacting with people. As much as you want to get your logo and company out there, make sure people can find YOU. Nine times out of ten, the first thing I will do when I get a message from someone I don’t know is type their name into a search engine. I use an about.me site with a brief resume as well as LinkedIn. It means I can keep my Facebook profile private – i.e. no embarrassing holiday photos for my potential business partner to see, thanks.

Don’t be too personal. They are not your friend. They are an accomplished individual with feelings. Be respectful and polite. Before your send your message to them, ask a COUPLE of friends (and a mentor if you have one) to look at it for you. Someone else’s perspective is always helpful.

Be a bit knowledgable. It pays to understand what you are talking or asking about. For example, if you are looking for a distributor for your music and you’re asking another artist, research who their current distributor is. Then ask them what it was about that company that made the artist choose to work with them.  Give them an opportunity to engage with you on something they know about which isn’t easily available on the internet. Speaking of which…

Never ask ‘why’. Asking why someone did something or not is actually not very helpful. What you’re getting is an opinion. When journalists ask why, it only gives them a headline. What you want is their strategy or motivation – so not ‘why’ but ‘how’ or ‘what’. Asking someone how they became successful is not the same as why they became successful. Why can also sound a little aggressive. Avoid it if you can.

Use a public forum first. With Twitter especially, there’s a tendency to request a DM or PM of Facebook. Think of it another way, would you ask a stranger you hardly know to go into a private room with you? If someone asked you to do that, would you? Using Google’s site search is great for finding out what’s being talked about and where [search topic + site:domain.com] to see who talking about what on that social media site. Then reply to one of their public messages first.

Act on their advice. When you reach out to someone and they take the time to respond, be courteous and give them some feedback. Say ‘thanks for recommending that book. I’ve ordered it and it’s on its way”. It makes them feel like their input is valid (and who doesn’t want that) and it also keeps you in conversation with them.

Networking doesn’t just stay online. If you do have to do the ‘standing in a room of people and mingle’ routine, check out the next part of this article for some life saving tips. They will make you feel less like you’d rather the ground swallowed you up whenever you hear the n-word.

Bernard P Achampong, 2015

Money Talks #3: Talking About It

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This series is all about talking about money and getting it out in the open. We are relatively bad at talking about money – in both our business or personal lives. In the first instalment, I discussed our relationship with our finances. Even before we have counted what we have, how do we feel about the issue of money? Are we fearful, ambitious or out of control? Knowing where we stand with our cash is the first area to master.

Then I talked about managing what you do have coming in and going out. How we manage the little we have will help when the millions are rolling in. Let’s be frank, if we can’t handle £1000 a month effectively we’ll be swamped when we get £100,000! Managing money is about principles and systems, rather than luck or coincidence. If ‘hope’ is the way we are planning on balancing the books, we are a liability to our financial future – according to my former accountant.

The third instalment addresses the delicate issue of talking about money. I was surprised that more people are find it easier talking about their relationship history than their financial one. This is even more of a problem when it comes to discussing your income, salary or fee (a freelancer’s and contractor’s nightmare). We can help. Here are five ways to get the most out of your money conversations.

Know Your Worth

Often we are excited about an opportunity and want to get stuck in quickly. We have to be sure that it’s worth our time. Once you know your worth, you can confidently talk about how much you should be getting paid to be part of it. Your skills are the way you pay your bills. Each hour given to someone costs you something. So whether it’s your day rate or what your monthly target is, understanding what you are worth is vital. Research what the going rate is for what you do. Email a few competitors and get quotes. If your industry has a professional body or association, they will often have a sample rate card. Don’t forget to include your costs to finish the job, as well as what you want to personally get paid.

Sometimes it’s your time rather than your money that’s important. We have personal goals (such us spending more time with family, friends, working out, etc.). Consider whether taking on that new project is truly worth the effort when compared with spending a quiet weekend with your loved ones.

Know What To Say

It’s easier to ask about money without feeling awkward by having a set form of words. Yes, literally have money catchphrases that you are comfortable with. That way asking about or chasing money doesn’t feel so personal i.e. “what’s the budget for this project?” Or ask “how are the costs being covered?” The more you speak with others about money, the more you’ll hear these phrases coming up over and over again.

Also your actions with paying others say a lot about you. If you are often evasive about money or you’re regularly having to explain to people you work with why they aren’t getting paid – whatever the reason – they will be looking at you cautiously. Your actions show them that you aren’t looking out for their financial interests. Whether they tell you about it or not, once you’ve short changed or delayed paying someone what you owe or promised them, I can guarantee you that you’re no longer number 1 on their ‘eager to work with’ list.

Know When You’re Getting Paid

Whenever you agree how much your are getting paid, also ask WHEN you will be paid. Again, use those money catchphrases to help yourself out. Ask “and what are the payment terms, 30 days on receipt of invoice?” You are not asking anything that any credible business hasn’t already considered.

Often the person who is responsible for sorting out your payments is not the same person you’re speaking to about the business. Find out who the finance contact is and get both a phone number and email address for them. If you have to chase them, you’ll have their direct contact details. It will save you having to awkwardly remind someone you’ve worked closely with for money.

If you do have to chase an unpaid invoice, call first then follow up with an email to confirm what you’ve spoken about on the phone. It’s in your interest that you stay on top of what’s happening with your money, which you have worked hard for.

No Money, No Problem

Sometimes, we will be presented with an opportunity which has very little money in it. That might be because it’s charity work or simply a very small budget. Know your worth and consider if you can still benefit while working for free. I discussed that two years ago when because of contractual terms, I couldn’t earn any additional income. Also most of the work was for very small businesses or social enterprises. Here’s the original article about working for free and still benefiting with expenses and testimonials.

Scratch My Back…

Finally, there is absolutely no money to this gig. Neither is there the opportunity to leverage the work for your profile – no expenses, no testimonials, no opportunity to document your work. There is still a way of getting something out of the deal – trading skills or contacts.

Trading skills is the most obvious, and is very common. An accountant will set up the finance system for a new design business in exchange for an updated website. A cake maker will sponsor a motivational speaker’s event in return for some one-on-one advice. However you do it, make sure you have a record of what you are trading and what you are receiving. It’s still a contract and it has a value. It has to make sense to you. Don’t exchange a year’s worth of service for the equivalent of an afternoon’s work for the other person. If that’s the case, consider offering a discount on your service or product rather than the full service in exchange.

You can also trade contacts. Remember networking is the lifeblood of your business, and if you can be connected with more businesses or a key skill you need through someone else’s contacts – bingo! You’re still winning. Ask for an introduction, with a glowing testimonial of your great work, and go on to do greater things… all without a single penny changing hands.

When time is tight and money is tighter…

The two biggest hurdles to getting anything started are not having enough time or enough money. Wait, let me correct myself – enough time or money to get it finished. We can start quite cheaply. Picking up a pen to note your idea costs nothing. So if time or money doesn’t stop you starting something, how do we get over the fear of not being able to finish it?

Jar of Coins cropWith lots of money, you can pay for things to be done quickly. The opposite is also true – when money is tight, you can spread the task over years if you have to. A friend of mine, realising they couldn’t get a loan to do up their entire house in one summer decided to make it an on-going project. Five years later, the transformation is remarkable. They got it done – it just took a little longer.

So when you have neither to play with, consider 3 things:

Is it worth doing now?

Take a long, hard look at what you want to do and why. Is it something that could wait? At least, could you delay the most expensive bits of it until later. You may give yourself a better chance of success by taking more time to get your affairs in order. After all, very few businesses make a profit within its first 18 months. Putting it off and planning how you can make the most of your money and time later might be your best bet.

Are you worth it?

Take a long, hard look at yourself. Could someone else invest in you? Do you have what it takes (except money and time) to make this happen? Do you have a good reputation in this area? It could buy you a lot of favours and discounts. A colleague of mine is struggling with a project because they’ve upset one too many people in the past and have a bad name. That works against you when you’re in a tight spot and need a break. With money or time against you, ask advice from people with whom you have a good reputation. They may be able to help you out. Otherwise work on being of ‘good repute’. It might mean repairing bridges and eating humble pie. That may take more time, by the way.

Is anyone else doing it?

Take a long, hard look around you. Starting up on your own isn’t always the best answer. Is there someone else doing something similar? Could you get together and get it done? Not only could it help with your money or time, you’ll also get the benefit of their experience. There’s nothing like avoiding those rookie mistakes to keep a project on time and on budget.

Not having enough money or time isn’t a reason not to start something. Do as much as you can with what you have – then stop if you have to. It’s always easier to pick up where you left off than beginning from scratch.

Foreword: Understanding Leadership

I was recently asked to write a few words as an introduction to a book. I thought I would share it:

Like any discipline, Leadership is a journey. It is a process of time and experience, belief and will, trial after failure. The leader you’re going to be is entirely based on your unique set of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual settings. Often it can be in spite of those same traits.

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A great teacher once said that project management is like juggling eggs. In that same context, Leadership is ensuring those eggs don’t fall. Part of your roles as a leader is directive; giving each egg enough energy and direction to go up in the air. There is also a role to delegate; to let go of the eggs with the secure knowledge that because you have understood the properties and abilities of your eggs, you can allow them to travel through the air unaided. You trust that they will come down where you expect them to. That is also the final part of your role. You are there to catch and support them when they come down.

If you have little experience of being a leader, that description may seem odd to you. After all, aren’t you the one who is in charge? Aren’t you the boss? The head honcho? The if-I-say-jump-you-say-how-high guy? Those are only effects of good leadership. You become the respected and listened-to one because you are a good leader. It’s not the other way round. Those come because you are recognised by your team as someone who can keep everyone on the winning side. Acting important without mastering good leadership is like trying to cough enough times so you can catch a cold. It’s not going to happen. You will meet those kinds of people on your journey. No one wants to work with them.

This book lays down the rudimentary foundations of the aspect of leading spiritually. So here’s the first secret… all leadership is spiritual. Managers can get away with moving tasks and targets around with money or manpower to get the job done. A leader relies on trust, hope and faith in their team and their desired outcomes. Understanding the areas highlighted in each chapter will bring you closer to mastering the full set of spiritual tools needed to be a winner. Think of these as the top line headings and use them as a template to explore deeper your own style of leadership – no matter what your beliefs are.

There’s one final thing to say about your journey into leadership. If you have to tell people you’re a good leader, you’re not a good leader. They should know what you are by the way they interact with you and feel when they are in your team. Think of it another way, do you ever wonder about the DJ in the club who is constantly telling you to get up, get on the dance floor, put your hands up, make some noise? Well, if they were a good DJ would you not be doing those things already? If they have to remind you to get on the floor and enjoy yourself, surely there is something missing.

I wish you the best for your leadership journey and pray that your ability to believe, unique personality and leadership style are so naturally fused that everyone you work with never wants to leave your dance floor.’

Re-rewind when the crowd says Bo!

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One of the things I loved about growing up in the 90s was discovering ‘The Rewind’. That moment at the party when the crowd responds loudly to a song and the DJ spins it back to the beginning. Oh man, that was a lot of fun. However it was often not so much fun for the DJ whose responsibility it was to get that moment right. There’s nothing more tense than a rewind followed by an  awkward silence while he (or she) struggles to find the beginning of the record. Trust me, it’s a lot of pressure when you’ve got a room full of eyes glaring at you while they wait for the party to start again.

The last few months have felt like a long rewind moment for me. There’s been the excitement of retraining for a new career, taking on new projects and new responsibilities. At the same time, there’s the angst around trying to refocus and head off in a brand new direction. 

You see, the rewind bit is relatively easy. You can stop doing what you were doing… with the right motivation. Maybe it is the promise of a brighter future or the relief from a challenging past. However the tricky part is setting yourself up doing something new. There’s likely to be questions like: 

  • Will I make it in this new venture?
  • Is this the right decision right now?
  • How will I match the financial or emotional security of the previous job, and of course
  • What happens if I fail?

Just like the nervous DJ, you have a number of tools at your disposal to help make the resetting and restarting process as painless as possible. DJs have their headphones, and all kinds of meters, markers and faders which when used appropriately helps them get the party restarted with little interruption to the good vibe. 

This months’ mailer is dedicated to all who were going through a period of Rewind, Reset and Restart. So, welcome to the party 🙂 and watch this space.

First Steps to Social Enterprise 2014 course launch

Olmec Empowering Communities invited Ruth Amarquaye to be part of the panel of speakers at the launch of this year’s First Steps to Social Enterprise with the aim of ‘Inspiring BME Women Into Enterprise’.  This launch was a free event with lunch provided by a successful participate of another Olmec course, and of course the opportunity to network and find out about the stall holders.  On the panel there was John Mayford, Director of Olmec; Makeeda Hewitt, Programmes Manager at Metropolitan Housing, Ruth Amarquaye of Ideas Genius; Caroline Odogwu of She Is You UK, Bala Thakrar of Naitika and was chaired by Annetta Bannett (Empress Nia Jai) of Impact Diversion.

Each member spoke of their involvement with Olmec and Ruth shared about her experience during the course:

“Right from the start of te course we knew got on when myself and two other ladies got under the table to fix it in place so the wobbling didn’t distract us from learning.  It was a group which felt more like a family and I am most grateful to Sam Obeng, or Uncle Sam as he became known as and Nathan Brown for going the extra mile to ensure we understood our legal forms and responsibilities.  Ideas Genius did not go on to becoming a Social Enterprise, but we have successfully embraced social aims and are working towards being a success business. Thank you Olmec.” Following the speaking, various people offered a workshop which gave a taster to elements coveredon the 12 week course. These included Nathan Brown, Sam Obeng and Nick Howe, Enterprise Manager of NatWest Business Banking.

Applications are now open for the next cohort of the First Steps course and we will encourage every BME Woman who has a dream of being in business to apply.  Even if you do not end up as a Social Entrepreuneur, you will end up as an entrepreuneur who makes a social impact.  You have until 31st August to submit your application and you can find out more at Olmec’s website

#IAMWRITINGTHEBOOK: How To Plan Your Book.

The hardest part of writing a book is not starting it; it’s completing it. This is because somewhere on route, from the first to the last page, we get a little lost. What begins as an exciting burst of creative energy fizzles into a dull fraction of your incomplete work. What happened?

It works like this: If I plan to get to Manchester from London, I don’t simply start driving until I run out of steam. It’s good to have a destination and key milestones on route. I know I’ll need to go via either the M40 or the M1. Then when I get to Birmingham, I consider, do I take the M6 or the Toll road?

With our 13 Step Book Plan, you stand a better chance of reaching those milestones on route to your completed book. You’ll need a pen and pad for this (or computer, however our preference is actually writing it out). Here goes:

Write the numbers 1 to 13 along one side of a piece of paper. These will be the numbers for thirteen sentences you’re about to create, so give yourself plenty of space.

2. The Beginning. Write a sentence about how you want your book to start next to number 1. The characters, location, expertise or knowledge that you want the reader to know in the beginning. If you’re writing a novel about a person on a self-discovery journey, where will they start? What is their current emotional state? If it’s a business manual think about what level of knowledge you expect from your typical reader? If you’re teaching a new method, what should they already know: do they have a degree in Management, have they worked in a business or know nothing at all? Write it as a single sentence, e.g. The reader has never written a business plan or Marcel is about to have his life changed by the mysterious girl on the bus.

3. The End. How will the book end? What’s the last thing you want to communicate before your reader closes the last page? What is the big revelation or the nugget of wisdom and experience that you want to share? Try to communicate that as the sentence that just goes just before the words ‘The End’. Write this out next to number 13. For example: And they lived together in Barbados for the rest of their lives… or So now you know everything you need to make vegan burgers.

4. Meet Me Halfway. Consider the middle point between the beginning and the end. Halfway through the book, what do you want -to- the reader to know? Write a sentence next to number 6 which states By this stage of the book… we will know the heroine’s secret or we should understand the difference between Dating and Courting or I have introduced my mediation technique. Remember it’s about being halfway through the physical pages of the book, not necessarily of your story. This is the 50 page mark if your story book is 100 pages long. You don’t need to count pages, just have a sense of what you want to have written about when halfway through.

5. Half the Halves. Do the same for the points midway between the beginning and the middle (i.e. number 4) and halfway between the middle and the end (i.e. number 10). Again write a By this stage of the book… sentence about what you want to be saying a quarter and three-quarters into your masterpiece.

6. Step It Up. You will have two empty numbers between each of the major milestones of your book. Think of these as two steps to get from one stage to the other. Write in here two important moments or bits of information which will follow each other to get from the beginning to the quarter mark, then quarter to the halfway mark… and so on. You will find that this is where a lot of your thinking, rethinking, changing, rewriting etc. happens. That’s fine. All your thoughts here are helping you really define your story. When you come to write the book itself, you will find that you’ve already had those random thoughts and are less likely to go off track. 

7. The End. Yes, that’s your 13 Step Book Plan. If you’ve put all your energies into getting this part right, you will find the process of writing feels smoother than previous attempts.

The difference now is that you have a destination, a route and a map. When you get lost, you simply look back at your map and get yourself back on track. I hope this has helped you make progress.