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

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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.

No Money, No Problem.

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Of course finance is important.  Cash flow is the life blood of any business, and chasing payment (ultimately, not getting paid) is a pain in the… assets.

However a lot of entrepreneurs say you have to be willing to work for free or next to nothing when you’re starting a business. So what do you do when you find yourself in that situation where you’re doing work without getting paid?  Even if you are working speculatively, you’re committing your valuable time and expertise which is worth something.  We think you could consider the following 3 ways of getting the best from the situation.

1. Ask for expenses.  Your full fee may not be available – either because you haven’t yet proven your business to ask for your full fee, or the client needs your services and products but has a limited budget.  Often a request for expenses (travel, consumables, legal or research costs) will be honoured if you can make a fair case for it.  For example, if you have to travel from London to Birmingham to speak at a conference, you can ask for train fare to be covered.  In our experience, a fraction of the bill is met more favourably than the whole fee.

2. Ask for testimonials.  Obviously your clients sees the value of your work.  If they didn’t, they would not have asked you to be part of their project.  Providing you with a testimonial is like giving a recommendation to future clients.  You can ask for a testimonial in a number of ways; either as an email request at the end of your work or with a feedback form (less formal).  Whichever way you ask for it, getting that testimonial will help you get more work in the future.

3. Ask to document your involvement. Depending on your business, you might be able to photograph, film or in some other way capture your role or your work for your website, showreel or portfolio.  For instance, if there is an important or well-known person involved, you could be filmed or photographed with them.  If that is not your preferred style, why not suggest a ‘day in the life’ article for your local newspaper or industry related blog.  Using it on your own website will give potential clients a better idea of how you work… more importantly, what you’re worth.

However you do it, getting some credit back for what you do is important to sustain your business.  While you’re working for someone else, you’re still working and there has to be some benefit to your business.  The best case scenario when working with no money is to agree all three of the above with your client.  This can be done at the point that they tell you they are unable to pay your costs.  Then confirm it in writing and make sure you stick to it… for your own benefit.

FREE LUNCH #4 | The Art of Networking

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Networking is important. Here’s why and how to do it to help your business or brand become more successful. Firstly though, why network at all?

  1. Grows your clients, customers, consumers or congregation. We become more successful by selling or sharing what we do with more people. Networking gives you a bigger pond from which to fish.
  2. Grows your suppliers, supporters or sponsors. We maintain success by making the best use of our resources. Others have access or finances that will make that task easier.
  3. Grows your expertise. No matter how small your ambition is, there’s likely to be a lack of experience or knowledge in getting to it. Otherwise you would be doing it already. In the meantime you can ‘borrow’ other people’s experience.

So how do I network? Networking isn’t a beauty pageant. You’re not simply showing off how pretty your company or idea is. Neither is it about collecting as many business cards as you can. It’s about the contacts on those cards and how they can help you grow.  Here’s what to do.

Have A Hit List.

Do some research on the speakers, sponsors or others on the guest list who would like to connect with at a networking event. Contact them in advance via social media (if you can’t get to them directly), letting them know you’re going to be there and would like a QUICK chat about something. Make it something that will highlight your idea or business, or new insight on their industry etc. You’ll be more prepared, feel less like a gooseberry and it will make the event much more worthwhile.

Know What You Need.

Make sure your brand, idea and ethos are in unison (FREE LUNCH #1). You need to be clear about what your success depends on because you have a good business plan. If it’s finance, how much? If it’s access or experts, who exactly do you need (FREE LUNCH #2)?

Know Who You Are.

Your Elevator Pitch will help you through the nervous first few seconds of introductions. There’s nothing worse than ‘Hi I’m Brian… I’m Trevor’ *awkward silence* to kill the rapport you are trying to build (FREE LUNCH #3).

Strike first and confidently, then ask ‘what do you do?’ Are they someone who can help your business? Yes, then well done. You’re on your way to greater success. Maybe you’re not sure yet though. Ask them why they came to this event. Why are they networking?

Remember the principal is ‘puff puff pass’. Feel free to share – contacts and information. This person may not be able to help you but could be perfect for someone else. Introducing them to each other will gain you extra brownie points.

Successful networking is about being strategic with your time and engaging contacts with your ideas. For more FREE LUNCH ideas insights, follow @ideasgenius or browse the blog and be inspired.

FREE LUNCH #3 | What Do You Do Again?

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It may come as a surprise but one of the hardest things to do is communicate what your business is in one clear statement.

We are so close to our brands that we can see all its opportunities and possibilities. However if we communicate all the options to others it might sound like our business is all over the place.

We can oversell our contacts and access without really saying what it is we do. Other times we undersell ourselves by just giving our job title or business sector. For instance, ‘Hi I’m Brian Bloom.  I’m in Sales and Marketing” doesn’t say much about the dynamic company you work for.

You must master saying what you do in a concise, direct and convincing way.

A simple way is the A + B = C formula

“I do A with B to get C

  • A is your skill/expertise
  • B is the sector you’re in/with and,
  • C is your marketable product or services.

For example:

Metro Finance negotiates with investment banks to access funding for business start-ups

Elevator Pitches are another way honing your business communication. It’s simply a 30 second script about what you do. It’s based on the average amount of time you has to talk to someone in a lift – hence the name Elevator Pitch.

However you chose to do it, getting the definition and communication of your business right is key to being memorable and successful networking.

Follow @ideasgenius for more FREE LUNCH and other ideas insights.