I’m not a celebrity, get me out of here!

I’ve been to a couple of networking events recently where I have been left standing in mid conversation by someone eager to capture a photo opportunity with a celebrity. How rude! Clearly building a relationship with me is not as important as splashing a celebrity photo across social media.

Andrew Shawley & Damian Lewis

This photo raised my son’s credibility with his peers and gave him an opportunity for a conversation with one of his idols.

Now I’m not saying people shouldn’t seize the opportunity to get a snap with someone in the public eye but what advantages will it actually bring?

What do you hope to gain?

A celebrity photo is not necessarily an endorsement of you or your brand, it may even convey the wrong message.

If a celebrity has a queue of people waiting for a photo there probably won’t be much time to deliver your elevator pitch so you could be left looking sycophantic which may not do much for your credibility as a successful business owner. However if you have an opportunity for a short engaging conversation which you can follow up at a later date then that could be very useful. Henry Cavell (the new Superman) revealed a schoolboy encounter with Russell Crowe which Russell Crowe recounted on a recent Graham Norton show. Perhaps in years to come Damian Lewis will remember the boy in the ankle support boot who praised his charity footballing skills!

Manners matter

Even in 2013 we judge people by their manners. When people leave me in mid conversation in order to chase the celebrity photo I am affronted. Am I really that unimportant?

I go to events to build relationships with people. Often this is our first encounter, if you are rude to me there will not be a second engagement. If you can be rude to me you can be rude to my contacts so I will not share them. I won’t like you and that is the first action of the know, like and trust trilogy that leads to building business.

Are you going to get more business from your celebrity photo than you are from building a relationship with someone who is very well connected with hundreds of other small business owners? 

I’m willing to have my picture taken!

So instead of rushing off rudely why not invite me to join you in the photo with the celebrity? Why not ask me for a photo and then publish it on social media with a caption that introduces this really helpful woman you met last night? 🙂 I’m far more likely to share the photo with my contacts than any celebrity is and we will have taken another step to promoting a mutually beneficial relationship.

A networking conundrum.

How many networking invitations have you had this week or this month? I have had at least 15. I could be networking morning noon and night for at least five days, and sometimes six, in a week. I enjoy networking. I run some networking groups because I believe networking works. However we can’t accept every invitation. So how do we decide which events to go to?

Set clear goals

Getting to know each other at Fabulous Women (yes men are welcome!)

Getting to know each other at Fabulous Women (yes men are welcome!)

Networking should be an integral part of our marketing plan and as such should be accompanied by clear goals. What do you want to achieve from your networking?

  • Do you want to find more names for your prospect list?
  • Do you want to find a joint venture partner?
  • Do you want to check out the competition?
  • Are you looking for a strategic introduction to a person or business?
  • Do you want a chance to showcase what you do?
  • Do you want to find people who can help in your business or support your business’ development?
  • Do you want to branch out into new areas or locations?

Choose your events carefully

Networking events and groups have many different characteristics. We need to match the characteristics of a group or event to our goals.

So let’s consider the advantages and disadvantages of some of your options.

‘Work the room events

These are the lunchtime or early evening events where you receive an attendance list, a glass of something and maybe some sandwiches or canapes and then you dive in to see who you can meet.

The advantages include meeting a lot of people in a short space of time and with that the chance to pick up plenty of business cards. If the organiser knows all the attendees you may be able to secure an introduction to potential joint venture partners, specific individuals or personnel from a target business. You will probably be able to check out the competition.

However you will have little opportunity to showcase what you do and these events can be very difficult if you are shy or find it difficult to break into or get out of conversations.

Business referral groups

These are usually membership groups, often restricted to one member per category, and meet regularly sometimes even weekly. Examples include BNI and Athena.

The advantage of these groups is that you build relationships over a period of time so your fellow networkers should gain a clear understanding of what you do which will allow them to refer leads to you. Each meeting follows a set structure which includes an opportunity to showcase what you do. These groups can be particularly useful for reaching out into other people’s contact books. They are particularly effective for some sectors such as trades people where one project might provide work for four or five members.

The disadvantages are that you have to attend very regularly, may only be able to promote one aspect of what you do, and have to look for referrals for other members of the group. They can also be quite expensive.

Open groups with structured meetings

These groups usually borrow the best features from the referral groups in that meetings are structured with an opportunity to showcase your business and often to learn from an expert speaker. Examples include The Business Dinner club and Fabulous Women.

The advantages therefore are similar to the referral groups but because membership is less restrictive you can promote all aspects of your business. you might also meet your competitors which can be useful when you want to bid for a project which is too big for you to undertake on your own or when you are too busy to accept all enquiries.

The disadvantage can be that the group may have a fluctuating membership or attendance making it more difficult to establish meaningful relationships and a deep understanding of your offer.

Informal groups

These tend to be events with no structure, no attendance list and rely on people just turning up for a chat.

They can be useful for meeting new people and socialising but as a tool for generating business they are of limited value

10 tips for solving the networking conundrum

  1. Decide what you want to achieve from your networking
  2. Choose an event which is most closely matched to your goals
  3. Test out a number of different organisations and events
  4. Think who is likely to be at these events, are they your target or will they know your target?
  5. Find out how the event runs and prepare your ‘pitch’ and materials accordingly
  6. Ask the organiser for introductions to help you meet your objective
  7. Follow up with your new contacts but don’t assume they all want to be on your database, they don’t!
  8. Expect results to take time so visit a group regularly until you have established relationships and then often enough to maintain the relationships.
  9. Don’t spread yourself too thin by accepting every invitation you get
  10. Measure your results over time and repeat what works. Match your measuring to the goals you set.

Our My Marketing Planning tool includes a section on networking to help you identify your goals and measure your success. Email me if you would like to know more.

Growing business, lessons from gardeners. Lesson 2

Every good gardener knows that it is essential to prepare and maintain the soil if plants are to thrive and grow. Sow seeds in rough, untilled soil and few will germinate. In business building relationships with prospects is the equivalent of preparing the ground.

Winning customers

Prospects need to be prepared to become customers in the same way that soil needs preparation for plants to thrive.

Prepare the ground

Few prospects buy at the first contact, especially when they can’t touch or experience our offer before committing to the purchase. Research shows that it can take up to 28 contacts before a prospect is ready to buy. Most businesses give up long before that. That means we are leaving potential business for someone else to pick up.

We must educate our prospects into understanding what we have to offer and how that could help them. That means building our list and then communicating with that list on a regular basis. Here are some ideas for building your list:

  • Offer something of value to website visitors in return for their name and email address (make it simple to sign up in 30 seconds, first name and email address is all you need, you can ask for more details as the relationship builds) Offer a free e-book, a module from your programme, a teleseminar, a discount voucher etc.
  • Contribute on social media, follow people, like businesses, join in conversations, share prospects’ promotions, offer some useful tips or contacts. Be generous.
  • Collaborate with other businesses offering a non-competing service to the same target market. So a florist might combine with a restaurant, a website developer with a copywriter, a personal trainer with a diet coach.
  • Carry business cards and a notebook with you at all times. Your best prospect  might be another mother you meet at the school gate or the person sitting next to you on the train.
  • Attend networking events on a regular basis but don’t expect an immediate payback. Ask if your new contact would be willing to join your mailing list. See the points below about building relationships. For more networking tips see  12 Tips for networking success  and How to make networking work for you

Build relationships

We need to work at our relationships. We must follow up with those people we meet networking and with those people who join our list;

  • connect on social media,
  • meet for coffee,
  • send a follow up email,
  • call them
  • send them information or contacts that might be useful to them
  • offer a sample or opportunity to test your service
  • send a regular newsletter
  • invite them to an event that could be useful to them

Demonstrate your offer

Visual merchandising

Make your offer irresistible

People buy with their senses: smell, sight, sound, taste, touch. How many of these are you using to promote your offer? Copy the big boys, they can afford to pay for the research to show what works. That’s why the supermarkets have in store bakeries and play German music when they have a German wine promotion.

Here are some ideas:

  • use your window to show off your products, take items out of boxes and show how they could be used; combine products in the way a customer would e.g. model a whole outfit not just one element. If it’s impractical to put products in the window use photographs, or better still a video as motion captures attention
  • use in-premises displays that people can touch, smell or taste
  • pass round samples at a networking event
  • put a video or podcast on your website or blog
  • write a blog and upload photos where helpful
  • post photos and offer tips via Twitter or Facebook
  • share your expertise on Linked In or in a Facebook group
  • post pictures on Pinterest
  • play the kind of music that will encourage your prospect to linger or buy (make sure that you comply with local legislation for playing music in public)

Our great gardener knows that they have to keep on working the soil and that’s what we have to do with our prospects so I’ll have some more ideas for you in the next few posts. Do join in the discussion if you have any more ideas or have experience of any of the ideas here.

12 top tips for networking success

Gallery

This gallery contains 2 photos.

How do you feel about networking? Do you see it as a great way of doing business or simply a waste of time? Do you invest time in networking or avoid anything that bears the label? Over the years I’ve … Continue reading