Networking Secrets a Father Taught His Son

The following is a guest post is contributed by Maria Rainier, who regularly writes on the topic of online college education.

My brother is a wildly successful person. He literally has thousands of business cards in this gigantic blue 3 ring binder he keeps with him at all times. Ask my brother do you know a good handyman, he says “I know several”; ask him if he knows a good Cardiologist he replies “of course, I know the best in the city”. Ask him if knows anybody to do anything, he always says yes. It seems his binder is almost like a magician’s magic hat. You ask it to produce something and presto, it appears. A few weeks ago when we got together for Mothers Day at moms I decided to inquire. I asked him, how did you have time to meet and talk to all these people? How do you know them? He said. “I met 99% of them through networking”. I have to admit I was shocked.

Not to worry. I learned networkers are made, not born.

Growing up, my brother kept to himself. In high school he was not what I would call outgoing. He was not very talkative for a boy and he was not by any means a natural born salesman. So I asked him, “How did you get so good at networking?” He didn’t hesitate and replied “Practice”. I was puzzled. I always thought you can either network or you can’t. You are either a networker or you’re not. So I asked him, “what do you mean, you where never really a people person, you have always kept to yourself, why this new networking you?” He said “dad taught me how to network, go ask him” and then he laughed. So I pressed on and asked my brother “what do you mean dad taught you?” He said dad taught him the 3 cardinal rules of networking when he was in college taking a business course. Now I thought this is getting ridiculous, the 3 cardinal rules and a business course, he has to be pulling my leg. Maybe this goes deeper and I better not dig further. But of course, I had to. My dad never taught me to network. I needed answers.

I asked my brother if he would mind sharing with me how a quiet shy kid can turn into a networking expert. He quickly snapped, “I am no expert, but I can hold my own” “I told you sis, practice” I said “I know all that, but tell me exactly how you do it”. He said it would take him an hour and a half to teach me the 3 cardinal rules of networking dad taught to him and I should call him one night this week. I reluctantly agreed.

Get it from the source.

The next evening I called him and I said “OK so what are the 3 cardinal rules to networking?” he replied, “Do you have a pen?” I said, “Yes” and like it had been rehearsed and practiced dozens of times, he recited these cardinal rules to me: “Practice, Practice, Practice”. I said “c’mon now, I really want to know”. He said “OK”. He went on to tell me for over an hour that knowing people from all walks of life was essential to being successful. He told me that you did not have to make friends or even have anything in common, just that you were to create real business relationships. He said “this is the first cardinal rule, build solid relationships”. He further explained that he was taught by our dad to let the other person talk about their business and magically, in some metaphysical way, they would remember you and what you do through your silence. This was rule two. He then went on to tell me that common sense, when a networking opportunity presents itself, was the 3rd and final rule. He explained that carefully presenting your services when appropriate and only when appropriate, was key crucial to networking.  He told me that sometimes it took him two or three meetings to form a working relationship or even say a word about what he did. He was careful to point out not to pressure or rush a contact into a relationship, and better to stay low key and not seem desperate. He said that part of the common sense in cardinal rule three was to act like you don’t need the contact, but that you want it. He said this was a fine line and it took practice. He finished by telling me that no one wants to buy from, or do business with a desperate person. People want to buy from and do business with a successful person, so act like a successful person and you will never have a problem networking.

I don’t like networking events

I don’t really like networking events. To be honest, I have been struggling with this over the past several months because no matter what I do it seems that networking has become, and is becoming, a bigger part of my life. I write about networking, speak about networking, coach others on networking, I founded a massively successful commercial network, I have even been a conference keynote speaker presenting on the topic of networking! So how is it then do I not like networking events?

I’m normal. That’s right; most people do not like attending networking events. According to Susan RoAne (Author of Face to Face) 93% of people self identify themselves as “shy,” and networking events are not a happy place for a shy person to be. I have finally come to the conclusion that the reason I have been successful speaking, writing, and building networks is that so many people struggle with the same things I struggled with. I had to work hard to figure out how to succeed at networking by building great friendships (something that anyone can do even without attending networking events). As a result it is really easy for me to explain to other people how to succeed at networking, because I have struggled with the same things.

You are an expert

One amazing thing about life is that our successes are the greatest in areas where we struggle the most. I have read a lot about networking and have come to realize that many of the “experts” are wrong. When I hear someone using “elevator pitch” and “networking” in the same sentence I run (if you are in sales you don’t need to run, these are great sales tools, they are just NOT networking tools). If networking hadn’t been so hard for me, I never would have understood why these things don’t make sense.

Your Turn

What are the areas of your life that you struggled with for years? Did you have to learn management, leadership, or graphics through the school of hard knocks? If so you are probably more of an expert than you ever imagined. If you are open to sharing, there millions of people that need to hear and learn from you, not from someone that was a “natural.” You many never be able to (or desire to) connect with millions, but can you start this week by sharing some of what you have learned with at least one person.

Networking: Make certain you are heard

tree_fallingWhen I first started networking I clearly remember referring ten potential clients to a friend in my network. Several weeks later I received a phone call from him thanking me for one of the referrals, it hadn’t turned into a job, but he really appreciated that I was thinking of him. As we spoke I asked him about how things were going with the other nine referrals… he had no idea what I was talking about. As we spoke it turned out that two had become clients, a couple he was still waiting to hear back from, and a handful he had never heard from. I had learned my lesson: the people you are networking with need to know when you help them, and it is your responsibility to communicate it.

Do you make a sound?
We’ve all heard the saying “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” We can ask the same question as it relates to networking.

The foundation for networking is helping other people, but if others don’t know that you are helping them, you are failing to be heard.

Make Some Noise
Two easy options to be heard include:

  1. Send your contact an e-mail with a note about the referral. It is easy to start with a statement like “I just wanted to let you know that you may receive a phone call from…”
  2. Call the person you referred, everyone likes receiving a call about a potential lead.

Remember that your objective is to build mutually beneficial relationships. If you were curious, here is the answer to if a tree falling in the forest makes a sound.

9 Tough Networking Questions

This past week I had the privilege of hosting a training session for David M. Schwarz Architects in Washington DC. After the presentation I offered to answer any and every question about networking that they could throw at me over the following weeks. Needless to say they asked some great questions that I am certain you can relate to:

Q:
When I first moved to DC (almost five years ago now) I was meeting a lot of really great people at all the events that I went to (I had more “spare time” in those days). I lost touch with many of those people as the years have passed, but for many of them, I remember their stories and still have their business cards. Is there a tactful way in which I could contact them now, or is it better to let it be?

A:
There are two foundation stones for a relationship 1) knowing that someone else exists (name recognition) and 2) understanding how they fit into the world around you (develop understanding). If your goal is to expand your relationships then the best place to start is always with people that already know (or have known) you. The goal isn’t to necessarily have lunch with everyone you meet five years ago, but rather to keep these two foundational stones in place. That is one of the goals of this blog, but I also send articles out every once in awhile to people I have met previously. By doing this I am keeping a foundation for our relationship in place, and it is rewarding when I see someone after 5 years and we can “pick up where we left off” because these foundation stones for our relationship are still in place.

Q:
If I walk into an event not knowing anyone, and all people there are already chatting, can I walk up to a small group of people who are already having a conversation and just say hello without coming across as being disruptive/rude? [This is a follow-up to the “I Don’t Know Anyone Survival Basics”]

A.
Look for an excuse to break into the conversation. Do you know the company someone works for? Is anyone wearing a pin on their jacket indicating an Alumni or other affiliation? To “break in” engage one individual in the group with a simple question. Once you are accepted into the group (a split will develop as people open their shoulders to accept you) engage the rest of the group preferably by making a comment on the topic they were previously discussing before you entered.

Q:
If I slip into a conversation like the one mentioned above, and find the subject matter to be from somewhere outside my plane of existence, how long should I just listen without  having anything to add to the conversation? For instance, I often find myself amid conversations about television shows, pop culture icons, or sports. These are all things which I know very little about (and generally also don’t have a whole lot of interest in knowing about).

A:
Never “slip away.” If you want to get out of a conversation have an excuse ready. I often carry around a drink only 25% full, and then if needed one more sip and I need to get a refill “excuse me as I get a refill.” Better yet, is someone else just as bored with the conversation? Invite them to join you or simply split the conversation by asking them a direct question.

Q:
I usually try to plan ahead to avoid this, but I often find myself in an outfit that has no pockets. I generally feel like it would be better not to carry a stack of business cards around in my hand. Would you agree?

A:
It is official, I have been stumped. I can’t remember the last pair of dress pants I bought that didn’t have pockets. Given that you are carrying a purse (or “man bag” for any guys that have found pants without pockets) I would recommend purchasing a business card holder in your purse. Perhaps someone more qualified on this topic can make a better recommendation in the comments section.

Q:
As a young woman, I am fairly attune to who is safe to give my contact information out to, and to whom it is questionable. If I have been giving cards out at an event and then encounter someone to which I would rather not give my business card to, do you have any advice on the best way to decline?

A:
Great question! The key is to bring a relatively limited supply of cards and only hand them out to people you really want to connect with. If you are uncomfortable with someone when they hand you a card simply tell them that “I didn’t bring a lot of cards tonight but I can follow-up with you, thanks.” Another note here is that if this happens often make certain that your cards don’t contain personal information such as your cell phone number. Main business phone numbers are acceptable and expected on business cards.

Q:
My name is unusual. I know this can be good or bad. Will it be insulting for me to write a phonetic spelling on my card when I give it to someone? I feel as though, similar to the days of sending out my resume, people are less likely to call someone if they know they are going to “butcher” the pronunciation of their name.

A:
I am a firm believer in making nametags and business cards easy for others to read, but giving someone the phonetic spelling is probably going too far. Instead of Timothy M. Klabunde, MBA on my cards they simply say Tim Klabunde. You have several options with a unique name, of which my favorite is using a “short” for your professional relationships. For example, if your name is Rhiannon you could use Ann on your cards and nametag. As an added benefit you’ll always know where you stand when someone calls you as your friends will still call you your preferred name.

Q:
Similarly, if I get a business card from someone else, can I write a phonetic spelling or notes on it, or is that considered rude as well? I know in Japanese culture defacing a business card is somewhat likened to a direct personal insult.

A:
Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to use the back of the business card to add notes or other information. Unless you have told them you will follow-up on something however it is not acceptable to do so while you are still talking to them.

Q:
In your talk you mentioned the importance of being able to recommend others. This is easy once you know a few people worth recommending, but what if you are just starting out? If someone keeps sending contacts my way and I don’t know anyone that I can recommend to help them with what they do, they might quickly decide that I’m not useful enough to be on their “hot list”.

A:
It is easy to recommend people on your hotlist because they typically start as people you have worked with previously and they are people you enjoy and respect. If you don’t feel that you can recommend anyone, and thus don’t yet have a hotlist, start by working on developing friends in your industry. Get involved on a committee at a local association, invite someone out for coffee, but generally speaking actively seek out new relationships.

Q:
Last year our firm celebrated its 30th anniversary. There were a lot of people a our celebration, but I chose not to talk to very many people for fear that I would say something to the effect of, “So how do you know our firm?” and the answer would be, “I’m David’s brother” or other special honored guest or relative. I don’t mean to be ignorant, but there is some information in my office that just doesn’t reach everyone’s experience. Although I know that I can not avoid being in a situation where I might be expected to know more than I do, my question to you is: was I right or wrong in this particular instance to save my company the embarrassment of me asking questions that clients might expect me to know the answer to?

A:
Nametags. As of today Scott Ginsberg has worn a nametag for the past 3,376 days (not kidding check him out here http://www.hellomynameisscott.com). Scott is a well known author and speaker on approachability, the one thing that has stuck with me after reading many of his articles is that name tags are not intended to help the person wearing them; their entire purpose is to help the other people you meet. (aka: you already know your name) You and many others at the same venue were experiencing a relationship barrier that could have been easily fixed with some simple Avery nametags. Next time have some fun and be the first person to put on a nametag, I guarantee you’d be one of the most popular people at the event because I’m certain you were not the only person that felt that way.

The Introvert’s Secret to Networking

I am excited to announce that on Tuesday November 17th I will be presenting a new seminar entitled “The Introvert’s Secret to Networking” at a national webinar for the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). If you are interested in attending or would just like to find out more about this new presentation you can check it out on the SMPS national website

As always, my goal is to help others (introverts and extroverts alike) to build great relationships that improve their businesses and lives. I hope that you will be able to join me for this webinar or at a future seminar.

Tim Klabunde

Leveraging your marketing dollar

iswm_logoThe following article written by Tim Klabunde was published by the International Society of Weighing & Measuring.

“It’s not that I am cheep, it is just that I like getting a lot of value for my money.” 

I believe many people feel this way when it comes to their marketing budget.  We all want to figure out what is going to give us value when it comes to getting work in the door.  To that end here is a list of the three “cheapest” ways to get more work.

  1. Existing Clients – Ever wonder why the cable company is always trying to up sell you a 100-movie channel package?  It is because the least expensive way to bring in more revenue is to expand service to your existing clients.  This same model is utilized in almost all service industries.  So when you are looking to get more work in the door start by trying to solve more of your current clients problems first. 
  2. Referrals – When I had the siding redone on my home this last year I received 3 quotes for the job.  The most expensive was a national company, the least expensive was a company I saw on a yard sign in our neighborhood, and the middle bid was a referral from a trusted friend that had their siding redone a couple of years prior.  I paid the extra money for the middle quote because I felt comfortable and trusted the advise of my friend.  Did you catch that? The referral transferred the trust that I had in my friend into the company she endorsed!  Firms that use referrals make more money and their clients begin the relationship with confidence in their ability to do the job right.
  3. New Relationships – Note that I didn’t say clients I said relationships. Clients are expensive to get, but a network is not.  Networks of relationships in your industry allow others to provide you with leads that you can follow up on for minimal cost.  Here are some examples: the attorney that passes along leads to an accountant; the brink layer that that tells the roofer what projects he’s working on; the civil engineer that tells the architect which developers are considering building on a piece of land.  Your network can provide leads must faster and for less expensive than trying to find them yourself.

Time and time again I note that it is people that provide the biggest return on our marketing investment dollar.  Whatever you do, however, don’t give up on your advertising budget.  Advertising, networking, press releases, etc… are each only one tool in your marketing toolbox.  Every marketing tool has its place and must be used appropriately in order to achieve true marketing success.

The Old Rules Still Apply

MarketerCoverThe following article written by Tim Klabunde was published in the October edition Marketer.

Successful businesses are built on foundational truths that do not change with market conditions or time. To be successful in 2010 you are going to need to focus on the same things that business leaders needed to focus on in the last century: the people inside your company, the clients outside of your company, and your network in your industry.

People are the ultimate reason that businesses succeed or fail. Regardless of your placement in your corporate structure, your success and that of your company will be defined primarily by your relationships with people. The key is to build mutually beneficial relationships where people want to help you succeed as you help them succeed.

Rules that build success

We all know that relationships can be complicated, but there is a fundamental truth that determines if you are building up or tearing down relationships: relationships grow if you selflessly help another person succeed; relationships dwindle when you focus on yourself and your own wants.

If you meet someone for the first time, and they subsequently help you, you will be appreciative of their efforts and probably remember them. If that same person were to help you three times over the following month, you would keep an eye out for ways to help them in return. If they helped you a dozen times, providing you new client introductions, referrals, and leads, you would develop a strong desire to help them in return. This desire to help is the foundation of a mutually beneficial relationship where two people are constantly looking for ways to help each other. One important key to this happening is concentrated effort on a specific group of people that over time develops into multiple mutually beneficial relationships.

Rules for inside

Most everyone recognizes that they need IT support to succeed, yet many people approach their IT department with a focus on their own needs and then can’t understand why their requests are always at the bottom of the to-do list. In marketing we often seem to forget that the rules of building success with people outside our companies also apply to people inside our companies. We need people, both inside our companies and outside our companies, to succeed. People that focus solely on achieving their own success are rarely able to achieve it in the long-term because they lack the support of a team that wants to help them succeed. Consider what would happen if you started helping your IT department succeed by cleaning up your server space, purging or archiving old e-mails, and supporting their efforts in meetings. I can tell you from personal experience that the result with be that your requests will likely be given a high priority. The same applies to accounting, marketing, operations, human resources, other project managers, and even management. When you focus on helping others your build a team that wants to help you and make you succeed.

Rules for outside

We all know that when we market we need to focus on existing clients and prospective clients. What most people fail to realize is that, after marketing to your existing clients for additional work, the least expensive marketing approach is usually to market to others in your industry that can’t hire you! Networking is the art of building mutually beneficial relationships that provide a wealth of leads and referrals from others. Many people fail to build strong networks because in America we have improperly aligned “networking” with “sales,” and sales is something most professionals avoid at all cost. Sales should not drive the relationship; instead, the relationship should drive the sales. True networking is the development of relationships, and relationships are something that all of us have a God-given instinct and need to develop. What this means is that everyone in your company can help bring work in the door simply by being relational and developing an effective network.

The rules that still apply

So, there are some important old rules that still apply. A true network of relationships is not to be confused with the self-serving “good-old-boys” network.  Instead, success in business is derived from genuine relationships. If you are ready to build the foundation of your business this year, then it is time to refocus on people. After all, it is the people in your company that will make you profitable, and it is the people outside of your company that foster your growth.

Building Relationships that Build Business

Relationships are the foundation of business. Whether it is relationships inside your company or outside of your company, relationships allow your business to either thrive or fail. Because of this, focusing on relationships is one of the most effective ways to improve your company and simultaneously build personal success.

Identify key relationships
Think about the relationships that you need in order to succeed. These relationships may include others in your company, your industry, or your circle of influence. Now take a moment to write down the top 10 people you need to succeed and rate the strength of those relationships. How you are doing? Are these relationships weak or are they strong? Most people will find a mixed bag: some relationships that are incredibly strong, and others at the breaking point. In order to succeed you need these relationships, so what can you do to ensure that these relationships are strong?

Do something about it
The best way to build a relationship is simply to help other people; not to return a favor, but simply because you want to build the relationship. Business relationships are often weakened by years of taking with very little giving in return. To strengthen a relationship all you need to do is help the other person without seeking personal gain. Some examples of this include: providing a contract lead to a client, turning your timesheets in on-time (for an overextended accountant), and providing timely information to others in the industry. The goal is to proactively work to make their life easier.

Why it Works
If someone helps you once you would appreciate it; if they helped you 10 times, you would develop a healthy desire to return the favor; if they helped you 30 times you would do every you could to help them in return. This is the foundation of a mutually beneficial relationship, a relationship where two people are consistently looking for ways to help one another.

Building a relationship that builds business starts when you selflessly help others.  Who on your list do you need to help today?

Great Networkers tell Great Stories

When you meet someone for the first time, you have about 45 seconds to identify an area of mutual interest in order to avoid an awkward end to your conversation. Most people start by looking to their titles and companies: “I’m Tim Klabunde with Gordon, what is your name…” They then expand the circle looking for a connection “John Adams from my office used to work for your company, do you know him?” Great networkers know and use a better approach. Instead of following a linear path to identify connections, they tell stories.

1,000 possible points of connection
Everyone knows that a story paints a picture, and that a picture is worth 1,000 words. What most people have not discovered is that the 1,000 words painted by a story, become just as many possible points of connection for a conversation.

What it looks like
A good story should be about 15 to 25 seconds and it should be current. For me, I often talk about my boy’s recent escapades, current events, or my day at the office. For example, if I tell you a story about my boys stuffing washcloths down an open drain, I have instantly opened dozens of possible points of conversation:

  • My/your family
  • My/your children
  • Plumbing repairs
  • The things you did when you were little (So you ended up in the ER after swallowing coins?)
  • Stage of life conversations
  • Other funny kid stories (Your kids flushed your jewelry down the toilet?)
  • Questions about my story

The point is that the more possible points of intersection we can develop the easier it becomes for us to engage in conversation and thus a new relationship.

Keep it simple
To be effective stories should be simple. In my example above I painted an entire picture for you in 8 words: “My boys stuffing washcloths down an open drain.” Yes, I left a lot up to your imagination, but that only opens the door to conversation, which is a foundation for networking.

Come prepared
Next time you are in the car on the way to a meeting take a moment to think up three stories: one about work, one about family, and one about current events. If you need, practice consolidating them into 15 second sound bits. Then, sit back and enjoy hours of great conversation. Just watch out, you might find that you actually enjoy networking!

 Special thanks to a great networker, Joanna Hoffschneider of Structure Tone, for inspiring today’s blog.