Thursday, July 23, 2009

Improve Your Networking through Unique Customer Service

I keep seeing tips to better small business networking everywhere I go. For example: at some point everyone has a problem with their cell phone and must venture into one of those stores or up to a kiosk where you most often you end up with a high school age employee who isn't really concerned with your problem. They'll happily sell you something new or pass you on to the toll-free customer service number, but they don't really want to take the time to truly help you. So, my expectations were pretty low as I ventured into a T-Mobile store in Kent. I needed to figure out how to get my pictures off my cell phone and on to my computer. I waited for the next available clerk when fate stepped in to assist me.

A young man, Raphael, approached and I explained my challenge. He showed me what many people use, but quickly said there was another alternative. I could just buy a memory chip and then a twenty dollar reader that allowed me to download the chip directly to my computer. A must less expensive option, and the memory chips were on sale. He went to get my sale chip, but they were out. Instead, he handed me his own memory chip saying he had just upgraded to more memory and didn't need it. Raphael then proceeded to install the chip, transfered all my photos and rang up my mere twenty dollar sale.

To say Raphael gave above and beyond customer service is an understatement. He listened to what I needed, found the best and most cost effective and even gave me 'the memory chip off his back' so to speak. Now, I've dealt with cell phone stores before and have never come close to this level of immediate gratification service. So, I'm pretty sure this experience comes in great part to who Raphael really is and how he personally does business.

That being said, as a marketing writer, I try to steer my small business clients clear of using platitudes like "great customer service" unless they have a good qualifier. In other words, what does that really mean and how does it make you stand out from your competition. Otherwise, it just doesn't mean anything to your potential you're better off not saying it at all. However, if you can show what that "great customer service" really means...then it can become an effective part of your marketing message.

So, what does any of this have to do with small business networking? Well, networking is about developing business relationships. And, part of building that relationship involves increasing your credibility. You do that by demonstrating, in everything you do, how you do business...and that starts with your networking. Now I'm not saying you have to give things away, like Raphael, but there are ways you can demonstrate your great customer service at any small business networking opportunity.

1. Focus on them not you: Ask about their business and goals, introduce them to someone new; ask for their card for future follow up.

2. Follow through with plans: If you said you'd call them the next day to schedule a meeting or forward that invite to another event, be sure you do that. The sooner you do this the better.

3. Surprise them with the unexpected: If they mentioned their love of sailing, send them info about (or even free tickets to) the upcoming boat show. People love it when you remember something personal about them.

Bottomline is that showing you are interested in them and their business and truly listened to what they said will win you major 'great customer service' points every time you network your small business. You'll build credibility and strengthen those business relationships. Before you know it, those people won't imagine doing business with anyone but you.

Happy Networking!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Faster response time means better networking

Recently I spent three days in a training workshop learning 3 notebooks full of information. Yes, there's a lot to know when it comes to small business networking. And I learned one lesson that wasn't even on the agenda. As is likely to happen, many of the attendees have great flashes of inspiration they don't want to forget. Much of this isn't actually in the notebooks - it comes from the other attendees. From super ideas they use in their business to they way they explain something so you finally get it.

Well, at this session, the trainers had every participant stick a large sheet of paper to the wall and write their name on it. You were then given a pad of Post-It notes. The, whenever you heard something you didn't want to forget, you wrote it on the Post-It and stuck it to your piece of paper. All well and good, but what the heck are you going to do with a large paper covered in sticky notes? The trainers asked one volunteer to take all the sheets and type up every idea and note. Then it was emailed to the entire workshop. So, not only did you get your ideas, you got everyone else's highlights and BFOs (Blinding Flashes of the Obvious).

Right now you're probably wondering what in the world this has to do with small business networking. Great question. The answer is the volunteer! Annette volunteered to put this list together for us after our 3 days (Wednesday - Friday). On Saturday morning I logged on to check email and found Annette's email with the aforementioned list of notes in a nice file. Less than 24 hours after 3 days of 8 hour sessions (and a drive back home) she had fulfilled her promise to us. I was very impressed, okay blown away, with her quick turnaround time. I for one had slept in a litte to catch up on some rest. But this gal demonstrated a key to building strong relationships - especially small business relationships. Respond quickly and over deliver on expectations!

You might think that only matters once you get the job, but in fact it matters more in networking and developing your business relationships. If you meet someone at a networking mixer and say you'll follow up to set a meeting or give them that contact information they need...then do it and do it quickly. If the next morning they find an email from you with that link or information or a suggested time to have coffee - how will they think of you? Remember that until someone does business with you, everything they know about how you do business is how you treat them and how you conduct yourself at those mixers, etc. So, trust me that new contact is going to be very impressed with your quick response time. That scores you major points in the credibility category.

Too often these days businesses drop the ball, don't follow through and don't get the job done. When it comes to your small business networking, you can WOW people before you've even talked about your product or service. So, remember that as part of your action plan. Whatever sort of follow up you promise goes to the top of your to do list. You can win even more credibility if you over deliver. Perhaps you didn't promise to send any information, but you do a little research online and find an article that your new business friend might be interested in. Send it to them immediately, no strings attached. Just do it quickly. Make yourself a networking challenge and see how fast you can actually respond.

Follow up is vital in strategic networking. Timely follow up is what will put you ahead of your competion and lead you to profitable relationships! Don't just do it now.

Happy Networking!!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Once is Not Enough - Networking has a Repeat Button

You're busy. I know that without even seeing your to-do list. But, if you're using networking to build your business, 'once in a while' isn't going to get it done. Attending a monthly mixer is great, but if that's all you've got in your small business networking arsenal, you gotta get more ammo!

I've mentioned before that networking is a contact sport, but to truly make your efforts effective you've got to have some consistency. That means more than a lunch once a month. Now, I'm not saying you won't get any contacts at that one lunch meeting, but remember you're not trying to close a're building relationships. Any new relationship is going to take time and commitment to work. It takes time for trust to build and trust is the key to a business relationship. The best way to build trust is to keep showing up. If you're committed to attending a regular meeting, people feel and believe you're committed to your business and your clients. Why? Because what we do speaks louder than what we say (more on that in another blog).

For now, I think you should seriously consider a networking opportunity that offers weekly meetings. I know it's a bigger time commitment, but if you work on your business every week, shouldn't you work on your business networking every week? There are lots of opportunity for weekly mixers and meetings. If you want to connect with and be of service to your community - check out Rotary, Kiwanis or another service organization. If you're hoping to improve your speaking skills, try Toastmasters. If your ultimate goal is to get more referrals to grow your business, I'd visit a BNI meeting.

Another great thing about weekly meetings is that you can figure out what works and then hit the 'repeat button' for the next week. Meaning you know the agenda, purpose and dynamics of your meeting. So instead of trying to figure out what's happening next, you can focus on making the most of each meeting to build those strong, trusting relationships that lead to success.

Good luck finding the right weekly networking opportunity. You may need to visit a few meetings and organizations to find the right fit, but once you do it will be worth it!

For more information on how to get more out of each networking meeting, email me at

Happy Networking!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Marriage and Networking - Bring Your Own Happy!

I recently caught part of a program about successful marriages where the host said that most people get divorced because they're 'not happy.' And, they truly believe that it is/was their spouse's job to make them happy. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. This host went on to say that, while it can manifest itself in several ways, what happens when a marriage falls apart is that one or both people became selfish. WOW! That makes perfect sense. It becomes all about them and what what the other person is doing (or not doing) for them. Well, I've always been a believer that in life you have to bring your own happy. No one else can do that for you...and what a horrible burden to put upon someone you are supposed to care about and love. What's worse is there is no way that other person can actually do it. Because if you're not a happy're gonna stay that way until you figure out how to make yourself happy.

Small business owners often fall into the same trap with networking. They go to an event and hand out a few cards. Then they sit back and wait for someone to call them and make them successful (i.e. happy). Guess what? That isn't going to work. And that's not networking! Certainly networking is about building strong, trusting relationships with people who want you to be successful. But, they can't make you's not their job (they already have a job). And having the expectation that someone else is going to build your business is setting everyone up for failure and disappointment.

Small business networking is about being proactive in your success, not waiting for business to call you on the phone. So, when you go to your next networking event, be sure you have a strategic plan: set a goal for how many people you want to meet, ask those people about their business goals, give out your card only if asked, and then challenge yourself to follow up with those people you met in a timely manner. Don't buy into the myth that you have to send a handwritten can call, email, send a card or text if you're both into that. It's just about following up. That's when you start to build the relationship that will lead to business and success down the road. That business may not be directly from them, but a referral through them to your ideal client (which is even better). But that only happens when you bring your own happy and remember you get to control your success.

If you want more information on the impact of follow up and staying in touch with your contact sphere - email me at

Monday, March 16, 2009

Donald Trump - Bad Hair, Good Advice

Donald Trump may not have the best hairstyle (more on that in a bit), but he knows something all small business owners should know about networking. What's that? The time is now to become successful!

The Trump Institute is getting ready to host a number of seminars in the Seattle area (my stomping grounds), so late night television is crawling with his current infomercial for 'The Donald Trump Way to Wealth" events. Seriously, on Friday night alone it was on 3 stations...yes the same time. No, I'm not advising you to produce an infomerical. But, I was listening to The Donald...because he was on 3 stations, remember? He said what I've believe to be dead-on accurate. "You can become more successful in a down economy than an up economy." That may not be the exact quote, but what he was saying is now is the time to get out there. Sure, he was talking about real estate investment, but the same principle applies no matter what you're doing. Now is the time for you to become more successful.

I know it's a reality that we're in a recession. What is not carved in stone is that you have to be a play. I love the current theme for BNI - Business Network International: "I refuse to participate in a recession." The bottom line of what BNI and Donald Trump are saying is you have options on what to do during these economic times. One of them is to stay glued to the news and stock market, getting more discouraged and depressed. The other is to click off the television and get to work. Seriously, how does worrying and focusing on negative information help you generate more business? How does it encourage you to call people and talk to them about your product or service? It doesn't! Any good salesperson will tell you they've been advised to avoid the news in order to maintain a positive attitude with customers (and that's anytime, not just now).

So, how does all that tie into networking and building your business?? Because, the odds are in your favor. The Donald advises you to buy real estate now, when the market is down - that just makes sense...lower prices, less competition. And, of course, his seminar offers a few tricks of the trade on how to get started the smart way. The same is true for your business. Half of your competition is hunkering down under their desks waiting for the economy to turn. They're so paralyzed by fear that they're cutting prices, not picking up the phone. Take advantage of the timing, get out there and network. Go to networking events to meet new faces and connect with past clients (it's the perfect time to strengthen their loyalty to you). Not wanting to be outdone by Donald Trump, I've got a great tip to help you get going the smart way as well:

Make a short list of your past clients and top vendors. Contact them and schedule a coffee meeting (see how many you can set up over the next four weeks). At the meeting ask them about their business goals and how you can help! Your clients will be expecting you to ask for business, and your vendors will be thinking you'll want to talk about getting a better price. After the initial shock wears off for them, they will be truly appreciative of your support. So, don't be surprised when they ask you the same question. That means you need to be prepared with a specific request, i.e. "I really want to meet a neighborhood restaurant owner." Or, "If you know a great website developer, I'd appreciate an introduction."

Clearly, networking doesn't have to happen with a large group of really pays off as well. So, make your list, pick up the phone and schedule those meetings. Don't forget that you MUST follow up with your clients' and vendors' requests. If they want to connect with potential customers, invite them to your next chamber meeting. You get the idea. Trust me, your efforts will be rewarded.

And, if you are interested in getting into real estate investment, maybe you should check out The Donald's seminar...if he knows anything, it's real estate. Oh, and about the matter what you think of it, it's a part of his brand image. How in the world could he change it? Do you really think he cares that everyone talks about it? I mean, everyone is talking about it...which means they're talking about him, right? That's publicity! But, that's another blog.

Happy Networking!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Five Networking Mixer Mistakes that will cost you business

Take note of these FIVE networking mixer event mistakes that will likely cost you clients instead of building your business.

Before you head off to your next networking event, there are a few things you need to really grasp in order to make the most of your efforts. Remember that in order for networking to pay off, it must be effective, strategic and targeted. The five mistakes below are anything but...yet are unfortunately common occurrences at chamber events, industry gatherings and organization meetings. So, check out the list, commit it to memory and then you can network in confidence.

Granted, you have to show up to network, but it takes more than walking in the door, finding the bar and standing in the corner. Okay, so maybe you're not THAT shy (I know some of you are), but chances are you attended your last networking event without any real plan of action. You need to have specific goals in mind for each and every mixer or you'll have no idea if you're accomplishing anything. Here are a few examples: How many people to do you want to meet? Is there someone specific attending that you want to be introduced to? How much time will you allow yourself to talk with people you already know? Determine your goals by who will be attending, the organization and the type of meeting (mixer, dinner w/ speaker, etc.) and set goals that support your growth plans. You'll make better use of your time and leave knowing you made real progress.

Isn't marketing, even word-of-moth marketing, a numbers game? Then wouldn't it make sense that the more cards you hand out, the better the odds of someone calling you for a future meeting? Not exactly. Sure, everyone you meet will not be a potential client, so you have to shake a lot of hands, remember a lot of names and hand out a lot of business cards. But, there is a more effective way to ensure the cards you hand out are kept in someones file - rather than dropped into the nearest recycling bin. READ THIS: GIVE BUSINESS CARD ONLY TO THOSE WHO ASK FOR IT!! One of the most offensive actions at a networking event is having strangers thrust their card upon you. It screams desperation..."Call me!" "Hire me!" "Work with me!" "Look at me!!" It's like a little puppy that keeps jumping up for attention. Instead focus your conversation on the other person, ask about their business and ASK for their card. They'll be so please someone wanted to hear about them, they'll not only hand you a card, but ask for yours in return. They will remember and your conversation (because it was all about them), and happily hang onto your card...the one they asked you to give them!

I know - it sounds crazy. Isn't that what networking is? Letting people know about who you are, what you do and how you can help them or someone they know? Yes and no - that's the ultimate desired result, but it ends there. It starts with you asking about them (see #2 above) and trying to discover ways to help them with a business goal. What if you asked, "Is there anyone here you'd like to meet tonight? Maybe I can help introduce you." That's so much more appealing than the "I, me, my" speech about your own business. That's only going to tune people out and paint you as self-absorbed (a bad move and waste of time). Instead, you first build a relationship with that person, then - once they like you - they'll ask for details about work. If they ask, they truly want to know. You now have permission to tell your story. But keep it brief...don't lose them with too much information, just whet their appetite so they'll be ready to learn more about what you do later (that's what follow up is for).

I can't stress this one're not at a trade show with a booth trying to sell products. You're at a networking event so you can meet and connect with new people. The networking event is NOT the time to try to sell someone or close a deal. So, take that pressure off your shoulders, right now! You just want to meet new faces and see who you can help. And, even when someone asks about what you do - don't make it a sales pitch. Give the big picture benefit - who you help and how. The "who you can help" should not be directed at them, but at some specific person or type of person who might be in the room. Trust me, people love to make connections and say, "Oh that sounds like Joe with the ABC Company, have you met him? Let me introduce you, he's right over here." If the person you're speaking to is an ideal client for you, they'll know. And if they're in the market for your product or service, they'll follow up with you - with lots of good feelings because you did not try to sell them.

While you DO wait for someone to ask for your card, you do NOT wait for them to give you a call or send you and email. Lack of follow up is the number one mistake most networkers make. You can attend and event, meet lots of people and only give cards to those who are interested - but without follow up you've wasted your efforts because nothing will happen. Again, follow up is NOT a sales pitch. It's an email, note or phone call (whatever works best for you) that thanks the person for chatting with you and touches on something they said or talked about. Something like, "I loved hearing about your sailing adventures. I found this article about an upcoming sail boat show and thought it might be of interest to you." You'll be building the basis for a strong reciprocal relationship that could lead to business down the road. Remember to take that stack of cards you collected and turn them into good relationships...follow up, follow up, follow up!

Networking events are vital to growing your small business. You can develop a sphere of people who truly want you to succeed - in any economy. That means they work hard to bring you business...all the time. Just remember to approach your next meeting with a plan of action that will build your business instead of committing the networking mistakes that can cost you clients.

If you'd like more information about small business networking or are interested in a training session to help your sales team to make more of their networking efforts, contact me at

Monday, March 2, 2009

You can't get a haircut over the phone!

It's true! You can't get a haircut over the phone. You might get recommendations over the phone; you could get directions to the salon over the phone - or as most of us do these days - on mapquest. But the actual haircut...for that you've gotta show up! I love the simplicity of this statement, because it makes you say, "Well, duh!" But, when we look at it more closely, we realize how we miss that very simple concept in other areas - areas like networking.

Many of us, myself included, are online social networking users, okay borderline addicts. In fact, I'd be surprised if anyone reading this blog wasn't on at least two networks: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Biznik...the list goes on. And, as I said, I'm there with you...on all of them (well I'm going to drop MySpace, but that's another blog). So, before I go any further, let me state here and now that I love the concept of online networking and see the value and benefits. I have no plans to stop using them. HOWEVER...are you ready for this? Online networks are not enough. Sure, you can see how many friends you can get, join causes, and post video links and photos. You can even send messages, leave comments and meet people (sort of). But, you cannot truly build strong relationships without meeting face to face.

Let's go back to the haircut. Even if you posted a photo of yourself needing a hair cut and a stylist uploaded a video of themselves giving a great would still have split ends and your bangs would be too long. You won't get the look you want until you sit in the chair. Networking is the need to meet someone, shake their hand, look them in the eye and really get to know them. That's when you begin to build trust and after the trust is when the work begins to come your way.

Real networking is a contact've got to get in the game. Forget about becoming a master networker from the comfort of your computer. It ain't gonna happen. So, absolutely, get onto one of the social networking sites, get a profile, connect with friends and join groups. But...look for the events that are posted as well, mark your calendar and get out there. It's those people who make the extra effort to show up who are truly successful. Anyone who's ever hosted an event knows that people who RSVP and actually show up are indeed welcomed and appreciated (and introduced to new people). And, think about this: Who are you more likely to refer to...the expert you chatted with for 20 minutes at a chamber mixer or the online person who keeps sending you updates about their kid eating chapstick?

Your goal for this week? Attend an in-person business or networking event that gets you away from your computer and in front of potential clients. In my next blog - I'll give you some great NETWORKING DON'TS to keep you on track at the event.