Friday, April 28, 2017

5 Tricks You Are Missing for Networking at Business Events


As business people, we know we need to "network" as a way to build relationships that will help us in business and life. But attending a networking event like a conference can pose challenges, especially when it comes to making the most of your time there.

The worst thing you can do at such an event is approach it like a game where the winner is the one who hands out or collects the most business cards. Put that on your "Not-do" list. Nobody likes the person that deals business cards like playing cards and they certainly won't have any incentive to help you build your business down the road.

Rather, the best networkers have a goal of walking away from any networking event with between two to five solid contacts that they formed over a meaningful conversation of at least five minutes. It's about the quality of the contacts rather than the quantity.

So what are the secrets every great networker uses to make those quality connections?

1. Choose Your Event Wisely

Not all networking events are created equally - at least as far as you're concerned. The best networkers assess events before deciding to attend them based on the kinds of people they expect to be there. Again, you're looking to connect with people you can help and who then can in turn help you. If you don't think there will be many people who fall into that definition, it's probably not worth attending. If you can, get an attendee list and have a few targets in mind - people you'd love to meet.

2. Pick Your Spot

One of the overlooked aspects that every great networker understands is to find a place at an event where you can maximize your chances of meeting the people you most want to connect with. Your first option is to stand by the food. Your next is the bar. And finally, you can take up position near the door. Since everyone in the room is likely to come by one of these three places, any one of these three options will allow you to strike up potential conversations with people you want to connect with. Once the crowd has rotated past and haven't seen your targets, go looking for them.

3. Help Someone Out

When you get your chance to strike up a conversation, don't make it about yourself. Rather, seek to understand first and try and find a way to help that person in some way. Maybe it's by offering to make a referral, or by giving them a recommendation for an insightful book or a website. It could even be offering them some advice. Regardless, the best networkers understand that the path to good relationships are paved with generosity. If you haven't found a way to help, one of my favorite questions is, "how can I specifically help you?" to force the issue.

 4. Let Them Know What You Need

After you have taken the opportunity to understand and help your new connection, you're free to talk about what you do and how someone might be able to help you. Be as clear as you can about your business is about and what kinds of people you're interested in connecting and working with. Who is your ideal client and why. The best networkers don't ask for any specific help, as that obligation has already been established. Rather, it becomes clear how your new contact can help if they are able to and since you started first, they will try if they can.

5. Offer To Exchange Cards

It's only after they have had a mutually productive conversation with someone that the best networkers then ask if the other person would be interested in exchanging business cards. I usually ask, "would it be okay if we share cards?" If they say, yes, great - you can present them your card. But it's important to ask first and not just awkwardly stuff your card in their hand.

If you can put these five networking secrets in place, you will have maximized your chances of not only making great new contacts, you may find that your new acquaintances can pay forward your conversation after the event is over. If the person you connected with meets someone along the lines of who you described as your ideal client, they will remember that and then be able to hand over your card to them - creating an instant lead for you in the process.

If you can repeat these networking secrets on a regular basis, you will be amazed at all the new opportunities that will come flooding your way.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business networking association dedicated to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs develop, expand and grow. We offer affordable opportunities to help create a positive impact and advancement in your business interests and personal quality of life to take you to the next level.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The 1 New Habit That Will Improve Every Relationship You Have

If there's one magic bullet that can instantly improve nearly every interaction, it's context. It doesn't take long to establish, yet context is too often completely ignored. How many times have you seen someone snooze or scroll through a presentation, only to find out at the end that they should have been paying attention because the information impacts them? In a perfect world, we'd all be curious and alert all the time, paying attention even before someone spells out what's in it for you.

This isn't a perfect world, but we can make it a little better by taking the time to clarify context in our interactions.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make context a habit.

1. Context forces clarity. When you take the time to explain what's in it for someone else, you're also taking the time to make sure your own thinking is clear. Putting yourself in someone else's position helps to establish focus, which enables the relationship to grow and mature. It's easy to speak from your own perspective and assume that other people understand where you're coming from. But what if they don't? It will cost you.

2. Problem solving. When teams work together to solve a problem, participants need as much context as possible around the problem they are trying to solve. I once facilitated a session for a global travel company. They thought they needed to invent some spectacular new innovation for their customers. They spent a lot of time thinking about the many possible innovations they might create to make their customers happy. In the end, when their customers were brought in to discuss their issues, the problem turned out to be much easier to solve. The biggest complaint their customers had turned out to be the easiest fix imaginable. The font on the forms they had to fill out was too small. The customers explained the context of this one tiny problem that had so many tendrils, and how it sometimes forced them to seek the company's competitors, even those who offered fewer options but laid them out more clearly.

3. Water-cooler chat. Give people a few data points without context, and they will invent an entire epic of their own creation. People draw their own conclusions based on incomplete information, and together they will analyze every aspect of what you might have meant by what you said. Instead, spell it out. Start every meeting, presentation and conversation with context. "We picked this platform and we're going to use it," is begging for a behind-the-back review of possible motives. "We picked this platform after an extensive review of four of the best, feedback from employees, benchmarking against industry standards, and we are aware that it may not be exactly what we need, but we are willing to take a risk, try it out and see how it goes. We look forward to your feedback."

4. When in doubt, ask. Context is a two-way street. Don't let someone plow forward until you understand the context of what they need from you. Are you expected to provide help? Resources? Knowledge? Listen quietly and say nothing? Take the message to your boss or your team? Change how you're operating? If you don't know, ask.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business networking association dedicated to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs develop, expand and grow. We offer affordable opportunities to help create a positive impact and advancement in your business interests and personal quality of life to take you to the next level.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Don’t Let Growing Pains Take Your Business Down

 In the past year, several high-profile entrepreneurial companies have been in the news for not-so-positive reasons. Once held up as role models, these businesses and their high-profile founders (I won’t name names) are now struggling to survive. The common denominator in their downfalls? There are several, but the main culprit is too-rapid growth.

Growing fast might seem like the answer to a small business owner’s prayers. But often, the perils of rapid growth illustrate the saying, “Be careful what you wish for—you might get it.”

What lessons can you take away to help avoid the risks of rapid growth?

1. Company culture matters.

Growing businesses run into trouble when their PR persona doesn’t jibe with what’s actually happening inside the company. If you promote your business as an egalitarian, forward-thinking innovator, but your workplace is actually rife with sexual harassment, it’s only a matter of time until customers find out about the disconnect and dump you like a hot potato.

To-do: It’s easy to keep control of your company culture when there are only a few of you. However, as your business expands, be sure to instill the same culture in all your new employees. Employee handbooks, onboarding practices and systematized training help ensure everyone’s on the same page. Make sure your managers embody your company culture, too.

2. With capital comes complexity.

Getting a fat round of funding from angel investors or VCs looks like the answer to your dreams—but often becomes a nightmare. In return for the money, you now have investors looking over your shoulder and second-guessing you, or even directing you.

To-do: Before you seek financing of any kind, know what you’re getting into. If you take money from investors, you’ll need to report on results, live up to their expectations, and maybe even give up some control of your business. The alternative could be losing it entirely.

3. You’ve got to pay the bills.

Buzz and hype can take you far, but if you aren’t paying your bills on time, you’ll eventually crash and burn. Rapid growth brings new costs, as well as the temptation to splurge on fancy office furniture or an expensive advertising agency to maintain your image.

To-do: Keep careful tabs on your company’s cash flow. You may need to monitor it daily to stay on top of things. Weigh any new expenses carefully, focusing on spending in ways that will benefit your business—not your ego.

4. Hire wisely.

When rapid growth stretches your small business’ staff too thin, it’s a recipe for disaster. Overworked employees can’t do their best, and your company’s product or service quality suffers. Eventually they become resentful, spurring morale problems and potential PR disasters.

To-do: Employees are the foundation of your business, so don’t scrimp on hiring. Have plans in place for how you will add staff as needed. That doesn’t necessarily require hiring full-time employees; it could mean knowing where to find the best independent contractors, virtual employees or temporary workers.

5. Walk the walk.

You’re busier than you ever thought possible, getting next to no sleep, and walking on air from the excitement of your business dreams coming true. It’s all too easy to start believing that the rules don’t apply to you. If you expect your employees to work for peanuts or your vendors to wait for payment while you’re signing the lease on a snazzy new sports car, you’re in for a big surprise.

To-do: Never ask your team to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. Of course, you should focus most of your time on high-value activities, but you also need to be willing to get down in the trenches when it counts. Showing employees you understand their sacrifices and your partners that you honor your commitments will help your reputation grow along with your sales. -

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business networking association dedicated to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs develop, expand and grow. We offer affordable opportunities to help create a positive impact and advancement in your business interests and personal quality of life to take you to the next level.