Tag Archives | networking

Exhibitions: PLEASE don’t be boring!

Networking hat

Wearing my networking hat!

I’ve just returned from a business exhibition, with bags full of bumph that’s going straight into the recycling box.

As expected, almost every stand displayed a bowl of sweets. What is the objective of giving away sweets? To tempt people to come to your stand and talk to you. But if everyone gives away sweets, they are not a differentiator. Boring!

Many exhibitors offered me a branded pen. I tried to refuse, telling them I already have plenty of pens, thank you. But they’d say things like: “Ah, but this pen has a light on it!” (A light? I don’t think I’ve ever needed a pen with a light.) Boring!

I also came away with a range of branded pads and Post-it notes – which might be useful. But boring!

However, I am not likely to use any of the businesses that pressed their promotional products upon me. I’m only going to use a business that sells something that I want, at a price I want to pay. All the usual giveaways are a waste of money.

3 steps to exhibition heaven

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The sad truth about your one-minute pitch

elevator

Going up?

At many networking meetings, you are given the opportunity to give a 60-second ‘elevator pitch’ where you imagine you are in a lift with Bill Gates (or your ideal client) and only have one minute to tell them about your business. It’s like a walking, talking advert.

People often ask me to help with their one-minute speeches. There are endless permutations for things to say, but the objective is always to trigger more referrals.

Read this article for 11 ideas to inspire you, or scroll down to the end and discover the sad truth.

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When is LinkedIn like face-to-face networking?

LinkedInYou may know LinkedIn as the biggest and best B2B* social network. Like most business-people, you’ve probably created a LinkedIn profile. It may appear on page 1 of Google for a search of your name. But does it work for you?

Most people throw up a profile but then do nothing with it and complain that LinkedIn doesn’t work.

The best way to use LinkedIn is to post articles, get active in the groups, and to arrange introductions via intelligent searching. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

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Networking no-no

What’s the point of going networking? To get referrals.

What’s the point of getting referrals? To turn them into business.

Seems simple enough to me. So why is the concept so difficult for others to grasp?

I visited a BNI group recently where I gave a referral to a landscape gardener, asking him to quote for some work. He phoned to make an appointment, but then didn’t turn up. I phoned and left him a message to make another appointment, but he never rang back.

I visited another BNI group where I gave the same referral to a different landscape gardener. This one phoned half-an-hour in advance to confirm the appointment, turned up when he said he would, and phoned afterwards to tell me when the quote would arrive.

Which do you think is more likely to win my business? No prizes.

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Asking the right questions

I first met Annabel Meade at a book launch a few months ago. It was a business occasion, so of course, we talked about work. At first she spent time telling me about what she does in Forex, to which I made some polite response. Then she mentioned briefly that she’s also a racing driver. Suddenly, I was interested and we enjoyed a fascinating conversation!

Apparently, she spent the train journey home thinking about what I’d asked. She realised she’d been devoting her thoughts, time and energy on Forex trading. By shifting her thinking to focus more on race driving, she’s attracting more opportunities.

That’s what Annabel told me when I met her a second time at an exclusive networking thing and she thanked me for being in the right place at the right time and saying the right thing.

Top tip: Everybody has a story to tell. When you go networking, it’s your job to keep asking questions until you find out what it is.

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Recession, what recession?

In a so-called recession, there are as many advantages as disadvantages. You may be taking redundancy from corporate life, but that creates the opportunity to be your own boss. Here are my top tips if you’re starting up a new business:

1. Offer a product or service that people actually want. Don’t spread out your wares on a table (metaphorically speaking) and hope someone will walk up to buy them. Use common sense, do your market research, and just ask them! The most successful businesses respond to demand, or help their clients solve a problem or achieve a goal.

2. Make sure that what you provide is head-and-shoulders above your competitors. These days, anything second-rate is soon at risk from canny rivals. If you want to succeed, you need to have a superlative product that’s backed by the highest possible standards of service. Exceeding expectations at every stage is what it’s all about.

3. Shout about it. It’s no good being the best at something if no-one knows who you are. That’s why you need effective marketing communications. Don’t have a do-it-yourself website and free business cards if you can avoid it. Invest in professionals who know the best way to communicate your message and the visual triggers that will prompt your customers to buy.

4. You don’t have to do everything all by yourself, so get support. By asking experts in their field, you can learn from their mistakes instead of making your own. There’s plenty of free advice out there and many people are happy to help. But remember, you can’t expect to get everything for nothing, and it may be worth paying specialists if possible, to get you off to a flying start.

5. Start networking. Often, new businesses have more time than money (later, it may be more money than time!). There are a multitude of local networking organisations, from regular breakfast meetings with BNI or BRX, to lunch meetings with 1230 The Women’s Company, to specialist groups like Bromley Creative Community. As with anything, the more you put in, the more you get out. When you participate in formal or informal networking in the right way, it can deliver phenomenal results at minimal cost.

6. You might find that social media proves an effective route to market. It doesn’t have to cost a penny, yet you can build relationships that lead to sales, if you go about it with a sharing mindset.

Follow these tips, and your business can proudly join me in saying ‘recession, what recession?’

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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Objective setting

ChickenThe biggest questions start with Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. And the greatest of all is Why. Consider why you do any marketing before you start. Work out what is your most wanted response to any online or offline marketing communication.

For your print marketing, do you want to get someone to pick up the phone or send an email? If yes, make this ‘call to action’ big and bold so they can’t miss it.

When people visit your website, do you want to capture their email address for future use? (If not, you should!) Then encourage them to sign up to a non-salesy newsletter and offer an incentive such as an exclusive downloadable report.

Why send a newsletter? Not to be an advert. To keep in touch, remind people you exist and what you do, and ultimately, so you are in the front of their mind when they need you or know someone who does (nudge nudge, hint hint).

Why are you on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Google+? It’s not directly to boost sales, but you might undertake some social media activity in order to drive traffic to your site (where you do your selling). Remember, once you’ve attracted someone to your website, you don’t want to lose them to your content elsewhere. So don’t make too much emphasis on the social media icons on your site in case people click away.

And finally, why do you network face-to-face? It’s not to sell to people in the room – it’s to build relationships that may lead to referrals in future.

photo credit: Why via photopin (license)

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Givers gain?

I attended a BNI visitor day recently, where the Regional Director lauded the philosophy of ‘givers gain': “If I give you business, you’ll want to give me business”.

I approve of the sentiment but not the way he expressed it. Sometimes you refer business to one person and someone else refers business back to you. It’s not always a direct exchange.

But things got worse.

In the so-called ‘positive contribution’ session, this same Regional Director waved a referral slip in the air while saying the equivalent of: “Dear Mr Guest, I have a fabulous referral here for you; it’s exactly what you asked for in your 1-minute pitch. All you have to do is fill in the application form and pay whatever-hundred pounds to join today, and I’ll be more than happy to pass it over to you”.

Hmm. If givers really do gain, surely you should simply give with an open heart and no strings attached?

That’s the way I do it, and it works for me!

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