December, morning coffee…

It was a typically dark, cold December morning and I was more than pleased when Natasha and coffee arrived, just as we surveyed the setting for today’s business over breakfast.

Approaching headlights suggested that our hostess Natasha and I wouldn’t be alone for long though, the first of our company this morning were on their way.

Nice and early Martin!’ I said, glancing at the clock on the clubhouse wall, 06.45.

Courtesy of the Mrs, Charlie. My car had broken-down over the weekend so Sue and the kids kindly offered a lift, they needed to be at school early anyway … I’ll be meeting ‘Bruce the garage’ here as he’s running me back after today’s meeting to attend the vehicle.

‘Sounds like a plan Martin.’

The tail-lights of ‘taxi Sue’s’ car receded in the distance, dawn was finally on its way as were others for our weekly business meeting.

Even on a dark winter’s morning, we enjoyed a good attendance, plenty of interaction and discussion, the business flowed and with a near full-house … apart from ‘Bruce the garage.’

Martin had received a message to say he’d been called out for ‘an emergency’ and that he’d be in touch asap.

‘The best-laid plans eh, Martin?’

Any chance of a lift over my way Charlie?

Among those at the meeting, someone managed the lift Martin needed with an added bonus … the driver knew he could hook-up Martin with an alternative local garage – a ‘start-up’ looking for more business so it wasn’t long before Martin was back on the road and ‘taxi Sue’ back in the old routine.

‘Bruce the garage’ had left an impression, sadly nothing to enamour his reputation as the ‘go to’ service either.

Today in business, relationships matter. Even more so if you are a service provider, business is personal. It’s not what you have or what you can do that impresses your next best client, it’s how you relate.

community network

Community-focused networking has lots of benefits, some are immediately evident, others need clarification and I was witness to this just recently as around twenty met over ‘brunch.’

Our guest was Michael has a lot of domestic responsibility, being the ‘office at home’ and supporting two young kids. He loved the idea of opportunity through engagement, connecting with others in business. The same for many sharing a similar routine these days …

‘Great business today Charlie, met some good people and so glad I accepted your invitation.’

It’s taking that first step, isn’t it? That’s where the intimidation lies, right? Stepping outside of the ‘comfort zone’ into an alien landscape, we all become moulded by our routines and I think Michael was no exception.

With a greater number working from the home office, we soon realise the value of people.

‘I didn’t know what to expect really. Although, I was half expecting the selly-sell, and/or the ‘sign-up’ so today was a refreshing change.’

‘Yes Michael, it is good to have you with us and course there are those who come along fishing for business, with focus on the referral. Others Michael, are just as happy to engage views, share the dialogue, focus on areas of passion, of need and the point of view, not to mention collaboration and to ultimately sample the ‘culture.’

Business is at times a secondary consideration – or ‘the bonus’ as some put it.

Seems to me, the development of community engagement is important, not least because it inspires better efficiencies by creating belonging. Along with a clear infrastructure, community helps us all, in whatever line business.

Most especially, those working from the home office.

‘Happy people mean a happy business, right?’

True Michael, cultivating the community network has enabled many to plan for the realisation of longer-term goals, the chance to step away from the monthly/quarterly led management figures and visualise the ‘bigger picture’.

Cultivating community delivers so much more. Community inspires relationships, affinity, infrastructure and ultimately the trust – then comes referral.

Why pay me?

Hey, I can do better than that, why should I pay you?

‘Why should I pay you, when I know I could produce the same, just as well, if not even better than you?’”

Friends, do you ever have one of ‘those’ days where everyone seems to be the expert with an opinion?

The following excerpt came via a recent conversation with Tracey Bloxham, Tracey is a highly reputable photographer and a friend of our Friday forum.

I’d barely broken a sweat this Monday morning (what is it with Monday?) when this particular local wise-ass, know-it-all surfaced. He also happened to be a new client.

Let’s identify him as ‘the WAKA.’

I went ahead and offered ‘wise ass know it all’ use of my preferred tool of trade, the latest Nikon (very expensive) DSLR.

‘Please, take the camera, ideal for the interior portraits you called me in for. See if you think you can use this Mr WAKA.’

Nah, far too complicated, besides I’m supposed to be in the picture.”

‘Take the camera, let’s see your skills.’

No, don’t bother, photography is not my trade, besides that’s why I’m employing you.”

Correct.

You have asked me over to visit your home on a Saturday to take portraits of your family. You know I am qualified, I’ve had 20 years experience with plenty of recommendations.

I haven’t the time to do the job myself, besides …’ began our friendly WAKA.

‘Yes, I know, you’re supposed to be in the photo …ok, so you book me here (I continued) to spend 4 hours of my time with the skills I’ve honed and developed over years in my professional industry, skills and time that you simply do not have …

I know I do ‘rant’ at times although our WAKA needed to know this so I went on…

You see, when we engage or pay for professional services, we’re not simply buying the product. We buy the person who is celebrated for what they do. We buy solutions. Someone with the skills and craftsmanship that we don’t necessarily have or which we are unable to use efficiently ourselves.

Beware the WAKA folks, they could cost you your sanity at the very least …

Innovation

In my business, I get plenty of questions. Mostly these focus on the difference. Innovation and how they can increase the level of business.

It’s something I ask myself on a daily basis. How about you?

If we’re not ‘on top of our game’ it’s very easy for business these days to find that they’ve become lost in the crowd. Even if we start out with all the right intentions, if we’re not aware of the needs of our audience, we soon find we’ve become one of a number of others producing the same service/product provision … and so guess what?

We need to focus on innovation. Diversity, innovation and timing are so important.

Sure, timing is something we can tune into, as learned business people it’s over time we come to understand the seasonal landscape and learn to pitch for the max reaction.

Now if we embrace diversity, if we consciously focus on that one special something that sets us apart from the rest … then put this into practice, this is where we become more successful.

Innovators themselves are on the lookout for innovation …

Be an innovator.

We’re tuned in, to listen out, so find your diversity and think ‘my innovation,’ be mindful and talk it up when that question inevitably comes …

‘What can you, do for me?

Lose the bad apple

The bad apple. When it comes to referral some of us are our own worst enemies, don’t you think?

I’m writing in business context here, my young friend Ben had told me about a referral that sounded promising. Naturally Ben was upbeat about the connection and as is good practice, he followed up right away.

It turns out, this referral wasn’t picking up the telephone, made excuses via email and over the course of a couple of days the opportunity petered-out.

Seen it before folks? Here was another example of fast-track to oblivion in terms of referral marketing. Who was going to refer such a person after speaking with Ben? It’s true, bad news does indeed travel fast via word of mouth.

I did my best to reassure Ben that not all of his networking efforts are deemed to go the same way although I could see he was disappointed.

Trust is so important, Ben knows this, he had already made some great contacts so he could move on.

It’s six months now since I began working with Ben and his family as they establish the ‘new generation’ and over that time we’ve managed to avoid the unreliable ‘apple,’ determined the USP, covered ‘The Plan’ and worked on our ‘top ten’ attributes developing the dependable referral network … how do they compare with your own?

Attitude Do you have one? Ensure that it’s the positive kind.

Enthusiasm. Just like attitude, it’s contagious and brings out the best during networking.

Good Listener. Be sincere, how do you know what others want unless you listen?

Sharing. Share the knowledge, the good news and more, develop the relationship.

Trustworthy. Build trust by trusting others, sit down and listen to those new contacts.

Showing Gratitude. If someone helps out – that’s a great reason to say ‘thank you.’

Enjoy Helping Others. Some don’t ask it, so make sure you do: “How can I help you?”

Work Their Network …be on hand to support your colleagues.

Recommend others. Then ask them to recommend you.

Follow Up On The Referral. Nothing poisons the relationship faster than not following up on your promises. (Just ask Ben.)

Hey Charlie, that guy doesn’t bother me. He’s his own worst enemy and as far as I’m concerned, I cannot afford to be associated with him.”

That’s understood Ben just like your colleagues in your referral network.

Less trauma, less stress

Most in business understand that reaching out to new customers is key to growing the business and certainly contributes to our own personal development.

Some though, find that engagement through networking can be stressful, traumatic and in some cases, less than profitable.

So we shall keep it simple. Let’s take the stress out of PTSD.

There are just the three essential ingredients in becoming successful when networking:

Preparation.

Know what it is you want, know your audience, understand what makes you different and be prepared to ask for referrals. Work on the USP before you start your network journey.

Timing.

Once you’ve prepared, be there. All the preparation comes to nothing if you are not prepared to step out and engage your potential next best customer. Be Miss (or Mr) Consistent. Sure ‘being there’ creates its own opportunity through luck … although remember, the practice is called netWORKing …

Delivery.

When the time comes to introduce yourself, do so with confidence in your abilities, boldly outline what it is you are looking for, people will love you for it, show sincerity, don’t forget to smile … and be willing to ask for the help you need.

That’s it, work on the fundamentals as you invest your time in people and others will start to invest their own time in you.

The outstanding multitude of magic ingredients? These become more obvious over time.