Tag Archives: networking

mini diasporas & linkedin

The EconomistI read a nice article in The Economist last week, it was entitled “The Magic of Diasporas”. And since I was in London going to and “Australian Business UK” function, It made me feel even more connected to my fellow Aussies. Diasporas are described by Wikipedia as “the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland”

Anyway the article mainly focussed on the Chinese and Indian diaspora. There are 22M Indian’s living outside India and more Chinese living and working outside of China (est. 83M) than there are people in France! Closer to home, it estimated that around 5% of Australian’s live O/S at anyone time. Diasporas are a major force in the world when you consider the fact that China isn’t so much a country with borders, but a billion people spread over the world!

The article indicated that the value of diasporas came down to three things:

1. They accelerate communication of ideas and opportunities between different locations.

2. They foster trust, as you would naturally prefer to do business with a countryman overseas.

3. They foster collaboration, as disaporas capitalise on opportunities between regions.

Although the article was fascinating, it wasn’t immediately useful to me, until I started thinking about what I termed mini-diasporas. More than once I have been a member of a large group of people that have each eventually gone their separate ways, spreading out through different regions and industries. I finished high school with around 180 others, graduated from University in a class of around 40, graduated from Officer School with a group of 14, and have been a member of variety of different small businesses with staff from 3 to 180. So how to take advantage of this?

The answer of course is Linkedin. I would recommend to anyone joining Linkedin to connect with their fellow employees. Although initially this wouldn’t seem to be of much use, my experience through managing a mailing list of a couple of thousand people is that 33% of people changed employers every two years. Therefore by connecting with the people you currently work with, you are hooking into a network that will be wide flung within a few years. And by activating this network through regular updates on what you are up to, you gain mindshare with the people in it as you each find your own way.

5 Steps to Becoming a Great Networker

I sat there one Christmas and watched the sales people walk in with baskets of goodies and bottles of whiskey, and wondered why there was nothing for me. Initially I thought it was because as the Accountant, I wasn’t particularly client facing. But after a fair bit of naval gazing, I realised it was simply because I wasn’t a people person. A bit more thinking and I realised that since every opportunity that had ever come to me, came from a person – maybe I should change my ways and become a bit of a networker, rather than just being good at my job.

networkingNow an old colleague, psychologist Peter Zarris says, “If you’re over 30 and you want to change, its going to hurt, and if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not really changing.” Therefore, having decided to change, I knew my journey to being a good people person and networker was going to hurt.

I looked around for information on how to become a good networker, and found plenty of resources, hundreds in fact. But they were all pretty much on what I should be doing, not how to get there i.e. Standards I wouldn’t live up to, or Tests I would fail. Therefore I decided to build my own “training programme” which I feel is now proven, so I decided to share.

1. Decide People are Important

Really, you have to believe in your heart that all people are important, and not just as potential clients/partners/influencers/friends/lovers. Everyone has their own unique attributes, that are almost always completely hidden from you – such as who their best friend is, or what their special talent is. Therefore networking isn’t just some strategy where you judge people and move them them on quickly if they aren’t of immediate use to you. Instead its a more of a life choice where you attempt to uncover who the person is, what they have going on in their life and appreciate them for what they are. It maybe that their value to you is an insight, a joke, a friendship, a service, or it could be that they have a mate or sibling that could be a potential customer. An added bonus its that when you have decided someone is important, it doesn’t require effort or a system to remember their name.

By the way, you are important too. There is no point networking if you think everyone is better than you, because they won’t want to connect with you. Now I’m not suggesting you be vain or arrogant, what I am suggesting is you get to know yourself, all your attributes and figure out what you have of value.

Top tip : Try mapping out all your attributes, not just business ones. By externalising them through consciously writing or drawing them, means you are forced to recognise them and you will remember them downstream.

2. Master the Art of Conversation

You can’t network if you can’t hold a conversation, and conversation is a hell of a lot more than just grilling someone or delivering a monologue about what you do. The art of conversation is about being able to talk freely and easily with others whether its small talk or expressing big ideas. Its about being a good listener and being able to understand exactly what people are saying, and how the feel about things.

Family and friends are a great place to practice the art of conversation – rather than being quiet and a listener at dinner, start getting chatty and ask people about their day. The more you practice the more relaxed you become. Small talk with strangers normally starts with me asking about the origin of their name. Not because its a technique, but because a name is the first thing offered, and I am endlessly intrigued by the origins of names. When I met Susan Youngblood last week, how could I not wonder where her name came from?

Top tip : Everyone likes talking about themselves a bit.

3. Overcome Shyness

Shyness is part of the human condition as we are all endlessly concerned that we will be rejected by strangers. My observation is that shyness doesn’t magically vanish as you become more senior, it just presents as gruffness or cool formality rather than an awkward silence.

To network effectively you need to overcome shyness and the only way to do that is to practice, practice, practice being relaxed with strangers.

The easiest way I have found is to start with quick conversations that are about the environment. “God its hot”, “That floor is really slippery”. Once you get comfortable with this, you can even start treating everyone a bit like a friend – connecting with them at a “we are all the same under the skin level”. Such as telling someone they are your “new best friend for the next 30 seconds”, while you share their umbrella and cross a road in the rain. However don’t stay overly friendly after the opening statement as its not that far a jump from nice guy to weirdo, when speaking to strangers.

Top tip : Always speak to strangers in elevators, they will be gone in a minute so it doesn’t matter if it goes pear shaped.

4.  Create Networking Opportunities

Now that you now how to do small talk and are no longer shy, its time to take your new found abilities out for a spin. Create some networking opportunities for yourself. This could be joining a club, going to an industry function or volunteering to assist a special interest group make things happen. They only thing I suggest you don’t do is go to networking functions. They are generally full of junior people desperately hoping you are an opportunity for them – and quickly discarding you if you aren’t. Yuck.

Top tip : Always do some research before going to a function. Its a lot easier to remember people’s names if you have reviewed the guest list or read the speaker’s bio.

5.  Systemise!

Now that you are networking, you need to grow and feed your network, rather than just have a series of transactions. The solution to this is to of course use technology, and develop the right habits and processes. So not only do you have a large network, you have mindshare with that network.

Firstly, never be shy to hand out business cards and make it a habit of having them with you. Secondly, add the new contact details you receive immediately into your contacts, or CRM system, or LinkedIn. Thirdly, send your new contact a short note, saying “nice to meet you” and confirming any agreements,

This way you will make the new connection “real” and you will have mindshare with them when they see an opportunity that suits you. You will also see a record of your network growing over time, which makes you feel you are achieving something.

Top Tip: Using a social network like LinkedIn means that you can constantly “feed” or add value to your network with little snippets, without looking pushy.

The Results

And the results? I have been living like this for about 5 years and it took me way out of my comfort zone, but now unsurprisngly its easy. I have gone from having 25 connections on Linkedin to around 900, my mobile phone went from having 100 contacts to 2,500. Consequently, I get a slow but steady stream of invitations to speak at forums and get involved in new opportunities.

Plus, I get plenty of Christmas gifts :)

Dont go to networking events, if you want to build a great network

NetworkingThe two weeks or so ago I took part in a panel session on Networking for CIOs. It was an interesting conversation although it pretty much centred around event attendance and using social networking tools like LinkedIn. At the end of the session, as I reflected on what  had come out of it, I was surprised to find that the concept of “networking events” continues to be appealing to many people.

I find networking events quite pointless and in fact a little unsavoury, and thought I should  put up some arguments to why they are a waste of time time anyone looking to build a great business network.

The Quality of the Network

A great business network isn’t necessarily a large one, but it is full of people that are shaping their own worlds.

1. People with issues that need solving in their business, have no motivation to attend networking events – instead they attend knowledge based events to help them find solutions. To them, networking could be a bonus, not the point of attending. My experience is that networking events are overwhelmingly attended by people with a “supplier” mindset, not “customer”. So you are unlikely to make interesting connections.

2. I have never met a senior executive or person of profile at a networking event, other than when they were presenting. Networking events are almost exclusively attended by very junior people. Since I have never met anybody that wanted to network down, rather than with peers or upwards, you have got to ask yourself “Will I meet the CEO there, or just junior sales staff?”

3. The most interesting and valuable opportunities I have ever come across have been with people completely outside my own area of activity. If you are an Accountant, who only ever turns up to Accounting industry networking events, exactly who do you think you are going to meet?

Your Value & Mindshare

A great business network is two sided. You value people in it as much as they value you.

4. I own two shovels that are identical, because I forgot I already owned one when I needed a shovel. So a great networking connection is one where who you are and your value gets remembered the next day. Unfortunately networking events rarely generate that type of connection as the purpose is to meet as many people as possible – so that you increase your chances of getting lucky and finding an opportunity.

5. Networking events also tend to be very industry or location specific so that your own value proposition tends to get hidden in the white noise of the event. For instance would you rather be an lawyer at a legal function, or a lawyer at an event full of multimedia people looking to expand overseas?

Attributes of the Secondary Network

A great business network connects you to other great networks.

6. Just working a room looking for opportunities is a completely soulless activity. But not only that, it also means that you may miss out out on tapping into the networks of the people you meet. Something that’s wonderful to hear is “I need to introduce you to a friend of mine”. Those words don’t get spoken at networking events, because everybody is just to focussed on pushing their own message and desperately hoping for a win.

So my argument is that if you want to build a great business network, attend events from different disciplines where knowledge transfer is the primary goal, not just networking. Not only is it more effective, but a much more palatable way to live your life.

Alternate Resume

I have this idea I like to play with which I call the “Alternative Resume”.

Everyone we meet in business has a resume. Its normally a very dry, 3-6 page document that lists your contact details and all your achievements, in chronological order. Every item on it has been phrased to make you look your best. The only point of this document appears to be getting you a job.

All of us have another resume though, I call it then “alternative resume”. Its terrible for getting you a job but its absolutely fantastic for networking.

The alternative resume is all about the stuff that makes you interesting, but isn’t a self promoting achievement. For instance:

  • For the life of me I can’t figure out why the Square root button is on every single calculator, despite the fact that less than 1% of the population knows how to use it.
  • I have fair skin and grew up in Perth so I know what the Dermatologists scalpel feels like.
  • I met a guy who worked for Telstra, whom I can’t remember anything else about him other than he went to school with Elle McPherson.
  • I went to School with Darren Bennett, who was famous (at school) for clocking the P.E. Teacher whilst playing footy at the school.
  • My moral dilemma in March was accusing then convincing an old flatmate that he had stolen my wetsuit 15 years ago. A week later my brother in-law gave it back to me (because I had loaned it to him 10 years ago).  I haven’t told my old flatmate though because I was embarrassed.

A strange group of things to disclose about myself, however they all share one attribute. They are interesting little bits and pieces about me that make me memorable.

You see its not the size of your network, or who you know, its whether you have mind share that matters. When I meet new people, the easiest way to have them remember me is to make them feel comfortable, as if I was an old friend. So unless there is a good reason not to, I like to share details from my “alternative resume”. Its the easiest way to “get to know someone” and have them remember me.

I don’t think I’m mechanical or insincere when I do this, because I am genuinely interested in getting to know people. I also avoid over-sharing, which is why I haven’t told the “stinky suit story” today.

6 tips for “un-networking”

Imagine this scenario….

  • You go to a networking event, hovering at the edges of the crowd , desperately searching for someone you know, so you can chat and relax.
  • Succumbing to the pressure to “network” you give up and introduce yourself to a nearby stranger, who is also standing by themselves.
  • To your disappointment your realise that they are not going to be interesting to you professionally.
  • To your horror you realise that the reason they were standing by themselves is that they lack social skills / basic hygiene / sanity.
  • And with a sinking feeling of absolute failure and desolation, you then realise that they aren’t going to let you go, now that they have made a “friend”.

This was one of the situations I was thinking about when I was interviewed by Mark Jones of the Financial Review for his Scoop podcast last week. Although the discussion was primarily around networking for CIO’s, I thought it would also be useful to talk about some techniques for “un-networking” or disengaging with people at networking events.

Since at networking type events you need to kiss a lot of frogs, I thought I’d share six tips on disengaging that I regularly use.

  1. Take the cowards way out – excuse yourself and go to the loo/bar/table with canape (you know you can easily do dinner on canape at networking events!).
  2. Hold off giving your business card to the end of the conversation because giving business cards can be used as a natural ending. “Great to meet you, here’s my card, call me if you need my services”.
  3. Invite any additional “singles” around you into your group, so when you disengage, there isn’t an awkward “I’m dumping you” moment.
  4. Merge your group with another group. Everyone at the event is their to meet new people, despite the fact they may be standing in closed circle with their backs out. Although it feels uncomfortable, I have never ever been knocked back when I have asked “Can we join you?”
  5. Keep looking over the the crowd to find someone you know that either a.) should meet your new friend , or b.) you feel like shafting. Drag your new “friend” over and introduce them, then depart gracefully.
  6. Avoid the person that has poor dress sense, has sweaty hair plastered down on their head and is standing by themselves. Its highly likely that they will “lock on” to you making it difficult to escape. In my experience they will try to follow you to the loo/bar/table with canape.

Having to regularly “work the crowd” at Churchill Club events I have found that all of these tips work, and become easier with practice. This isn’t a comprehensive list though, so if you have any more ideas, I’d love to know.

Networking Up

Yesterday I had a cuppa with a good friend of mine where she chatted about some issues at her workplace. She works for a not-for-profit with national reach and a couple of thousand employees. Although the discussion covered a variety of topics, an issue she mentioned was  the all to common problem of  coordination and liaison between similar functional units within different business units. And although everyone was kind of aware of the issue, it was difficult to get any traction to resolve it as they were all just simply too busy and nobody owned it.

This friend also wanted to enjoy a better profile within her organisation as someone whom could make change happen so I let her in on a couple of little secrets of mine…..

Secret number one
The problem with specialisation in an area is that you tend to be blind to how other areas solve the same problem. As she works in HR,  she just doesn’t ask herself – how would a salesperson approach this problem?  Cross pollination of ideas from different professions (or even just plain theft of ideas) is a massively simple route to innovation that’s all too often overlooked.   But getting to the point – I as the business development guy told her what I would do.

Secret number two
Dinners are great ways to get a group of people to focus on an issue. I have talked about running discussion dinners before, but the benefits are:  You get their complete attention for an extended period, you get to connect with people through the informal discussion & anecdotes, and its much more pleasant than a 45min meeting programmed into a meeting room.  I like to have a formal agenda that I split up over a set menu.   The issue with dinners though is how do you get people to attend outside work hours? See Secret Number Three.

Secret number three
Nobody wants to network down, they want to network with equals or people perceived to be more senior than them. So you need to get someone seriously senior at the dinner (and not necessarily from your organisation).  But how do you get someone seriously senior? Well firstly they need to be the “guest of honour” with clear expectations of their role ( no homework, just wise insights on the topic).    Secondly you need to work with their schedule, not yours.  Almost every discussion dinner I have ever run (some years 20 plus dinners) has had someone whom was initially a stranger happily accept the role of guest of honour because its a highly appealing offering to most people.  And once you have got your guest of honour, the other invitees will move their life around to ensure they make the dinner, because they all want to network up.  The added bonus here is that you if you get a senior person in your organisation to attend, the chances of having your dinner sponsored improve dramatically.

The interesting thing is that this approach doesn’t just work for large enterprises.  I have regularly engaged small business owners and sole practitioners at dinner.  The only trick is figuring out how they define “networking up”.

Networking and Manners

Last week I met with a woman who facilitates cultural change within large enterprises.  The discussion was around business development for sole practitioners, plus a small Joomla based website that we were deploying for her to manage some communications issues.  She had realised that her client base was starting to thin out a little whilst she was distracted working on a large project for 12 months, and consequently needed  to give things a push along.  Since her offering is what I would call “soft” she needed to get some new relationships happening (as compared to spending her bucks on SEO for her website).

Because of this, I decided to connect her up with another woman I had been dealing with recently who worked in a similar field.  My thinking was that there were some potential synergies and I was amused by the fact that they both had man’s names so there was a potential surprise for both of them.

My email went like this:

Hi X &Y.

1.   I like both of you, and am working with both of you.
2.   You are both sole practitioners operating in similar areas.
3.   I think you should meet  / have coffee / see if there are any synergies.

X is in Inner West, Y is in Inner East.   Ball is in your court.

X’s Contact Details

Y’s Contact details

Cheers
Brendan

I do this kind of connecting at least once a week as I am a big believer in paying it forward.   Sometimes I even do it on demand, but only if asked nicely, as per this great HBR article .  An interesting side effect of me doing this connecting  is I get an almost instant insight into the character of people.  From some people I get an immediate thank you, a note that lets me know whether contact is being made and another downstream to let me know if there is any outcomes from the connection.  From others I get silence, then usually  an email two months later asking for the contact details again.  So guess who I feel obliged to help out and will connect up again?

Just a reminder in a time of social media and personal brand, that manners matter.  And its difficult to measure opportunities lost, when you never knew they existed.

Networking and Names

When I gave up the darts after 15 or so years as a smoker, it was really hard for me. I tried a whole lot of systems but they all failed. Then it occurred to me that the only thing the systems had in common were that they were systems, and hence I had something to lay blame on when I failed. I then decided to go cold turkey so I could only blame myself if I failed. Surprise, surprise it worked – as I couldn’t bare to think of myself as too weak willed to give up smoking. This “me making the change” rather than using a system is now a recurring theme in my life.

So last weekend I had two different people asked me “how come you know so many people and how do you remember all the names?”   The answer, which sounded a little disingenuous was that I had become genuinely interested in people and actively try to meet new people.  What I discovered was that if you are genuinely interested in people, their story, their ambitions and their personal circumstances, its incredibly easy to remember their name as you’ve got to know them, not categorised them in you head.

As I mentioned last blog, I don’t care wheter someone is a CEO or a cleaner.  When I meet someone new, I focus on them.  Where they came from, where they are going, and who is with them on the journey.  Conversation is never difficult as everyone loves to talk about themselves and are generally subject matter experts.    I don’t have a flowchart running in my head, asking the question “Are they an opportunity? – Yes / No”.  There is only a small chance that they are an opportunity, but what’s almost certain is that they will have opportunities for me within their own network and if I have mindshare with them, I communicate my needs clearly and they have goodwill towards me – they will bring those opportunities to my attention.

I also discovered four other things about meeting and remembering the names and circumstances of a large number of people:

  1. Like most things in life it becomes easier and easier with practice until eventually you have unconscious competence.
  2. Its just as easy to remember 1,500 people as it is 15, if you actually know the person.
  3. The more people you know, the more likely it is that you can help out members of your netowrk and generate good will by introducing people.
  4. Its much better way to live your life, to connect with people rather than going hunting

I know that sounds a bit trite but it makes me enjoy my career and selling rather than just playing a role.  Really what could be more interesting that spending your life getting to know, understand and help other people.

Expanding your Network

Last blog I talked about the best Business Development people I know being great networkers, so I thought I’d talk a bit more this week about expanding your network.

Despite Social Networking being all the rage :  LinkedIn, TwitterFacebook.  I am not very keen on connecting to people I haven’t met.  There is a concept called being a an Open Networker.  This is about making connections via social networks to as many people as you can (tens or hundreds of thousands) – LinkedIn’s version of this is called being a LION.   I see the whole thing as being pointless in that the number of records in a database somewhere that refer to me has little if no impact on me and calling them “friends” is just plain silly if you don’t know or care about these people.   I am however a big user of these social networks though as they allow me to be efficient communicating with the people I already know plus exposing me to new and interesting people to meet.

But when expanding my network, there is a number of things I like to do.  I tend to think they are obvious, but I have been assured that they are not as people to get stuck into ruts. Stuff that I like includes:

  • Going to functions in my industry where I can gain knowledge (networking only is soulless).   I note that if this is your thing, then get yourself on the committee running the show as you are guaranteed to meet more people, interesting people and  its a great credibility thing to do.  Just remember though you are more likely to network with the same competitors, over and over again.
  • Going to functions where potential clients will go – I vastly prefer to do this than hang out with competitors.
  • Going to functions that pique my interest – Its easy to develop a relationship with people when you are both passionate about the same thing.
  • Arranging functions to discuss issues that I find of interest – Nothing better than a good discussion dinner with people you barely know and lots of wine to flesh out some issues.  I have spoken about this in previous blogs.
  • Getting involved in volunteer work – You’d be surprised who you run into.  For me I do a lot of work volunteering at my children’s school and have been surprised about the number of truely interesting people I have met, digging mcuk out of drains with me.
  • Speaking to strangers – I jsut can’t let an opportunity in an elevator go by.  If nothing lese it helps you get over the jitters of speaking to a stranger.

My rule of thumb when meeting new people is that 95% of them are probably feeling conflicted – afraid of speaking to strangers, but desperately wanting to meet new people.  Groups of people chatting are generally jsut groups of the same whom are massively relieved they don’t have to start a new conversation with a stranger.  Therefore when I say “hi” to someone new – they are probably really happy I did just that.

So by now you probably thinking “you need to be a bit discerning though – you don’t want to meet just anyone”.   Unfortunately, I disagree and would like to give you some recent(ish) examples.

  • I have been dismissed by a politician as she though becuase of the circumstances of our meeting,  her party had my vote and my donation. Turns out that they only had my donation.
  • I have chatted to housewives who turned out to have been previously a Director of public companies with workforces of over 10,000 – who decided to take a couple of years off to spend quality tim with her small children, but was really still well connected.
  • I have chatted to cleaners who have given me free tickets to sporting events where their cousin was playing.

The thing is that it turns out that everyone in your network has value, either directly or through their own networks.  but more on this next week.

Networking Numbers

I was thinking the other day about two guys I knew that were really good at generating new business.  Earlier in the day I had dismissed both of them with the comment – “they are only selling into their existing networks”.  but at my afternoon coffee, I wondered whether I had thrown the “baby out with the bathwater”.

Mulling over the situation, I realised three things.
1.    They found selling easy because generally their clients were buying off a mate.
2.    They had very large networks that they maintained through regularly communications and catch ups (they never ate breakfast or lunch alone).   These catch ups and communications never appeared mechanical or insincere.
3.    They actively sought opportunities to grow their network.

I also started to think of the mathematics of what was happening.

For those who have read my work before, you would now that I regularly assert that only about 5% of your network has opportunity for you, and the average person has a network of around 150 people.  This means that the average network has around 7.5 opportunities.  Which explains to me why the vast majority of IT services firms I meet go down the gurgular after about two years  – as they don’t market themselves, instead asserting that “people just know how good we are, so we get lots of work.”  In truth, over the course of 2-3 years these firms soak up the opportunities within their network, plus a couple of referrals, never noticing they were accessing a finite resource.

If however these firms expanded their networks – 10 fold is the target that Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson  likes, so that their network was 1,500 rather than 150 – they would have 75 opportunities in their network instead.

Or, if these people “activated” their networks so that they had mind share with everyone in their network – as well as goodwill and a clear message about what opportunities looked like to them –  then their opportunities could explode exponentially.  If every member of your 150 person network was also looking for opportunities for you and they each had around 150 people  – you could have access to upto 1,125 opportunities.

So next week – How to expand your network.