Posts Tagged ‘Self promotion’

A new networking bonanza has started. Last week I attended the first in a long run of graduation parties. The adult daughter of a friend was there, a young woman I have known since she was 2 years old. In chatting with her I learned that she was moving home to start a second master’s degree so she could change careers.

It seems there was a time that people did this because they were unhappy with their job or career, now I am running into people going back to school because they can’t find work in a career they love.

Well, not if I can help it. Hearing her story, my networking light switched on and I thought of four people I knew  — not well, but well enough to contact on behalf of someone else. Every single person I emailed responded, and my friend has one interview set up already.

What really made me think was how easy it was to email, pick up the phone and send a Facebook message for someone else. It can be so hard to do all those things to ask for work or help for yourself. So this brings me to three conclusions:

  • It’s not as hard as we think. Most people won’t kill you for calling or blacklist you for one email inquiry. In fact, when I am relaxed and have something specific to say, I have had some great conversations from cold and warm calls.
  • Or maybe it is that hard. If reaching out by phone or email still feels like torture, do it on behalf of someone else.  Of the people I called one was a past client from ages ago, one was a fellow board member I hadn’t spoken to in years, and one was a person I had met once at a networking function but am on her mailing list. The last was the sister of a high school friend. None were people I speak to regularly or feel like I know well, but contacting even loose or old connections for someone else felt like second nature.
  • You can make it a little easier. I am always happy to call someone I know to help them out, but I rarely think to ask someone to do it on my behalf. It is hard to ask favors, but worth it. Most people you know would be happy to help – they just don’t really understand what you do or what you need. A party is a great place to chat about what you are looking for. I had forgotten the field my friend was in and was surprised I had four contacts who were great prospects for her.

By the way, in reaching out for my friend, I ended up scheduling a meeting with the networking contact. While that wasn’t my intent, what I realize I did was rekindle four stagnant relationships. So, one party down, at least four more on the calendar. Great opportunities to reconnect with old friends, meet new people, be honest about where I need help and grateful for the generosity of others.


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Lately I have had the opportunity to do some more focused networking. and have already noticed the difference. Attending a networking event where everyone in the room is a potential client offers significantly more potential for striking up a valuable conversation.

As noted by Chris Brogan in his recent post Get More Out of Conferences and Networking Events, at any event the questions of “…which of these are people you should connect with? Who here is a client? Who’s a future partner? Where are your new friends that you’ll keep in touch with in coming years?” make it hard to jump in.  Choosing your event carefully can make it so much easier.

At a broad networking event, say a Chamber, local business group or  a vertical organization (like gender, nationality or religion based) you will meet a wide variety of people. These are excellent venues to meet potential clients, referrers, partners, suppliers, and lunch partners. Over time and with a commitment to the group, relationships build that allows this to happen. Open groups are also excellent for practicing networking skills.

Targeted networking is about fishing where the highest concentrations of fish are. If you sell products or services to real estate agents, there may be a few at general networking events, but at the association of realtors meeting the room will be full of prospects. You probably can’t pick a bad seat. If you don’t meet the perfect prospect, you are still likely to learn something raises the value proposition of the event.

To find events right for you look at your target audiences. Even if you can work with anyone, defining a few core areas will improve your positioning and marketing effectiveness. Having a focus makes it easier to make decisions and respond to inquiries and more likely that you will be seen as a resource rather than a vendor when attending industry events. As an example, look at Gail Bower. Gail is a consultant who works with nonprofits handling many issues including marketing and event strategy. Within this area Gail has a special niche – she is a sponsorship expert. Where is Gail networking? Not at generic marketing or event planning groups, but at much more narrow events like a meeting of fundraising professionals or a group for festival planners. When she mentions she has solutions to sponsorship problems, I bet heads turn.

In the right room, Gail is a rock star. Where is your room? What do you know that a specific audience will think is gold?  Chances are there’s a group, meeting, conference or association where you can turn heads too. How do you find that room? Ask your current clients what associations or professional societies they belong to, research online and look for conferences where the speakers are talking about your niche. Go as an attendee the first time to make sure you are in the right place then move on to speaking, serving on a committee, providing a financial or in-kind donations and/or becoming a trade show vendor. Contributing your time and expertise to the right audience is an excellent way to build relationships that lead to speaking invitations, referrals and client engagements.

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My niece started college this year at a large state university. Due to scheduling, she wasn’t able to join the club sport she participated in all through high school. It wasn’t long before she realized that she was having trouble finding a group among the masses and needed to find a way to scale down her experience. As a child she was a swimmer, so she joined the swimming club and has now found a group she can call her own. The huge crowd has been brought down to relationship scale.

When joining a new organization the size can often be overwhelming. Joining – or creating – a small group-within-a-group Is a great stepping stone to one-on-one relationships. Some trends to try:

  • Find a club — Affinity clubs help people bond over similar interests. Sharing a favorite activity with a small group is a great way to build contacts and friendships. If your favorite activity isn’t available, start your own.
  • Take it online – Online communities are great for addressing special interests. Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr all have privacy settings that allow only members to see content. Connecting with members online often allows people to stay in touch and learn more about each other faster.
  • Bring it offline – Like everywhere else, in online communities people are seeking personal connection. Twitter users are connecting in person with local events called “tweetups”. Search www.search.twitter.com for events in your area. The NHL team the Washington Capitals created a LinkedIn group for fans and then invited them to a game. Read “A Different Look at Networking” to learn more. If you have joined a group and are only participating virtually, attend an in-person meet-up or plan one yourself.
  • Get social – Choose a few people you know a little and host a micro-event. Bringing together people you know who don’t know each other is a great way to get to know everyone better. For some great ideas, read 7 Ideas for Small Group Networking.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting to know the first few people. If you meet one person, ask him or her whom else you should know. Get a few of those people together to discuss a topic of common interest, industry trends, or just to meet others and you have a manageable event that is less stressful than a room full of people and more comfortable for some than a one-on-one lunch or meeting.

For people looking to make friends or build business relationships, a small group invitation can help avoid uncomfortable situations, confusion with dating, or worry about having enough to say. Next time you’d like to get to know someone better, invite a few others and see what happens.

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Networking is hard enough without being in the wrong room. Choosing the right organizations, where you have the best chance of feeling comfortable, showing up and meeting great people is key. Some great tips come from Jill Walser in an article titled “How I Overcame My Aversion to Networking and Learned to Love It”:

I initially looked at about eight different options and decided that the organizations I chose needed to meet four criteria:
1. They needed to be relevant to what I did.
2. They needed to have a face-to-face component and the people there needed to be happy to see me.
3. They needed to be filled with spark plugs – people very excited to be there and to be doing what they did for a living.
4. They needed to be easy to get to and offered at convenient times.

And to make it fun, try Ilise Benun’s tip:

You can even use [your nametag] to ask a question about a resource you need (“Know any good designers?”) Make it funny or unusual. Others will notice and see it as an invitation into conversation.

From her excellent article “How Not To Network”. Scroll down and read all the comments, there are some great ideas.

Jamie Ridler‘s strategy is to think differently about what you are doing. In her article “Give up Networking and Grow” she says:

“I’m that woman at the networking meeting having one more cup of coffee just to have something to do (and trust me, more caffeine doesn’t improve the situation). As a business owner, I knew I couldn’t go on like this. I had to do something to grow my circle, and I wanted to do it in a way that was authentic and that felt good.”

There are so many great ideas for overcoming reluctance to get involved. Try some of these and see if there is a gem in there for you.

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To kick this blog off, I posted a question on LinkedIn “Is networking easy or your biggest nightmare?” and got some great response. Many respondents love networking and had some great tips to offer, which I will include in future posts.

For today, I am going to focus on the reluctance to self-promote. Nicole Rivera, Product Marketing Manager at Devon Intl Group said “I don’t mind networking and meeting new people. When it comes to the point in the conversation where I’m supposed to ‘sell’ my company – so to speak – that’s where I freeze. I enjoy talking to people, the idle chit-chat, but when it comes to the real reason we’re here, that’s what I find hard. I don’t like the ulterior motive portion of it.”

I think many people feel the way Nicole does. Many people feel uncomfortable talking about themselves or that it is inappropriate or bragging. It can be, if handled badly, however for those of use whose job it is to generate business, every occasion is an opportunity, so we need to find a balance. Weddings, parties, neighborhood gatherings – events of a purely social nature – are especially delicate, but no less an opportunity. I have gotten clients out of all those occasions.

For many people “so, what do you do?” is an easy opening conversational question, even at a party. I recommend having a social version of your 30-second intro. Don’t waste the opportunity with a non-answer like “I’m in marketing.” Think of a  5 or 10 word version of what you do that will allow for a probing question if someone is intrigued – and leave room for an “oh that’s nice” from everyone else. I have a friend who is a PhD and works in robotics. I asked him if he could do it and he said “I make computers less dumb.” Brilliant. What would you say about what you do in 5 or 10 words?

When it comes to official business networking events like a chamber of commerce social, business breakfasts, awards dinners, business card exchanges it is another thing. If you are uncomfortable bringing up business in a situation designed for meeting new prospects, that’s a whole other issue. Absolutely there are people that hand out cards like candy and ask for coffee meetings only to probe your contact list. You don’t want to be aggressive, however learning someone’s kid plays little league and not why they came isn’t the best use of the money you just spent for breakfast. Try transitioning with “what do you like best about this group?” or “how have you grown your business” to find out about the kind of referrals that might be good – chances are they’ll ask the same question back to you.

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