I am a firm believer that – for many reasons – coming up with ideas is one of the most powerful skills we can all develop (or improve upon) right now. It’s the process of generating ideas that can be challenging, and by improving on that, we can eventually learn how to improve the quantity and quality of our ideas.
James Altucher talks about this in Choose Yourself, his latest, must-read book. Altucher has experienced some major successes and many more failures, which means he has a lot of wisdom to share. He had a number of habits and routines in place when things were going well for him, and looking in his rearview mirror, he realized they were no longer a priority when his fortunes turned. One of those habits was being an “idea machine.” By constantly coming up with fresh new perspectives, he created life-changing opportunities for himself, personally and professionally, as well as for his friends and network. And we can do same!
However, before you can start churning out ideas like Thomas Edison, you need to follow Altucher’s lead and train yourself to do so.
This involves developing an “idea muscle” – and keeping it in shape. Altucher cites the example of Stephen King who, in his book On Writing, describes an accident he once had that prevented him from writing for several weeks. As he began to write again, something wasn’t right. His writing muscle had atrophied. He needed to work his way back up to the level of amazing, bestselling author.
If this can happen to Stephen King, one of the best in the world at what he does, it can happen to anyone, with any kind of muscle.
Altucher writes, “What are the benefits of having a functional idea muscle? You will become an idea machine. No matter what situation you are in, what problem you see in front of you, what problems your friends and colleagues have, you will have nonstop solutions for them. And when your idea muscle is at its peak performance, your ideas will actually be good, which again means you will be able to create the life you want to lead.”
Not surprisingly, it will take a little bit of focus to get on track, and he offers up several ways to hone your craft. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Read daily: He suggests two hours, but you can work your way up to that. Reading means learning, and learning naturally prompts ideas. These days, I also get a lot of learning in via podcasts. BONUS: Read magazines and publications that have nothing to do with your business or personal interests.
2. Write down 10 ideas a day: These ideas do not have to be home runs, and they can be about anything. As Altucher suggests, “The purpose is not to come up with a good idea. The purpose is to have thousands of ideas over time. To develop the idea muscle and turn it into a machine.” The important thing is to make sure you’re writing down 10 or more. You want your brain to sweat.
3. Collisions: Some of the best ideas come from collisions between newer and older ideas. (One of his examples is Facebook, which is a “collision” between the internet and stalking.) Over time, develop a process for keeping track of your ideas so they can be revisited (I use Evernote). You might find that one of your newer ideas makes an older idea stronger.
I want to emphasize that developing and exercising your idea muscle can take a lot of patience. When you first try out this new game of writing down multiple ideas every day, keep the bar low. Send your inner critic packing. If you’re going to get anywhere with this, you need a relaxed approach. Have fun with it.
If you currently have a process for generating ideas, I’d love to hear about it. And if reading this has motivated you to create one, let me know what you come up with.
In the past, staying top-of-mind with potential clients was easier than it is today – ironic, considering we now live in a hyper-connected world where it is presumably easier to stay on their radar. And yet, many businesses will be forgotten about entirely if they do not change the way they communicate with their audience.
Here’s why: As Jay Baer explains in his new bestseller, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype, major shifts in how, where and why consumers access information have spawned a new marketing method, which he calls “friend-of-mine awareness.” It’s predicated on the reality that companies are competing against real people for the attention of other real people.
Most of us get our personal and professional information in the same place. Whether that’s Facebook, email or some combination of online platforms, as Baer points out, “companies have to compete on the very same turf as our family and friends, using the very same tools and technologies and media and messaging as consumers.”
This means that your biggest competitors, when it comes to staying on the radar of your clients and prospective clients, are their friends and family!
You can’t beat them, but you can join them. If you want to maintain any kind of meaningful communication with your prospective customers, they need to regard you as a friend – or at least someone who shares information that’s as relevant to them as what their friends share. If you make yourself useful to them and provide real value, Baer indicates, “they will reward your company with loyalty and advocacy, the same ways we reward our friends.”
If everything you send your clients and prospects is promotional, they will phase you out (if they haven’t already). They’re even getting help. Facebook uses an algorithm to keep a company’s posts from appearing in the news feed of someone who actually “liked” them, but never engaged with them.
Email is heading in the same direction. Google recently added filters to automatically put any email you send using a service like MailChimp or Constant Contact into a “promotions folder.” I have previously shared how I use Sanebox for this.
Essentially, your clients and prospective clients now have to go out of their way to allow your communications to show up in their inbox, news feed, etc. It’s a conscious choice, and it’s up to you to get them choosing in your favor.
So how do you get included in their circle of friends? By providing “Youtility,” of course.
I am in total agreement with Baer when he says, “Youtility is marketing upside down. Instead of marketing that’s needed by companies, Youtility is marketing that’s wanted by customers. Youtility is massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship between your company and your customers.”
Do your clients look forward to your emails, posts, etc.?
Instead of sending emails that promote discounts for your services, could you share actionable advice or ideas instead? This could mean providing information that is useful, but not directly tied to your product or service. Have you considered sharing a great article, authored by someone else, that your audience would find interesting?
Putting your focus on being helpful and relevant is part of relationship building, so it involves taking a long-term view. In Baer’s words, “Being useful, or providing Youtility, requires companies to intentionally promote less at the point of consumer interaction, and in so doing build trust capital that will be redeemed down the road.”
Youtility is one of the best business books I have read in a while, and this particular use of Youtility is just one of many ideas Jay Baer shares in the book. We can’t wait to learn more from him at our upcoming event, YOUniversity, on September 25th.
In the meantime, I would like to leave you with a question that Baer asks: “My family is useful. My friends are useful. Companies can be useful, too. Will yours?”
In a recent blog post, Chris Brogan shared his observation that there are three primary camps most people fall into when it comes to social media marketing. They:
1.) Love it, but it’s not exactly working for their business
2.) Use it, but grudgingly and without much hope of seeing a result
3.) Think about using it, but just don’t feel a big push
Part of this, I believe, is that most of us are diving in without much of a plan. We see others blogging, tweeting, liking, pinning, etc. and figure if we sign up for everything, something good might happen. There isn’t much point in spending time online unless it could impact your bottom line (directly or indirectly). And in truth, it probably won’t if you have not laid out a strategy.
I recently signed up for one of Chris’s online courses, Mastering the Digital Channel (affiliate link), to help me with my own social media strategy. While to date I am only halfway through the 8-week course, it has already proven to be tremendously valuable. If you fall into any of the three camps listed above, I highly recommend checking it out (whether for you, or someone on your marketing team).
One of the things I love about learning from Chris is that he primarily focuses on traditional online platforms, such as your website and email newsletter. So far in the course, his only mention of Facebook has been to say that he doesn’t use it much.
Here are a few ideas I have picked up that you may want to consider:
Welcome to My Office. Feel Free to Leave.
If a prospect walks into your office, would you suggest that she go someplace else? Of course not – but that’s what a lot of us are doing online.
Think of your primary website as your online office. If your home page features your social media links, i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter prominently, you’re essentially inviting your visitors to click off and go somewhere other than your primary site. If you think about it, why would you want to do that?
I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but now I’m making some changes. If you’re like me, no one is buying (or thinking about buying) from you on these “outposts,” as Brogan calls them. So if you have links on the home page of your primary website, and those links take people away from your site (and away from a potential sale), you may want to reconsider them.
Make Email a Top Priority
Check out these stats for Chris:
- 230K Twitter followers
- 200K blog readers
- 110K people following him on Google+
- 29K subscribers to his email newsletter
He gets 10X (by volume, not by %) the results via his email subscribers when he offers something for sale. His list is 10% the size of his subscribers, but produces more than 10x the responsiveness and action (i.e. sales).
Before you worry about making Twitter or LinkedIn work for your business, I highly recommend starting an email newsletter, or improving the one you have (which this course helps also with).
Mobile Is Not About Having an App
Before you rule out the significance of being mobile-friendly, do me a favor and find out where your traffic is coming from. For most businesses, 30-60% of site visitors are using a smart phone or tablet.
You may not need a cool new app, but you should at least make sure your website does what it needs to do if people are accessing it from their phones. If your site smooshes everything up to be tiny and fit the screen, it’s not mobile responsive – and it will turn off potential clients.
Chris Brogan’s course covers many more strategies, and of course goes into much more detail, but I wanted to put it on your radar and share some of what I have already learned. You can learn more and register here.
In the meantime, what online strategies are you focused on right now?
Ask yourself: Is your marketing creating value? Is it telling a cohesive story? If not, it could be time to reboot your message – or your entire business. Mitch Joel’s excellent new book, Ctrl Alt Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends on It, helps us navigate the changing business landscape and identify whether all or part of our brand is in need of a reboot.
One of my many takeaways from the book has to do with how we market. Joel suggests that there are two primary types of marketing that most businesses rely on: blasting and touching. You probably think I’m going to say touching is the way to go, but I’m not. As Joel explains in the book, “Blasting works best in passive media. Touching works best in active media.”
If your audience is an active audience and wants to communicate with you, blasting will not work. At the same time, if you focus only on touching (i.e. getting comments on your Facebook Page or blog) vs. asking for the sale, you’ll most likely be disappointed with your results as well.
So, what’s the magic formula? It depends. A good starting point is to step back and reevaluate what you’re doing: Who are your prospective clients, where do they hang out, and what is the best way to reach them? If you relate to the blasting approach, put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re trying to reach. If you were them, would you open that email newsletter you sent? Would you find the marketing messages in it useful?
Joel suggests that “utilitarianism marketing” (providing real value and utility) could be the next great business disrupter. Businesses that find ways to incorporate real value into their marketing will get from what Joel refers to as purgatory – to heaven.
Here’s a quick example from the book involving being away from home and having to go. Bear with me. There is an app called SitOrSquat that, based on your location, allows you to find clean bathrooms (along with changing tables, handicapped access, etc.) based on ratings from the users. How exciting?!
Guess who created this app? Charmin! The toilet paper company! Instead of pumping extra money into TV and catalog ads, they created something useful and valuable for their customers (and prospective customers). I believe A LOT more people are talking about Charmin for doing this than they would if the company had stuck with its traditional approach. (I never thought I would talk about toilet paper on this blog!)
I’m not suggesting you go out and create an app tomorrow. The point is that the app is useful, and in Joel’s words, “If you give something to people that they actually want and need…they will love you forever.”
Netflix is another reboot example I thought of while reading the book. A few years ago, they jacked up their prices and lost 800,000 subscribers (additionally, their stock fell by more than 75%). They became a laughingstock. But then, just when it seemed they had dug their own grave, Netflix got into content creation and started focusing on original programming (acclaimed series like House of Cards, Hemlock Grove and Arrested Development, to name a few). They went beyond their bread and butter of licensing and streaming, and suddenly they had excellent content that you could only get if you were a subscriber. Brilliant! So far this year, they’ve picked up over 2 million new subscribers (more than HBO) and their stock is up over 130% since Jan. 1! Netflix found a way to provide a new service, and it saved their business.
You can learn much more about rebooting at our upcoming event on June 27 with Mitch Joel, CTRL ALT Delete: Reboot. In the meantime, which brands come to mind that used a reboot to take their business to another level? Could you be in need of a reboot? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I had the pleasure of attending a two-day event in Toronto last week called MastermindTalks, put together by Jayson Gaignard. There were 20+ presentations, 16 breakout sessions, and attendees who matched the extraordinary caliber of the speakers. I learned a TON.
The headline speaker was three-time New York Times bestselling author Tim Ferriss. In his latest book, The Four-Hour Chef, Ferriss writes about acquiring the skill of meta-learning, or the meta-skill of acquiring skills. Two of his keys for quickly learning any skill, including learning, are 1.) Identify the best practices and do the opposite and 2.) Study the anomalies. He cites the example of a wispy girl who can dead-lift 405 pounds—because she’s doing it with technique rather than genes. And technique is learnable.
It didn’t occur to me until I left Toronto, but this event was filled with über-successful anomalies. The difference is in the difference. I mean, if we all read the same major publications and consume the same mainstream media, can any of us ever acquire different knowledge from our peers? If we hire the same consultants and implement the same best practices, will we ever distinguish ourselves from our competition, or be able to offer our clients new ideas?
Since we live in a time of information overload, I think the most effective way to grow and improve might be to learn from unlikely sources. Everyone I met at MastermindTalks had something different to share. I could easily fill pages describing each of them, but I won’t go into that much detail. Just know that every person on this list is well worth getting to know better. With that, here is my recap of the 25 speakers and takeaways from MastermindTalks:
Suli Breaks: This up-and-coming spoken word-rapper-poet reminded us that “only a few are willing to realize and accept that there is a big distinction between greatness and success.” He is the man who gave us I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate (a must-watch for any parent), and it was great to witness his brilliance in person. You can check out his new album here.
G – Create a Goal
R – Reconnaissance (follow and learn from the best)
E – Effort/Hustle
A – Attitude
T – Team
Shaa Wasmund: The bestselling author of Stop Talking Start Doing shared her incredible journey and her thoughts on The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. You can see all of the amazing things Shaa is up to here.
Derek Halpern: If you’re looking to grow your blog, or learn more about the convergence of business and human psychology, his blog is a must read. One of the smartest guys I know, Derek laid out his “BAB” model for selling:
- Before — Empathize with their current reality; make them realize they need help
- After — paint a picture of a world where these problems no longer exist
- Bridge the Gap – Show how your solution is the missing link
Joey Coleman: All of the speakers were competing for a $25,000 prize, and I was thrilled to see my good friend Joey take home the cash! In his presentation, Joey shared his thoughts on designing a “First 100 Days” strategy to wow new clients. If you could use game-changing business cards, or a complete rebranding, Joey is your man. (Full disclosure: Joey is a cadre member and I am a client of his, so there may be a little bias here.)
Hod Lipson: The Cornell professor blew everyone’s mind by bringing the life-altering potential of 3-D printing to light. If you don’t know much about this technology and the significant impact it’s likely to have on society, his book is an excellent guide to this brave new world.
Dan Martell: During his “Balance is Bullshit” presentation, Dan posed the challenge: “If you think you do not have balance in your life, before you do anything else you should ask yourself what balance means to you.” He recently founded an amazing service called Clarity which allows you to easily connect by phone with the best experts from around the world when you need them most. Check it out!
Jim Sheils: The Founder of Board Meetings International, an organization that exists to strengthen the relationship parents have with their children, talked about the benefits of families taking mini-vacations with their children. I can see why his organization has significantly impacted so many parent/child relationships. According to Jim, there are three basic ground rules for making a family getaway a rewarding experience:
1) It must be one-on-one (i.e. not with your spouse or other children)
2) No electronics allowed
3) It must be a fun activity, which the kid gets to choose, with focused reflection on questions like, What was your favorite part and why?
A.J. Jacobs: The Editor at Large at Esquire and author of four New York Times bestsellers had so much to share, but I especially enjoyed hearing about his experiences while writing The Year of Living Biblically (he followed every rule in the Bible for an entire year). The one takeaway that sticks more than others is “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” Go ahead and marinate on that for a minute.
Dandapani: After living as a monk for 10 years, Dandapani allowed his monastic vows to expire in 2008 and ventured out on his own. He now shares the teachings of his guru in workshops and spiritual adventures around the world with individuals, groups and organizations. I learned so much from him, and was especially struck by his basic keys to developing greater willpower:
1) Finish what you begin (for example, to finish sleeping, make your bed)
2) Finish it well, beyond expectations
3) Do a little more than you think you are able to do
Ryan Holiday: The rock star media strategist, who has worked with the likes of Tim Ferriss and Tucker Max among others, suggested that even he wouldn’t be able to help much if your product isn’t worth promoting. If you have a remarkable product/book/course, I can’t think of anyone better to lead your charge (and his blog is excellent!). But as Ryan suggests, just make sure it meets the following criteria before reaching out to him:
1) It is something new and/or different?
2) It is provocative? (For a good example of provocative, check out this campaign he did with Tucker Max.)
3) Do you know specifically who it is for, where they are and how you can reach them?
Clay Hebert: THE Kickstarter expert not only revealed some great hacks for that platform, but also left us pondering the profound question, “I have no doubt you’ll be successful, but will you matter?” You should also check out his awesome new project, Spindows.
James Altucher: The front of the MastermindTalks program read, “If You’re the Smartest Person in the Room, You’re in the Wrong Room.” Seeing this, I was worried this author of 10 books and one of my favorite blogs would leave. Fortunately, James stuck around and had us drinking from a fire hose during his talk. As an aspiring super-connector, I enjoyed hearing his process. He listens to people’s issues and either helps them on the spot or introduces them to people who can. He does this five times each day and as a result, has made millions! Be sure to check out his next book Choose Yourself, which becomes available on June 4.
Tim Ferriss: The author of three New York Times bestsellers was dropping knowledge bombs left and right, but here are two gems that stood out for me:
1) To continually get to new levels of success, you have to say no to almost everything.
2) When networking, focus on the potential relationships that will transcend the business objective.
Marc Ecko: It sure was fun listening to the fireside chat with the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of the billion-dollar global fashion and lifestyle company, Marc Eckō Enterprises. When asked about things he would have done differently in growing his business, he admitted to coming down with “Ralph Laurenitis” for a few years. Essentially, trying to chase down the leader in his industry cost him millions of dollars. He eventually embraced the uniqueness of his brand, which paid off big time. His upcoming book, Unlabel, will go even deeper and I encourage you to check it out.
Mitch Joel: I wasn’t too disappointed that the host of my favorite podcast was not presenting, since he’ll be keynoting our event on June 27. I would have loved to hear him discuss his latest book, Ctrl Alt Delete, which is excellent, but I can’t think of anyone better suited to interview Tim Ferriss and Mark Ecko. Mitch is a masterful interviewer and his poise and grace in the presence of these business icons, I believe, allowed us to learn more than we would have with anyone else in this role.
Mike McDerment: Freshbooks recently won the Gold Stevie Award for having the Best Front-Line Customer Service Team in the world. When asked what he attributed this to, the CEO said that part of the reason is because they have the best customers (entrepreneurs and business owners) in the world. So obvious, yet so insightful!
Bruce Poon Tip: Unfortunately I was unable to be present for most of this conversation. I wish this had not been the case, because from what little I heard, I took away some valuable lessons from this CEO of G Adventures as he related how his business grew from a small startup to a company with over 1300 employees catering to upwards of 100,000 travelers every year.
Dani Reiss: The CEO of Canada Goose is the epitome of a leader committed to sticking to his core values. All of their production is in Canada because they’re committed to outstanding craftsmanship, and cold weather is part of their national identity. As a result, everyone in Canada is incredibly loyal to their brand. This served as a great reminder that we shouldn’t try to please everyone. We can all build a successful business by being hyper-focused on serving a specific niche and blowing them away!
Cameron Herold: It says a lot about the quality of an event when one of the best speakers I have ever seen is one of the attendees. Cameron led one of the breakout sessions, and his TED Talk, Let’s Raise Kids to Be Entrepreneurs, should be required viewing for every parent.
Stephan Aarstol: Another breakout facilitator, whom you may know from his appearance on Shark Tank, which led to Mark Cuban becoming an investor in his company, Tower Paddle Boards. I got to spend some time with Stephan and long story short, it’s easy to see what Mr. Cuban saw in him.
Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas: While I did not get the opportunity to spend time with either of these gentlemen, they contributed to my experience in a very meaningful way. They created The Five Minute Journal, which provides the daily template for spending 10 minutes each day (5 when you wake up and 5 before bed) to reflect on the positive experiences in your life and what you are grateful for. I have done this exercise every day since, and cannot recommend it highly enough.
Jayson Gaignard: Last, but certainly not least, the man who made all of this possible. I’m sure bringing together this lineup of all-star thought leaders was no mean feat, but I also believe Jayson’s careful selection of attendees really made MastermindTalks special. You had to apply to attend this event, and Jayson narrowed more than 4,000 applicants down to just over 100. He and his wife Kandis were the ultimate hosts, and it was clear that they painstakingly thought through every detail. I mean, they had Athletic Greens available for us every morning! Plus, Jayson did not leave all of the educating to the speakers. We learned about the Pomodoro Technique (check it out!) from him, and I’m already using it to be more productive.
I’m not sure whether MastermindTalks will evolve into an annual event, but if it does, do not – I repeat, do not – miss the next one!
Good restaurants with private dining room options for lunch are hard to come by these days. Add the cadre “roundtable” format, with the need for two private rooms and separate checks, and it becomes near impossible. In our ongoing quest for lunch venues, we have seen some incredible examples of customer service over the past two years. We’ve also been in some embarrassing situations.
As many of you know, a portion of our “connecting” within cadre happens at our monthly lunches. I have researched, solicited referrals and visited numerous restaurants and facilities in the DC Metro area and much to my chagrin, have not had much luck finding quality restaurants with consistent, reliable service.
Granted, we have a relatively complex request. But in exchange we offer hosting restaurants incredible access to our members, all of whom are decision makers from remarkable companies throughout the area. Each lunch hosts 20-30 members, providing a great opportunity for the restaurant to market itself. I can personally attest to the fact that our members are nearly as eager to find great restaurants as I am. After all, I’ve requested referrals from them. Aside from one referral to Lebanese Taverna, which has accommodated us mostly with excellent (though not perfect) service, they’re at a loss.
It’s astonishing to me that among such an incredibly well-connected community, no one can recommend a restaurant that fits the bill. I suspect that this speaks much more to the restaurants’ inability to provide a remarkable, referral-worthy experience than to the connectedness or willingness of cadre members to help.
The situation calls to mind Scott Stratten’s latest, The Book of Business Awesome. Here are a few of our lunch experiences, both Awesome and in Stratten-speak, “UnAwesome”:
The Capital Grille Tysons Corner. I’d like to start with what I consider the quintessential cadre lunch location. This restaurant goes above and beyond with reliable, consistent service EVERY time. They “get it” and always deliver impeccable service with a smile. The always-delicious menu and seasonal $18 lunch plates are icing on the cake.
The Perfect Pita. For our “seminar” lunches in member offices, we like to bring in outside catering, and have found this local hotspot a perfect fit. Not only do they deliver fresh, tasty pitas and hummus, they consistently do it on time and on budget. They also offer healthy and gluten-free options. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for in-office lunch delivery.
The Source. Derek recently hosted a Washington Financial Group Wine Tasting at this Wolfgang Puck restaurant and from start to finish, the event was flawless. We’ve gone back to the restaurant with some friends since the event, and were delighted by the service and personal attention from the sommelier we worked with there. We did not plan this visit in advance, yet he surprised us with a variety of his favorite dishes and the perfect pairings for them – all within a reasonable price point! Fantastic!
Now to the UnAwesome:
Morton’s Washington, DC. Fail. Fail. Fail! Our top priority at lunch is getting our members out the door by 1:45, considering how busy they are. We tried this restaurant on three separate occasions. I thought the third time would be the charm, especially after several phone calls and emails to “clear things up” including a timeline for the flow of the lunch. We were guaranteed excellence…but no. For the third time running, our attendees were at least 20 minutes late departing. Checks weren’t ready. Desserts weren’t delivered. I had to ask for everyone’s “to-go” and got attitude from the general manager (who actually ran into the kitchen to avoid the situation). Seriously. Needless to say, never again, and going forward I will warn anyone thinking of hosting an event there.
Wildfire Tysons Corner. This is another high-end chain restaurant, like Morton’s, complete with a holier-than-thou attitude from the time we made the reservation. I should have known, but our go-to Capital Grille location was booked so I decided to give Wildfire a shot. Our meals were served over an hour after we sat down, and things went down from there. They even tried to overcharge us for a bottle of wine to round out our minimum! Here’s a more detailed account from one of our disappointed colleagues.
Is there a pattern in here? Do you need the word “The” in your restaurant name to be successful? I seriously doubt that’s the winning factor. There are actually several other bad examples I could list, but I’d like to be optimistic and focus on the positives. Should I remain hopeful? I’m open to suggestions, and would be incredibly thankful for ideas for our next lunch venue! Do you know of any DC-based restaurants that provide incredible service, who would also benefit from having 30 CEO’s and business owners dining at their establishment on a monthly basis? If it’s really good, you might just be rewarded with your own lunch for two on us for your winning suggestion.
We all know how difficult it is to find someone at networking events who takes a long-term approach to developing mutually beneficial relationships (If you don’t, check out Part 1.) Like nightclubs, it is possible to meet good people with good intentions at these events.
But when we do go to big events, we might have another hurdle to clear: Trust issues.
We all have to attend events to support a great cause or a great client. And attending events where you will know several other people there can make for a fun and productive evening. What is challenging are those times when we won’t know more than a handful of attendees. All we know is that the majority of people there essentially will be looking for professional one-night stands and as such, many of us are conditioned to have our guards up.
We assume that if someone approaches us, they just want to push their own agenda – even if they use an indirect tactic. If someone says to me, “Hey, I want to learn more about you and how I might be able to help!” it throws me off. What’s the catch? What am I missing? This person could be sincere for all I know. But based on my experience, they are more likely taking this approach because they heard that by initially focusing on the other person, they give the impression that they’re not just out for themselves.
As much as I hate to say it, many of us will always be skeptical of this approach – even if it is sincere – because more than likely it isn’t. I am guilty of this myself.
Let’s go back to the nightclub for another perspective. You’re out on the town for a fun evening with your girlfriends and a seemingly nice guy starts chatting with you. What would your reaction be if, immediately after exchanging formalities, he informed you that he is looking to settle down and get married? You would either decide he is hitting on you and masking his true intentions, or you’d think he’s serious — which is just creepy. Even if you’re looking for a spouse yourself, your reaction will likely not be a good one. Revealing this information two minutes into a conversation at a bar is not consistent with your expectations in that environment.
This same socially awkward scenario applies to me going to an actual nightclub as The Married Guy. (Not that I get out to clubs much these days, but say I had to for whatever reason.) If I went up to some guy or gal and said, “Hey, it would be great to have an extra friend. Tell me more about you and what you have going on.” It would be sincere, but it would also be weird, off-putting, and have the opposite of the intended effect. Wrong place, wrong time.
If you’re going to fit in, whether at a nightclub or a networking event, you have to assume that pretty much everyone there is thinking of what they’re going to get out of it. This is the accepted norm, so we’re thrown off even if someone is legit (which is why sincere people usually pass on attending in the first place).
“Dishonest dealings tend to drive honest dealings out of the market. The presence of people who wish to pawn bad wares as good wares tends to drive out the legitimate business.”
Essentially, well-intentioned sales professionals do not want to be in a business with dishonest salespeople. And since most people who attend networking events are not looking to develop meaningful and helpful professional relationships, the ones who are stayed home.
Have you ever met someone at a networking event and gotten lucky?
If one of these chance encounters turned into a mutually beneficial relationship, I’d love to hear about how it happened. It might give us some hope…but probably not. At the end of the day, I think it’s best we avoid the larger events where we don’t know many of the attendees and spend our time networking in more conducive environments.
What say you?
I have always approached meeting folks at these events with a long-term perspective. Primarily, to learn more about them and explore whether or not we could contribute to each other’s community. However, they end up being a big waste of time more often than not.
The main reason for this, I believe, is these events have evolved in a similar fashion to nightclubs. As the awesome David Siteman Garland of “The Rise To The Top” would say, everyone attending is looking for a professional one night stand. They may be looking to meet a new client, acquire a job or get some free wine. Regardless, their mindset of “How can I benefit immediately from this?” is not aligned with someone who is looking to develop mutually beneficial professional relationships. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, like nightclubs, these events mostly attract short-sighted people and I don’t think any of us can change this dynamic.
Why is it then that most of the books and articles I have read about networking offer advice centered around how to successfully develop relationships with other top professionals by attending these events?
By comparison, most dating books and experts that focus on how to meet an ideal partner do not suggest that you frequent nightclubs on a regular basis. If you are looking for a committed personal relationship you probably should not go to bars every night, since you are not likely to meet many people who are there for that reason. Everyone gets that! So it should be no surprise that the best dating advice (correctly) ignores the part of the equation that you are not likely to change and encourages you to avoid the clubs altogether. Instead, it is suggested that you leverage your friendships and expose yourself to environments that are more conducive to finding a mate, such as getting personal introductions from friends or hosting dinner parties.
Why should we learn how to navigate these professional meat markets when we can identify more ideal ways to network? The next time you are assessing your networking options, I encourage you to consider skipping the big networking event and get creative. Some things that have worked well for me include hosting roundtable lunches and wine tasting events. Dinner parties are another great option and Michelle Welsch of Project Exponential wrote a great e-book on the topic. And if you identify a larger event that seems ideal, why not offer to bring a few of your clients or strategic partners? At least then you will be spending time with your valuable relationships, regardless of who else is attending.
Do you meet the types of professionals you want to meet at networking events? What effective networking endeavors have you participated in or hosted? I would love to hear your thoughts.
You can read Part II here.
A little while ago, I shared my thoughts on the ineffectiveness of brochures as a marketing tool. I recently received a brochure (actually two) from Room & Board that missed the mark on a few levels and wanted to share this experience with you. I thought this story would be best told visually and so I shot a quick video. I hope you like it and would love to hear your thoughts.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve wasted more time attending networking events than you care to acknowledge. You show up, and after conversations with the animated hand gesture guy who forgets he’s holding wine spills it on you, and the woman who clearly doesn’t attend many of these rambles on about her business without ever asking you about yours, you never want to attend another networking event as long as you live.
But we keep going, because every once in a while, we meet someone who seems like they are there for the same reasons as us. They have a long-term outlook and are looking to authentically connect with other top professionals. Unfortunately, while encounters like this initially seem to justify venturing out to an event, they typically end up being the biggest time-wasters of all. Let me explain.
Say you go to a networking event and really hit it off with someone. The conversation is great and you think you could really help each other out. So you schedule a follow-up lunch. This either goes well, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then from a time perspective you wasted at least one additional hour and would have been better off meeting Mr. Happy Hands and calling it a night. But let’s assume the lunch goes well. In most cases, these meetings do not produce immediate opportunities. (That’s not why you went though, right?) Most often they end with a mutual “This was great and I’ll keep you in mind for potential opportunities!” and you walk away hoping the time investment will bear fruit at some point in the future.
My question is do you have a plan or process in place for staying top of mind with all of the professionals you meet? If not, you’re wasting more time attending follow-up meetings than you would by striking out at the initial event.
Even if you’re good at staying in touch, it’s unlikely your fellow networkers are as organized as you are. After you’ve spent time with someone, will that person remember you six months from now when an opportunity presents itself? If so, will they know where to find your contact info? If not, why go to networking events and follow-up meetings at all?
I always used a manual process that combined my email and CRM software, and took a lot of time to set up. Recently, however, I discovered a phenomenal service called Contactually (affiliate link). It’s an email integration tool that allows you to create various buckets for contacts based on how often you should be in touch with them.
To give you an example of how this works, let’s say you want to check in with prospective clients every 90 days. Contactually cross-checks your email correspondence with other platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, and sends a reminder email if you do not contact them within this timeframe. The team functionality, which tracks correspondence between your clients and employees, is outstanding. I encourage you to try the 30-day free trial. There is no software to download and it works with all the major email providers.
Now that you know about Contactually, you’ll do a great job of keeping in touch with your contacts. Perhaps you’re already great at this. Either way, if you don’t have an effective process for staying top of mind, you’re probably better off going to an event and not meeting anyone worthy of a follow-up – or skipping the event altogether. Worst case, it’s one hour of your time down the drain versus three.
Do you already have an effective process for staying in touch with professionals you meet at networking events? If so, I’d love to hear about it.