It is often said that your personal value is not what you know, but who you know. This is powerful motivation for recent graduates to build their personal networks. Those of us of a certain age may have concluded that we already have enough friends and contacts; the challenge is making the best use of those that we already have.
The mathematics supports this argument. If you have been in business over twenty years, you probably have more than 150 close contacts, defined as people you like and respect and would recognise if you bumped into them out of their normal work context. If you add to this all the people in their close networks, this aggregates to potentially more than 20,000 agreeable and interesting people.
It is not a problem to identify other networking prospects; we all have a drawer full of business cards and often a large number of online connections. The dilemma is how to successfully leverage one's existing contacts without in the process appearing sleazy and manipulative.
The most important lesson to learn from the best connected individuals is that little of their networking activity is carried out with any specific business goal in mind. They concentrate their effort on people they most like and who seem to like them right back.
Even for the shyest individual, all that is required to leverage their network is to generate a list of people whose company they have enjoyed over the years and invite them to a private dinner. This would be apropos of nothing in particular other than the pleasure of good company and an opportunity for their friends to meet other interesting people.
The tools for engineering a mutually successful outcome of such events are well explained by one of Europe's leading business networking strategists, Andy Lopata. His site explains that connecting is not enough; it is important also to determine how well your contacts understand what you do and then how inspired they might be to provide a referral.
Lopata provides in-depth networking training and coaching and is always amazed to discover how few companies have an effective referral strategy. One investment bank merely had a system for asking for two referrals at the end of every meeting, regardless of whether they had actually built up any trust with the client.
Lopata explains that the chances of receiving a referral are greatly increased if they understand exactly what you do, has a high level of trust and fully understands exactly how you help people, and the problems you solve.
Everyone understands that we are all fundamentally in the business of generating profits for our companies and in the process earn a decent living, but your chances of receiving a referral are greatly increased if you are also perceived to have a wider purpose to your working life. This may not be as noble and altruistic as working for a social enterprise solving problems in the developing world, but you should at least demonstrate how you can make the process of business in general more fun and interesting by your own personal efforts.
Lopata recommends making a detailed assessment of your best contacts; the people they know, their willingness to refer you to them and how exactly you might inspire them to make that valued introduction, for free. While some people offer direct financial rewards for referrals, seasoned networkers mostly make introductions on the basis that everyone gains real benefits, including the prospect of referrals in return.
While high-level networking is primarily a face-to-face activity, Lopata agrees that online tools greatly accelerate the process. LinkedIn is probably the best tailored for this purpose; you can connect with people you know, like and trust and can also search specifically for long-lost colleagues from former companies whom you remember as being fun and interesting.
If you explain yourself and your purpose well, they should happily provide referrals to their best contacts, primarily on the basis that both of you would both enjoy meeting each other; any subsequent business would represent a bonus, rather than the prime objective.
Expert networkers like Lopata work on the basis that if you connect with your network on this mutually beneficial basis, the financial rewards will definitely flow. He explains that it is who knows you and what they say about you that determine the true value of your network. Successful networking should be genuinely selfless and altruistic, always giving referrals without remembering your simple favour, and receiving them without forgetting their kind gift.
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2012. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
It’s not surprising that many small firms send regular email newsletters — they are a powerful and cost-effective way to connect with customers and prospects.
But, according to Email Monks, 75% of firms are not sending mobile-friendly emails — in spite of the fact that a staggering 43% of emails are read on mobile devices. And this is expected to rise to 50% by the end of this year.
The answer is simple — your email newsletters need to de designed responsively so they look good and function well on any device. Check out this infographic from Email Monks explaining why responsive email is essential:
Mary Portas has made her name championing small businesses and helping to turn around many small retailers facing declining footfalls and tough conditions on the high street.
Here she gives some of her top marketing tips, with her usual direct, back-to-basics approach.
Social media is time consuming, especially if you want to see results. But, as someone who eats, breathes and sleeps social media, I’ve discovered ways to make it a friend in both my professional and personal life, and to avoid burnout.
The key to staying fresh online and avoiding burnout is to establish exactly what you want to achieve from your social media efforts. Do your research to identify which tools your target audience are using, and focus your efforts here, whether that’s LinkedIn and Facebook, or Google+ and Twitter.
Spend time planning content. Think about what to post and create a calendar to schedule your updates. Identify a range of sources you can tap into at any time. RSS feeds are perfect for checking at a time that suits you, and can help to avoid your email inbox becoming cluttered.
Check the latest news each day, and share appropriate posts by those you like, follow or are connected to.
Not only do I plan my content in advance — I schedule posts using timers. Telling new social media users about scheduling feels like sharing a way to cheat, but it’s essential for managing your time, and your online presence.
Quotes, pictures, product descriptions, upcoming event promotion, links to your website and articles about your industry all lend themselves to advance scheduling, leaving you free to focus on the very latest news.
There are a number of tools available to help your scheduling — Hootsuite, TweetDeck and Buffer are popular choices.
Technology is the catalyst behind the popularity of social media and a wide range of free mobile apps let you keep up with the very latest news on your smartphone or tablet, even when you’re on the move.
Even when you’re happy that social media is working for you, it’s important to regularly review your profiles. Check your connections, pages you like, people you follow, and groups you’re in, and de-clutter to ensure you’re meeting your objectives.
And finally, if, like me, you suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) sign up to receive a daily email from NutShell Mail, summarising the most recent activity from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
No matter why you use Facebook — for business or socialising — there’s no doubt that seeing those Likes rack up next to your latest post feels good, doesn’t it? It’s a fabulous endorsement. It means people think you’re funny, incisive, totally in tune with what they’re feeling — in short, a Facebook Like makes us feel good about ourselves.
But is it enough when marketing your business on Facebook?
I’ve recently started working with an ecommerce business. My client has a Facebook business page and is very active in posting new information and gets lots of Likes as a result. The problem is that those Likes just aren’t translating into sales and what’s happening on Facebook is failing to drive traffic to my client’s website or generate increased revenue.
Sadly, this is an experience shared by many small businesses — and, for that matter, much larger brands too. Getting Likes just isn’t enough to positively impact on business growth and actual sales — it’s just the start of the Facebook journey.
Research has shown that a mere 1% of fans of brands’ Facebook pages actually engage with those brands. Think about the effort required to Like something on Facebook — you read a post on your news feed, one click of the mouse and you’ve added a Like. It’s minimal; it’s momentary; it’s relatively non-committal.
This does not constitute positive engagement. Even worse, even fewer of that 1% will bother to create content themselves or take the time to revisit specific brands’ business pages.
Well, your foray into social media doesn’t have to be consigned to the back of your virtual drawer of ideas that didn’t work. But it does require a little strategic thinking.
Any time I’m asked by a client to use Facebook as part of their marketing strategy, the first question I always ask is: “what do you need to achieve?”. Once I know that, we can then work together to find effective ways in which the objectives can be translated into useful content to engage with my client’s Facebook fans.
We all know that funny pictures, videos and thoughtful or provocative quotes have universal appeal on Facebook. They get people clicking the Like button and they can all be used to some degree.
But as a means of generating sales, this type of content is relatively ineffective. It can be great for awareness and brand building but you need to translate it into sales and often using Facebook to capture an email address through a competition or promotion and then following up with an email campaign can be more effective as a way of moving customers up your sales pipeline or funnel.
Similarly, don’t just push out your sales messages all the time; ask a question of your Facebook fans, invite them to share their opinions, vote on something and start to encourage a dialogue to strengthen the relationship.
Adding value is just as important on social media as anywhere else. Always think about the benefit to your fans when you write a post. Be helpful, offer good advice and give tips. Then, when you are promoting a new product or service, they will be more likely to buy from you.
Hundreds of thousands of small firms in the UK don’t have a website. That’s right — hundreds of thousands. In 2013.
The latest statistics vary but they pretty much tell the same story. According to the Office of National Statistics, 21% of small firms don’t have a website. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says a quarter of SMEs don’t have their own website. And hibu (formally Yell) puts the figure at an alarming 37%.
They are, undoubtedly, people we do business with every day — the plumber, the landscape gardener, the decorator and other sole traders. Then there are the small retailers that don’t sell online and so don’t bother with a website — the local bakeries, florists and cafes, for instance.
It’s not that they have their heads in the sand — they are just getting on with the job. Their business strategy is focused on passing trade and word of mouth. Sure, things are tough, but these are tough times we are living in.
But is it grinding to a halt so slowly you haven’t even noticed?
The cold fact is that businesses of all shapes and sizes are losing out if they don’t have a website. A new poll of 2,000 O2 customers has found that a quarter of respondents would not use a small business if they discovered it didn’t have a website.
And the O2 report calculates that this is collectively costing small businesses in the UK £13 billion in missed sales.
This year’s Local Business Week in May highlighted the importance of having a website for local shops. Writing in the Guardian, event organiser Phil Browne, said: “We've heard many stories of potential customers passing a shop or service, taking a mental note of its name, but getting frustrated at finding no website when they're at home. Customers expect to find small businesses online, and some want to be able to talk to you and to buy products without having to go to the physical premises.”
Many small firms believe they don’t need a presence on the “world wide web” because they serve a tiny geographical area. Others say they only need a few regular clients and they have got those already. Then there are the usual challenges for any busy business owner — lack of time, money and expertise.
But the fact is that even the smallest businesses need an effective website. And here are eight reasons why: