30 Nov

Benefits of networking

I was at a networking dinner the other evening and seated next to me was a young lady fresh out of university. Half way through the evening she asked me a really interesting question. “What are the benefits of networking?”

My abbreviated answer to her was, “to connect with people”. She replied by saying that we could do that via social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and other digital platforms. We didn’t need to waste our time attending functions and physically meeting people, we could very easily connect with people online in the comfort of our own homes (and probably in our pyjamas I thought).

She was partially right and also very wrong for many reasons I believe. These days we are so connected with people around us, but yet we are so very disconnected. People will boldly state that they have over a thousand contacts on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, but what does that actually mean?

I may be old fashioned, but I believe that face-to-face networking cannot be replaced with online platforms. They should be used in conjunction with face-to-face networking, but never be a replacement. Have we gotten lazy with all of these alternatives?

So what are the benefits of networking? Actually let’s change that and ask, “What are the benefits of good networking?’

Networking in a face-to-face environment makes you focus on a number of key areas, which in turn benefit your business.

  1. Your mindset – Networking is not about you and how many business cards you can hand out or receive. It’s not about what other people can do for you, but what you can do for others. Going in with a “taker” mindset will set you up for failure right from the beginning, I can promise you that. Try to go in with a “giving” mindset. “How can I help these people?”How does that benefit your business? People like to work with people who care about others. Clients like to know that it’s about them and not about you.
  2. Your presentation – How you dress and present yourself to the crowd will determine how well you are accepted by the other party. Whether you like it or not, people will start developing an impression of you the minute they see you, even before you open your mouth. Make sure your dress code and non-verbal cues are showcasing the right message about you.How does that benefit your business? Creating good first impressions will start to build trust and eventually loyalty with your potential clients. Remember you are constantly on stage and how you present yourself will either attract new business or have them turn away.
  3. Your pitch – What’s the first thing that comes out of your mouth when introducing yourself and your business? If you cannot describe your business or the benefits of your business, you lose their attention.How does that benefit your business? Understanding your own business and confidently talking about the benefits, shows your potential client that you are confident, capable and genuinely passionate about what you do. That can be difficult to authentically showcase online.
  4. Your weaknesses – Attending a networking event can be extremely nerve-racking and overwhelming, especially if you don’t know anyone. Networking pushes you completely outside of your comfort zone into a a world of unknowns. There is no place to hide when attending a networking event, unless you spend the entire time in the loo. There is no screen to hide behind or virtual world to pretend in. Face-to-face networking builds your confidence and can set you apart from your competition if done correctly.How does that benefit your business? Finding ways to grow and develop your own skills and competencies will only benefit your business. The more you stretch yourself the better you become and the stronger your business becomes.
  5. The follow up – Networking doesn’t end when you leave the event. It has only just begun. What is your follow up strategy after the event? How will you re-inforce that first impression?How does that benefit your business? You start to build your own network of people who you admire, trust and support.

Nothing beats the good old fashioned face-to-face contact. If you want to grow your business and to create an everlasting impression, move away from behind the screen for a few hours and go and enjoy a cup of tea and some canapés with some other human beings. You’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.

17 Nov

Why your competitors are the best thing for your business

Recently I met a business owner who was in a pretty negative space with regards to her business. After a brief discussion to understand her situation, I discovered that the biggest issue she had was that her competitors were “getting a bigger piece of the pie”.
She was incredibly negative about this, so much so that this mindset had filtered into all areas of her business. She told me that she had stopped with her new customer acquisition marketing strategy, because “my competitors have probably already made contact with those prospects, so it’s pointless if I do”. Really?! Whilst listening to her speak I thought, “I wonder if Oprah Winfrey ever thought that way when facing adversity?
This businesswoman, had literally given up without even trying. On the way home I reflected on our conversation and came up with my take on her whole issue. Flipping it right on its head! Your competitors can be a huge influence on your business success, you just need to know how and of course why.

1) Without competitors we become complacent

Just imagine if there was no competition in the world? It would probably be fun, for about a week, but then we would literally start sliding into a state of complete boredom and complacency, which is a dangerous place to be in business and in life in general. By understanding our competitors’ strengths and weaknesses we become creative thinkers and start finding opportunities to develop new and innovative products and services for our customers. We spend time improving our current offerings so we can be the best we can be. Our competitors challenge us to keep agile and on our toes. Without our competitors we stop developing ourselves and our businesses, we stop working towards goals.

2) Without competitors we don’t get a chance to shine

Think about your business and who your immediate competitors are. How similar or different are you? You may be offering similar products or services, but I can tell you that there are many unique traits about you and your business that will shine through. Define those traits and let them shine!
Without competitors we stand a chance of becoming a boring face in the crowd. By understanding the necessity to stand out, we challenge the status quo.

3) Without competitors we don’t get to understand our customers

Without competitors we stop thinking outside the box. We stop trying to find out what our customer really want and only think about what we can comfortably offer them. We become self-absorbed and lazy, where we actually should be customer-centric. We fail to clearly define our customers needs. This complacent mindset leads to missed opportunities, no business or personal growth.
Owning and operating your own business is not easy, it will never be easy, but if you are aware of this and happy to  take the good with the bad then owning your own business can be exceptionally gratifying.
Owning a business with the understanding that there are bigger, more successful and well-known competitors out there can be daunting, but competition will always be there, whether you like it or not. Learn to embrace them. Learn to work with them, not against them. Learn from your competitors’ mistakes and wins and remember they will never ever be you!
03 Nov

Bullying or wearing blinkers?

If you were in New Zealand in the 80s then you may recall the “unfortunate experiment” which cast a very dark shadow over the National Women’s Hospital at that time. Last week I attended an incredibly inspirational talk by Dr Ron Jones, author of Doctors in Denial: The forgotten women of the unfortunate experiment, which spoke about the doctors and women involved. It is a painful reminder of what happens when people in power allow their egos to get in the way of sound judgement and good decision making. This “experiment” caused thousands of women to lose their lives from cancer that could have been cured. Dr Jones was one of the very few whistle blowers in this story and it is his mission in life, aside from a tribute to the women who passed away in this experiment, to educate New Zealanders about the truth of this outrageous and very preventable disaster.
Dr Jones’ story highlighted a number of characters who played significant roles in this experiment and at some point it sounded more like a horror fairytale than a true event. As Dr Jones spoke I realised that the characters he referred to in this story are also ones that we are all very familiar with and may engage with in our work and personal lives on an ongoing basis. Two main characters really stood out for me.
1) The “EGO character” – Dr Jones spoke of two main individuals in his story who were driving this experiment from the beginning. He called them bullies. Bullies with big egos are probably the most dangerous and destructive character trait I can think of. It doesn’t matter how wrong these people are, they will always dig their heels in and never admit failure. For these people self-preservation will always trump the will to be honest and prevent others from suffering.
2) The “BLINKERS character” – The blinker wearers in Dr Jones’ story, were highly qualified, world renowned and respected individuals at the peak of their careers. They did absolutely nothing, except turn a blind eye to what was going on. By not getting involved they allowed the bullies to take over.
So what can we learn from this horrific story? What can we do to prevent this type of behaviour from sneaking into our lives?
One thing that I have learned over the years, is that it is not about trying to control other people’s behaviours. It’s all about being aware of our own behaviours and controlling how we portray ourselves in the world. Learning from these stereotypical character traits will not just help us become better human beings, but by having a strong self-awareness it will positively influence our immediate environment and the people around us. Lead by example and keep the following in mind.
1) No one is perfect, we all make mistakes. Learn to be humble.
2) Never let your ego get in the way and cause you to develop tunnel vision.
3) It’s okay to be wrong and to admit your failure.
4) Use your voice and stand up against bullies when others cannot.
5) Leaders are responsible and accountable for their teams.
To be safe, how can we double-check that we are not turning into bullies or blinkers? We can learn to develop “self-checking-in” systems. Just like jumping on a scale to check on our weight, we can jump on the self-awareness scale and actively check behaviours and habits by asking ourselves questions, or if need be, ask a trusted colleague or friend to provide some honest feedback.
1) Did I listen to the other party?
2) The decisions that I am making, do they align to my business values?
3) Am I respectful in my approach?
4) Do I display ethical behaviour?
5) Will the decision that I am making benefit my business or just my personal needs and desires?
 These lessons are not new and we hear these statements all the time, but how often do you really apply these lessons? Perhaps today is a good time to start.