Archive for October, 2010

Is this the new normal? – Lateral thinking for your last quarter business review

October 9, 2010

“It’s been an interesting year” – is a comment i have heard from many small business owners this year. When I ask – “Interesting in what way?, the responses have ranged from a total need to reinvent an organisation’s products, through to innovative reduction of overheads. Less than 5% have said it’s been a record year. So if this is the new normal, let’s look at some lateral thinking for your last quarter business review to ensure that next year is more buoyant:

1. As attached as we sometimes become to our products and services, in this changing marketplace – maybe it’s time to ask your team – Can we fill a need that our clients may have, even if  we have never offered that service before?

2. And focussing on the law of reciprocity, is there someone within your network, whom you can help with information, connections and potential work?

3.  How can you enhance your client’s revenue by generating regular referrals for them? Hold on, isn’t this about your own business, so why would I suggest helping your client’s business. Well this is the new normal – so it’s not all about YOU, it’s about how you and your clients become allies and jointly help each other’s businesses grow.

4.  Do you need a mentor or coach to take you to the next level of your career? Or will actually allocating time for you to work on your business, be a great start for you to think creatively about your business and your priorities?

5. Are you prepared to be a mentor to another person in your industry? Mentoring can be a great networking tool, particularly if the mentoring is including in a group mentoring program. Not only do you get to share your highs and lows with your mentee, but you also get to network with others and build strong connections. 

6. Are there untapped networks that you need to connect with? Are you making networking a priority for your business? If you are too busy right now to show up at local chamber of commerce or industry specific events, why not send your partner or staff members. Ensure they have business cards and be clear on what you want them to do at this event. My tip would be to encourage them to be friendly, exchange business cards – have some quality conversations with others and ensure they have time the next day to follow-up with any connections they have made.

7. Will you start your own mastermind group in the next 6 months? Too busy, just staying on top of things? I would encourage you to have a priority of brainstorming with others – not necessarily only those in your industry. Fresh ideas often come from those not remotely connected to your industry – those who don’t have blinkers on, or any previous history of how things have to be. You might consider starting a small mastermind group with 4-5 people who make a commitment to meet on a monthly basis for 2-3 hours on brainstorming. Why not trial it for 4 months and see how it goes.

8.  For the next 3 months, ask ‘WHAT IF?’ often. What if we were starting our business from scratch, what would we do differently? What if we relocated our business to another state, another suburb? What if we exported? What if we stopped exporting?

9.  Be open to chance meetings  and opportunities – sometimes those chance meetings when we are in a social environment fast track some serious business connections. Always remember to follow-up and try to under promise and over deliver – far better than the opposite.

10. Finally consider creating your own new normal. When change is constant, flexibility is important. Just because we have always done it this way, doesn’t mean it is the only way to do it. Be open to ideas, spend time reading/researching what’s hot, what’s not – and now more than ever trust your intuition. Your gut feeling, that really strong feeling that you have that there is a better/different  way to do something – even though it might be so different that people tell you, you are crazy.

To quote Carl Sagan – “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” All the best creating your new normal for a prosperous year ahead.

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Networking For Leaders

October 3, 2010

Most leaders would be considered master networkers and live and lead by embracing the basic philosophy of treating people the way they would like to be treated. Leaders know that networking is a life skill, not just something they do when they want something.

They understand that networking is based around three universal laws:

 ABUNDANCE: seeing abundant opportunities for everyone – not fearing competition. The opposite of abundance is scarcity. Leaders, who manage by scarcity, withhold information, often use force with employees and rarely have a profitable and productive workplace.

 RECIPROCITY: the law of reciprocity states that what you give out comes back tenfold – when you give out positivity, you receive positivity, give out referrals, you will receive referrals, give out negativity and you will receive negativity, and not always from the same person.

 GIVE WITHOUT EXPECTATION: great leaders give without remembering and receive without forgetting. They do things for others not to get something back, but to help that person achieve their goals or complete their task at that time.

In my opinion,  there are only 50% of the marketplace leaders currently leading and managing by these universal  laws, they must be prepared to be very strong in their choice of practices. They will often be ridiculed in the media and amongst non-networking peers, but never by their staff.

As more and more media coverage is given to the TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE  model – organizations, which focus on the people, the planet and the profits will be headed by these master networkers. Enlightened leaders realise that profits will only be short-term when focus is not also given to the people and the planet. When focus is given to all three areas, leaders will head organisations filled with GLOBAL CITIZENS – people who answer to their own triple bottom line.

 A global citizen who looks at the bigger picture – the global picture, and adapts the worldview to his or her own community or organisation. As Anita Roddick, founder of the Bodyshop chain says, think globally, act locally. Staff members are aware that good, clear communication is the basis for job security, increased productivity and long-term profit. Their actions impact all staff members. Rather than making profit or money their sole motivator, enlightened organisations are headed by individuals who look beyond the dollars and are creating employer of choice-preferred working environments. Places where people seek employment, not just for the salary packages, but their company’s commitment to the community as well as the environment, that are aware that 10-12 hour days are not healthy for the individual or the company. Preferred work places where senior managers chase their managers out of the building after 6 pm – encouraging them to get home and have a life.

For some, this new way of thinking is frightening and needs some major adjustment. Others have the highest praise for the organisation that they feel part of. It is a community they, as individuals share.

Recognition

Enlightened leaders are aware that 80% of the population does not get recognition on the job – they work for companies who do not value them and never give recognition or praise. An employee would never knock back a pay rise, however the two words THANK YOU are more powerful than any pay bonus. Some recognition programs currently in place include: employee of the month (voted by staff members) employee of the month(voted by guests at a hotel) housemaids at hotels leaving a card stating they have cleaned the room and to contact them if any problems – this is not only accepting responsibility, but also recognition for job well done

Staff incentives – discount on company products, weekends away, and movie passes, dinners for two, etc… awards for most improved staff member (this gets away from only the high achievers being acknowledged) awards for best suggestion from idea in suggestion box naming products after the R&D team through to weekly massage treatments

in- house or close to office, memberships at local gyms as part of employee packages, subsidised canteen allowances,  business cards for all employees (regardless of whether they are front line), name badges for all staff, personalised birthday cards from management.

 The point of recognition is to acknowledge the commitment and effort of all staff members not just those who bring in the business. Without the engine room, the engine (the business) stops running.

Cross networking with competitors

 Enlightened leaders always form strategic alliances with competitors. Remember they don’t see competition, rather opportunities to form working alliances. Having open lines of communication can only help in downtimes and times of industrial conflict. Remember the abundant thinker sees lots of opportunities – and many of these will include an alliance with a competitor. A toy manufacturer set up an informal alliance with a competitor whereby should either run out of a certain widget or a common but hard to get small piece of raw material, used by both companies in production, each could borrow sufficient from the other to get their orders out. No money changed hands and as supplies were delivered, replacements were returned to the other manufacturer. This arrangement worked successfully for years until one manufacturer ultimately took over the other.

Name calling

No, we are not talking about name calling in a negative sense. Calling a person by their name is one of the biggest compliments you can give someone. A well-known Australian CEO of an airline was on first name basis with everyone from the porter in the cargo region to the kitchen hand in the staff canteen. No matter where he walked throughout the tarmac or terminal, he always greeted people by first name. Yes these people wore name tags, but this CEO had a memory for names and faces and had the respect of all the staff. During his reign industrial disputes were unheard of.

 More networking = less advertising

 Smart leaders know that the more they network, the less they need to advertise. Rather than taking full-page advertisement in newspapers and magazines, that money can be put to better use with client functions and carefully targeted networking events. A leading recruitment firm in the health arena, runs personal development and business seminars. Their invitation list includes all the major decision makers from area health, through to nursing, physiotherapy and occupational health and safety. Run as late afternoon events, their major cost is the presenter, comprehensive workbooks and afternoon tea. The guests can justify this time away from their workplace as it is perceived as work-related and the firm has the opportunity to build more trust with their clients, while at the same time giving them recognition.

Today, perceived value is most important before approval is given for attendance. The days of boozy lunches are over and people are becoming much more selective in their personal time investment. They are aware, that the underlying reason they are invited to these events is   to firm up their relationship with the supplier. At the same time, no one wants to be heavied, so suppliers walk a fine line between overkill, showing appreciation and added value. Some government organisations have made staff accountable for any gifts over $20 received from a supplier. These gifts must be logged into a directory and close scrutiny is given to ensure favouritism is not shown to a supplier. Knowing this, the wise leader, ensures that there is a written strategy on business protocol. How much will be spent on gifts, what is the procedure on gift giving and more importantly, what is appropriate at internal events where clients are invited.

Networking via client functions

 Millions of dollars are invested every year in client functions, but most organizations don’t realise that it is not just about the event. Of equal importance are the preparation, the event itself and the follow-up. The wise leader does not have well paid marketing people handing out name badges at these events. Their time is much better spent actually entertaining the guests, improving the communication lines and building trust. Leave the name tags to a well briefed junior, who has been shown a photo of the key participants (readily available these days from their company website). They are then often able to greet the guest by name. Checklists become a standard part of any function where clients are invited. This checklist becomes part of the procedures manual. More importantly the leader has worked with the team to create this checklist to achieve the desired outcome.

The preparation for each event is clearly divided into three stages:

 Pre event

At the event

Post event

This preparation would be clearly defined in the procedures manual, so that any area running a function would follow this plan. The more prepared you are, the more you ensure that clients enjoy themselves. Leave nothing to chance. Many events fail because of short time frame prior to the event – not giving clients sufficient notice, holding events at inappropriate times. It’s not about what suits you but what suits your clients. Venues and location, sufficient parking, easy access, all determine the enjoyment of the individual.

VALUED AND APPRECIATED CLIENTS = MORE BUSINESS = a great return on investment.

Most importantly at the event, the clients are the most important people present. Ensuring that each client is entertained, never left to stand alone and is introduced to others throughout the event is critical. The leader is not necessarily present at every client event. Depending on the size of the organisation, this may be impossible. However, even if not there in person the leader is acknowledged during any speeches and presentations.

One of the key objectives is that every client leaves satisfied that their time was not wasted, they were not oversold and they met other interesting people – maybe even some that they could do business with in the future. Standard procedure at these events may also include having available a list of attendees – stating the guest’s name, their company name and their position. This networking list is not given as a prospect list, rather a reference for those attending.

After the event it is invaluable for clients following up with other guests. The effective leader knows that follow-up is a critical part of networking, sets this organisation apart from the competitors. This follow-up is not left to chance.

Prior to the event:

 The more prepared you are, the more you ensure that clients enjoy themselves. Leave nothing to chance. Prior to the event, it is decided whether thank you notes would be sent or phone calls made to acknowledge the client’s presence at the event. This job is also delegated BEFORE the event, rather than afterwards and is completed within 48 hours of it. A good leader knows that there will be opposition to the follow-up. It may sound something like – “we spent all this money on the clients, they should be thanking us”. Some clients may say.

However, to stand out in the marketplace, always do the things that others do not.

 Income building versus income generating

Income generating is the core business of the organization – how it makes its money in the short-term. It is an obviously critical task. Income building is where networking, following up, keeping in touch, showing you care, giving referrals and maintaining your network happens. Income building is not critical or urgent and this is why it is often left to chance. However, it is a very important task.

 The enlightened leader encourages all staff to network on behalf of the organization for a minimum of 15 minutes every day. This time may not actually occur during prime business hours but in a dead spot during the afternoon, when a client is delayed and you have a few spare minutes, or even stolen minutes between appointments.

This income building time must be done regularly and does NOT include attending networking functions. This is a stand alone task and is critical for the future of the business. A leader may use the example of a real estate agent in an income building versus income generating discussion. A real estate agent buys and sells properties and this generates their income. Many real estate agents run out of property listings because they don’t income build – they don’t network regularly. If they don’t keep in touch with past clients, prospects, spheres of influence in the community, and their referrals sources, they will soon have no properties to sell and they stop income generating.

The enlightened leader encourages all staff whether they are in the back room or the front line dealing with customers all the time, that they are the FACE OF THE FIRM – and as such a very important asset. Income building becomes the future growth of the organization.

Business cards for every staff member

 To assist with the income building tasks, each staff member is given a personal business card and asked to use it regularly. A junior may not be considered someone who would network with prospects as such. However, the same junior has uncles, 13 aunts, and parents’ friends who could well become clients. No one is a nobody – everyone has a sphere of influence. Business cards are better referred to as name cards. This takes a lot of pressure away from people in non-business development roles giving out cards. Basically when you give a name card you are saying, this is my name and this is how you contact me.

 Tracking new business

 Creating systems to track where new business comes from is essential. Again the procedures manual includes a number of simple questions to ask new customers, once they have been identified as such. How did you hear about our company? Have any of our business development people made contact with you previously? The allocation of someone to look after every customer is very important. New customers need to know the name of one or two people who can help them when there is a problem or a general enquiry.

 Systems, systems and more systems Leaders know that staff need leadership, clearly defined boundaries and systems in place. Systems are guidelines, 95% of the time they work. Enlightened leaders know that 5% of the time situations may fall out of the normal pattern. This is when personal initiative is need. An entrepreneurial radio station CEO in New Zealand, gives EACH staff member (front line or not) authority to spend up to $250 to fix whatever is the client’s problem. Knowing this, empowers the staff member immensely. To date, five years later, the money has never been spent, staff morale is high and client retention is at all time high. Revenue enhancement Revenue enhancement is making money for your client. The leader knows this is a non traditional way of selling – and that it works. Whether it occurs by introducing informally or formally one client to another, at a lunch meeting, client event or social event, revenue enhancement is one of the quickest ways to create loyalty. You are earning the right to do repeat business. Alternatively have each business development person create a complete profile of the kind of people your clients are looking to do business with.

A brainstorming session with this information, can result in lots of matchmaking and connections. Then it is just one instance of making the introductions and creating a comfortable space for one client to meet another. An easy way to cross network with clients is to ask for five business cards from each. Create a business card holder that becomes your referral folder. A folder that can be included with your everyday diary or briefcase etc. When someone asks, “do you know a good xyz?” . . . “as a matter of fact, I do. One of my clients provides that service, Here is their card, please mention my name when you contact them”. With today’s e-mail system, it is very easy to copy one client to another with contact details and mention they can expect a call from xyz. The law of reciprocity states that what you give out is what you get back.

When you start giving away referrals, you start to receive them, not necessarily from where you gave them. 

 Networking ladder of loyalty

 Enlightened leaders communicate clearly, regularly and succinctly with their staff. This communication is also replicated from staff member to customer. All staff members are critically aware of the networking ladder of loyalty: On the lowest step is the STRANGER classification – people whom the company does not know, have never supplied and are a potential prospect. Next step is the ACQUAINTANCE classification – people a staff member has had contact with, discussed the company services, communicated not just about the company, but most importantly about the person they met or made contact with. A certain amount of trust was built. Next step is the FRIEND classification. People buy from people they know like and trust. Trust can only be built through communication. Respect and trust are earned not bought. The friend definition does not mean someone who you will spend every weekend with. Rather it is someone whom you trust and who trusts you. In such a relationship you know a reasonable amount about each other’s business and personal interests and activities.

PEOPLE DO NOT BUY FROM PEOPLE THEY DO NOT LIKE

 Communication is the key to sharing ideas, information and more important building trust. No one places an order with someone they do not trust. The next step on the networking ladder is CUSTOMER – someone trusts you enough to buy from you and they place one order. The world is made up of thousands of single transaction customers – people who bought once and never went back. The next critical step on the networking ladder is CLIENT – the customer who bought more than once, who came back the second and third time. The client is someone who trusted you and has now included you in his or her own network. The final step is the ADVOCATE – the customer who buys from you every time. When your industry or profession is mentioned, your name is immediately mentioned and you are described in glowing terms. Leaders communicate very clearly that advocates are the backbone of the company cash-flow. Often targets are set to increase the number of advocates from the client base. Even a 10% increase in advocacy can make a huge difference to an organisation’s growth.

Complacency

 Avoiding complacency is critical in today’s competitive marketplace. As we generate more and more advocates sometimes we fall into the trap of taking clients for granted. We stop returning calls within 24 hours, acknowledging e-mails, solving little problems as they occur. When little problems are not dealt with, they become big problems. Unresolved big problems become lost advocates. The leader knows no organization can afford to lose advocates and communicates this clearly and regularly. Cultivating broad networks Another trap great leaders advise against is falling into the trap of networking only within their industry or profession, dismissing people because they are nobodies (in their opinion) or presumably of no use to them. Good networkers aim to network across the board agewise, industry-wise and geographically. The easiest way to remain aware of what is happening in your industry, city and community is cross networking. Initially MTV years ago and now technology has changed the face of the entertainment industry worldwide. Having recently celebrated their 30th anniversary and still a global  marketplace leader, they are renowned for listening to the marketplace and changing their product as community needs change and evolve. In this way they maintain their leading edge.

On an individual basis, the advantage of cultivating a broad spectrum of networks is that you start to be noticed by decision makers as a problem solver. You have a variety of contacts so that you know who to connect with to find the answer to most problems. People seek you out – if you don’t know the answer yourself, you know someone who will. Connecting from the heart Great leaders make heart to heart connections – they listen with their heart as well as their ears. They are present, they are in the moment. When you speak to them, you know they are with you, not distracted, not mentally working on a deal somewhere else. Your connection and conversation may at times be brief, but they are focussed on you. As a result you feel comfortable questioning, at times even challenging their comments – because you know you are being listened to.

 Leaders also know that teams and organisations are only as strong as their weakest link. So they nurture their staff, encourage them to take risks and constantly move out of their comfort zone. The leader also knows, that the days of someone working for 10 or 20 years for an organization are over. If they can encourage, inspire and bring out the personal best in each staff member and that person gives back 1-2 years for that organisation, then they have done well. Staff members will leave one day and they will always look back on that leader as a value part of their own network, a contact never lost – a leader of the kind they aspire to be.