Networking is Not for Dummies

18 Dec

Successful networking is more than just walking up to strangers at an event, introducing yourself and your business, exchanging business cards, and closing with a handshake and a promise to call. Successful networking requires planning. It’s essentially like going on a group sales call. You have to prepare a plan, lay some groundwork ahead of the event, and define measurable goals for yourself. Fortunately, the Internet has made all of these steps so much easier and less time-consuming.

Who will be attending the event? Whether it’s a holiday party, the Chamber of Commerce breakfast, or an association meeting, knowing your audience is important. Make some phone calls; ask to see the RSVP list; and review your list of business prospects to seek out those target-rich attendees that you want to meet.

What is your networking goal? Do you want to meet a potential client that has been unwilling to set an appointment? Or, do you want to meet someone you’ve only heard about in your business community? Knowing what your goal is will also help you determine if the networking event was successful. (I always love asking sales people if the event was successful and they say “yes.” Then, when I ask what made it a success, they appear stunned as though it’s a trick question.)

How are you going to prepare for success?

  • Make a realistic list of people who you would like to meet and why. What can they contribute to your business and what can you contribute to their business? Successful networking is a win-win proposition.
  • Use LinkedIn to see if those individuals are “connected” to others in your LinkedIn network. Then, reach out to those you know and ask them to introduce you either by email prior to the event or at the event.
  • Determine the objective you would like to achieve. Do you want to ask for business, to set an appointment, or to establish just the first step pending a phone follow-up?
  • Learn what interests your prospects enjoy. With the Internet and social media, it’s not hard to learn something about a person’s hobbies, reading interests, favorite sports teams, or travel experiences. See if you have anything in common outside of the business. Something you might be able to use to lead into a conversation. Caution: There’s a difference between doing some research and stalking. You don’t want to come across creepy, just interesting.
  • Be knowledgeable. Read the news the day before and day of a networking event. Try to hit the following sections: Sports, Money, and Weather. You’ll notice that I stay away from politics or local government. (Politics, religion, and local government are still taboo topics and far too unstable to use in your first meeting with a prospect.) This information will help you in any conversation.
  • Be a good listener. This sounds so old-fashion and redundant, but you’ll find your best conversations are the ones where you listen more than you talk. Effective listening skills give a lot of insight into the other person’s business needs, problems, and how you might be able to solve them with your product or service.
  • Ask educated questions. Do your homework. Learn about your client’s business, their competitors, and the environment in which they operate. As the saying goes, “people have to know that you care before they care what you know.” Demonstrating knowledge of their company and that you’re willing to put in the effort to learn about them will go a long way.
  • Be authentic. Be honest. Be responsive. There’s nothing that can ruin a reputation or relationship faster than inauthenticity and dishonesty. If you don’t know, say so. If you don’t care, don’t pretend. And, if you say you’re going to do something, do it.

Networking can be a very positive and productive experience. Take the time and effort to make the most of each contact along the way.

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Why Are We Meeting?

28 Sep

A few years ago, Psychology Today published an article by Ray B. Williams, “Wired for Success” in which Williams argues, that if you want to “improve productivity, scrap meetings.” He sites SmartBrief on Leadership that conducted a poll asking this question, “How much time do you spend in recurring meetings?” The results of the poll indicated that 30% of the respondents are spending between 30-75% of their time in recurring meetings. (Keep in mind, these meetings may be face-to-face, conference calls, or web-based.)

That said, you undoubtedly have meetings that are absolutely necessary and you may not need to “scrap” them. However, meeting leaders are responsible for preparing for the meetings ahead of time, ensuring all attendees understand what’s expected of them prior to and during the meeting, and then the leader must manage and control the meetings efficiently.

The Agenda
An agenda is essential to a successful meeting. If the meeting’s organizer can’t take the time to create an agenda then he/she may need to rethink the need for the meeting. Meetings, by definition, are established to communicate, evaluate, discuss, and produce results. That said the agenda should be disseminated to those invited to attend in advance. There’s nothing worse than attending a meeting having not received an agenda and being asked questions or for opinions that needed advance notice or analysis.

The Preparation
Creating an agenda takes time and preparation on the part of the meeting organizer. They need to determine and define the purpose of the meeting, the expectations during and following, and the objectives the meeting is intended to achieve.

In turn, the attendees should review the agenda upon receipt and ensure they too have done their homework to be prepared with the necessary information, reports, and recommendations on the topics outlined in the agenda. Quite simply, all of those seated at the meeting should be serving a purpose or a reason for their attendance and participation. As the meeting takes place, each person’s role and contribution should be demonstrated.

Useful Tips to Achieve a Productive Meeting:

  1. Don’t hold a meeting unless you’re prepared, organized, and have demonstrated goals.
  2. Distribute a specific agenda including intended outcomes in advance
  3. Be clear about the outcome and purpose of the meeting.
  4. Hold attendees accountable for the reports and information that they are expected to provide.
  5. Don’t use meetings to distribute information or give updates or low-level housekeeping  – –  do that by email
  6. Hold meetings just before lunch so people will value the limited time
  7. Limit meetings to one hour in length
  8. Always begin and end the meetings at the announced times

What tips or guidelines do you use?

Change the Company You Keep?

1 Aug

Each week I make time for personal and professional development. I find it invigorating. Given the magic of the Internet, we now have so many options to grow our knowledge base. For me, I enjoy listening to podcasts, reading ebooks and articles, and watching TED Speaker videos. While we’re all pressed for time, there are so many alternatives that there’s something for everyone.

Most recently, while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, “Get Busy Living” with Benny Hsu, I was reminded of something my mother used to tell me; “You become the company you keep.” Meaning, choose your friends and colleagues carefully.

Benny’s podcast topic, “Why Choosing Who You Spend the Most Time With is So Important for Your Future.” Benny argues, we don’t pay enough attention to the people with whom we spend the most time. He cites a theory by Jim Rohn, a personal development expert, who believes that we become the combined average of the five people we hang around the most. Rohn suggests that the combined influence of our “circle of five” contributes to our attitude, health and income.

Additionally, entrepreneur Todd Smith writes, that our “associations are some of the most powerful factors in determining who you become and what you accomplish in your life. As an example, if we hang out with pessimistic people who are critical of us, their negative comments will likely impact how we view our abilities and our self-image.”

So how do we gain better control of this situation? The first logical step is to disassociate from the people who contribute negative energy in our space. If the “toxic people” are part of our work environment and thus impossible to completely avoid then we need a plan to limit our exposure and time in their presence. While we can’t control the people around us, we can control how we respond and react to them.

Second and equally important is the energy we spend in broadening our circle of influence. Quite simply, we need to better fill our time and emotional space with positive, supportive, and enthusiastic people with whom we have shared interests. Consequently, we reduce our time with negative influences. And, thanks to the Internet we are able to connect with positive, supportive people by finding local groups, organizations, and online discussion forums. We can now meet new people and connect through blogs, email, Skype, and podcasts. Positive support and influences are more accessible than ever before.

So I leave you with this challenge. If the people in your “circle of five” are not providing you with the positive, supportive, and enthusiasm you need to grow it’s not too late. Change the company you keep. Expand your circle of influence outside of its current inhabitants. A positive environment has a much more powerful influence on our lives than we realize.

What has been your experience?

The Conundrum of Paralysis by Analysis

27 Apr

Many years ago in a land far, far away I worked for a boss that suffered from “paralysis by analysis” in her search for “riskless risk.” As the proverbial Knights of the Roundtable, otherwise known as her Executive Team, each week we thrashed our way through the jungle of data, risk assessments, and possible alternative outcomes. Unfortunately, our quests often resulted in a dead-end. Why? Well, no decisions were ever made until the decisions made themselves. In other words, her indecision resulted in the least innovative and risk-free decisions. Additionally, no new results were generated since the “decisions” kept the business static. Her fear of making the wrong decision resulted in a stagnate company allowing others soar passed us.

How does this happen?
Every year or so, the business world identifies buzzwords/phrases that become common colloquialisms in boardrooms and executive offices around the world.

  • This could be a “game changer.”
  • We need to go after the “low hanging fruit.”
  • He’s a real “thought leader.”
  • We want to be “industry leaders.”
  • We need to be “innovative.”
  • We need to “get ahead of the curve.”

While these are great phrases to add into sales and marketing proposals, as well as year-end reports to corporate offices, they all have a couple of things in common. First, they need to be effectively sandwiched between a strategic plan on the front end and measurable goals/metrics on the back-end. Second, everyone around the table needs to accept that there is a certain level of risk and potential failure on the road to success. Identifying and evaluating that risk is the responsibility of managers. Being willing to shoulder an acceptable threshold for risk is the responsibility of a leader. And therein lies the rub.

Paralysis by Analysis
If this term doesn’t sound familiar, then let me explain the symptoms of the disease. The overall company or work group goals have been agreed upon. Then, each member of the team is tasked to research options, alternatives, and projected outcomes. Lastly, the team reassembles for a two-hour meeting and everyone throws his work on the table. The group goes through each scenario upon which discussion and brainstorming ensues for the greater portion of the two hours. With minutes left on the clock, the boss asks for the recommended plan of action. In other words, what decisions should be made based on the previous week’s work and this one hour and forty-five minute meeting?

Have you guessed the punch line? That’s right, no decisions were made. Instead, the topics were sent back to “committees” to explore further options and come back to the group with recommendations. So, the next question is why? Weren’t the options presented viable ones? Didn’t anyone agree with anything that was recommended? In fact, there were several options that could have been approved. Actually, there were an over-abundance of suggestions that could have yielded decisions. So what happened? Quite simply, the fear of making the wrong decision or alienating those on the opposing side of the decision now paralyzed everyone from making any decision.

Riskless Risk
If 2+2 equals 4, then you don’t run a risk of waking up one day to find that 2+2 equals 5. That’s riskless risk. In other words, riskless risk does not exist. Moreover, the best decisions are only deemed successful after they’re made. If you have the ability to look into the future and know that your risky decisions are going to all pay off, then head to Las Vegas and win big! After all, when a smart risk is taken, the joy of success is that much more rewarding. And, if you’re fearful that one wrong decision, no matter how small, will bring down your company/organization, then you’ve built your company/organization on a house of cards.

When you make educated decisions in a timely manner you move your organization along the path to success. Evaluate your threshold for risk and move forward with confidence.

Managing Your Non-Profit Like Your For-Profit

21 Feb

Business is business. Whether you’re managing a for-profit company or a non-profit association, there are common denominators that demonstrate few differences between the two business models.

As with any business, your goals guide the path you set to achieve your desired outcomes. By simply breaking this down into five common goals, it’s easy to see the similarities. Regardless of your business model, these five desired outcomes are essential to achieve a healthy organization that remains relevant, fiscally strong, and ensures loyalty among members/clients:

Goals of Your For-Profit Organization

  1. Generate income
  2. Minimize expenses
  3. Ensure customer satisfaction
  4. Increase customer base and market share
  5. Achieve profit for owners and/or shareholders

Goals of Your Non-Profit Organization

  1. Generate income
  2. Minimize expenses
  3. Ensure member satisfaction
  4. Increase membership and community awareness
  5. Accrue financial reserve for long-term financial viability

To remain focused on the main goals/objectives of your organization, I compare planning and decision-making to a bicycle tire. Often referred to a “hub and spoke” model, it clearly demonstrates that your core goal (represented by the hub of the wheel) remains strong and supported by the actions and strategic plans that lead to the hub (represented by the spokes of the wheel). 

Bike Tire1So how does this analogy prove useful as you manage your organization? It provides a touchstone for each decision you make and each work group or committee you establish. All strategies and tactics should lead back to supporting the hub.

As such, continually ask these questions of yourself and your colleagues: Does my plan or decision support the hub (goal) of my organization’s overall desired outcomes? Are my decisions, project work group, or committee contributing to the overall goal? If so, how do I demonstrate that connection? If not, do I need to reevaluate the relevance or strategic plan of my work group or committee?

That said, how does this apply to the adage, “business is business?” It simply means putting aside your own personal feelings, personal agenda, or decisions in the best interest of the business. This is easier said than done. However, an inability to do so results in failure if not today then tomorrow. Your first obligation is to the business and the health of that business and its employees, shareholders, members, and stakeholders. Keep in mind that the leadership and management you provide today determine the legacy you leave tomorrow.

Is Your Hotel Really Committed to Social Media Marketing?

3 Feb

Let’s be honest, few hotels have the human resources to commit to a full-time manager for their social media marketing effort. So, in order to still participate in the social networks, hotel brands and franchises take a cluster approach to their social media program. They group their hotels by brand, geographic territory, or destination and centrally post to all hotels in that grouping. While this may be cost-effective, are they achieving the results they expect? Are they generating sales leads, increasing restaurant patrons, and enhancing their customer experience?

Providing engaging and property-specific content on a regular basis takes time. It also requires a strategic plan and the ability to manage and adjust that plan as needed. If you can’t afford to hire a full-time employee on-site, then look to outsourcing your content or social media services. However, you will definitely want someone who understands both your hotel, the industry in general, and social media marketing. Social media marketing is now a professional discipline not a trend. Just because a college student can use Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and take a “selfie” doesn’t mean they understand the business of hotels or more importantly, the sales and marketing process. In other words, just because I know how to drive a car doesn’t mean you want me to rebuild your car’s engine.

Effectively participating in Twitter and Facebook encourages your sales prospects to become more engaged in what you have to offer and more inclined to make a booking or contact you directly. If your Twitter or Facebook strategies aren’t providing measurable or at least trackable results, determine why and adjust accordingly.

Daily monitoring of Google Analytics allows hotels to track visitors to each landing page, determine where in the sales process potential page visitors are likely to be, and then deliver a clear and effective call-to-action that will drive them to make hotel reservations, restaurant reservations or book a catering event.

Remember, one of the best features of social media is the relative low-cost or no cost associated with this marketing vehicle. Photos can be candid shots or pictures taken by guests. Sales departments can create videos in-house without fancy equipment. Photos and videos are great and should be strategic in their frequency and audience. One of the best byproducts of videos is that it increases your hotel’s search engine optimization organically. A couple of hotels that have done a nice job are The Westin Atlanta Airport, Atlanta, Georgia, and Boca Raton Resort, Boca Raton, Florida.

Having spent over twenty years in hotel sales and marketing, the best part of my job was the personal interaction with guests, clients, and colleagues. Making a personal and human connection with people is one of the key touchstones of a successful hotel. Why not use your social media marketing plan to further that engagement before, during, and after your clients come to your hotel? Make your hotel more than just a destination…make it a community.

Not All Managers are Leaders

31 Jan

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – – John Quincy Adams

I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between a manager and a leader. Actually, fascinated may not be the right word; let’s say that I’ve been perplexed and often frustrated. I think the genesis of my frustration is a potential fallacy that a manager should be a leader. However, anecdotal evidence has proven that just because someone manages people or departments does not mean they are leaders. Many managers are not effective leaders.

So let’s put aside all of the fancy research and management/leadership style models and simplify the concept. What differentiates a manager from a leader?

What is a Manager?
Managers have subordinates. A manager executes the plans, decisions, and goals driven from upper management. A person becomes a manager by virtue of his position. The followers are generally the manager’s employees. Followers follow the manager by default of management and supervisory hierarchy.

What is a Leader?
Leaders have followers. A leader is someone who influences the behavior and work of others in the group’s efforts towards achievement of specified goals in a given situation. A person becomes a leader on basis of his personal qualities. The followers of the most effective leaders tend to follow by choice. Followers have bought into the leader’s vision, personality, and most importantly, feel a respect for the leader’s knowledge and abilities.

What is the Nexus?
In my opinion, the ideal situation is when a manager is also a leader. Reality, it doesn’t always work out that way. Often, managers move through the “system” by navigating the designated ladders of professional ascension within a company or organization. Sometimes it is merely the result of seniority and company tenure.  And, their ascension may not be a reflection of their leadership ability, but a reflection of their management ability. Whether that’s a bad thing I’ll leave to your discretion.

In contrast, a leader is often chosen for his/her ability to move people, to move platforms, to facilitate change. As such, a leader provides direction, vision, and motivation. A leader is less concerned with ruffling the feathers of others since his followers tend to be believers. They trust that the leader is driven by a shared success and they want to be a part of that success. In contrast to a manager’s ascension, a leader’s ascension from within an organization is often a result of their successes, both measurable and intangible. The confidence others demonstrate for the leader elevates their corporate capital. Do all leaders make good managers?

Dilemma
When a manager is not an effective leader it often creates a barrier to decision-making thus hindering forward movement. Over the years, I’ve learned that more is often lost to indecision than the wrong decision. A manager lacking leadership skills frequently suffers paralysis by analysis. They spend so much time considering alternate options (fearful of making the wrong decision) they relent to inaction. Subsequently, their inaction and/or hesitancy result in a loss of confidence by subordinates creating future barriers to success.

Are you a leader, a manager, or both?

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