More Than WE Know

Women Entrepreneurs sharing Information, Inspiration and Support

Archive for August, 2007

Complaint-Free Networking

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 31, 2007

purple-bracelets.jpg (picture from http://www.acomplaintfreeworld.org)

Last Saturday, my friend Sarah gave me a purple elastic band, with the words “A Complaint Free World” printed on it.  She said that along with the band came a challenge to refrain from complaining for 21 days (the amount of time it takes to ingrain a new habit).  She said that each time I slipped up and complained, I needed to move the band to my other wrist and start counting the 21 days all over again. 

I eagerly accepted the band because I thought it was a great idea.  I loved the idea of reducing the negative energy and free-floating complaining in the world.  I must admit, I took the band a bit smugly. I put it on my left wrist, confident that it would stay there for the entire 21 days.  I think of myself as a very positive person, who is very grateful for the life I lead. I figured it would be no problem for me to go a mere 3 weeks without complaining.

So, I got the band on Saturday afternoon and put it on my left wrist.

Saturday evening – Going back to my hotel after my coaching class, I had to take a NY subway downtown in suffocating heat. Due to some construction, the express trains were running local and making all the stops.  Moved the band to my right wrist.

Sunday – Took the final exam for my coaching class. What I thought was going to be a two-hour short answer test with a single essay question, turned out to be closer to a two-hour all essay test.  Moved the band back to my left wrist.

Monday – Caught a flight from NY to Phoenix. Sat on the runway for 45 minutes waiting to take off.  I’d already been away from my husband all week when I was in NY and he was in Connecticut; now I was going further away.  Moved the band back to my right wrist.

Tuesday – Discovered the water heater in my apartment in Phoenix was broken. Took a cold shower. Moved the band back to my left wrist.

Wednesday – Despite a note from the maintenance man that he had repaired my water heater, there was still no hot water. Washed my hair in cold water. Moved the band back to my right wrist.

Thursday –  Problems with my laptop caused me to spend 15 minutes searching for a phone number for “customer service” – and then to sit on hold waiting to talk to a human being for another 25 minutes. Moved the band back to my left wrist.

Friday – Catching the red-eye from Phoenix to NY and then taking the first morning  train from Grand Central to Connecticut – might as well go ahead and move the band over to my right wrist now.

So, what did I learn in the first 7 days of my grand experiment?

I could say that this week has been worse than usual, but that wouldn’t be true.  Every week, every day, has incidents that push us to complain.  The truth is that I complain more than I realize; the band just made me more conscious of it.

The problem is that complaining is negative energy.  As we discussed in yesterday’s post, people are attracted to positive energy and repelled by negative energy. So while I may get momentary relief from complaining about my situation, I am actually doing myself more harm than good. The people I am trying to connect with, will actually eventually start to avoid me.

This is important for the would-be networker to realize. While it is important to connect with people with words and passion, those connections should be positive in order to be nurturing and sustainable. 

There are over 2 million purple bands in circulation.  If you would like one of your own, order here. They’re free although they accept donations to cover expenses.  But be forewarned – due to the high demand the bands are taking currently 12 weeks to be delivered.

Once you get the band, see how long it takes you to go 21 straight days without a complaint. Wear your band to your next networking event and use it as an icebreaker. Tell the people you meet about your 21 day project – I’m sure they’ll be interested – but whatever you do –  don’t complain about it!!

What do you think of this project? Would you take the challenge? Or do you think that complaining serves a purpose?

Advertisements

Posted in marketing, motivation, networking, sales, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Network with Passion

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 31, 2007

753263_96592484.jpg (photo by Linda Van Dijk)

I read a fantastic post this morning written by Marilyn Suttle.  Marilyn is an expert in customer service. She co-writes the blog, LoveThemUp.com.  In her post Marilyn tells about a truly terrible day that was turned around by the positive energy exhibited by a waiter at a Big Boy restaurant.  The waiter was so sincerely happy and enthusiastic that it was contagious. Along with their chocolate malts, Marilyn and her husband got an invigorating shot of energy to take back home with them.

I loved this story because it illustrates how energy can be literally transferred from one person to another. 

Stop for a moment and think of a person who makes you feel good just by being around them. If you are drawing a blank, think of the last time you were around a two or three year old child.  Even if the child was a complete stranger in a restaurant or an airport, you were probably drawn to their energy and their delight in the world around them.  This type of sincere enthusiasm is compelling.  We find ourselves thinking that “we want what they’re having”.  

Contrast that feeling to the one we get when someone is pretending to be friendly, as in the stereotype of the “used car salesman”.  Even though he or she acts friendly, we can sense that it is forced and insincere. This contradiction makes us uncomfortable. Instead of being drawn closer, we are repelled.   

What does this mean to us in our networking?

First, it is important to remember that people are drawn not just to what we say, but to how we say it. Our energy speaks volumes before we even say a word.  This can be a challenge for the majority of us who are uncomfortable in networking situations.  If we are feeling anxious, scared, shy or depressed, others will sense that and have a tendency to steer clear. This, of course,  will make us more anxious, scared, shy or depressed, causing them to avoid us even more, and so on, and so on.

So, what is the nervous networker to do?

First, take a deep breath.  Consider that this can actually be good news for those of us who feel tongue-tied in groups.  It means that people will remember less about what you actually said, and more about how you made them feel.    That takes some of the pressure off of “saying the right thing”.

It also means that it is extra important to tap into our positive energy and passion. Even for the most nervous among us, there are ways to do that:

1) Talk about subjects you feel passionate about  – whether it’s the feedback you got from a customer, your belief in how your service can help the world, or the satisfaction you are feeling from knowing you are building a business that really reflects your values, your enthusiasm will come across in your voice and your face.

2) Network while volunteering for a worthwhile cause – again it’s all about the passion and the energy. Don’t get involved in something because you think “you should”.  Get involved in something that you would be interested in doing even if you don’t meet anyone to network with.  And then, remember to speak about it with passion the next time you’re at a more traditional networking event.

3) Network while pursuing your hobby – Whether it is quiliting or kayaking, a book club or a wine tasting, your enthusiasm is going to come through. When you are doing something you enjoy, your confidence and your energy incease.  You will be more open to others and they will be more receptive to you.

Increasing the energy and enthusiasm in your life doesn’t just benefit the people around you. It benefits you!   You will feel more passion and purpose in life, and other people will in turn be more drawn to you, increasing your passion and purpose even more!

Tell me about what you feel passionate about – how do you incorporate opportunities to feel energetic into your daily lives?

Posted in marketing, motivation, networking, sales, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

How to Go from Shy Networker to Brilliant Conversationalist

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 29, 2007

732128_72168845.jpg Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, Intl. recently wrote an article for Entrepreneur.com in which he explained why introverts can be great networkers because they are already great listeners.  Now, Dr. Misner is a nationally recognized expert in networking, but I have several issues with the article that he wrote.

First, he does not distinguish between introverts and people who are shy.  As we’ve discussed in previous posts, while these two traits can come together, they are not identical.  The tips he gives in his article to help introverts are really aimed at shy individuals.  Many introverts enjoy other people; they just find interactions with them draining.  To be effective, introverts need to remember to pace themselves and find ways to re-energize. 

But what concerns me the most about the article is that it states that introverts are naturally better listeners than extroverts because they have a tendency to be quiet. What this doesn’t take into consideration is the noise going on inside either the shy or introverted person’s head.  While sitting quietly, and appearing to listen, the shy person may really be thinking:

“…everyone here is dressed better than I am..I wonder where she got that suit…maybe I should have worn a suit….I never wear the right thing….what is she talking about now?….uh oh, I wonder if she is going to expect me to respond?….I don’t know what to say…maybe if I keep nodding my head she will keep talking….I wonder if I look like a bobble head with my head nodding…..”

while an equally quiet introverted person might be thinking,

“I wonder when I can leave….I’ve been here for 45 minutes I think…I wish I could see my watch…but if I look, she’ll know I’m not paying attention….hey that guy’s wearing a watch….maybe I can see it out of the corner of my eye…..hey, great! 52 minutes….by the time I go to the bathroom and get my coat, it will be one hour since I got here….that’s long enough…I wonder if I have to find the hostess to say good-bye or if I can just slip out….”

So, as you can see, silence is not always golden. It is, as Dr. Misner pointed out, the first step in effective listening. But to really be effective at listening, it helps to know the following:

1) Don’t feel pressured to say something brilliant in response.  Most people are starved for attention. If you will actually concentrate on what they are saying instead of listening to the noise going on in your head, they will sense your interest and enjoy talking to you.

2) Express yourself without words.  Facial expressions, head nods, encouraging murmurs (“hmmm”, “I see”, “wow”, “really!”, etc.) enable you to participate in the conversation without actually having to say anything.

3) Ask open-ended questions.  This sounds harder than it is.  It helps to ask questions that start with “what” or “how”.  Avoid asking questions that can be answered with one word, especially if that word is “yes” or “no”.  For example, it’s much better to ask “What was your favorite experience  in Mexico?” rather than “Did you enjoy your trip to Mexico?” 

By bundling these three techniques together, the shy person can carry on quite a long conversation without the pressure of being witty or funny.  And as Dr. Misner points out, the smart networker can use these conversations to learn much more about the prospective customer than their more talkative companions.

By really listening to what the other person has to say, you can identify their goals, their challenges and their motivations and determine ways that you and your product or service can help them with their needs. When you do decide it’s time to speak, your conversation will be tailored to them and their concerns – and they will think you brilliant!!

Posted in marketing, motivation, networking, sales | 1 Comment »

Situational Shyness and the Aspiring Entrepreneur

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 27, 2007

802103_46422146.jpg (photo by Zela)

Last night I went to a graduation dinner for iPEC, the institutue for Professional Empowerment Coaching. Approximately 20 of us had been part of an intense program of advanced coaching studies for the past 6 months.  There was much laughing, hugging and even a little crying. We warmly congratulated each other on our success, affectionately kidded each other on past mistakes, and proudly encouraged each other on future opportunities. 

As we chatted during the evening, some people expressed surprise that I had been writing articles on networking for shy entrepreneurs.  They commented that I did not “seem shy”.   This got me thinking about some of the common misconceptions about shyness that can lead to misunderstandings and lost opportunities.

While it’s true that some people are pervasively shy, feeling awkward and self-conscious in almost every interaction, most people fall somewhere short of this extreme.  For many people, shyness is based on their comfort with a situation, a role,  and the people around them.  The more comfortable they feel –  the less shy they act.  Over time, the unfamiliarity fades and the shyness becomes less apparent or even disappears. This was the situation between my classmates and me. Apparently some of them had forgotten how quiet I had been in the early classes and were only looking at the talkative person I had become.

Shyness is a protective device. We are protecting ourselves from the danger of the unknownSituational Shyness can be triggered by meeting new people, having a new job, and taking on a new role.  This is why people can be outgoing with friends but shy with strangers.  It is also why some people can be confident presenting in front of a group of strangers but tongue-tied making small-talk to a circle of acquaintances.  

While this behavior can seem clear and consistent to the shy person, it can seem confusing and inconsistent to the people around her. Instead of assuming that the quietness is based on shyness – they may assume it is rudeness, coldness or a deliberate snub.  Their reasoning is that if they’ve seen that person act friendly in the past, they don’t believe that they can be feeling shy now.

The outcome then can be misunderstandings and lost opportunities for friendships and partnership.

So what is the aspiring entrepreneur with situational shyness to do?

By changing the way you talk to yourself and to others, you can give yourself the time you need to regain your self-confidence and eliminate your need for self-protection

When you find yourself in a situation that brings out your shyness, such as a networking event, reduce your need for self-protection by changing the way you talk to yourself:   

  •  “Most people are feeling uncomfortable”
  •  “Everyone says something wrong sometimes”
  •  “Mistakes are not fatal”
  • “No one else is paying as much attention to my behavior as I am”  

And when you talk to others, change the way you explain your behavior

Don’t label yourself as shy, instead identify the situation as one that triggers shyness in you. 

If you say “I’m just shy” in response to their questions about why you are quiet, and they have seen you acting self-confident before, you will only get an argument because you don’t fit their idea of shyness. 

“No – you’re not shy! I’ve seen you giving presentations!”

“You can’t be shy! You have a great sense of humor!”

Instead, say “This situation makes me feel shy” or “I get tongue-tied in front of new people.”  They can’t argue with that and it will increase their awareness of the way shyness can come and go.  It may help them realize that your behavior doesn’t mean you are unfriendly or rude or lack anything intelligent to say –  it just means you need a little more time to regain your self-confidence and sense of self.

Many people avoid networking events because they are one of the top situations that trigger our shyness.   Instead of avoiding the events altogether, give yourself some time to adjust, and some freedom to be yourself. 

Instead of attending a different networking event every week, find one you want to attend and go consistently and regularly. Over time, the situation will become more familiar and less threatening and your need for the protection of shyness will fade.  Once you feel comfortable in one networking organization, the next one will seem less intimidating, and the one after that even less so, and so on, and so on.

I was fortunate that the iPEC classes were spread over a period of months so that I had time to become more comfortable in the situation.  You can create the same kind of fortune in your networking by building in the time you need to let go of your shyness and share your best self.

Posted in marketing, motivation, networking, sales, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

A Blog for Every Woman Entrepreneur

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 25, 2007

busy-woman.jpgGreat timing!! Following yesterday’s post about why every entrepreneur needs a blog, I found this list of 100 blogs devoted to the woman entrepreuneur.  Lots of great examples and inspirations, including stories of how other women have become successful entrepreneurs.  Check out the blogs and the ebooks and then get busy building your own inspiring story of success!!!

Please tell me about your own experience building a blog to support your business. I’d love to hear your story!

Posted in blogging, marketing, motivation, networking, sales | Leave a Comment »

Why Every Entrepreneur Needs a Blog

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 23, 2007

cb024732.jpgQuestion: What’s a quick, painless way to network to a lot of your customers and potential colleagues without ever having to leave the comfort of your own backyard?

Answer: A Blog    (you knew that, didn’t you?)

But if  a blog is such a powerful networking tool – why do so many entrepreneurs make the mistake of not creating one?

I asked a few people in my network and got the following answers:

1) Don’t see the value (i.e. where’s the money???)

2) Concerned they didn’t have anything to say

3) Too intimidated by the technology   

Let’s address these concerns one at a time.

First, I agree, the value of a blog is not to create instant sales.  It is a networking tool that works for you and your business, even while you sleep.  We all know that most things being equal, people prefer to do business with people they know, like and trustA Blog is an easy way to build rapport with your customers.

A Blog is an opportunity to: 

  • provide ongoing value
  • build awareness
  • build loyalty

When the time comes that they do need your services or products, how much more likely are they to think of you if they’ve been reading your blog on a regular basis?

Now that you’re starting to see the potential value of a blog,  let’s discuss the concern that you won’t have anything to say.  The great thing about blogs is that they can be whatever you want them to be. 

My blog has articles and pictures that tell a story or give advice, because that’s what I like to write.  Your blog might have lists, news articles, funny pictures, jokes, recipes, etc.  

One great way to blog that adds a lot of value and doesn’t take much writing effort is to write tip sheets based on your area of expertise:

  • a realtor might write tips for selling a house, buying a house, decorating, finding a school system, determining the crime rate, making friends in a new neighborhood, finding a lawn service, reducing the risk of crime, etc.
  • a skin care specialist might write tips for grooming, makeup, looking younger, etc.
  • a drycleaner might write tips for getting out stains, choosing fabrics, storing winter clothes, etc.
  • a virtual assistant might write tips for organizing files, backing up computers, writing standard letters, etc.

Can you picture your customers coming back time and time again to see what new tips you have to offer?  And maybe referring their friends to your blog for great information?

You can build further incentives and loyalty by offering blog-only discounts or holding contests. You can also add surveys to your blog which will enable you to gather more information about the needs of your customers to consider when developing new services.

You can create some fun in your blog by having it written by a “mascot”. For example a bookstore owner might have a blog “written” by the store cat, a day care center owner might write from the point of view of a toddler, and a seller of baby clothes might write from the point of view of a kindly grandmother.

You can write the blog yourself, you can have someone else in your family or business write the blog or you can hire someone else to do it.  If you delegate the blog writing, ensure that the person you hire has some knowledge and passion for your topic and that it conveys the image you want associated with your business.  Successful blogging builds your brand. Don’t underestimate its influence. 

If you’re interested in hiring someone to do the blogging, look for “ghost bloggers” who convey the tone and image you want, as well as the information. You can find “ghost bloggers” at www.elance.com, or hire more robust services like www.mccordweb.com or www.advmediaproductions.com

Professional blogs can cost $15 to $100 and up per post.  Before hiring a professional blogger, be sure to see samples of sites they already support and get a clear understanding of how much research they will do, the length of the posts and whether they offer search engine optimization, hosting or other benefits.

While writing a blog can be a little challenging, creating one shouldn’t be. It is much easier than building a website.  It is even exciting to see something that you’ve written instantly published on the web!

To create a blog, simply log onto a site like this one – www.wordpress.com.  Choose a name (your business name is a good place to start) and request a blog.  It only takes a minute.  Then write your first post. 

Imagine you are writing a letter to your favorite customer.  Tell them something you want them to know.  Thank them for their business.  Offer them a special discount.  Be sincere.  Be yourself. Don’t worry about making it perfect. When you’re done –  hit “publish”.

Congratulations! You have a blog!

You’re on your way to building a powerful, painless, inexpensive networking, marketing and customer relationship management tool!

Do you have experiences leveraging a blog for your businesses?  Tell me about the success and challenges you’ve encountered!

Posted in blogging, marketing, motivation, networking, sales | Leave a Comment »

Challenging Advice for the Shy Entrepreneur

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 22, 2007

120px-vintagebarbie.jpg Or Why Barbie Doesn’t Make a Good Business Coach!

I’d like to introduce you to a long-time companion of mine – Barbie. You know, the perfect plastic doll that’s been around since the 1960’s? I’m afraid that for years she has taken up residence on my left shoulder.  Whenever I was about to speak up in a group,  Barbie would tug on my earlobe and impart such helpful phrases as:

“They don’t want to hear what you have to say….”

“They already know that….”

“Oh, you are so boring, please be quiet…”

“You’re not going to tell that story again, are you? You tell it so badly….”

….and so on.  Any of you who related to my earlier  post on networking for the shy entrepreneur can probably understand the concept of hearing messages in our heads which tell us to sit down and be quiet and not bother anyone.  For years, I’ve accepted Barbie’s advice, figuring the only person it was hurting was myself.

But one day an insightful business coach gave me a different perspective on the situation. She said that by not speaking up, I was actually withholding myself from others.  And that by spending my time quietly listening in group conversations (which can sometimes be a good thing) I could be misunderstood as only being willing to take from others while giving nothing in return. 

Since the idea of being a taker goes against the very nature of who I am or who I want to be, I definitely took notice.  I realized that Barbie was causing much more harm than I had previously understood – and so I hatched a plot to do her in.

However before I got very far in my murderous scheming, I remembered an essay by Virginia Woolf that I had read a few years ago.  It seems Woolf suffered from a similar left-shoulder visitor, whom she referred to as the “angel of the house”.  This “angel” got in her path whenever she tried to write anything that was not “ladylike”.

In A Room of One’s Own, Ms. Woolf described her own attempt to murder her talkative companion, ” Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the ink pot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had dispatched her. ”

I decided that if Virginia Woolf had had that much trouble silencing the voices in her head, that I would probably have no better luck. So instead, I decided to transform Barbie and bring her up to date for the 21st century.  I’ve renamed her Babs, and I’m  retraining her to whisper encouraging words in my ear. Babs says things like:

“Ooh – that’s interesting, they’re going to like that”

“Go ahead and re-tell that story – someone hasn’t heard it yet, and besides, it’s funny.”

“I bet that insight will really help someone, go ahead and tell it.”

Don’t you like Babs much better? I know I do.

So, if you have a voice inside your head telling you that you shouldn’t speak up, or you shouldn’t take a risk, or that no one is going to like you, etc.  recognize it for the limiting belief that it is.  Realize that you are not just limiting yourself, you are limiting those around you  – You are limiting the value you bring to the world.

This blog was created as a means to silence Barbie.  I even named it More Than We Know – because I believe all women Know More Than WE believe we Know, Contribute More Than WE really Know, and Make a Difference to Others More Than WE can ever Know.

So, take a chance – speak up!  Babs says it’s going to be alright.

Do you relate to this story? Do you find yourself tongue-tied out of fear of looking foolish or being boring or misunderstood? If so, I’d like to hear about it.  You can comment below or send me a confidential reply on my “About” page.

Posted in marketing, motivation, networking, sales, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Don’t be Afraid to Overfill your Networking Nets

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 21, 2007

fishing-boat.jpgYesterday we talked about the concept of referral marketing.  This is marketing based on the referral of clients between respected colleagues in separate businesses with similar target markets.  For example, a golf pro could refer a client to a chiropractor, or a realtor could refer a client to an interior designer.  These professionals share a similar client base, but provide separate services.

But what about providing referrals to people in the same business as you? Yes, you read that right, as crazy as it sounds, I am suggesting that you refer clients to your competition!

Before you dismiss it out of hand, let me tell you a story about a time when my husband and I were vacationing in India on the Arabian Sea.  We saw some fishing boats with large nets on the beach and were curious about how the fisherman managed the nets to catch fish.  The next morning we got our answer.

The fisherman sailed his boat out into the water while a crowd of men and women stayed on shore holding on to the net.  When the net was fully spread out the boat was probably 100 yards out in the water.  Then the net was lowered to allow fish to swim across. At a signal the net was raised, the boat headed back inland,  and the crowd pulled frantically to pull the net up on the beach. 

Dozens of fish lay spread out on the sand, sparkling in the sun. The crowd coverged and rapidly began collecting the fish.  There was much laughing and joking as they all shared in the fisherman’s catch.  In  a matter of minutes the fish were all gathered up and the crowd moved off back to the village to prepare and preserve the fish.  

Now, you could say that all the members of this village were in competition for the same goal – fish.  And each one could have worked individually to catch their fish supper.  On any given day, some  would have been successful, but many others would not. 

Those that were successful might even have caught more fish than they and their family could eat. They would have then thrown these excess fish back or held onto them only to throw them away when they spoiled. Meanwhile, other fishermen, who had been less successful would have had to let their families go hungry.

By working together the entire village was able to benefit.   They cast a wide net that brought enough fish to feed them all. There were several boats on the beach. The next day a different boat and a different net were used, easing the burden and reliance on a single fisherman.

In the same way, some weeks your networking is going to pay off. You’re going to receive plenty of referrals and have sufficient business. In other weeks, you may not. 

In the weeks when you have an excessively abundant business you have a choice. You can try to hoard the business, and perhaps stretch yourself too thin, do a less professional job, and ultimately waste the opportunity, or you can turn down the business and effectively throw it back. 

You also have a third choice, which is to share your present abundance with someone else, and trust that when the situation is reversed, they will return the favor.

Sharing with competitors is difficult. It can feel like you are taking the food out of your own family’s mouth and handing it to someone else.  But this is abundance thinking in action. You need to believe that if you share with others, they will share with you in return.  When you have a lack, they will help fill it.

I recommend developing some relationships with people you respect who are in a similar business as yours.  It will take great trust on both sides not to feel threatened or insecure. 

But done professionally and with integrity, you will find the benefits enormous.  There is no one who will understand you and your business as well as someone who is facing the same challenge. By taking a risk and having confidence in yourself,  you stand to gain not only referrals but insight, wisdom, understanding and support.

Posted in marketing, motivation, networking, sales, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The Secret to Rapid Referrals

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 20, 2007

referral-partners.jpgIn recent posts on networking, I advised against immediately selling your services directly to the people you networked with. Instead I opined on the benefits of meeting new people, investigating new opportunities and exploring new ideas.

“That’s all well and good”, readers responded, “but how does that help my bottom line? I already have friends, what I need are customers!”

So, today, I’ll reveal the next step in successful networking that will lead you to an increase in referral customers. But, to be most successful, it should be undertaken only after you have developed a relationship with the newfound members of your network. If done right, they will be eager to participate in a referral exchange with you. Afterall, they are also looking for referral customers but may not know where to start.

So, let’s say you’ve met someone who is in a business with a similar target market as yourself. For me, as a small business development specialist, that might be an accountant, an attorney, a web designer, a logo designer, a print shop owner or a loan officer. For you, it would be anyone who could also provide services to your clients. For an interior decorator, it could be a realtor; for a chiropractor, it could be a golf coach; for a computer repairperson, it could be a virtual assistant.

And don’t forget that your customers have a personal life as well – they are in need of a hair dresser, a manicurist, a tailor, a pediatrician, a dentist, a tennis instructor and a life coach.

It almost becomes a game to think of all the types of people who interact with your target market on a regular basis and could be potential referral partners with you.

Now think of the network you’ve begun cultivating and identify one person you would feel comfortable referring to your own customers. Contact that person and ask them to describe their ideal client. If it is similar to yours, suggest that you both be on the lookout for that type of client for each other. You’ll recommend their services and they’ll recommend yours. Offer to give them some of your business cards and ask for some of theirs. That way they won’t have to remember your contact details.

Sounds simple, no? It is, but you should also be prepared for a couple possible pitfalls.

1) Some entrepreneurs make it a rule not to provide specific referrals; Don’t take it personally. They may have had a bad experience in the past, or they may have too many acquaintances in the same profession and prefer not to single one out. You might want to start the conversation by asking about their opinions on referrals. If it is positive, you can pursue the discussion, otherwise you can leave it at a general level.

2) Some entrepreneurs may tell you they don’t know you or your services well enough to recommend you. That’s okay, too. Leave the door open to discuss it again after they know you better. You may also want to give them a discount to try your services for themselves.

But, let’s imagine you’ve both agreed that it would be mutually beneficial to create this arrangement. Then the next time you have a customer who could use your referral partner’s services, pull out their card. Turn it over and jot on the back,

“Please take special care of Jane. Regards, Liz”

There are multiple reasons for writing a personal note on the card. Consider how much more likely Jane is:

1) to keep the card

2) to make the call

3) to let them know who referred her

There are also other more formal referral arrangements you could consider:

  • agree to give a discount to customers you provide to each other
  • provide a compensation to each other for providing referral customers (ethically, you should disclose to your customer that you are compensated for referring them to this person)

If you are still feeling a bit intimidated or overwhelmed about setting this type of relationship up yourself, you can join a formal referrral based networking group, such as BNI, Intl.

BNI chapters exist in most cities in the US and in 38 other countries. Each BNI chapter admits one member from each profession. They require that each member be working in that profession full-time. Applicants must be recommended by someone already in the group, or at least, interviewed by a group member before joining. There is a fee and a commitment to attend weekly meetings on a regular basis or send a substitute guest.

Remember, the best way to set up a referral relationship is with people you already have a relationship with. And the best time to build a relationship is before you need it. So, no matter what stage your business is in, or how many clients you’re serving now, carve out some time to network and build relationships. You’ll be glad you did.

Have you had an experience making a referral or receiving a referral? If so, I want to hear about it! If not, let me know what is holding you back!

Posted in marketing, motivation, networking, sales, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Entrepreneurs Should Go Small to Grow Big

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 19, 2007

stand-out-from-crowd.jpgAs entrepreneurs we all want to have as many customers as possible, help as many people as possible, get as well known as possible, and make as much money as possible. Common sense tells us that the way to do that is to make our services as general as possible – to offer a one size fits all approach in which we attempt to be everything to everyone. But common sense doesn’t always make good business sense.

In my last post, I told you about my friend who went to a networking event only to find that the competition for her services was more intense than she had expected. She was disappointed to meet women who were practically her clones, vying for her very same target market. If she couldn’t differentiate herself from the competition, chances are, neither could her potential customers.

 

This friend happens to be a life coach to mothers wanting to transition back into the workforce. While this sounds like a good niche, there were several other women at the event targeting the same market. So, as counter-intuitive and downright scary as it sounds, to earn more business, she is going to have to first, turn down business. How does she do that? By further narrowing her niche.

Think about it. If you had a heart problem would you want to go to a family doctor or a cardiac specialist? If you wanted a new dress would you rather go to a department store or a specialty shop? If you wanted an ice cream cone would you rather go to a restaurant or an ice cream shop?

This is the age of specialization. Noted author and economic expert, Chris Anderson, calls it the “Long Tail of business”, in which the future of marketing is selling more of less. What this means to my friend is that instead of trying to sell her services to all mothers transitioning to all types of work, she should take the risk of specializing into a certain niche.

 

For example, she could create a niche based on the age or circumstance of the children:

  • Mothers pregnant with their first baby who want to keep on working
  • Mothers of preschoolers
  • Mothers of teenagers
  • Mothers of handicapped children
  • Mothers of children with ADD

She could create a niche based on the circumstances of the mother:

  • Single mothers
  • Widowed mothers
  • Step-mothers
  • Married mothers with husbands who also work
  • Married mothers with husbands who stay at home with the kids
  • Mothers with lesbian partners
  • Mothers considering divorce
  • Mothers who are also caring for their aging parents

She could create a niche based on the type of work the mother wants to do:

  • Corporate
  • Self-employment
  • Tele-commuting
  • Home business
  • Or by industry – finance, technology, sales, insurance

The point is that when she tells people what she does, she will suddenly become much more interesting. People she meets will be intrigued as to why she chose that niche and what is unique about it. She will become the expert for her target market. And, people will immediately start to think about who they know who fits into that category. They will be more inclined to recommend her to their friends, because they will like being thought clever enough and thoughtful enough to have found someone who “specializes in people just like you!”

What’s true for my friend the coach, is probably true for you as well whether you are an accountant, a virtual assistant, a sales rep, or a bookstore owner.

So, take another look at your niche. Ask yourself whether it is narrow enough, whether it is strong enough and whether it really identifies who you are and what you bring to the table.

Dare to be known as an expert in your niche. Dare to stand out from all your competition.

Please share your thoughts and concerns about how you developed or are developing your niche –How did you find it? What worked? What didn’t? How satisfied are you with the niche you’ve found? How has it changed your business to have one?

Posted in marketing, motivation, networking, sales | Leave a Comment »