Archive for November 2010

The small business advantage in the Digital Age

I write this from a train heading into London. I am on my way to a 'Digital Mindset' workshop from Ecademy founders Penny & Thomas Power. The purpose of the event is billed as 'to look at why a "Digital Mindset" and Digital Coaching will grow your business.' The tag line for the Ecademy website is now 'Learning, networking and business development for the digital age'.

If we are in a 'digital age' what does this mean for the Owners, Directors and Partners of small specialist businesses and professional firms? It is mainly these people who go networking as their primary route to market.

Most of the people I meet in this category are passionate about what they do and are open and transparent about what they do and why. It is this passion, openness & transparency that gives them an advantage in this digital age. It is exactly the right approach online.

Contrast this with the news furore over the last few days about wikileaks. Whatever the rights or wrongs the revelations, if true, show some of our politicians, diplomats and representatives of big business taking the opposite approach. Saying one thing in private and another thing in public. The internet has made it easier to judge openness, honesty and transparency. The very things that small business is mainly better at that big business.

You may have heard the expression 'people buy people'. The approach for the digital age is the same as what came before.

Be yourself!

Good Networking!

Dave Clarke

Think of networking as a system & not an event

I was at an event recently where someone said that the owners of small businesses often operate a really unstructured approach to marketing. This is often an irregular series of one off initiatives in relation to short term needs. The problem with this approach is that each new activity takes a lot of effort and does not build on the things that have been done before. It leads to a lot of wasted time and frustration.

Many business owners and professionals adopt a similar approach to networking. Attending loads of events when new business is needed with infrequent activity when they are busy. Both marketing and networking are much more productive when done systematically.

Instead of networking like crazy when you need something adopt a simple, straightforward, systematic approach. This means building your network rather than meeting lots of people infrequently. Take the time to build the right relationships with the right people for you and your business. Then take the time to understand what they need and help them achieve it. Don't forget to let them know what you need and how they can help you. This approach means you can invest your time effectively at fewer events and leave more time to doing what you really enjoy and get paid to do.

Good Networking!
Dave Clarke

Are you building strong ties with your network?

In The quality of your network really matters I wrote about recent research into influencing behaviour through social networks. This research highlighted the importance of building close, strong ties to people in your network.

In his keynote at the F5 Conference earlier this year Malcolm Gladwell is quoted as Saying,

"If social media tools are going to make a meaningful commitment to the way our world is run you have to remember to build trust, to build institutions and to build strong ties."

Mark Smiciklas of the Intersection Marketing Blog regularly produces some great visuals in his articles. Here are the ones he used to illustrate the Malcolm Gladwell quote in his article on Malcolm Gladwell & The Future of Social Media a few months ago.

As I have written before,

"Success in networking (offline and online) comes down to building a manageable number of relationships amongst people with influence amongst the right audience. Then motivating that network to advocate you."

Good Networking!
Dave Clarke

Building a business by referring others first

In a recent post I suggested it was a good idea to work out who else is needed when you do business. This simple exercise means you can work out which other businesses give you the most referral opportunities. Both for giving and receiving.

Someone asked me a couple of days ago if I could give an example. Some years ago I was involved in an Internet start up. We provided high speed internet connectivity to business clients in City of London in the days before broadband! Before we opened for business we built relationships with other providers of services in the Internet, IT and Telecoms space. Services that would be complementary to ours and that our clients and potential clients might also need. Some of these may have been competitors in some respects, but we felt that if they were right for a client then we would not be and vice versa.

These other businesses included providers of:

  • consumer ISP services - we were b2b only.
  • computer and computer network equipment - we did not sell this equipment.
  • email and internet software.
  • internet security.
  • computer cabling suppliers.
  • data storage.
  • telephony and telephony equipment.
  • e-commerce.
  • web design.
  • internet hosting.
Most of the time when we spoke with potential clients they might not need our services at the time, but they needed one of these others and we referred them. This kept us front of mind for both our potential clients and those we referred. 

Over time all of our business came through referrals from these sources. The 'potential clients' became clients or referred others as a result of the help we provided for them. Those we referred then stated doing the same for us. Many of these relationships also resulted in more collaboration, but that's another story...

Good Networking!
Dave Clarke

Who else is needed when you do business?

Last week I was with a group of Professionals and Small Business Owners in Birmingham learning more about Referral Marketing at the Referral Institute's UK & Ireland Conference. The theme of the day was about how you can dramatically increase your referred revenue. One topic covered by Trey McAlister was about understanding 'Contact Sphere Professionals'. These people are in a position to regularly refer each other.

It is worth spending some time identifying this group for your business. Who else is often needed when you do business? What opportunities do you uncover as you go about your work? What other opportunities could you uncover as you go about your work?

This process of identifying them also gives you an idea of the opportunities you have for referring and building your inner network. As you do this for them you are demonstrating how they can do the same for you and others. You are advocating them and providing the motivation for them to do it for you.

You really can get all the business you need through a close knit group of like minded business owners like this. That is provided you are all committed to the success of each other and are all in a position to regularly provide opportunities to each other. You need to meet regularly to strengthen your relationships and exchange opportunities. Why not find a convenient networking group that you can do this in?

You are also adding value to your client relationships by showing them you have their success at heart and not just your own.

Good Networking!

Dave Clarke