One of the things I am really looking forward to over the coming months is a return to meeting clients, and connections, I haven’t seen in person for months. Zoom, and other online tools, have enabled us to keep in contact, and virtual meetings have become an integral part of our business lives. I doubt that, once life returns to ‘normal’, we will revert back to business exactly as it was before COVID, because it is undeniable that virtual meetings save us time and money.
However, I, for one, have missed the ‘water cooler’ conversations we have when we have face to face meetings – but rarely happen when using an online tool. Being able to chat over a coffee and cake, allows trusting relationships to build gradually in a natural and authentic way. So I will definitely go back to ‘offline’ meetings when I can.
I am also really looking forward to getting back to my Metwalking networking – great conversations in the great outdoors!
If you have been a regular reader of my blogs, and if you are thank you, you will have noticed that in the past I have regularly written two blogs a month. However, in the last two months this has dropped to one a month.
With the imposed restrictions to us all and the lack of variety in our lives at the moment it is very difficult to be creative and come up with new material that will be interesting to others.
I have therefore decided to restrict my postings to one per month in the hope that I will be able to ensure that the quality of my posts remains as high as I can get it.
It is part of a rethink I have been having with regards to the marketing I do and the way I connect with my lovely network. This is something I think we all have to do from time to time.
It is easy to just continue doing the same thing month after month without taking time to review what we are achieving and whether it is worth the time and effort we are expending. Every now and then we should take stock and shake things up.
If, like me, you are getting a bit of Zoom fatigue after so many months of restrictions to face-to-face events and meetings, the thought of a virtual conference is probably not appealing.
However, in the world we currently live in it is a case of a virtual conference or no conference at all. So in that spirita large number of CIMA Members in Practice attended last week’s virtual conference.
For me, it was particularly interesting from two view points. Firstly, I was a speaker so I was interested in how it would feel to present in the virtual conference environment and secondly, as an attendee I was interested in how the networking side (which so important with these conferences) would go.
On the first point I have done various webinars and workshops on Zoom so I wasn’t too phased by presenting into my computer. However, I am usually using a tool I know well and know exactly what to expect. Fortunately in this case we were able to have a dry run and were well supported by the conference team on the day.
Networking was certainly a very different prospect to usual. Much of the networking at conferences happens in the bar or over lunch. Or you see an old friend over in the lobby and can easily catch up over a coffee. Of course these types of face-to-face networking are unavailable at a virtual conference.
Instead you have to do a bit more work to find the people you want to connect with. There was a virtual lobby with all the names of the people at conference so you could message them. There were also virtual tables in a virtual lounge so you could have Zoom style chats with people around the table.
I was very impressed with the conference platform and the support given by Fresh Start Events who hosted the event. Although there were some technical hitches due to presenters’ varying access to broadband, this didn’t detract from the content delivered.
In all the conference was a great success. It delivered great CPD for the delegates in a way that is becoming all too familiar. Whilst I do not think that this format in anyway replaces face to face conferences, I do think it has enabled great training to happen in challenging circumstances.
We do need to keep our skills up to date and to connect with our peers – perhaps this is more important than ever – so we have to be open to alternative ways of doing so.
I am a great advocate of LinkedIn as an easy to use and quick way of keeping in touch with my network. It is particularly useful at this time when doing face to face networking is a challenge.
For many it is the only way, with the country moving inexorably into more lock down scenarios, to keep in contact with our strategic introducers who are vital to finding new business.
LinkedIn, and other social media platforms, can also be a way of getting much needed information.
There is a lot of unsolicited advice out there packaged in a way that says “read me, read me!!” Some of it is useful but much of it is “fake news”. It is distracting and designed to worry the reader into taking action that may not be appropriate to their business.
Just because someone has written an article and posted it on social media does not mean they are an expert or that their opinions are particularly valid.
So how do we decide what to read and what to ignore? After all, if we read everything that came up in our feed, or was written as articles and posts in the groups we follow, we would never get any work done!
I think the first thing we need to do is to consider who we want to be hearing from.
This means tweaking our timelines and taking out posts or unfollowing people we feel are either not on the same page as we are, or who just put too much out there for us to follow.
There may be people we love to follow, not because we are looking to learn from them, but because they are fun or great contacts for our businesses. These are the people we want to spend our time with. Following these good eggs quite often brings a positive glow to our day.
Of course there will be people that appear on our feeds who we know know their stuff. Again following what they have to say can be a productive use of our time.
Working from home – as most of us are doing now – can be a difficult juggling act and it is very easy to get distracted by all the noise out there.
Don’t let yourself be way laid by social media – make it work for you.
I have been thinking quite a bit about authenticity recently.
I have been to a couple of tribute band gigs over the last couple of months – Bjorn Again, T Rextasy and Fleetwood Bac.
They were all excellent and certainly knew the material of the iconic bands they were imitating.
But, at the end of the day, their acts were just imitations of the real thing. As good as their musicianship was they just did not have that spark that sets truly great bands apart from the rest.
My friends and I had a great time at the gigs and I am not saying that I wouldn’t be happy to see any of them again (indeed it was the second time that we had been to see Bjorn Again). But I know that if I ever had the chance to see the real thing the experience would be more amazing and more authentic.
The real thing will always trump an imitation.
Dave Harries and Angela Jones produce an excellent podcast called the Communication Paradox and much of their focus is on discussing the benefits to business people of being authentic.
In January their podcast was recorded as we did a Metwalk around Portishead harbour. They interviewed the people at the event asking if this type of networking helped people to be more authentic than traditional forms of networking. The resounding view was that yes it was.
So, if being authentic is the best way for us to behave in a business setting – which I definitiely agree it is (and, in fact, in our lives generally) – how do we make sure we are our authentic selves?
For me it is about not trying to copy what someone else is doing, or how someone else is being.
It may seem easier to look to copy what other businesses in our fields are doing to promote themselves, or to try to imitate their businesses, but at the end of the day people buy from, and interact with, people.
Our biggest assets are found in our own personality, and the interests we have, that make us genuinely unique.
Networking is a part of modern business life. As an employee we often have to network within, and outside, the businesses we work in to build relationships that facilitate our jobs.
For business owners networking is even more important, because it is the main way we meet other business people. These may become suppliers, customers or strategic introducers who will (hopefully) refer customers to us.
Whatever the circumstances networking is the start of building, and then maintaining, important relationships.
Most networking is done over refreshments of some description and involves a roomful of people, many of them trying to sell to people they have only just met.
Good networkers know that networking is not about selling – it is about starting a conversation that might, at sometime in the future, lead to business. But there will always be people at a networking event who have not got the memo!
Recently there has been a move away from networking indoors to more outdoors based meetings. For me these are much more fun and are more likely to attact people I will have something in common with.
I love walking and cycling, so networking I can do whilst walking or cycling, with people who like walking and cycling is always going to be a great way to start building profitable business relationships.
Conversationscome much more easily when you are not sitting face to face or standing in small groups. It is also easy to move around the group to talk to different people without any awkwardness.
Of course,if there is a coffee and cake stop along the way so much the better!
The best networking event I ever went to was organised by NRG and Raising the Baa. It involved groups of us herding sheep and trying to get them into pens. Some of us were designated as ‘sheep dogs’ and some as ‘farmers’ directing the dogs. It was the BEST fun!
So, if you have the opportunity to try an outdoors networking event – and you love the outdoors – I would really recommend giving it a go. It’s networking, whilst getting fresh air and exercise, with a change of scene from our usual business day.
“Piglet is so small that he slips into a pocket, where it is very comfortable to feel him when you are not quite sure whether twice seven is twelve or twenty-two.” This Pooh quote is all about having someone you can call on to help when you need it – and don’t we all need people like that!
Successful business owners surround themselves with people who can do the jobs in their company that they cannot do, so they can concentrate on their own strengths. Obviously having employees is one way of filling the skills gap – another is to use consultants and other professionals.
So how do you find skilled professionals who will add great value to your business?
For me referrals and recommendations are the only way to go. If someone I know well has introduced me to someone they have worked with before, I can shortcut the due dilligence process. In my experience good people hang out with other good people.
I make sure that I network in groups that help me to find great people I can use myself and recommend to clients and other contacts. I love meeting new people and networking groups are a great way to keep in contact with my strategic partners regularly. Clearly networking can require quite a lot of time but these days I can enhance my networking by using online tools.
In this respect I like LinkedIn because it allows people to recommend me, and I can read recommendations given to people I might be thinking of using, in a quick and easy to use format. I can also catch up with what’s important to them through blogs and posts.
If I have had a great service from someone I make sure I recommend them so that their profile on LinkedIn is enhanced – I also ask people I have worked with the recommend me. When I get a good recommendation it is a great morale booster and helps others to get a feel of what working with me would feel like.
It’s easy to put networking on the back burner when we get busy but we must continue to do the things that got us busy – or we will experience periods of slack time when one job comes to an end and before restarting our networking re-fills our time again.
I recently went to the Growth Gloucestershire conference and was thrilled to see the great Will Kintish was a key note speaker. He is the master of networking and re-enforced what I have come to believe (probably because I saw Will talk years ago at the CIMA MiP conference) about successful networking.
I am a great believer that effective networking is key to business success. This is particularly so for business to business services. However, it is often difficult to decide which of the numerous networking groups are best for your particular business. It is very easy to waste time and money doing lots of ineffective networking – by ineffective I mean networking which does not result in building ‘real’ business relationships.
I believe that successful networking is less about the format and the networking organisation and more about the individuals in the group. Are they the type of people who are moving in the same markets as you? Are they talking to the people you want to talk to? Can you see yourself building great referral relationships with them? If the answer is yes to any or all of these questions the chances are you have found a netwoking group which may well work for you.
So how do you get the best out of networking meetings?
Having a plan is an excellent start. Some groups provide a list of people who have booked for the meeting so look at who is going and decide who you want to talk to. Groups with a sit down meal often give you the opportunity for you to request to sit next to a particular person – or at least on the same table as that person. So use this facility.
If you have been invited to a group by a member discuss with them in advance who in the group would be good contacts for you. If they can introduce you to each other through LinkedIn or by email in advance you will be happier approaching them at the meeting.
After the meeting FOLLOW UP! However, well you got along with the people you meet they will soon forget you if you don’t follow up with further ‘get to know you properly meetings’ (or 121s). Remember everyone in the room will be meeting lots of people all the time – you need to find a way to make sure they keep you in mind if you want them to work with you.
So, I would like to sign off by saying that it does not matter how many people you meet during your networking – what matters is how many of them you follow up and build a mutually productive relationship with.
It’s amazing how developing new marketing aids, such as websites, can clarify your view of your business.The process of instructing someone else to produce something which encapsulates your business means that you have to have a very clear view of your business values and goals.
I am very lucky because the person who has the job of representing my business to the wider world is one of the people who knows me best – my hubby Jeff. He has been responsible for the look and feel of my business pretty much since I started out over 10 years ago and its been a gradual development over the years.
When I look at my website and other marketing bits from 10 years ago they seem very dated now, so I am glad that I have made the effort to keep things fresh.
I come across many businesses that have never changed their image since they started out – sometimes many years ago – and their current marketing collateral seems tired because of it.
I don’t think it’s necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water though. There may be a particular theme or image which your are particularly attached to and you don’t need to throw that away. But I do think that the way our businesses are portrayed on our website, and our other marketing, should be regularly revamped (at least every few years) so it keeps pace with the changes in our businesses.
I don’t know about your business but mine has changed quite considerably over the years and is continuing to change as my own goals and ambitions are molded by circumstance and family need.I am much more confident about what I want to achieve and know so much more about the environment my business operates in than I did when I started out.
I think having websites (I have a couple for the different sides of the business) which clearly demonstrate this confidence are a great asset.
So if it has been a while since you looked at your marketing aids perhaps it’s time to give them a refresh – the process can also refresh your view of your business!
Over the years we build up layers of experience and learning in our chosen fields and this experience and learning helps us to be good at what we do.
Many of the skills we acquire we are barely conscious that we have, because they are so ingrained in who we have become. However, they are often the skills that our clients most value.
Over the last month I have had the priviledge of spending some quality time with some great CIMA members in practice. I have been running a couple of one day skills workshops for them and it was a great experience.
It got me thinking about what made this group so great. The particularly important talents they have (which I hope I share with them) are not ones learned through doing the CIMA qualification, but are as a result of the journey that took them down the CIMA route in the first place and have continued since.
So what are these magic talents:
1. Curiosity. They want to know what makes their clients tick. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it certainly makes for a much more effective professional!
2. They (we) care. Curiosity leads us to get closer to our clients and their businesses, which means that we care deeply what happens to them. This means clients know they are in hands that will only do the best for them – even if tough love is sometimes required.
3. They (we) want to enlighten and share. We know that we are of best value to clients if they have a clarity and understanding of their business’s financial situation. Unlike some other accountants who think they weaken their own position with clients if they explain what the numbers mean.
Unsurprisingly most of the people in the workshop had not really noticed that they had these skills, nor recognised their value. Instead they concentrated on just their acccountancy skills when talking to prospects.
Hopefully the workshop helped them to see the full range of skills they have to offer.
Perhaps it’s worth taking time to think more about your own ‘hidden’ skills!