Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Judgmental Crowd

On the first day of my new job as the chatty networking assistant, I was tasked with attending a job-networking event at the beautiful Hilton Hotel downtown. What I wasn’t aware of was that it was a hiring networking event. Companies who were hiring wore glow stick necklaces, and those who were seeking jobs look for those wearing glow stick necklaces. My company is hiring.

Let me remind you, it is my first day. With all the confidence in the world, I went into the event armed with my wit, water bottle, networking tools (of course) and knowledge of what my company did and whom they were hiring. I found a cozy spot and waited for the sea of blazers, ties and high heels to come to me. It took 25 minutes before someone came up to me and asked me what company I worked for and what positions we are hiring for.

25 minutes. Twenty. Five. Minutes.

I couldn’t believe that no one wanted or believed that I, a 24-year-old girl, could possibly be hiring. Expressions of “what business could she really have that would be hiring” cross their faces as they walked over to the plainly dressed, middle-aged men and women with glow sticks around their necks. Since when do those seeking employment have room for judgment and accusations? Networking is about connecting, seeking relationships and information and seeing what is out there; age should never hinder one from connecting. We are young professionals, the future of business and consumers of goods and services. Why would an opportunity from us be any different from those more seasoned than us?

As the evening went on and people were able to eavesdrop on me talking about what my company is doing, how we are growing and what we were looking for, and people began to talk to me, curious and excited. But still, 25 minutes, just because I was young.

Networking is for anyone with a story to tell. Judging a book by its cover can cause you to miss out on an amazing story or a great opportunity.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Networking preparation: Having the right tools.

Networking is like the watering hole in the wild. Everyone gathered around the water, lapping up connections, sales and products, ultimately nurturing their business with its essential substance for survival: clients. Depending on who is being talked to, one becomes the predator or the prey; each person waiting to pounce on their next customer or submitting to an amazing product or service.

It’s a jungle of communications, wooing, schmoozing and connecting. You have to go in ready for whatever gets thrown at you. Preparation is key to survival.

There is more to preparation than having a well-polished, 30-second commercial or offering a special promotion or product; it is about making sure you are armed with the right tools for presenting yourself as polished and professional.

There are 5 essential tools to keep in your car in preparation for networking:

1.Brush or comb
2.Cologne or perfume
3.Breath mints
5.Extra business cards

You should go into every event ready to network, not needing to groom. You can fix your makeup and comb your hair in the car, including a teeth check with the floss; spritz that cologne or perfume before you shut the door and give yourself a once over in the reflection of your car window as you lock the door. Don’t keep things that can melt like cover-up or deodorant in your car - it isn’t pleasant (trust me.) I would recommend getting a pencil bag for these items (minus the business cards) and leave it at your desk so you can just grab it before an event.

There are only 5 essential tools you need to bring in at almost any networking event:

1.Your business cards/cell phone (on vibrate)
2.A Shapie (Black or a Silver ink pen)
3.Breath mints
4.Car Keys

These are the only things you need at any networking event. The bathroom has soap to wash your hands if germs freak you out, and you were smart enough to groom in the car before heading into the event. The Sharpie allows for you to write notes on the cards you receive about the owner of the card; the Sharpie is especially important, with so many people getting glossy coated cards. If you go with the silver pen, it is an added bonus in case someone has a black glossy coated card.

There is a lot of close proximity at these events and a lot of talking; be kind, have good breath. Bad breath can really turn people off, especially if you are eating or drinking at the event (which is what the cash is for.)

Preparation for the networking event itself is just as important as preparing what is said at the networking event. Keep it simple, keep it light and focus on the task at hand: hunting prey.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Devil Wears Flats

Fendi. Dolce & Gabana. Prada. Betsy Johnson. Chanel. Xhileration. Vintage. Consignment. It doesn’t matter what the label is or where it came from, all you know is that you are in love. The smell, the texture, the perfect fit and the even better feel; nothing compares to having a perfect pair of shoes or the most perfect of bags.

Every woman understands this magical connection that gives warm fuzzies in our hearts and big smiles on our faces. That is until our lovers scorn our love: squeezing our toes, swelling our feet, giving knee aches, heavy arms and general clumsiness. How can something so beautiful, so perfect, so full of magic be so harsh, cold and miserable?

This is something we never want to experience, but this is exceptionally undesirable when networking. I can’t tell you how many time I have seen women supporting themselves on tables and walls, casually slipping off one heel and gradually shrinking onto one foot, constant hand switching back and forth with a increasingly heavy bag, and the never-ending search to get to the bottom of a deep purse for a business card.

There are 5 things to consider when getting dressed for a networking event:

1.Wear pants with pockets.
2.Leave your purse in the car.
3.Wear cute, but comfortable heels.
4.Put away your cleavage.
5.Make sure it fits.

Wearing pants with pockets allows for you to eliminate the need for a purse. If it can’t fit in your pockets, chances are you don’t need it. (See next blog for what items you need when networking.) Networking events are generally open spaces with all the chairs and tables cleared away, providing lots of standing space. Wear comfy shoes so you don’t find yourself toppling over on your heels or walking back to your car barefoot because you can’t take it any more.

It is important to also remember that networking is a lot like a job interview: you wouldn’t wear a halter top, spaghetti strap top or tube top to a job interview, so why would you to a networking event? It is business, so dress business casual and make sure it is clean and stain free. It is also important that it fits, as well. Tight cloths never look good, but you don’t want to be showing off the unflattering part of yourself. The same can be said about over-sized clothes; no one wants to see you pulling up your pants all night or wonder what you are hiding under all the fabric. Remember, you are there to show off the best side of yourself; make the outside just as great as you are inside.

Looking presentable, pretty and attractive is incredible ideal, but feeling miserable and in pain reflects more. Be smart, be savvy, be chic, be comfortable.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Too Good To Be True

There he was, standing in the middle of a very crowded room. He was 6’4” tall, dark and handsome. Even if he wasn’t holding up a notepad with money symbols on it, you couldn’t help but notice him; he was far too good looking.

I stood up straight, fixed my dress, put on my best smile and walked over to him.

“That’s a great way to get people’s attention,” I said to him as I walked over to introduce myself. After telling him my name and shaking his hand, he went straight for the kill.

“What is your business?” A little thrown back by the immediate interrogation, I replied “Print and media branding for …” I didn’t even get to finish my statement before he sneered at me, “You don’t need my service,” turned and walked away.

I was in complete shock, just standing there in the middle of the crowded room feeling rejected and irritated. I couldn’t believe someone so attractive could be so ugly. How does he know I don’t need his service, since I didn’t even get to hear what it was? It was one of the rudest moments I have ever been involved in.

I should have known that trying to talk to someone holding a money sign was not going to end well. After all, he was only there to sell, not network. He clearly didn’t care about anyone in that room who didn’t have big money or appeared to be young in age. I observed him in passing through the night, realizing the only people who were worthy of his time were in suits with gray hair.

From that moment, I learned two things: people are not always what they seem, and never talk to anyone holding a money sign. You can’t trust those who are sprinting; you have to find those who are willing to go for miles. Don’t be fooled by fancy signs and pretty exteriors; look for those who can make you laugh and give it to you straight. Most importantly, don't be that guy; be the one who makes people laugh and gives it to them straight.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

They can’t do what you do

One of my favorite shows that is out there right now is Mad Men. A show focused around a New York advertising company called Sterling Cooper in the 1960’s; this cinematic drama constantly engages, relates and touches people on an individual level. Past the amazing wardrobe, sexism and chain smoking there are a series of incredibly unique characters. Pete Campbell, played by Vincent Kartheiser, is an account executive for Sterling Cooper. Once you get past his whining, temper tantrums and arrogance, you really get to appreciate what it is that he does. It is his job to network.

Think about it; a job completely dedicated to wining, dining and meeting their needs. It is his responsibility to network and build a relationship with the individuals that his company is trying to work with.

In the last 50 years since the Golden Age of advertising, things have drastically changed, peaking in the early 90’s with a cold, impersonal, materialistic mentality. As we currently go through this rough recession, we have had to re-evaluate how we do business, get and keep clients, and market to individuals. We have come full circle, putting us back in the business of wining, dining and meeting needs.

Building relationships is the most important thing a business person can do right now. Asking the individuals “How can I help you?” and “What is it YOU need?” People always remember when you help them in their time of need, especially when it is completely unrelated to your business. David Hepburn Jr. always says “People don’t buy from companies, people buy from people. If all you are doing is selling at people, people aren’t going to be sold on you.”

We are in a world where people do business with people. They don’t buy the product, they buy you. As Don Draper says “You are the product. You are feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do and they hate us for it.” Do what you do better than anyone else: be you. Sell you.

Friday, February 5, 2010

You put your business card where?

There they are.

Just sitting there. Sad, unused, and dusty.

No, I am not talking about those weights that you aren't using to work out with or the pile of books on your night stand that are unopened and unread. I am talking about the most valuable marketing tool you already have: your business cards.

Business cards are not just for exchanging with people you are meeting for the first time, they are a valuable tool that can be used to give to people who you have not yet meet. Just like every time you talk with someone it is an opportunity to talk about your business, every place you go is an opportunity to strategically drop your business card.

Remember you can never have too many business cards or have too many ways to get them into the hands of people, you can always get more.

Here are a few examples:

- We all go out to restaurants. Leave your card with the payment of your bill. Write a "Thank You" on your card for an extra personal touch.

- When you go to the library, find self help books that have to do with your business and leave your card with the introduction of the book. So, if you are in construction, find the "Dummies" books on self home repair and leave your card.

- Find a day care in the area of your office, near your home or your own day care and ask if you can put a display up for your cards. Purchase a card holder and go fill it up every few weeks.

- Airports are full of people from all walks of life. After you check in for your flight, place cards in high traffic areas: Starbucks, the bathroom, magazine racks, snack bars. Just place a few cards on tables, sinks and food centers.

- Any time you mail a letter, put in your business card. Bills, friends, teachers, investors, strangers, mail all of them your card with the document or letter.

- Put your card on the sinks at the Gym. Everyone goes to check their make-up and hair before they leave that room, so you know a lot of people will have the opportunity to grab your card.

- When you go shoe shopping place your card INSIDE the shoes. The most popular shoe sizes are 8 for women and 10 for men.

- Any where there is a waiting room. Find the table with the magazines and leave a stack there. Maybe even put them inside the magazines in the waiting room.

- Keep a container of thumb tacks in your car and every time you come across public bulletin boards, tack your card in a few places around the board.

- After you leave a networking event, slide them into the drivers side window of the cars you walk by on the way to your car.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

SALE Your Business

I am convinced that the greatest word in the world is “SALE”. Nothing gets your blood pumping faster than knowing you can get something you need, want or desire for a cheaper price. There is something so magical about knowing that what used to be expensive and outside your budget, is now just a credit card swipe away. We laugh because someone purchased your SALE item for full price, making your score that much sweeter. Companies all over world invest time, effort, staff, printing and money into exploiting, advertising and continually reminding you that everything you wanted before but couldn’t have is just a SALE away.

We as a consumer hold out for sales, because we know that the price will drop with the change of a season or for some random holiday. We aggressively go through newspapers looking for deals, coupons and comparing prices. We create accounts on the web to receive coupons and promotions via email and we go through the internet comparing prices, trying to get the biggest bang for our buck. The American consumer has never been more thrifty or stingy with their money.

So as a business person, how do you utilize the greatest word in the world? Easy: use the greatest word in the world to promote your business.

This starts with your business card. In 2009, Americans saved over 3.5 billion dollars from clipping coupons. Save your clients money and give them a reason to keep your card by putting a coupon on the back of your business card. That is valuable real estate that you are wasting by leaving it blank or just putting random extra information. Offer a free consultation, 25% off your product, or a free gift card for coming to the office for a consultation. Figure out what your business can spare and give back to the consumer. People like it when things are free, on sale or for a discount; give the people what they want. You want to give people a reason to keep your card.

The exchanging of your business card, generally, leads to receiving an email address. Send promotions, specials, and deals via email to your potential clients and current clients. Don't just send discounts and deals from your business, but also from other small businesses or from places you think the person receiving the email would like. This allows you to portray the image that you are not just interested in that person's business, but in their general well being (which you should be).

Let other businesses work for you; partner up with other small business owners and trade discounts and promotions with each other in a way they can promote and sell for you and you can promote and sell for them. Give them a stack of business cards or flyers about your business's services to display and hand out at their establishments.

Get creative with how you spread the word about your SALE. Post a discount on Facebook and Twitter, offer a raffle for a free something, have car stickers made to advertise your business on your car and offer a deal for mentioning the car, and sponsor something where there are lots of people who could use what you have.

Consumers want a SALE; they want to get excited about getting a deal. Give the consumer a reason to get excited about you and your business and most importantly, a reason to keep your business card.