Growing Good: Philanthropy Grows Your Network, Your Skills and Your Business

Are you looking for another option to add to your ongoing marketing and branding campaign, one that is neither content nor traditional marketing and yet has the potential to greatly enhance your professional network, increase your opportunities to acquire new clients and referrals and even allow you to enhance your skill set?  Add philanthropy to your marketing campaign, as expressed by volunteerism, corporate social responsibility, sponsorships and donations and watch your sales grow!

Corporate social responsibility is now considered a best practice and there is a growing expectation that business and civic leaders, in particular, will “give back” and make a contribution to their community.

When Freelance consultants and leaders of for-profit organizations large and small, participate in philanthropy, it is a carefully evaluated business decision that’s part of a long-term personal branding and marketing campaign.  Just because your payroll is small doesn’t mean that philanthropy will not deliver significant ROI to your brand and business.  The selection of an organization to support will be strategic.

The first guideline is that you affiliate with organizations that have a mission you can support.  Second, the organization should operate and be headquartered locally, to support your objective of  having an impact among the movers and shakers in your business community, people who could become your customers or referral sources.

Third, if possible, aim to lend your pro bono support to an organization that somehow is connected to your product or service, or will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise or strengthen skills you’d like to build.  Volunteering can provide avenues for professional development, as you take part in projects and committee work that allow you to stretch and acquire additional competencies.

For example, if your financial management skills are weak, merely listening to finance reports and discussions around them at board meetings can be instructive.  Finance Committees even at small not-for-profits are often headed by very astute professionals.

Getting started

Becoming a sponsor of a local charity event, from the Boy Scouts to an educational or skills development center, is an effective, possibly low-cost and minimal commitment method to get an inside look at an organization that interests you.   A business card size ad in a fundraising event program book is a useful entrée and might cost as little as $200.  Your ad will not hurt your marketing strategy and will be tax-deductible, as well.

Alternatively, you can take the sweat-equity route and volunteer your time and labor as an event day helper at a fundraising program.  This strategy will allow you to attend the event and observe how the leadership interacts with its largest and most devout supporters.  A board or event committee member will be appointed to supervise the volunteers, so  you will be able to meet an insider and ask a few questions, along with getting a sense of the working style of the leaders (a very important consideration, BTW).

Speaking of sweat, you might decide to run, walk, bike, swim, or play golf or tennis in an athletic event sponsored by your chosen not-for-profit and ask friends and colleagues to sponsor you and help you donate to the organization.  All gifts will be tax-deductible. Plus, you’ll have lots of networking opportunities and a good time.

Finally, if you can muster a larger philanthropy budget, you can simply call the organization, express your interest in its mission and ask to visit and take a tour.  The Executive Director or another senior-level staff or board member will be happy to oblige.  You may be recruited on the spot to join a committee, as a pathway to an invitation to join the Board.  Be advised that there may be an expected annual donation of perhaps $500 or more.

Build relationships

Your experiences in charity event participation or sponsorships, or in board or committee service, will over time bring you into contact with many people.  Meeting C-Suite professionals during your volunteer activities breaks down barriers and has the potential to facilitate building relationships with VIPs who will see you in action as you perform board or committee work.

If you need a well-placed reference, it will likely be granted and  you may receive a referral or two as well, which would help your client list.  You might even get so lucky as to find a well-connected sponsor who will champion you and your work and help you to grow your business (or career).

Publicize your philanthropy

Let current and prospective customers know about your philanthropic activities.  In your curriculum vitae, bio, website and LinkedIn page, make note of your philanthropy, especially if you’ve joined a board or become an annual sponsor of, or participant at, a charitable event.  In a 2013 study Cone Communications, a Boston-based PR and marketing firm and Echo Global Logistics, a provider of transportation and supply chain management systems headquartered in Chicago, found that 82% of B2B and B2C purchasers preferred to do business with organizations that practiced corporate social responsibility and 91% of responders said they would switch brands to one that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality.

I leave you with this: Luke Weil, founder of Andina Acquisition, which invests in companies in the Andean region of South America, encourages us to give without expecting anything in return. Your generosity and selflessness generate good Karma and positive energy and the spiritual benefits will do wonders for your psyche.  Pay it forward.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Woman Giving Alms (date unknown, private collection), by Janos Thorma (Hungary, 1870 – 1937)

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Which Conference Will Be Worth It?

The Events Industry Council reports that there are more than 1.8 million conventions, meetings and trade shows held in the U.S. held every year.  Big hotel chains and convention centers make oodles of money providing the space.  Along with the venue special events sales staff, whose careers are built on selling space to sponsoring organizations, the waiters and bartenders, concierges and doormen, even the cab drivers, love to see the events roll in.

No doubt, each of those meetings brings a lot of value to the target audience.  The speakers can be top drawer and topics compelling, the venue fabulous and audience members fascinating, but if none of this leads to even a limited number of billable hours, then you will not have received what you paid for.  Writing it off on your taxes yields only about a 35% savings and you don’t receive it until many months after the fact.

Many industry and premier networking group conferences can cost $500 for a one-day event that along with the speakers includes continental breakfast, lunch and light refreshments at two breaks.  Oftentimes, the admission fees are calculated with the expectation that attendees will be high-ranking corporate execs who are able to expense the cost to their companies.  As a result, independently employed professionals regularly forgo a number of conferences that draw the decision-makers they need to meet because unless one has been to a given conference previously, there is no telling if the networking will be good and therefore worth the risk of paying a high ticket price.

If you decide to go the high-profile marketing route and become an exhibitor, your cost is likely to resemble a full-page 4-color ad in an industry magazine.  The exhibitor booth fee can be $3500, with additional costs for Wi-Fi and branded give-aways like tote bags, pens, umbrellas and the like and the custom table-cloth you must order to display your company name and logo.  If you will stay overnight, add hotel bills that will include a discount but can nevertheless exceed $200 daily and the cost to park can be $40 per 24 hours.  Figuring out the attendance profile of a conference is paramount, so that you can calculate your ROI.

First, think about your business products and services and your ideal clients and start filtering out what doesn’t align with your objectives.  If your business is B2B, you’ll look for an audience of business people who give you either product sales or billable hours.  If you’re a start-up looking for investors, then you’ll look to attend programs that draw venture capital specialists.  You don’t need to attend the largest conferences, just those that put you in front of those people who have the motive to do business with you.

Further, if you are investing in an exhibitor booth, check the conference schedule and look for down time between speakers that will encourage attendees to visit the exhibitor area and get to know who is there.  If time has not been scheduled, you could find out that you’ve paid dearly to look at the other exhibitors and not interact with the target audience you hoped to meet.

But whether you will attend to make a marketing splash, find an investor, or recruit a good client or two through networking, you never know until you get there because every conference has its own personality.  At some events, the people talk and at others I’m sorry to say, they don’t.  Before you jump in and commit big money as an exhibitor, attend as a civilian and test the waters.  If the conference is two or more days, attend one day and be sure to attend the day that has a scheduled networking dinner or reception.

Now, may I share good news with you? My eighth anniversary as your faithful diarist, the author of “Freelance: The Consultant’s Diary,” occurred in June. I’ve earned the special citation from WordPress that you see here.  Heartfelt thanks to those of you who read!

Thank you for your support,

Kim

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Build Your Referral Network With Board Service

Volunteering has for many decades been a way for aspiring socialites, self-made millionaires, traditionally employed professionals climbing the ladder and Freelance consultants looking to meet future clients to expand their networks, build strategic relationships, obtain social credibility, learn new skills and sometimes even support a worthy cause. Volunteering is the best way to do well by doing good and the money you donate is tax-deductible.

The Machiavellian among us may choose an organization that appears to have either the best business networking or most social-climbing potential (or both!), but I recommend that those in search of a good volunteer opportunity start with a review of causes that are important to you.  Some prefer social service agencies, others are inspired by arts organizations and still others gravitate to religious or healthcare institutions. If you’re not sure where to start, try lending your services to your alma mater, your children’s school, or your local Rotary Club.  Rotary Club

Board service is at the top of the volunteer pyramid and not everyone is invited to participate at that level.  However, most not-for-profit organizations plan a big annual fundraising event and extra day-of-event volunteer help is sometimes needed. That could be your opportunity to see a snap shot of the organization, as well as the event committee, up close, in action and celebrating the vision and mission.

Joining a day-of-event subcommittee is often a good place to start your volunteer journey, so that you can meet and work with one or two board members, meet the executive director and learn about the qualifications and possibility of joining the board.  Be advised that many boards come with an expected level of financial support that can stretch into four-figure sums (and beyond).  Visit the organization’s website and speak with the administrative assistant about short-term volunteer opportunities.

There are also corporate boards on which one may serve, but those groups are for the very well-connected and influential.  A path to corporate board service might begin with relationships developed during volunteer board service, but one still must have very formidable professional credentials and superior job titles.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you contemplate your role as a volunteer:

Choose the right organization

You will feel much happier donating skills and money to an organization whose mission you strongly support and that should guide your choice.  Your work on the board should be for you a pleasure and a privilege and not a chore.

Be outstanding

Take your commitment to the board or committee seriously if you expect to be taken seriously by the influencers you hope to impress.  Be qualified to do the work.  Make the time to complete your pro bono work on time.  Be enthusiastic, if not passionate, and a good team player.  If you are sufficiently fortunate to be asked to chair a committee, graciously share credit for a job well done with your committee members.

Add value

While your volunteering may have at its core your professional or social agenda, you must nonetheless approach your volunteer service as someone who wants to contribute and make a positive difference.  Keep the organization’s mission and goals in mind, along with your own.  Raise your hand when leadership opportunities present themselves. Demonstrate how your unique skill set brings benefits to the organization.

Be a passionate visionary

As a board member, it will be your responsibility to prepare the organization to realize long-term goals that accurately reflect and enable the vision and mission.  Suggest that strategic planning be done, so that key staff members can join with the board and map out possible strategies for the future.  In any case, bring your creative energy and practical insights to every board meeting.

Be a team player

Make yourself look good and create the conditions wherein your fellow board and committee members will find satisfaction in their board service and find more success for yourself as you do.  Inspire fellow board and committee members to do their best work by modeling that behavior yourself.  Always acknowledge the good work and dedication of others on your committee and the board.

When you follow the guidelines detailed above, you will distinguish yourself as a superior board member who is a real asset to the organization.  Influencers who are in a position to refer those with your specialty will no doubt be eager to refer a colleague whose work they can personally endorse and your Freelance consultancy will reap the rewards.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Upgrade To A Branded Elevator Pitch

Think about it.  Your elevator pitch and your personal brand are co-dependent.  The two share a mission-critical objective, to create a positive and memorable first impression of you and your enterprise when you meet personal and professional contacts.  The all-important self-introduction known as the elevator pitch is, while brief and simple, nevertheless your most important marketing tool, because it’s often how people first get to know you and your business.

From the opening line to the final sentence, your elevator pitch is Step 1 in  communicating your personal brand.  Its content must be clear and concise, and persuade people that you are worth knowing and doing business with.  Build the introduction to your brand by choosing two or three of your services or products to use as talking points; write them down and rehearse your pitch frequently.  Like a singer or musician, memorize the melody of the song that is your elevator pitch and improvise as needed.

Your delivery is as important as its content.  Polish your presentation by speaking in a pleasant and energetic tone of voice.  Exude a welcoming and friendly demeanor as you greet people with a smile, all the while standing up straight and maintaining eye contact, as you extend your right arm to initiate a comfortably firm hand shake and give your name.

Networking is a 365 days a year activity and your elevator pitch can easily be tailored to fit any context, whether you’re at a holiday party or a business association event.  Purely social events usually do not require mention of your business life, unless the topic comes up a little later, as you chat with your new acquaintances.

What matters most is that your pitch ensures that you are perceived as competent, credible and authentic.  When introducing your professional role, use easy-to-understand, jargon-free language as you succinctly describe two or three of the services you provide (What you do) that solve two or three problems that your clients encounter and must resolve (Why you do it).  Depending on who you’re meeting, you may choose to reveal the types of organizations that you work with (for Whom you do it) and the value (benefits and outcomes) that are achieved when clients work with you.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, famously said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Take the time to develop an elevator pitch that creates a trust-building first impression for prospective clients, influencers and referral sources and serves as an effective first touchpoint for your personal brand.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

This Freelancer Walks Into a Bar and…

Here we are in the final week of summer and it is time to gently ease out of your summer torpor and take a few tentative steps toward ramping-up some business development skills—like networking, for example.  Networking takes many forms and it is something we do throughout the year, in all sorts of venues.  Yet September brings an onslaught of structured business networking opportunities, often in the form of conferences and workshops, making this time of year ripe for a meet & greet reboot.

It is likely that you’ll attend these functions alone and it’s also likely that you will not know anyone in the room, or at least not well enough to “latch on” during the event.  You will be on your own; how can you engineer a good outcome?  For starters, remember that Freelancers have a standard networking event agenda:

  • Get a client.
  • Get a referral source or collaborator.
  • Get information.

Meeting a potential client is a long shot, but it’s the most important agenda item, nevertheless.  Meeting a promising referral source or someone with whom you can collaborate is also a stretch, but the odds are better.  Learning something useful, whether from the program speaker or some helpful bit of information you pick up from someone you meet, is a reasonable bet.

So polish up your short-form elevator pitch.  Remember to smile and relax and be willing to meet new people.  Make note of these easy-to-roll out icebreaker conversation starters that will boost your networking ROI:

  1. Walk up to someone who is alone, smile and introduce yourself.   You’re in the room to network, so make a point to extend yourself. You could meet someone who is worth knowing and at the very least, you’ll make someone feel more comfortable and happy to be there. “Saving” someone is good karma.
  2. This is my first time attending this seminar. Are you a regular?    Showing a bit of vulnerability is both humanizing and courageous. You’ll demonstrate your command of the meet & greet ritual. This opening makes it easy to segue into further conversation.
  3. I admit I don’t know a lot about what (the sponsoring group) does. What other programs do they put on?    With this question, you’ll receive information that will help you evaluate the possibility of deepening your involvement with the host organization.
  4. That’s interesting. Tell me more.   People love talking about themselves. Showing genuine interest is flattering and most of all, validating. The seeds for a good and maybe even mutually beneficial relationship will be planted, even if you don’t encounter that person again for another year or two.
  5. Let me introduce you to… One of the best ways to position yourself as an influencer, as well as someone who is authentic and generous, is to introduce people who might be able to work together.
  6. Ask the speaker a good question.   Take notes during the presentation and raise your hand during the Q & A.  Attendees may seek you out after the talk. Feel free to approach the speaker as well. A good question showcases you as a smart person. Be careful not to hog the microphone.
  7. Hi, I’m (name).  That was a spot-on question you asked of the panelist. What do you think about (related topic)?    In this scenario,  you approach someone who asked the speaker an insightful question.
  8.  It’s been great meeting you. I see someone who’s on my list to meet and I’m going to take my leave. Thank you for being good to talk to.    Your exit strategy.

 

Have a good Labor Day weekend. Thanks for reading,

Kim

Going Forward: Employee to Freelancer

The Freelancers Union  http://freelancersunion.org estimated that in 2013,  there were more than 53 million self-employed workers (in many permutations and degrees of earning power,  from fashion photographers,  to technical writers,  to Uber cab drivers) in the U.S.  That represents an astounding one third of the American work force participating in Freelance employment at some point during the year and it’s predicted that the number will only trend upward.

Plan to succeed  is the credo of every self-employed professional.  Effective planning requires one to first anticipate events and conditions that may be encountered and  then devise strategies that will overcome obstacles,  or at least lessen their likely impact,  and as well capitalize on expected opportunities.  Before you invest money and time on a mission to go it alone,  consider these realities.

No free tech help

Santa gave me an iPad Mini tablet for Christmas and the external key board that is part of its case quit functioning after three days.  The online advice that I hoped would help me to restart the thing was not useful.  I suppose a (time consuming) trip to the Apple Store must be made,  because I cannot ask a tech support colleague to rescue me.  At some point,  there will be a technology related glitch for every Freelancer: Power Point will embarrass you.  The printer will frustrate you.  You’ll be unable to install  your new software.

Taming home office distractions

Working from home requires real discipline and focus and potential distractions are everywhere.  Unless the call is from a client or business associate,  it may be advisable to refrain from answering calls (or emails/texts) from friends and family until lunch time or after hours.  If you have small children at home,  take them to day care or hire a nanny or other care taker to supervise their activities.

Ringing doorbells,  the television,  social media sites,  grocery shopping,  pet needs and house work can also undermine your work schedule.  If you foresee potential challenges to your ability to be productive In a home office,  then investigate co-working spaces.

Co-working arrangements can be very beneficial.  The office supplies,  meeting rooms,  A/V equipment,  coffee/tea and maybe even a co-working buddy who will provide some free tech advice will be available in the rental fee.  As an added bonus,  networking opportunities,  billable hours and camaraderie can arise from co-working colleagues.

No colleagues to commiserate with

Business owners and Freelance consultants work harder and must meet or exceed very high expectations,  every time.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed,  especially in the early days of running your venture.  At your job,  there was most likely someone who understood the nuances to talk you through things.  Now,  there is only you.

Joining a neighborhood business association,  professional association and/or your local chamber of commerce will give you numerous opportunities to meet self-employed professionals much like yourself.  Get to know a select few and create a support network for each other.

Moreover,   it is certain that you will have opportunities to receive and perhaps also lead  professional development programs that demonstrate  your expertise and leadership skills in the company of your peers.  You and your colleagues will be looking to make referrals for one another.  The time and money you invest in such organizations can pay real dividends and help you succeed as a Freelancer or business owner.

Needless to say there are other factors involved in the transition into the self-employed sector,  for example the requirement to find and purchase medical and dental insurance and set up a retirement account that works for you.  Launching even a solo freelance consultancy takes careful planning.  The more you can anticipate and prepare for,  the more successful your venture is likely to be.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Networking: Beyond the Golf Course

Through the late 1980s, physicians typically did not have office hours on Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, doctors were at the golf course. There, they got to relax and know their colleagues better. No doubt they talked about upcoming vacation plans and the college graduations of their children. They talked about difficult patients and what therapies could be used to treat them. Referral relationships between General Practitioners and specialists like Cardiologists and Nephrologists were formed. In other words doctors, who for most of history were independent business men in charge of their own incorporated empires, used Wednesdays on the golf course to network.

The time-honored custom of networking on the golf course still thrives and it now includes a small percentage of women as well as men, who still predominate. In your Freelance consultancy, I suggest that you consider including a sport in your networking activities. You may prefer a sport that is less costly and time-consuming than 4 hours on a golf course.

Consider inviting current or prospective clients and referral sources to visit the tennis courts, drop into a spin, yoga or Pilates class or go out for a run or bike ride. Networking without the presence of food and drink can be very productive. Elisette Carlson, founder of SMACK! Media, a marketing and PR firm that focuses on the sports, health and fitness industries, recommends that we take advantage of the warm weather that has finally arrived and invite networking targets for what she calls “sweat-working”. Like the doctors on the golf course, connecting around an activity encourages the formation of much more meaningful relationships than what will grow out of a restaurant or office meeting. The trick is, getting a client to accept your invitation.

Inviting prospective clients for a round of golf is easy, because the practice is standard among businessmen and golfers love to find each other and get out on the links. Persuading someone to visit a Pilates class requires a strategy and not a small dose of good luck. Still, it’s worth a try and you will not be hurt if your offer is declined.

First, you must assess whether your prospect is the physical sort. Golfers can be in less than prime condition, but unless your prospect appears to be fit, you will have no success in persuading him/her to join you in a physical activity. Next, you must discover the activity that your prospect likes that you can also keep up with. Business owners can successfully use this approach as well, by inviting the employees of a B2B partner out for a group activity. It can take place on the golf course, but a level 1 hike or private beginner-level boot camp class can also be arranged at a local fitness center. What an excellent team-building activity can be designed!

If you know that your networking target bikes to work and you ride, too, then by all means suggest a bike ride, maybe with a riding group. A Pilates class is likely to be a safe bet also, because it’s cross-functional, does not require a sophisticated skill set and most classes are only an hour. Yoga may require a somewhat higher skill level and all classes seem to be 90 minutes, but it’s nonetheless work a try. Avoid “killer” classes, unless your prospect shows enthusiasm for high-level fitness. Your goal is to promote social interaction and a good feeling from a pleasant little workout and use that as a springboard to relationship-building.

The timing of the “sweat-working” session is also crucial. My vote is for early morning, but some may have no problem with either lunch time or evening. The preferred time of your networking target is the time you go with, obviously. Remember also to ask your prospect what a good location would be—near his/her home (for an early morning workout, in particular) or office and take into consideration where the post-workout shower can happen.

During the workout, watch your prospect and monitor whether s/he may want more or less activity. Do what is necessary to create a satisfying experience. If a contest is suggested, or if score is kept in the activity, the client must win, if only by a nose. If there are regularly scheduled games, then the client wins 65% of the time.

If you can set it up right, outdoor or indoor physical activities will provide a whole new dimension to your networking activities, becoming relationship-building vehicles that your business can monetize.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your B2B Christmas Party Networking Guide

The Christmas season is an excellent time to meet potential clients.  Many organizations would like to put projects into motion when January comes around and more decision-makers than you may realize are on the lookout for a Freelance consultant to help their department achieve important goals.  Do what you can to attend those that appear to have potential for good networking.  You may receive an invitation to a party where you know only the host.  Don’t shy away.  Accept and devise a winning game plan to see you successfully through what might otherwise be an awkward clunker of an evening.

Call the host  (do the Evite as well if that was sent)  to personally RSVP and express thanks for the invitation.  Tactfully inquire about the guest list  (you can also check on Evite and ask for intros while at the party)  and proper dress for the occasion,  so that you will know what to expect.  Knowledge is power and power brings self-confidence.  Tell the host that you look forward to meeting the other guests and ask him/her to introduce you to anyone on your personal VIP list.  Right away,  you’ll make the host happy because you’ve identified yourself as a good guest.  Tip: since your purpose for attending is looking for your next client,  go alone.  The last thing you need is a friend who could detract from your agenda or take over a conversation that is going well for you.

At the party,  fulfill that expectation by taking on the role of facilitator.  Do your best to be  (appropriately)  friendly and authentic.  Have the courage to extend yourself and greet people,  especially those who are alone.  They will be grateful that you’ve rescued them.  When in conversation,  allow the other person to talk about themselves.  After introducing yourself and offering up some pleasantries about the nice party that you’re both at,  “How do you know  (the host)?”  is a great ice-breaker.  A general question about holiday plans— at home or traveling?— is a nice follow-up.

Practice the art of mingling.   When conversation seems to hit a dead-end with one person,  excuse yourself to refill your plate or your drink  (Hint: 3 drink limit,  do not overdo) and find someone else to talk to.  Do not intrude upon conversations that appear to be private.  At the party,  remind the host of whom you would like to meet.  When meeting your VIPs,  resist the temptation of promoting yourself.  If you know something of the guest list in advance,  search LinkedIn or Twitter to get a career update,  so that you can  “serendipitously”  ask questions that will allow your wish-list guest to talk about him/herself and make yourself look wonderful in the process.

Use the 80/20 Rule and cede 80 % of the conversation to the other person and spend 20 % talking about your own life and business  (unless the VIP really wants to know).  If it seems appropriate,  suggest post-party contact and do a card exchange.  Ask for a good time to call/email—December or January?

Leave social media out of the party.  Do not even think about posting a photo on Facebook or Instagram.  Do not invite a VIP or anyone else you’ve just met to join your LinkedIn network.

Finally,  knowing when to arrive and exit a party are important social skills.  Especially when you do not know anyone on the guest list beyond the host,  arrive at 6:30 PM for a 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM affair,  so that you will have several people to talk to.  Unless you are in a good conversation with follow-up potential,  make your exit  (thanking the host on the way out)  when 25 % – 35% of the crowd has departed.  You want to be present when the party is at its peak.  Now go and check your email and look for invitations!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Notes on Networking

I’ve been thinking about networking lately.  Last week,  I had a great meeting with a young lady I met maybe 5 years ago,  when I revived a volunteer relationship with her organization.  I found the volunteer activity personally rewarding and I took it seriously.  I sharpened a seldom-used skill that I find highly desirable and I saw to it that my work met or exceeded expectations.  Scheduling prevented me from donating services for a couple of years,  but I always responded to her outreach. When she asked to pick my brain about a program-related matter,  which turned into a request for a face-to-face,  I was happy to say yes.

Little did I know that the volunteer service,  that is pro bono consulting work,  will now pay a stipend.  There is also an effort to grow the program.  The organization has had trouble selling to the new target market and I was happy to suggest some talking points that should produce results.  She took lots of notes.  Sometime over the next few months,  I expect that I will be invited to provide more pro bono work,  this time with a very helpful stipend and a chance to gain access to individuals that I would like to add to my client list.

What’s the moral of this networking story? One,  strategic volunteering can pay dividends.  Two,  selectively network at both ends the organization chart.  Don’t assume that lower ranking people are never in a position to help you.  This young lady was the program coordinator,  not a decision-maker and she’s half my age.  Nevertheless,  I treated her with respect and always enjoyed working with her.  When asked,  I offered to give her some much-needed insights,  without knowing that she is now in a position to help me make money.

Of course,  we all dream of meeting a powerful person who will miraculously agree to become our sponsor and shepherd us into a fabulous career.  That happens for some people,  but it has yet to happen to me.  For example,  for more than a decade I regularly attended Mass and sat at coffee hour with a very wealthy and well-connected lady who frequently discussed the professional success she had had before her retirement.

The lady was well aware of my need for clients and yet she never lifted a finger to help.  She who had never walked through a door that was not opened for her,  deliberately withheld from me.  Yet,  she never failed to enlist my help with her Sunday amusement—the New York Times crossword puzzle.  It is interesting,  because she sought me out for conversation and volunteered information about her career and connections.  I should have been golden.  Oh, well.

But how does one network successfully at the top of the organizational chart?  As detailed above,  interacting with someone who is inclined to respect you is rule #1.  Remaining aware of the difference in power and status is rule #2.  Understanding how you can be a valuable asset to an individual who has many resources and most likely doesn’t need anything from you is rule #3 and effectively communicating to Mr. or Ms. High-and-Mighty whatever value proposition that you think might be appreciated is rule #4.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for networking up the food chain,  but despite my fruitless experience,  which I will say is unusual,  networking with the higher-ups is best done at volunteer board meetings,  houses of worship,  at the fitness center,  or in other non-work related venues.  There are many people tugging at the sleeves of the well-connected.  It’s probably best to get to know them in a social situation that facilitates participating in a shared experience that can lead to organic relationship-building.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Evaluate Your Network

Effective networking is a cornerstone of any flourishing business enterprise.  Who you know and who knows you makes all the difference in business success.  It’s a good idea to periodically evaluate the quality of our professional network.  The first step in this process is actually strategy planning.  What do you want your business to look like in 18-24 months?  What do you need to do,  who do you need to know and who needs to know you so that you will achieve your goals?

Next,  think about your professional network.  Does it appear that tapping into existing relationships will help you realize business goals?  Take stock also of your personal relationships.  Which are deserving of your time and energy and which should be put out to pasture? Might it make sense to add a business dimension to a social or family relationship,  or add a social dimension to a business relationship that no longer pays professional dividends,  but you feel is worth maintaining nonetheless?  You may find that some pruning, reconfiguring and strategic additions are in order.  Read on and get some inspiration to start the process:

What have they done before and what are they doing now?  What is the person’s record of achievements? Is that person continuing to move forward?  If one is not growing,  then one is falling behind.  The value of  a given relationship will  depend upon your resources,  industry and goals.  Look to strengthen and develop relationships with those who can open doors and share relevant information.  Because relationships are a two-way street,  think also of the value that you bring to relationships.  Do you come through when you should?

What is the reach?  When possible,  cultivate relationships with those who have an understanding of and influence in your industry or field of expertise,  or with potential clients who can be referred.  Someone who can refer you to teaching and speaking engagements that will build you CV and bank account will also be very helpful.

Do they have a positive and progressive attitude?  Surround yourself with smart,  positive,  forward-thinking people,  socially and professionally.  Divest your network of haters and slackers.

Do they like to collaborate?  If you see an opportunity to team up and set in motion a mutual win-win,   you’ll need to take the idea to someone who will be open to exploring reasonable options.  We all need to have in our networks savvy and creative people who see the big picture and are willing to keep ego in check in order to accomplish something bigger than either could do alone.

Are they responsive?  Folks must be willing to return calls and emails within a couple of days or so,   barring an emergency,  deadline or  vacation.  When you invest the time and energy to build a relationship,  you want to know that efforts at communication will be respected.   No matter how awesome someone is,  they are of no use to you if they ignore you when you reach out.  If they don’t get back,  then you know you’re not valued.

Thanks for reading,

Kim