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I’ll Get Right Back to You

You know those little red numbers on your iPhone? The ones telling you how many unread emails and texts you might have? I hate those numbers. I am obsessed with getting rid of them.

You should be, too.

I know you’re already too busy. You barely have enough time to read this blog. You find value in it, so you make the time.

Sending back quick acknowledgement emails doesn’t seem to have the same value so you don’t make the time. But it does.

Not counting spam, most of your emails are either questions, answers, or documents. Some require action, some, such as answers to questions you asked or documents you need, just require acknowledgement. I want to talk about the latter.

SAVING TIME

Taking a quick moment to shoot back an email that says, “I got it,” or “Thanks!” or even just “Received,” will actually save you time in the long run.

Why?

Because of the person on the other end of the email.

If your insurance agent, accountant, or payroll specialist sends you a document and you don’t acknowledge receipt, they are going to fret. Did you get it? Did it end up in your junk folder? If you don’t respond, they are going to send you another email, or worse yet, call you and take up your time in another way.

If someone sent you a thoughtful answer to a question you asked, they want the feedback that the answer was received. They’ll also get back in touch at the least opportune time to say, “Did you get my answer?”

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Acknowledging emails will also raise the bar.

Acknowledgements are courtesies. They tell the other person you value the work they did for you. They tell the other person you think about them, too. That makes your relationship with that person even stronger and makes them more willing to go to bat for you should the need arise.

BEING PROFESSIONAL

Little details like this make a difference in how your business is perceived. If you ignore emails, don’t acknowledge receipt of documents, or thank people for answering questions you asked, people will think less of you and less of your business. When the easiest way to grow business is through repeat and referral customers, the last thing you want is for anyone to think less of you in any way.

You know the equation … Time = Money.

Not acknowledging emails sent to you with documents or answers to questions you asked won’t save you time and will probably cost you money.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One disclaimer. It is acceptable for you and the person you’re emailing to set ground rules of when you will and when you won’t acknowledge. Without that conversation, though, you run the risk of wasting your own time, the time of the other person, and the reputation of your business.

PPS In my new job, I know that quick responses to emails is essential. In a customer-centric business, other people’s needs always trump my own. Yes, it does mean I’m constantly starting and stopping the projects I’m working on. I’ve also learned how to plan blocks of undisturbed time to get stuff done. Shall we talk about that next?

(Repost) What to Do with the First Quarter Blues

(Note: this is a repost from March 2, 2018)

I went for a walk/jog down the Falling Waters Trail a couple days ago. It was sunny and in the mid-50’s. My dog, Samantha, and I enjoyed getting out of the house. There is something about those early spring days when you get that sense of renewal, that rebirth of energy. Of course, today, I stare out at five inches of snow courtesy of our bipolar vortex. Just when you think you’ve turned the corner on winter, Mother Nature smothers you with another blanket of white. So much for that rebirth of energy.

It’s easy to get the blues.

Image result for cabin fever clip artEspecially if you’re a fourth-quarter retailer. January feels like a relief from the exhausting marathon of Christmas. But by February, when the bills have all been paid and it doesn’t seem like any new cash is coming in, it gets to be a drag.

If you’re a jeweler or florist, you get Valentine’s Day. If you’re a toy retailer or candy shop you get Easter. But that isn’t a lot to carry you through the First Quarter Blues.

Here is a list of different things you can do during the quiet times to combat the blues.

  • Paint the store. A fresh coat of paint brightens the mood and lifts the morale of the staff.
  • Re-do all your signs. Print new ones, change wording, make them more fun and in alignment with your Core Values.
  • Work on new selling techniques. Hold trainings, do role playing, practice new techniques.
  • Make displays for out-of-your-category gifts. For instance, January-March are big baby shower months (no one wants to hold them in November/December because of the holidays). Put together an endcap of great “baby shower” gifts – even if you don’t sell baby products! A hardware store could do a display of “build your nursery the right way”. You could also do “gifts for the mom/dad-to-be.” Get creative. The same is true for weddings. The bridal shows are January-February. Bridal showers are March-June. Put together “bridal/wedding gifts” like board games if you’re a toy store (the family that plays together, stays together), or tool kits. I got a drill as a wedding gift from a thoughtful friend.
  • Get creative with your social media. Post often about a wide variety of things (not all related to selling your products). Have a contest among your staff. Make them all admins. Allow them two posts a day. See who can get more comments and shares in a week. Pay the winner $20. Do it for five weeks. It will be the best $100 bucks you spend on social media this year because you’ll see what kind of posts move the needle.
  • Have a contest of some kind. Maybe a raffle for charity. Maybe a “taste-test” where you put two competing products side by side. (I can see this for tools, for toys, for shoes, for cleaning products, for foods, for strollers …) Maybe a competition. We did a five-week March Games Madness where we pitted four games against each other for four consecutive Friday nights. The game voted the best each week made it to the final four. The fifth week we crowned the champion.
  • Spend more time networking. Send everyone on your team to different networking events.
  • Rearrange the floor layout. Stand at the front door and look around. See what catches your eye. Redesign the store so that your customers can see farther into your store. And make sure something cool and compelling is in those sight lines.
  • Clean and fix everything. Everything.
  • Make your bathroom cool. When George Whalin wrote Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best independent Stores in America, he mentioned the really cool bathrooms for 14 of the 25 stores.
  • Make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers with phone numbers. Assign them to your staff to call each person and personally thank them for shopping in your store. No sales pitch. Just a simple, “I want to thank you for being a customer last year. We truly appreciate your business. Have a great day!”
  • Make a goodie-bag for those same top 50 or 100 and personally deliver them. Free. No questions asked. (Thank you Brandy & Eric for this idea!)

The customers will be back soon enough. You have new products rolling in. Take this time to plant the seeds for future sales by refreshing the store, training the staff, and getting creative with your marketing.

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I would love to hear your suggestions for additions to this list. I know there are some really good ideas out there. Help me share them with the world.

Self-Diagnosis Tool #5 – Marketing & Advertising

My favorite class segment in the Jackson Retail Success Academy was always the Marketing and Advertising Segment. One portion of that segment was dedicated to Media, Myths, and Money. We would discuss all the various forms of media and how/when to use them properly. We also discussed several myths about advertising. One of the biggest myths was this …

Advertising will fix your business.

No it won’t.

If your customer service sucks, advertising will only draw in more people to find that out and tell their friends to beware.

If your product selection sucks, advertising will only find you more disappointed and empty-handed customers.

If your market isn’t big enough to support your business, advertising will only drain your coffers faster, and hasten your demise.

That is why, of all the Diagnosis Tools, this one is last.

Abandoned Boat on the Pond by the House

Think of your business like a boat. Your Core Values are the hull and body of the boat. Your Market Potential is the size of the body of water. Customer Service is the driver of the boat. Inventory is the engine/oars. Advertising is the launching of the boat. Would you launch if you knew you had a leak, didn’t have a driver, or had an engine not working? Of course not.

You need to make sure your boat is rock solid and ready to go before you launch. (Check out Tool #1 Core Values, Tool #2 Market Potential, Tool #3 Customer Service, and Tool #4 Inventory Management if you think your boat has even the tiniest of leaks.)

Advertising will not fix your business, it will only speed up what was going to happen anyway. If your boat is leaking, advertising will just sink you faster.

DEFINE THE TERMS

First, let’s understand the difference between “Marketing” and “Advertising”. Marketing is everything you do to attract customers to your store. Advertising is a subset of Marketing. It is the paid marketing you do through a form of media.

MARKETING

Marketing includes your building, your signage, your front door, the “Open” sign on your building, the events, activities, and classes you hold inside and outside your building, the networking you do by joining clubs and being involved in your community, the free publicity your garner, etc.

One of the first steps in this self-diagnosis is to list all of the ways outside of Advertising that you are Marketing your store. For some ideas of different things you can do, check out the FREE eBook Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.

You should have a healthy list of ways you are marketing your business outside the realm of traditional advertising. Fortunately most of these ways cost more time than money. If you don’t have enough customers—the whole reason you’re marketing your business—then you should have the time.

Once you have that list, see which Core Values are evident in each activity. All of your Marketing efforts must be aligned with your Core Values to be most effective. If there is anything you are doing that doesn’t speak to your values, change it or drop it for something else.

ADVERTISING

The next thing to do is to look at your paid advertising through the same lens as your other Marketing efforts. Pull out all of the ads you ran last year. Look closely at the message you sent. Ask yourself these six questions …

  • Does it look or sound like an ad? Chances are good that it does. Did you know our brains are hard-wired to ignore advertising? Maybe you should create something that doesn’t look or sound like an ad to keep from being ignored.
  • Does it tell a story? Stories are more interesting, get people to pay attention, and are more memorable than facts and figures. Your ad needs to tell a story if you want it to work best.
  • Does it make only one point? The person seeing or hearing your ad will only remember one point at best, so only give her only one point to remember.
  • Does it speak to the heart? Emotions always trump logic. Always. What emotion does your ad invoke?
  • Does it speak to your tribe? Does it align with your Core Values? If you want to attract better customers, speak more directly to those people who share your values and ignore everyone else.
  • Does it make your customer the star? Ads about you will be ignored. Ads about your customer and what you can do to help her will gain her attention.

The message is more important than the media. Here is another big myth in Advertising …

You must reach the right people.

Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. You can reach all the right people but if you don’t say the right thing, all is for naught. Also, everyone you reach is potentially the right person because even if they aren’t your customer, they know someone who is your customer.

It isn’t who you reach that matters. It is what you say to the people you reach.

Get the message right and everything else will follow.

(Note: to help you choose the right media for your business, go to the Advertising Media Reference Guide and check out your options.)

BUDGET

The last thing to check is your budget. How much should you spend on Marketing? Notice how I said Marketing, not Advertising? Part of your Marketing is your location. If you spend a lot in rent to be in a high-traffic area, you don’t have to advertise as much as the guy under the bridge on the wrong side of the tracks. The Cinnabon store at the airport doesn’t spend a penny on Advertising. He just bought a fan to blow that cinnamony goodness out into the terminal. That’s his Marketing Budget.

There are many formulas for calculating a budget. The one I like best came from Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads. He suggests you take 10-12% of your Gross Sales as your “Total Exposure” budget. Then multiply that by your Percent Markup (this is different than Profit Margin – the formula looks like this Percent Markup = (Gross Sales – COGS)/COGS) to adjust for your pricing and profit. Then subtract your rent from that number to find out what you should spend on Advertising.

For many businesses, however, that leaves a budget close to zero as rent is often 10-12% of your budget.

I will tell you to push that upper limit to 15% of Gross Sales, but only if you can find that money without taking it out of Payroll. If push comes to shove, Great Customer Service is always more important than Advertising. It is what drives your boat. You can still get across the lake from a bad launch if you have a strong rower and good oars.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There you go … Five tools for evaluating your business to see where you need to improve as you sail into 2019. Take a critical look at all five in the porper order and you’ll find your silver bullet for success. If you don’t think you can be those critical eyes because you are too busy trying to drive the boat yourself, call me. I’ll come do an analysis of your boat using all the criteria in these five Tools and show you where the boat needs work.

How to Find Out Your Business Reputation

Some of you read them. Some of you don’t. I often get asked why each blog post has a Postscript (PS) or two. Postscripts are also called “afterthoughts.” In the case of my blog, I use them to reinforce different points made in the post, without clunking up the writing. I also use them to clarify and/or sum up something I’ve said. Often the PS is an action step or an application of the idea posed by the post. Sometimes it is a humorous anecdote or story from my past experiences.

Sometimes the PS hints at the next post. That was the case yesterday.

According to Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, your brand is “every single interaction someone has with your business, plus how they feel about it.”

In other words, your brand is not your slogan, your color scheme, or your logo. It is the way people feel about your business. It is your reputation.

In 2005 I wanted to know what people thought and felt about Toy House. Before I could create a stronger brand, I had to know from where I was starting. To do that, I needed to do a survey. Here is what I did.

LOCAL COLLEGE STATISTICS CLASS

Image result for phone surveyI contacted a professor at Spring Arbor University who taught statistics. Fortunately I already knew him. We had met at a networking event (one more reason why you should attend those events).

I told him what I wanted to do. I had a survey. I had the questions. I just needed someone to figure out the sample size, do the calling, and compile the results. It would be a live exercise for his statistics students. I agreed that I would write a letter of recommendation for all the students who participated, and that I would host a pizza party for the students when they had the results.

The professor thought it would be a fun exercise, and put it into his lesson plan at the appropriate time.

The students did the math and figured out we would need a sample size of 400 Jackson County residents to accurately measure the entire county within an acceptable margin of error. They also devised a random way to find those 400 people using the phone book. Each of the twenty students was then tasked with getting twenty survey results back within a two-week window.

QUESTION #1

The script I gave the students came from Roy. In a class I took, he showed me how to get an accurate assessment of where Toy House stood in the minds of Jackson County residents. It also showed how I compared to other stores selling toys in the area.

When someone answered the phone, the student would say …

“Hello, my name is (____). I am a Spring Arbor University student. My statistics class is doing a survey on toy shopping habits in Jackson County. Can I ask you a couple questions?”

If they said yes, the first question was this …

“Please name all the stores you can think of that sell toys in Jackson.”

The students had a worksheet with all the possible places listed and a few blanks for some out-of-the-box thinkers. As the person named stores, the student would number them in the order they were named. After the person stopped, the student would say, “You named (list of all stores they named). Can you think of any others?” This went on until the person said they could not think of any others.

The beauty of this question is that it helps you see how much awareness people have of your existence. You also see how you compare to everyone else in your town. It was eye-opening to see what percentage of Jackson County shoppers knew we existed. The results looked like this.

  1. Toys R Us 84.1%
  2. Meijer 82.3%
  3. Walmart 69.5%
  4. Toy House 64.8%
  5. Kmart 59.1%
  6. Target 45.2%

Thirty-five percent of the population could not think of us when asked to name a store that sold toys in Jackson. That was a shocker. (So was the fact the 16% couldn’t name the iconic national brand of Toys R Us and over half the population didn’t think of Target as a place to buy toys.)

QUESTION #2

Once the first question was answered, the student would then say, “For the second part, I am going to read you a few words. From the list of stores you just gave me, I want you to tell me the first of those stores that comes to mind with each word. There is no right or wrong answer. Just blurt out the first store you think of.”

The list of words I had the students read included positive words like Affordable, Caring, Clean, Friendly, Fun, Helpful, Knowledgeable, Quality, Value, and Welcoming.

The list also included negative words like Arrogant, Cluttered, Confusing, Dark, Deceptive, Dirty, Expensive, High Pressure, Indifferent, Over-Priced, Pushy, and Rude.

The list also included one word that upon reflection could be considered either positive or negative—Cheap.

The deal here is that whoever is mentioned the most for that particular word owns that word in the minds of shoppers. That is your reputation, good or bad.

  • We owned the words Caring, Clean, Friendly, Fun, Helpful, Knowledgeable, Quality, Value and Welcoming from the positive list, and Expensive and Over-Priced from the negative list.
  • Walmart owned the words Affordable, Deceptive, Indifferent, Rude, and Cheap.
  • Kmart owned Dark and Dirty.
  • Toys R Us owned Cluttered, Confusing, High-Pressure, and Pushy.
  • Target and Meijer didn’t own a single word on the list.

(Note: in that first survey, no one owned Arrogant. We were in a virtual tie with both Walmart and Toys R Us for that word.)

The one thing I didn’t include in my list of words was all of our Core Values, but mainly because I didn’t know them in 2005 like I did in 2007. We did a second survey in 2007 adding Education and Nostalgia to the list and owned those words hands-down. The only other changes in 2007 were that Walmart tied us for Value, and we took over Arrogant.

RESULTS

There were several takeaways from these results. The first was the lack of awareness for our giant, colorful store that had been in business for 56 years in the heart of downtown Jackson. More people mentioned Walmart, yet they had only been open a couple months when this survey was done. When we did the survey again in 2007, our name recognition jumped from 64.8% to 76.0%, whereas Walmart’s only went from 69.5% to 76.5%. We were still fourth overall, but had closed the gap significantly. (TRU and Meijer held steady.)

I was okay with owning the negative words Over-Priced and Expensive. That’s a common belief of indie retailers and I expected it. I was especially okay because we also owned Value. Value and Expensive are not exclusive. Value and Over-Priced don’t go together, but for every person that thought of us as Over-Priced, there was someone else who saw the Value in our offerings. I was okay with owning Arrogant in the 2007 survey, too, since I also owned nine of the ten positive attributes.

Most importantly, we owned the things we wanted to be know for. We owned our Core Values of Helpful, Fun, Education, and Nostalgia. We owned the things we were already advertising such as Friendly, Knowledgeable, and Quality. We owned the one word that made my mom the happiest—Clean! So we knew we were on the right track with our advertising, but more importantly we were on the right track with our actions.

Advertising cannot change your reputation. It can only enhance it. Actions speak louder than words.

Now you have the blueprint for doing your own survey to find out where you stand compared to your competition. If you don’t like your results. First change your actions.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The interesting question about doing a survey today is whether to do it online or by phone or both. Back in 2005 and 2007 most people still had landlines. Today, if you only do a phone survey with numbers generated randomly from a phone book (assuming those still exist), you’re missing out on a huge segment of the population. That will be the challenge for your statistics class to figure out. It might cost you a little more than pizza, but it will be totally worth it.

PPS One other benefit from the survey was that I had a classroom of 20 college students who now knew about our store and saw the reputation we had. That alone was worth the pizzas and a quick letter thanking them for running the survey.

What to Do With the First Quarter Blues

I went for a walk/jog down the Falling Waters Trail a couple days ago. It was sunny and in the mid-50’s. My dog, Samantha, and I enjoyed getting out of the house. There is something about those early spring days when you get that sense of renewal, that rebirth of energy. Of course, today, I stare out at five inches of snow courtesy of our bipolar vortex. Just when you think you’ve turned the corner on winter, Mother Nature smothers you with another blanket of white. So much for that rebirth of energy.

It’s easy to get the blues.

Image result for cabin fever clip artEspecially if you’re a fourth-quarter retailer. January feels like a relief from the exhausting marathon of Christmas. But by February, when the bills have all been paid and it doesn’t seem like any new cash is coming in, it gets to be a drag.

If you’re a jeweler or florist, you get Valentine’s Day. If you’re a toy retailer or candy shop you get Easter. But that isn’t a lot to carry you through the First Quarter Blues.

Here is a list of different things you can do during the quiet times to combat the blues.

  • Paint the store. A fresh coat of paint brightens the mood and lifts the morale of the staff.
  • Re-do all your signs. Print new ones, change wording, make them more fun and in alignment with your Core Values.
  • Work on new selling techniques. Hold trainings, do role playing, practice new techniques.
  • Make displays for out-of-your-category gifts. For instance, January-March are big baby shower months (no one wants to hold them in November/December because of the holidays). Put together an endcap of great “baby shower” gifts – even if you don’t sell baby products! A hardware store could do a display of “build your nursery the right way”. You could also do “gifts for the mom/dad-to-be.” Get creative. The same is true for weddings. The bridal shows are January-February. Bridal showers are March-June. Put together “bridal/wedding gifts” like board games if you’re a toy store (the family that plays together, stays together), or tool kits. I got a drill as a wedding gift from a thoughtful friend.
  • Get creative with your social media. Post often about a wide variety of things (not all related to selling your products). Have a contest among your staff. Make them all admins. Allow them two posts a day. See who can get more comments and shares in a week. Pay the winner $20. Do it for five weeks. It will be the best $100 bucks you spend on social media this year because you’ll see what kind of posts move the needle.
  • Have a contest of some kind. Maybe a raffle for charity. Maybe a “taste-test” where you put two competing products side by side. (I can see this for tools, for toys, for shoes, for cleaning products, for foods, for strollers …) Maybe a competition. We did a five-week March Games Madness where we pitted four games against each other for four consecutive Friday nights. The game voted the best each week made it to the final four. The fifth week we crowned the champion.
  • Spend more time networking. Send everyone on your team to different networking events.
  • Rearrange the floor layout. Stand at the front door and look around. See what catches your eye. Redesign the store so that your customers can see farther into your store. And make sure something cool and compelling is in those sight lines.
  • Clean and fix everything. Everything.
  • Make your bathroom cool. When George Whalin wrote Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best independent Stores in America, he mentioned the really cool bathrooms for 14 of the 25 stores.
  • Make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers with phone numbers. Assign them to your staff to call each person and personally thank them for shopping in your store. No sales pitch. Just a simple, “I want to thank you for being a customer last year. We truly appreciate your business. Have a great day!”
  • Make a goodie-bag for those same top 50 or 100 and personally deliver them. Free. No questions asked. (Thank you Brandy & Eric for this idea!)

The customers will be back soon enough. You have new products rolling in. Take this time to plant the seeds for future sales by refreshing the store, training the staff, and getting creative with your marketing.

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I would love to hear your suggestions for additions to this list. I know there are some really good ideas out there. Help me share them with the world.

Hidden Networking (And Why it is Important)

Call me Admiral Graybeard. This summer I will be heading up a fleet of Interlake Sailboats on the waters of Stony Lake for YMCA Storer Camps. I’ll be spending my mornings on the water (and my afternoons typing away at my computer.)

Image result for ymca storer campsYou could call this a return to my youth. I did spend the summers of 1974 through 1981 as a camper there. You could call this a return to my high school and college days. I did work there as a summer camp counselor from 1983 to 1987. You could call this a return to my early career. I did work there full-time teaching Team Building through wilderness and experiential education in 1990 and 1991.

I call this an example of Hidden Networking.

When I say Networking, most business owners immediately think of Chamber events and other B2B meet-and-greets as the only networking they might do. I know. I used to think that way, too. Here’s a dirty little secret …

You’re always Networking.

When you go to the bank or gas station or grocery store or out to eat, you are networking. When you volunteer to help out at the school or church, you are networking. When you meet people at a social gathering, you are networking. It just isn’t as open and obvious.

Although you can call me Admiral, my boss this summer happens to be someone who took my Daddy Class at the local hospital. His boss, the person who hired me, knows me because my boys have attended the camp as campers. I was up at the camp a couple weekends ago to do some volunteer work organized by an old friend, when the idea sprang about.

You never know when or how a connection will benefit you. I may have a connection to the camp through being a camper, staff member and parent. But I made the connections to the people who hired me through teaching a class and volunteering to help a friend.

Hidden Networking is the quiet connections you make daily. Sometimes it is more powerful than big networking events.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You’re already doing Hidden Networking. I just want to give it a face and a name so that you would do it more openly and consciously. Make sense?

PPS One big perk besides spending my summer on the water is that I get the flexibility to still do workshops and seminars like the Spotlight on Marketing and Advertising workshop coming up June 20th (that gives you insight into how to make any and all kind of Networking work best for you.)

The Power of the Network

I went to a networking event a couple nights ago. I knew walking in that the likelihood of picking up a high-paying speaking gig from this event was incredibly low. In fact, the idea that I would be able to pick up any speaking gigs from this event never really entered my mind. I went for one reason, to strengthen my network.

A lot of people have told me over the years that they hate networking events. They never meet anyone who wants to buy from them. Those people, like most people at these events are missing the point.

I bet if you asked a room full of people at a networking event how many were hoping to sell someone, every hand would go up. Then if you asked how many were there to buy something, not a hand would be raised. In fact, I know this is true. A buddy of mine asked those very questions while giving a keynote at a networking event. What he said next was advice I have never forgotten…

“The first one of you ‘sellers’ who changes his or her mindset into being a ‘buyer’ will be the most successful person at this event.”

He wasn’t telling you to actually buy someone’s services, but instead to listen to what they have to offer. Most of us are polite enough to hear someone else’s sales pitch, but we aren’t really listening, just waiting for the moment to jump in with our own pitch. If you go in with the mindset of a buyer, however, you are actively listening and actively thinking through your own databank of people you know who might need this service.

You take that approach and three things will happen…

  1. You will strengthen and enhance your own listening skills which will help you no matter what you’re selling.
  2. You will connect a person you know with a service they need. That’s always a good thing.
  3. You will earn some reciprocity. As soon as you refer someone to a business contact, that business contact will be looking for ways to repay you.

That’s how Networking is supposed to work. Don’t turn your nose up at the next Chamber outing. Try taking a different approach. Try being a buyer in a sea of sellers. It is not only more effective, it is a heck of a lot more fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I only met two new people at the event, but more importantly I reconnected with a lot of people and got up-to-date on what was happening in their businesses. I’ve already made a couple referrals heading their way.

How to Make Networking Events Actually Pay Off

I was speaking about the power of networking to a group of baby product sellers. One of them pointed out that he had never seen a pregnant person at a networking event.

That pretty much sums up what most people get wrong about networking.

Raise your hand if you know someone who is pregnant…

That’s a lot of hands and a lot of people to whom he could have spoken and gotten results.

Sellers at Market

A BUYER IN A SEA OF SELLERS

A friend of mine was doing a keynote address prior to a networking event. He asked everyone who was hoping to sell something that night to raise their hands. Every hand in the room went up immediately.

He then asked who was there to buy… crickets…

He then delivered the most powerful message, “The first one of you who switches sides and becomes a ‘buyer’ will have the most successful evening.”

Anyone who has ever told you networking is a waste of time made this mistake. He or she went to an event hoping to find an end user and make a sale. Networking is about making connections, not making sales.

The first person who becomes a buyer instead of a seller is the one who will have the fullest dance card and make the most meaningful connections.

MAKING CONNECTIONS THAT COUNT

When I attend a networking event, my goal is to meet two new people and truly understand what they do. One of the best networkers I know keeps a stack of blank cards on her desk. Every morning she takes out the business cards she farmed at the previous night’s event and sends each person a handwritten card acknowledging their meeting.

Once I make a connection, I scour my own contacts to see if there is someone I know who might need their services. If I can refer someone to them, it solidifies the connection. It also creates a sense of reciprocity and they will look for a chance to send someone my way.

NETWORKING SUCCESS

Follow this simple plan and you’ll grow your network by leaps and bounds:

  • Meet two people and meet them well. Meet too many and you don’t have the time to get to know them enough to recommend them to your contacts.
  • Ask more than you answer. The best way to get to know people is to ask and listen. Only talk about yourself when directly asked.
  • Send a handwritten card the following day to the people you meet.
  • Refer someone to them for their services.

Growing your network raises awareness of your business. Growing your network gets you referral business. Growing your network helps you find new resources for your business. Growing your network introduces you to people who can help you grow personally and professionally.

Networking is a powerful tool for your business when you do it right. Now you know how to do it right. Put this in your retail toolbox right now.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’m not good at handwritten cards, but I am a sucker when I get one. My immediate reaction is to think of the person who sent it as someone with their act together, with whom I hope to do business. That’s the reaction you’ll get when you force yourself into this habit.

PPS When I quit trying to be a seller, I also found I have a lot more fun at networking events. Everyone wants to talk to me. Everyone wants to meet with me. Plus, I meet a lot of interesting and fascinating people. It is amazing what a difference listening instead of talking can make.

You Aren’t as Well Known as You Think

Back in 2005 we hired a Statistics Class at a local university to do a study for us. They determined how to get a random sample size that would accurately reflect Jackson County and then called people to ask them one simple task…

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“Name all the places you can think of in Jackson County that sell toys.”

The students would write down every store mentioned. Then they would say, “You mentioned…” and repeat the list back to the person. They would then ask, “Can you think of any more?” and repeat this until the person had thought of everyone.

Here are the results of how often the top six stores were mentioned.

  1. Toys R Us 84.1%
  2. Meijer 82.3%
  3. Wal-Mart 69.5%
  4. Toy House 64.8%
  5. K-Mart 59.1%
  6. Target 45.2%

Interesting that 35% of the population of Jackson County could not think of us even though we had been here 56 years at the time of the survey.

More interesting was that Wal-Mart had only just opened a few months before this survey was done. Was that 69.5% too high or too low seeing that they had just received about four months of wall-to-wall news coverage prior to opening?

Even more interesting was that less than half of our population thought of Target as a place that sold toys even though Target, nationally, is only behind Wal-Mart and Toys R Us in overall toy sales.

Most interesting of all was that not one single store broke the 90% (even with the 4% margin of error).

NOT EVERYONE KNOWS YOU’RE THERE

One takeaway from all this is the reminder that you have to keep marketing and advertising your business. You are not the Field of Dreams. People will not come. Mainly because they don’t even know you’re there.

35% of my hometown did not know that an award-winning store with one of the largest selection of toys in America was located right downtown in a brightly colored building for over 50 years.

YOU CAN’T REACH EVERYONE

Another takeaway is that no matter how hard you try, there will still be people who haven’t heard of you.

35% of my hometown could not name the toy store that runs radio ads every day, gets mentioned on TV every day, makes monthly appearances on radio and TV, is all over social media, and gets coverage in the local newspaper all the time.

35% of my hometown could not name the toy store whose logo is on the shirt of the guy who attends networking events, teaches classes at the local hospital and even wears his colors on his jacket all winter long.

Heck, even 15% couldn’t name Toys R Us despite them spending billions on advertising.

You could sum it up simply as…

  • Always be farming for more customers
  • Not every seed planted will sprout

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This post took a turn after I started it. It was supposed to be about the importance of Networking, especially as a low-cost marketing method. I’ll get to that soon enough. In the meantime, download my FREE eBook Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget for six other ways you can get the word out about your business at little or no cost.

PPS The cool thing about the survey was that I quickly knew what the people of Jackson thought when they needed to buy toys. I knew where I stood and where everyone else in the market stood, too. That is some powerful information.

Teach What You Can Teach Part 2

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post, today I taught two high school classes. They were Child Development classes and I taught about the importance of Play for child development and how to find the right toys (tools) for Play. I’ve now taught this class to high schoolers, new parents, mom’s groups, and even a grandparents group.

For thirteen years I taught expectant parents and grandparents how to choose baby products at a class we did right in the store.

I do another talk called The Family that Plays Together, Stays Together that highlights how play and fun and laughter make you healthier and happier and strengthen the bonds of your family.

That’s just three classes based on the knowledge I gained running my store.

I’m pretty sure a good shoe store owner could teach about the importance of posture and good walking habits.
I’m pretty sure a good jeweler could teach about how to care for precious stones or the best way to polish gold and silver and brass.
I’m pretty sure a good grocer (especially one who specializes in locally produced goods) could talk about GMO’s and artificial sweeteners.
I’m pretty sure a good clothing store owner could talk about current fashions and trends in the clothing industry.
I’m pretty sure a good craft store owner could teach how to make something out of next-to-nothing.
I’m pretty sure a good health food store owner could teach about the difference in quality of certain vitamins and supplements.
I’m pretty sure a good bike shop owner could teach how to change your inner tube on your bike and other simple maintenance.
I’m pretty sure a good furniture store could teach the proper way to fix mars and scratches in a wood surface or how to get stains out of upholstery.
I’m pretty sure a good appliance store owner could teach about how to save energy while using appliances.
I’m quite certain a good hardware store owner could teach how to use tools safely and properly.

You’re a great retailer. What can you teach?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you decide to teach, the next thing you need is an audience. I get some of my talks because I put it on my website. I get others because I put it on brochures in the store. I get the rest because I make it so much fun that people in those classes tell others about it. (Yeah, that thing we call word-of-mouth).