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Don’t Be Snobbish About Network Marketing

Network marketing companies are strong, profitable and growing

Network marketing companies are strong, profitable and growing

If you run your own business, I expect there have been times when you wondered why on earth you started it. You might even be in a business where you are responsible for bringing in new customers and sales. The pressure is on to perform and you have moments of self doubt. “Can I do this?” “Am I good enough?”

The times that make you wonder why you are putting yourself through this pain often come down to one of two things. Money and people.

With the money, you are worrying about getting sales, whether they are profitable sales, whether you have enough money in the bank to to pay your current bills while you wait for the money to come in from the sales, chasing debtors and then working out whether you have made any money at all at the end of each month.

With people, it can be that you have tough customers who do things like ask you to show them exactly how you do what you do so that they don’t have to use you anymore. Or you have some tricky relationships at work where you feel as though you are not entirely on safe ground because your boss is being particularly distant from you.

The hardest thing that people have to deal when they are running their own business and selling for the first time is the fear of rejection. Getting turned down by the customer who you thought would buy your product or service without doubt is a hard thing to deal with in business when you are not used to it. That’s why cold calling is loathed by most sales people. Rejection after rejection, day in, day out is not only demoralising, it’s boring.

But dealing with rejection from prospective customers is one thing. Dealing with rejection from friends or family is another. When you start your own business, you start it with optimism, enthusiasm and fear. You are giving up that regular salary  and the certainty which that brings. The support that your friends and family give you is vital to making you feel as though you are not entirely on your own.

But when you don’t get that support, it can be very difficult to deal with. Belief in your products or service is what holds you together and the determination to win against all odds is one of the characteristics of an entrepreneur.

Someone I know well has started their own business and that person is one of the most determined people that I know. In five years, they have taken their business from zero to £500,000 in turnover having started it part time. That person is now being joined by their spouse in the business who has given up their highly pressurised but well paid nine to five job.

But their family does not see their business with the same enthusiasm as they do. In fact, they don’t see it as a proper business because it is a network marketing business. And that’s not really a ‘proper business’. Network marketing is regarded with quite a bit of snobbery in this country. People think you are selling them some sort of ‘pyramid-ponzi’ scheme where they will have to buy a load of ridiculous water filters or similar which you can’t sell.

But this is old thinking. For sure, some network marketing schemes in the past have given the model a bad name. But this is not the same. Network marketing is becoming a phenomenally successful and influential route to market for many companies who do it well. If network marketing is bad, why do you see so many brands using social networking to get their name out there to help them sell products?

The plain fact is that the world has become wise to the effectiveness of networking, network marketing and social networking. The days of brands marketing at you are declining rapidly. We no longer accept what marketers tell us about their products. We tell them what we think about their products and not just by refusing to buy them.

Networking is a people-centred activity. People buy from people they trust. People buy from people who sell good products. Network marketing is built upon that principle but people seem to think that just because the product was purchased in this way that it is less than legitimate.

You know what? If that’s the way you think then all I can say is “Get over it”. The best network marketing companies are strong, profitable, growing and they are quietly making the people who work in the businesses a lot of money. In fact, I might just join them.

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12 Networking Rules

Be genuinely interested in what other people do

Be genuinely interested in what other people do

Networking is an essential activity for anyone in business and it is especially important for people in small businesses to carry out. Small businesses should be very wary of gambling precious resources on buying lists, running advertising campaigns, or carrying out mass mailings.

Networking in its face to face or internet forms is effective, it is easy to measure results and builds strong business for the present and future.As a part of the marketing mix, it has to be near the top of the list for allocation of resources for small businesses.

Nevertheless, it has to be carried out in a professional, targeted and considered way. If you network in an amateur way, you will immediately present your business as one which is less than credible. I network a lot and it is fruitful. I meet a lot of people and some of them become clients and some of them become contacts.

Some events are clear that networking is a definite part of the structure. Some events do not stress that networking is part of the structure but it is implied by the fact that everyone eats and drinks together at the event and if you are not using the time to network then you that’s your bad luck. Some events are well organised for networking. Some are poor.

The more I attend networking events, the more I learn about how to make them work for me and other people. I follow some rules which make the time productive and increase the return that you gain from it. If you are thinking about whether to do more networking as part of your marketing mix, these rules might help you.

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Getting Big Leads for Little Money

Getting leads does not have to be costly

Getting leads does not have to be costly

All businesses need sales. It’s probably the most important activity to keep a business alive. With profitable sales, cash flow is the next most important aspect to get right. Most large businesses (e.g. Microsoft and HP) I have worked in have the luxury of being able to test marketing initiatives and they have vast armies of sales and marketing people to develop, test and refine them, along with the budget to do it.

In a small business, you don’t have such luxuries unless you happen to be swimming in cash. Most people start their own business with plenty of determination, some cash to keep themselves afloat, a great idea and the experience to be able to help other people with it, and, perhaps, a list of contacts who they can approach who might want to buy their product or service. Resources for sales and marketing are limited so every penny has to count towards getting sales.

Learning how to sell can often be the hardest part of starting your own business. The fear of rejection. The fear of failure. These are all common anxieties that occur when you are about to either pick up the phone to speak to a prospect, run your first show stand or talk to people at an event who you don’t already know. But you can break these fears and anxieties down by following simple steps in your business planning and not be tempted into sales and marketing activities that don’t fit into your plans.

When it comes to marketing, I hear plenty of worrying stories about business owners who have been recommended to get a web site for their business to bring in sales which, in the end, brings in no leads and, of course, no sales but takes vital cash out of their business. Also, people are often tempted to buy lists of names who are supposed to be qualified prospects in their target market at great expense but which can often be found for free on the internet using business networking sites like LinkedIn.

Often this comes down to a lack of experience in sales and marketing, which is understandable when these are not your main skills. But, when you start your business, you have to become good at sales and marketing to survive and get yourself into a position to grow your business and make profits.

When you have limited or near-zero marketing funds, then you need to be laser targeted in how you use them to bring you fruitful leads which convert into sales. You need to be clear about the objectives for your marketing. You need to be clear about your sales objectives too. Once you have determined your sales and marketing objectives, then you can begin to work on your sales and marketing strategies.

Sales objectives might sound like this: To cover my costs each month and to pay myself a living wage, I need to bring in £5,000 of sales per month”. And it might follow on like this: “In order to bring in £5,000 of sales per month, I need to sell two of my widgets per month”.

Sales strategies might sound like this: To sell two widgets per month, I need to send ten quotes out per month”. Sales tactics might sound like this: To send out ten quotes per month, I need to make fifty contacts with new prospects or customers per month.

Marketing objectives might sound like this: “I want to become the first choice when clients need an HR consultant in my local town within two years”.

Marketing strategies might sound like this: “I want to meet one new prospect a week who is in my target market”. A marketing tactic for this strategy might be “To meet one new prospect per week I am going to join my local business networking group”.

Only when you have planned your sales & marketing objectives and strategies, can you start to decide on the right tactics to achieve them. This is where many people starting up their own business start. They start with sales tactics and marketing tactics without fully understanding how they support their strategies and objectives.

For instance, you might say I want to build a web site to sell to new customers. But do your customers buy your type of product or service through the web? This is where your precious resources can be wasted in an instant.

So, before you spend anything, ask yourself how sure am I that I will get any business from this? If, for instance, you are buying a list, check on the web to see if your potential clients can be found for free. Before you build your web site, make sure it supports your strategies.

In my experience in owning and running small businesses, you should keep everything simple, focus on what you do best and learn how to sell. You need two types of lead generating tactics to get you sales. Tactics which can offer you quick access to prospects (e.g. your existing contact list or contact details from tools like LinkedIn), and tactics which can offer you an opportunity to build long term networks of leads (e.g. networking at events or business clubs).

These two are the cheapest and most secure ways to get leads and sales into your business and they are based upon relationships. You need to convince people that you are trustworthy. With short term tactics, it is good to have a nice logo and a well designed web site. They instill confidence in prospects that you are serious.

But, you should not spend more than you can afford until you have enough money to develop them into more sophisticated tools. Keep it simple. Use the great tools which are out there on the web to help you connect to customers which are free and adapt them cheaply. Keep the cash in your business for as long as you can.

You don’t need to spend lots of money on marketing at first. You need to spend lots of time finding prospects and working with existing clients. Always ask yourself how sure you about the return you will get from your sales and marketing investment and whether it supports your plans. Trust your instincts and be firm about how you invest your resources.

If you keep these principles in mind, you can generate good business without spending lots of money.

If you would like to contact me for further consultancy on how you can get leads to your business at low cost, then please email me: will@digitalbusinessblog.co.uk

Spring Sunshine Brightens a Desperate London Book Fair

LBF had an "air of desperation"  

LBF had an “air of desperation”

The sunshine yesterday in the city put a gloss on a seemingly lightly visited London Book Fair. The immediate view below the LBF banners when walking out of Earl’s Court tube stations were the numerous people outside enjoying the bright Spring day while puffing their last cigarette of hope. There were small groups of people quietly talking to each other or into their mobile phones, but there was no great buzz. Melodramatic maybe but the Fair seemed strangely subdued.

Inside, I had one meeting with a publisher lined up and an hour to kill, so I wandered over to the ‘Digital Zone’. Looking at it on the map, it was a yellow section at the far end of the exhibition. To get to the ‘Zone’ I had to make my way through children’s books, computer books, military books, distributors, printers and publishing recruitment consultants.

The computer books people I know well and, fortunately, they have been investing in digital technology for a long time to diversify their business offerings. Retail was tough but their online, direct business was starting to make them returns.

The children’s section seemed remarkably empty with several stands which you would expect to be busy looking more like a back street restaurant on a wet Monday night judging by the number of empty tables laid out for doing deals. The military book publisher looked busy. War always generates good wealth!

I bumped into an old contact who runs a large ‘print-on-demand’ business who was expanding his empire and his career nicely. On demand seems and its efficiencies seemed to be doing well. Distributors looked busy but I could see an interesting placement of a shipper and a distributor stand near to an eBook company. The fun that the show organisers must have when allocating space to their clients. Do they think like a ‘reality TV’ producer to see if they can make sparks fly?

Oh, and the recruitment consultancy stand was busy. Quelle surprise? 

And, now, I was at the ‘Digital Theatre’. But, theatre was an exaggeration. It had enough seats for about fifteen and, so, on arrival I could see there was a crowd of people spilling out watching a salesman (who had a quasi-antipodean-Dutch accent) from an eBook company explaining about the “global audience” his customers can reach with his product without the need for Royal Mail, UPS or FedEx to get their dirty hands anywhere near your products.

Bolted onto the theatre was the ‘Sony Reader Lounge’ which had several leather seats and sofas and a single Sony Reader bolted onto a table. Where was the fun in that? I am not sure if I needed a ticket to have a play with the device. Could Sony not afford anymore of their readers for the stand? And this summed up the digital area. It was the small back yard of the big mansion but crammed with people trying to get their ‘heads around digital’.

At this stage, I was getting bored of the eBook demo so I decided to have a Twitter moment and took a photo of the proceedings which I sent up to my “global audience” using TwitPic with a comment. The moment was saved when a publisher contact saw my ‘tweet’ and suggested I come and chat to him on his stand. Hooray for Twitter and ‘yah-boo’ to anyone who thinks Twitter is stupid. I picked up a brief for some potential work from the publisher after a very good chat. 

This particular publisher’s view of the Fair was that there was an “air of desperation” about the event with people as keen as mustard to do deals. There were less ‘freebie hunters’ and more serious business people. 

I met my publisher contact at 1pm and sat on the floor for a coffee and a catch up who is getting up to speed on ‘digital’, hopefully with our help. This is how finding new business should be these days. And the LBF organisers should start to provide some proper stands for the ‘digital zone’ because interest was outstripping capacity.

I think I am in the right place at the right time.

Twitter? Don’t worry, Dear. It’s Just a Tool!

Tools are very useful but not interesting at dinner parties 

 

Tools are very useful but not interesting at dinner parties

Last weekend  I saw my wife sawing off a branch of a plum tree she was pruning back with a saw designed to cut metal. She was managing to get through the branch but it was slow work. I handed her our bow saw and she finished the job more easily.

Furthermore, under my staircase is a big black box which contains most of my tools. There is a mix of spanners, pliers, screwdrivers, hammers and saws. One of these tools has a largish, orange handle and looks like a screwdriver for small screws.

In fact, the tool is a bradawl and it is used for making small holes in wood into which you drive a screw.  The bradawl is not very good as a screwdriver because it was not designed for that even though it looks like one.

Now, before you switch off, this is not a post about the contents of my toolbox or a rant about women and tools. Far from it.

Yesterday, there was an article on the a BBC blog which was talking about Oprah Winfrey signing up to Twitter and there was a big battle between her and some other media chap I had never heard of until yesterday for who was going to be the top celebrity with the number of ‘followers’ to their tweets.

What was interesting were the comments (of which I was one commentator) from readers. The first commentator stated that ‘TWITTER IS STUPID’. A later comment talked about lazy journalists using it and businesses using it for cheap research. Another comment said the discussion about Twitter was not adding to the sum of human knowledge. Fair point.

I used to be a cynical about Twitter. But, being cynical about Twitter is a bit like being cynical about bradawls. Imagine this statement- “BRADAWLS ARE STUPID!” It sounds odd, doesn’t it? Bradawls are extremely good for making holes in wood but they are not very good screwdrivers.

Talk about Twitter is dull, just as talking about screwdrivers or hammers is dull. But seeking how to use a tool is very useful, just as learning that a bow saw is better for chopping off branches from a tree than a saw designed to cut metal.

And talk of Twitter being used by lazy journalists is like saying that farmers who use tractors for ploughing fields should be ashamed of themselves for not doing it by hand. And what is the difference between a business using Twitter for cheap research and a business not using it and buying expensive research? It might be your job.

Twitter is a very good tool but I can’t say I am going to be talking about it at dinner parties. I will be helping clients find more customers with it. I will be using it to find work for myself. But, as with anything, a better version may well come along. And until that comes along, I will continue to use Twitter as a tool, as I will continue to use my bradawl to make small holes in wood.

The Quiet Ones Make More Noise

It's not the way you say. It's how you listen.

It's not the way you say. It's how you listen.

You may know someone like this. They appear to be exceptionally confident. They dominate conversations and walk into a room or a meeting and take command of it. You might feel a little intimidated by them. They say things at you and you wonder why you had not thought of that idea yourself and it is so much better than any idea you could possibly have ever conjured up. This person might tell you to do something and so you go and do what they tell you without thinking about it too much.

That’s the way it has been since you were at school. People say things to you and you listen and act upon what you are told. That confident person might have been your teacher, your boss, or a colleague who was always louder than you. But, as you grew older and more experienced, you started to think for yourself. The people who were the loudest often were the ones who took your idea and labeled it as their own. You started to see that actually the loud people, or the exceptionally confident ones were quite often very good at saying things but not so good at thinking about things. They did not have the monopoly on ideas that you thought they had and they needed you more than they would have cared to accept. 

In the armed forces, there are lots of people who are loud and confident. You are trained to lead and to project an air of confidence. But this was quite often a veneer of confidence and you spent a lot of time telling people what to do if you were a platoon commander. But, if you stepped back from the noise, you started to notice something. More often than not, the people who were very influential were the quiet ones who observed and listened before saying anything. All their words were used carefully and minimally. Their confidence was not projected through a one way barrage of information and orders. Their confidence was projected through their quietness and their ability to inspire others and to use the strengths of the team that surrounded them. 

In the business world, advertising agencies have been great at saying things to their client’s customers for years. They have been very effective at sending messages to people and telling them to do things. Buy this washing powder, eat this food, rub this cream in or buy this car to become this sort of person. Some of the world’s most talented people went into advertising and they still do. They are brilliant at saying things. 

Over the last few years, we, as individuals, have realised that we have a voice too. We can write our views up on a blog, comment on other people blogs or views, and we can do things which were once the private domain of the corporations which controlled what we saw, read or consumed. 

This has meant that advertisers are changing their ways. We are not prepared to listen to the message of one advertiser on their product or service. We will check what everyone else thinks about their product or service before we buy it. The loud, confident broadcasts are becoming less and less impressive. Now, the quiet noise of the people tells us whether the advertiser is right about the product they are pushing or not. 

An example of this is a recent story of two developers I know who have built a simple to use tool called ‘ImageSizer.’ These two bright and self-effacing individuals have spent their spare time building ‘ImageSizer’ to help people quickly re-size batches of digital photos and made it available for people to download for free. Quite quickly, it started to appear on lists on the web recommending top tools to download. Downloads went from one hundred in a month to almost a thousand in a week. It kept appearing on lists and the number of downloads increased. Soon, a computer magazine picked it up and asked if it could include ‘ImageSizer‘ in the free CD on the front of its publication which went out to 20,000 subscribers. 

Although the product is free, it is a good lesson in the fact that today people find out about products and services by hearing about them less through the loud noise of traditional advertising and increasingly through a network of people on the web recommending things. Further to the ‘ImageSizer’ story, the developers receive suggestions and requests for improvement to the tool from their users regularly which helps them to keep ImageSizer relevant and useful to what people want from it. 

So, now think back to those people who exude confidence, start to question their substance and find out whether what they are saying is correct from the network. We are in a far more democratic society than we were ten years ago and it is a far better world for it.

Think Inside Someone Else’s Box

Think inside the box first

Think inside the box first

 

How many times have you been asked to think “outside the box” at work or on a training course?  Countless times, no doubt. It is a cliché now although it remains a good practice for problem solving. But when you are finding new clients the one thing you need to do is to find out about your prospects or customers and their challenges or opportunities. You have to get to know them, to ‘think inside their box’, so that you get to know what it feels like from their position. 

An example of this from my military experience was learning about an Army officer serving in Northern Ireland who had become the most successful platoon commander to that point in finding caches of terrorist weapons. He and his platoon became experts in finding where the IRA hid their weapons. The officer thought like the enemy and began to understand their methods and soon cracked their modus operandi and forced them to rethink how they hid their weapons.

And today, in a regular business breakfast networking I attend, I heard one business who was thinking inside their customer’s boxes. His business supplied telecom services to small businesses which is a fiercely competitive market. Many of his competitors had far greater resources to market themselves, with slick sales teams and slick marketing. But his competitors failed to live up to their promises of what they would provide and constantly called their customers and prospects to sell them more products even though they had failed them. 

He understood this and some of his competitor’s customers were at the networking meeting and told us how they had been treated. His business revolved around being straight and honest with his customers. He simplified and lowered their telecoms bills and regularly checked whether their solution was working. He found new customers by networking, relating to his customers and by doing what he said he would do. 

And this is where larger business are going to face major problems from now on. Because marketing is no longer about slick brochures and coiffured salesmen. It’s about being useful to your customers and prospects and providing them with an experience that will make them believe you and come back for more. Giving away some of your expertise for free through your blog, web site, through Twitter or at a networking event are just a few simple ways to win against fierce competitors with deeper pockets but less ability to understand the customers. 

So, before you start thinking outside the box, do some thinking inside the box. It will give you a competitive edge without costing you an arm and a leg.