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Is it time you commercialised your contact list?

A couple of weeks ago I was down in regional
Victoria participating in a working lunch with about 25 others to
identify suitable content for a women’s leadership program in the area.
 Many of them were business owners; some were employees. I asked all
of them the same question: how can I help you to realise your potential and your career goals?
kicked around a few topics and then it came to networking: was this an
area they could improve in, I asked.  Most of these women lived the
small town where lunch was convened and said they didn’t need help with
networking because they pretty much knew everyone within their
community.  Being a country girl I get this.  However I still asked the
ladies to indulge me in a small exercise: I asked them to turn their
minds now to who around they table they had done business with,
referred customers to or simply gone out of their way to tell everyone
they know about the great businesses these women run and the services
they deliver.  When it came down to it, only two of the 25 women
at the table could honestly say they’d done this in the past 12 months.
am intrigued by the ever expanding list of networking events that are
arising for women in business.  It seems every event organiser wants a
piece of the action and is specifically targeting women.  But here’s
the thing: what is the point of networking and meeting new people if
you never manage to commercialise the contacts you already have in your
address book and continue to do the same with the new contacts you
Now I don’t know about you, but I
already have loads of friends I adore and my family would say I don’t
spend enough time with them. So if I go to a networking event, I am
going there for work and commercialising the contacts I make at that
event is a key goal. (BTW  there have been times when making friends
has been my goal – so it’s cool if this is your goal, it just isn’t
mine right now.)  And all the coffee meetings in the world won’t turn
into cashflow until you truly turn your mind to how you can develop
commercial relationships and a network that’s really there to support
everyone in it with the pointy end of business: generating revenue.
So how do I do this?  Here’s my top 6 tips on commercialising your contact list:
  1. Invest in a tool that makes managing your contacts easy.
     And by this I don’t just mean your workplace CRM.  If you’re running
    your own business you probably already do this; and if you’re employed
    and you are a serious professional, you need to do it to. Building
    your “little black book” is essential to everyone in business and you
    can either use a little black book to maintain your contacts, or a card
    file if you like.  But most of us have moved on to electronic options
    now, so Outlook for PC or Address Book for Mac are fine.  I wanted more
    grunt than this so I’ve been on Salesforce for several years now  and I also use LinkedIn
    extensively for staying in touch (BTW it’s also a good way to keep your
    contacts up to date with what you’re doing and over the past year I’ve
    won two projects from LinkedIn – simply by posting regular status
    updates which my contacts have read and responded to).
  2. Keep your contacts up to date.
     Now this can be tricky – we’re all moving around more these days and
    usually email addresses stop working once someone’s moved on from a
    company.  This is the main reason why my Salesforce contacts are also
    in LinkedIn – because if they move from one company to another, their
    email address will change but their LinkedIn profile
    will stay the same.  So it’s a good way to make contact and find their
    new email etc.  If you’re using Salesforce – and for most address books
    in standard email applications – you can also send out periodic update
    requests to your contacts which will indicate which emails bounce and
    therefore highlight who you need new details for.  Problem is you’ll
    still have to then track down their contacts.  LinkedIn eliminates this
    need – as does Facebook too – I personally have chosen to keep Facebook
    for my real friends and family and LinkedIn for my business contacts
    (BTW I also think it’s a good idea to pick one main social media site
    for this purpose otherwise you’ll be spending all your time online
    instead of actually catching up with people).
  3. Which brings me to catching up with people.  How
    good are you at staying in touch with people you’ve worked with or
    studied with in the past, or simply friends you’ve drifted away from
    over the years?  It’s tough, I know to stay in touch.  Partly due to
    the reasons I’ve already mentioned.  But partly because of the time it
    takes.  That’s why I’ve created groups on LinkedIn for my MBA cohort
    and my former Andersen colleagues – it makes it really quick and easy
    to get messages out to them and organise the annual reunions I usually
    hold every year (sorry guys – I know it’s been quiet this year but the
    invitation is still coming – I promise!)  No longer do I worry about
    trying to keep group lists in email up to date – I just send a group
    message to the LinkedIn Group and everyone gets it, even if they’ve
    changed emails over the course of the year.  And if you’ve lost touch
    with people over the years, there’s never been a better time or an
    easier way to get back in touch.  Whether it’s Facebook, MySpace,
    LinkedIn or the various high school reunion sites… there’s no excuse
    any more!
  4. When you make a new contact, or you run into an old one, make sure you tell them what you’re working on right now: in
    your LinkedIn status updates, at events, on the phone, in your email
    sign off, in newsletters, and in the small talk you make with everyday
    people in the street, at parties, at the hairdressers… in fact
    anywhere!  I reckon people are genuinely interested in this.  It’s
    human nature – we ask “what do you do” or “what have you been up to”
    before we ask much else.  Once people know what you do, and that you’re
    enthusiastic about it (and a bit of career advice 101: if you’re not
    enthusiastic about your work, don’t keep doing it!) there’s a good
    chance someone they know will need the very thing you do.  And before
    you know it, Bob’s Your Uncle: you’re making money!  This principle is
    so easy and works so well.  Just in the last week alone, I’ve
    personally referred my good friends Amanda Gore and Candy Tymson to
    my friend Helen who was looking for a female speaker for a conference
    she’s organising; I’ve referred my friend Lara from Mocks
    to a contact who was looking for an innovative PR idea; and I’ve
    referred my hairdresser Craig at Rocket’s Hair to loads and loads of
    women who are looking for a good hairdresser (and thanks to those of you who’ve also referred your hairsalon tips).  What goes around comes around, and
    the great thing about referring a trusted provider to someone you
    respect is that both of them will usually be happy to help when it’s
    time for you to ask a favour.
  5. Which brings me to the big one: to truly commercialise your contacts, you have to get comfortable with asking for business.  Without
    the hard sell (of course, because this will just turn people off).  I
    learned this when I was running my consulting practice – I’d work on a
    huge project for 6 or 8 or 12 months, and then when I finished that gig
    it was time to find another one.  And I used to worry about this… a
    lot! Until I learned that by simply telling people I’d worked with in
    the past that I’d finished a project and was looking for a new one, one
    would usually appear!  Not always with them directly, but business
    people are always looking for good help.  Always.  So if you can put
    the word out, and be clear about what you’re looking for, that’s often
    all it takes.  
  6. And finally, be open and honest and show that you can be trusted
    and people will want to do business with you.  This isn’t rocket
    science, but I can’t believe how often people get it wrong.  For
    example, if you want help from someone in your contact list, don’t send
    a cryptic email asking for coffee.  Instead be straight up about it
    when you (preferably) phone them or email them – this shows you value
    their opinion, and that you also respect their time.  And if one of
    your contacts tells you their business is struggling, don’t tell a cast
    of thousands all the intricate details like a Gossip Girl.  Instead
    just focus on what you could do that would be helfpul – like referring
    business, offering advice and just being a good friend.  Basically just
    treat people the way you’d like to be treated yourself.  Easy.  
an idea to add to the list?  We’d love to receive your comments – post
them on this blog and we’ll send a copy of Kirsty Spraggon’s fantastic
book Work As If You Own to the most helpful suggestion.


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