What is the really simple idea at the heart of what you do?

We have all been asked, many times, “What do you do?” Does your reply help ensure that you will be remembered positively for any length of time?

Simple straightforward factual replies allow the other person to put us in a ‘box’. This is what happens when we simply state our profession (eg: “I’m an accountant” or “I’m an employment lawyer”). This has the positive effect of ensuring the other person knows how to categorise us. But it doesn’t make us memorable.

An alternative approach, advocated by some networking advisers, is to offer an intriguing answer that prompts a request for clarification (eg: “I collect brown envelopes” – those that HMRC sends to my clients, so that I can help keep their taxes to a legal minimum”).  Done well this approach can be very effective at making you memorable and helping you to STAND OUT. More often though these intriguing answers are confusing and counter-productive. The lasting impression can be a negative one – that you are a slick smarty pants who enjoys playing this game at the expense of the people you meet. This is not the impression you want to give!

The sad truth is that most people you meet don’t care what you do. They don’t care about your profession and they don’t care about your clever ‘elevator statement’. What might make them care is if your reply to their question evidences the value of what you do; and especially if you express this in a way that is relevant to them in some way,

This is a key reason why I am not a fan of having one standard stock answer to the question: “What do you do?” I always want my answer to resonate with the person I’m with. I pretend that the question they asked was actually:

What do you do and why should I be interested and remember your reply?

My friend, Lee Warren, suggests a variation on this approach and I have been using it to good effect myself in recent months. He suggests you formulate a reply that conveys the value you provide quickly and simply. And to do this you should think in terms of a reply that starts with the words:

At the heart of what I do is a very simple idea….

If you want to stand out from others who do what you do, you really do need to be able to sum up what you do in a way that is memorable, relevant and distinct. It is rarely quick or easy to learn to do this well. Can you do it?

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Could you adapt this unique way of standing out from the crowd?

I still remember meeting Christopher Higenbottam at a networking event some years ago. I asked what he did and he told me he is an architect. (Indeed it transpired that he was the MD of Tempietto Architects). We talked for a while about his work.  After a few minutes I think I asked him whether there was anything specific that distinguished his practice from that of other architects I might know.  I’ve long asked variations of this question when first meeting fellow professionals.  And it’s an important one to be able to answer convincingly.

Most professionals, in my experience, fall back onto the hackneyed stand bys. They often talk about offering a ‘personal service’ (sometimes they even seem to believe that this is special, just like ALL of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors who say the same thing).  Other common  replies, that also fail to make you memorable or distinctive, focus on other intangible service elements.

If I ask you this question it’s because I want to know what to listen out for when talking to people who might need your services. If I’m not a potential consumer of the  services myself I want to know why I should remember and recommend you rather than any of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors I have met.  Knowing that a solicitor, for example, specialises in employment law is not enough.  I know dozens of employment lawyers.

Equally, when you meet people at networking events you need to appreciate that they have probably met loads of other people who do what you do. I have addressed this need to STAND OUT and to be memorable many times on this blog.

So what did Christopher Higenbottam tell me that made him stand out? He focused on one element of his services – homes for individuals. I recall he talked about some special homes that he had designed.  Then he did something no one has ever done with me at a networking event before or since. He pulled out his smartphone and showed me a short slide show containing 6 photos of beautiful homes he has designed. And guess what? I REMEMBER him.

This idea is not easily replicable by many other professionals. Few of us produce anything tangible and worth photographing. There’s little point in an accountant showing a few photos of a well bound and balanced set of accounts!  I had a few alternative thoughts when I first shared this story. None of them serious.  Perhaps you can do better?  Do please add your thoughts as comments on this post.

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Your service is not unique but you are

Years ago I became quite attached to the idea of identifying UPBs (Unique Perceived Benefits). I prefered this approach of looking at the provision of services from the client’s viewpoint rather than trying to identify a USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

More recently though I have realised that it is all but impossible for any of us to provide our services in a ‘unique’ way.  How many professionals offer any element of their service in a way that is like no other? More often I have noted that claims of USPs are all too similar. I believe that most prospective clients dismiss them as simple marketing puff. This may also mean that such claims have a negative impact.

I believe that there are other ways in which we can each distinguish our services so that they STAND OUT in a positive way. This is often a pre-requisite if we want to be remembered, referred and recommended to the type of clients we want, to do the work we enjoy and for which we get paid the fees we deserve. I have touched on such ideas in other blog posts here as well as in my ebook.

In my talk about ‘How to STAND OUT’ I explain that there are two key ways in which you can do this. One is focused around your core business messages, marketing and branding. The other around the quality and power of the conversations that you have.

I am indebted to my friend, Alan Stevens, for reminding me recently that though our services may not be unique, we are all individually unique. Sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. In ‘The MediaCoach‘, his free weekly ezine, Alan noted that:

There are millions of social media postings every day. Many of them repeat the same old stuff, often about how to be a better person or “dos and don’ts” for some endeavour or other. Some of them are very good, but most of them are not. The ones that I read and enjoy most are those that stand out from the crowd by having a unique, personal point of view. I may not always agree with the poster, but I’m always interested to read what they say.

Many posters seem to want to be someone else. They copy styles, ideas, and often even entire posts from experts they admire. Alas, no-one is going to be interested in recycled ideas. They want the real thing. To be a successful poster, I suggest you focus on your uniqueness (and don’t tell me you aren’t unique, because there is obviously no-one else like you).

In short, express your views, even if they are out of line with the mainstream (especially if they are out of line). Try to back up your views with evidence, otherwise they can just become a rant (a statement for which you have no evidence at all). Be controversial. Be yourself. Be unique.

I agree. Do you?

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How to win at the Networking card games

Popular business card games include the perennial classics: ‘How many can I give out in one night?’ And ‘How many can I collect?’

But what do you really win if you play these games? I’d suggest you are not so much a winner, more of a loser.

Sorry to be harsh but if that’s how you play you are missing the point of Networking and so you are wasting your time. Just as if you wanted to play poker but spend your time visiting Bridge clubs.

Actually, playing cards can provide a number of useful metaphors that can help us to remember what to do if we want our Networking activity to be fun and worthwhile.

Are you a king of conversation perhaps or a queen of hearts? Do you come across as a jack of all trades or as an Ace accountant? Perhaps a more specific example would be better:

Years ago we all wore suits (at least the blokes did). These days suits may be much less common, in some offices at least. But the 4 suits in a deck of cards can be a useful prompt for structuring your conversations when networking:

Spades – firstly you dig around (with your metaphorical spade) asking general questions to find out more – without turning it into an inquisition;

Hearts –  you’re looking to build rapport which is easiest if you can find something where you share an emotional (heart-felt) connection – do you have any similar likes and dislikes?

Clubs – now, rather than talking about yourself focus on talking about one or more clients who are, in some way, part of the same ‘club’ as the person you are with, or people they know. You can only do this if you’ve dug around well with your spade, asking questions that will enable you to find out enough about the other person 😉

Finally – Diamonds, the really valuable stuff. This is the follow up to your conversation. What can you promise to do by way of a follow up after this conversation? What would the other person value? It doesn’t need to be a diamond necklace!

Anyone can adopt this ‘Four Suits’ approach to having more powerful business conversations. If you do this you will standout and enhance your chances of bring remembered, referred and recommended for the type of work you enjoy, for the type of clients you like and for the level of fees you deserve.

And this is as good an objective as any when you are networking. It makes more sense than to expect to pick up work whenever you are networking. That’s a mugs’ game – just as is playing the ‘find the lady’ scam in a street market.

Contrary to the common misconception, effective networking is not all about selling. It’s about starting to build profitable relationships. And it’s about helping the people you meet and so encouraging them to get to know, like and trust you.

No one will play cards for money with someone they don’t trust. It’s reasonable to work on the same assumption that no one will engage or recommend an accountant they don’t trust either. That’s why following up after networking is so valuable. It’s a key way to show that you can be trusted.

And that brings us back full circle. There is no point in collecting business cards at networking events unless you are also going to follow up with the people you met – and I don’t mean just add them to your mailing list and start sending them your promotional material. Equally there is no point in scattering your business cards like confetti or sticking them into the hand of everyone you meet. No one refers work to a business card.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more networking insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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