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.

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The worst thing to do when you get a bland Linkedin connection request

If you are on Linkedin you will get connection requests from people you don’t know. And you will also get plenty of bland connection requests from people you’re not sure whether or not you know.

It’s very tempting to treat such connection requests in the same way as other unsolicited messages. But that would be a mistake.

Linkedin prompts users to connect with people they know and with people they would like to know. I think the worst thing you can do when you get a bland Linkedin connection request is to judge anyone badly for sending this.

Many users just don’t yet understand that it’s better to personalise the connection requests. Indeed they may be unaware that it’s possible. After all, facebook doesn’t provide this facility. Nor does twitter. And nor does the Linkedin ‘mobile’ site.

And then there are some people who think that it is the ‘done thing’ to simply agree with Linkedin when the system suggests you connect with people ‘you may know’. They click the ‘connect’ button and in some cases the system sends a standard connection request without even offering you the facility to personalise it.

I probably receive around 50 connection requests a week. Only a minority of these are personalised. They always stand out and always lead to me sending back a personalised response.

Very occasionally I’ll get a connection request from someone who is obviously a spammer and I report these. The other requests I receive fall into one of four categories:

1 – People whom I have met in real life or whom I am due to meet.

2 – Accountants and tax related people who may have read my articles or blog posts or heard me speak – I accept all such requests and send a personal note back.

3 – Apparent strangers who send a personalised connection request – I consider these on their merits.

4 – Apparent strangers who have given me no clue as to why they want to connect with me. Rather than automatically ignore these I send the following message:

Thanks for your invitation to connect. Although I have thousands of connections here I always hesitate before connecting with someone new. I find it helps to know why they want to connect as Linkedin prompts random connections as well as focused ones.

I’m sorry if my memory is at fault. If we have met for real or engaged on line please remind me. And do please let me know what prompted you to want to connect with me here. Is there something specific in my profile perhaps that makes you think that us connecting could be mutually beneficial?

Many thanks

Regards

Mark

Around 3 in 10 of such replies prompt a response which may lead to me agreeing to the connection. Those who don’t reply I then ignore. I leave it a few days though before clicking the ‘ignore’ button as, again, I know some newer users don’t check linkedin every day and don’t see all their messages.

Positive responses to the above message have brought me back in touch with ex-colleagues who I have forgotten or who have new (married) names, have generated speaking enquiries and bookings and have led to valuable introductions to third parties.

I do not agree with those people who check out the sender’s profile and only agree to connect if there is an obvious reason to do so. That’s the same mistake we make if we consider that networking is all about the people in the room. It’s also about the people they know. Unless we ask them we won’t know why someone has asked to connect with us.

So, to reiterate, I think the worst thing you can do when you receive a bland Linkedin connection request is to judge the person who has sent it, ‘ignore’ the request or penalise them, by refusing to connect with them, blocking them or sending back a snotty note.

Do you agree? What do you do when you get bland linkedin connection requests?

 

 

 

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What do your clients really want?

It’s all to easy to assume that all clients want the same things. But unless you ask, you won’t know for sure.

It’s probably true that most clients want their accountants to help them pay less tax and to keep them straight with the authorities. Probably true. For most. But these may not be the key priorities that explain why all of your clients have you as their accountant.

An accountant told me recently that he thought all of his business clients wanted him to help them to earn more money and to pay less tax.  He may be right. But equally, unless he asks them he won’t know who values his business advice and who thinks he is simply interfering.

Another accountant charges very low fees and believes that this is more important to his clients than advice on anything beyond the basics. He may be right. Equally he may have clients who would happily pay more for more advice.

It’s all very well to promote your services by reference to assumptions as to what matters to most prospects for your services. But at an early point you need to check what matters to them most.

Unless you ask them, you won’t know will you?

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What sort of person makes a good ‘finder’?

‘Finders’ generate leads for new business from new sources.They go out and create opportunities to talk with prospective clients about problems they can solve.They don’t wait for the phone to ring; they go out and find business.

If their firm is of a certain size they may be required to generate work not just for themselves but also for members of a team.

In some firms quiet, thoughtful, softly-spoken people may be successful finders. I have also known finders in professional firms who reminded me of slick used-car salesmen. The majority of course will fall somewhere along the spectrum between these two extremes.

What is crucial however is the willingness to listen carefully, synthesise what you hear and provide valuable responses.

Plenty of ambitious professionals are successful finders even though they don’t have the gift of the gab.Plenty more may have struggled historically with finding new work before they learned some of the secrets of effective networking. Other key skills that can contribute to being better at finding work include – speaking in public, pitching for work and closing the sale.

In summary:

All ambitious professionals can be good ‘finders’ if they take the time to hone four key skills – in so far as these are relevant to their position, their roles and their firm.

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Don’t make assumptions that upset your clients

An article in the Guardian today includes reference to research conducted by Which? magazine which shows that a third of people think they receive poor service from their solicitor. A quarter of those surveyed think their solicitor doesn’t listen to their opinion, and a third don’t feel they are told enough about how much they will be charged.

These statistics must be a cause for concern especially when taken together with those of the Law Society which are also quoted in the article – over 17,000 complaints about solicitors in 2005, equivalent to one for every six solicitors practising in England and Wales. This represents a 14% increase from 2002.

It would be wrong to dwell on the specifics of the statistics or to pretend that solicitors are a special case.

Simply stated all ambitious professionals need to be able to differentiate themselves from the competition. One way to do this is to take note of reports such as the one referred to above and to reflect on what typical clients complain about. You then need to ensure that your clients don’t have cause to make such complaints about you.

I would stress however that all of the complaints attributed to the Which? research are communication issues. The solicitors in question may have thought that they gave great service (in the circumstances), that they did listen to their client’s opinion and that they provided as much information as the client wanted about the way they would be charged.

Do you check whether or not your client has understood what you have said? Really? Or do you just ask “is that ok?” without actually checking? Are you sure that your clients have confidence in your ability to provide them with the service they need?

Ambitious professionals cannot afford to assume things about what their clients think or feel. Remember that to assume you know what someone else thinks or means makes an ass out of u and me.

The main focus of the Guardian article is to provide guidance as to how the public can complain about the service/advice they have received from their solicitor. The Guardian article is written by Alan Wilson, who is a senior law lecturer at the University of East London and also a barrister who specialises in consumer law.

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