Category Archives: marketing campaign

Bowling for Business: How to Up the Ante in Your Ad Campaign

One of the first advertising campaigns I ran was my own bid for junior class senator at Columbine High School back in the Dark Ages. I’m not sure whether the buttons, posters or personal appearances did the trick. But, remarkably, despite the pathetic slogan: “Put the Luck of the Irish in Senate. Vote Kathy O’Brien,” I won. The experience led not to a love of politics but for the intoxicating ability to influence public opinion through promotion. Although the budget for my high school senatorial campaign was minimal, advertising paid off…as it always does.

Advertising Age conservatively estimates that ad spending in the United States exceeds $149 billion a year. Marketers in key categories for 2010 were:

  • Automotive
  • Retail
  • Restaurants
  • Wireless Carriers
  • Beverages
  • Beer
  • Prescription Medications
  • Personal Care
  • Household Products
  • Movies
  • Credit Cards

Admittedly, the lion’s share was spent by corporations. But small business owners and nonprofit directors continue to invest despite the economy because advertising in virtually any form pays off. If you currently sell a product or a service to one or more people, whether you know it or not, you are already advertising whenever you—

  1. Sell a great product
  2. Provide a service
  3. Tell someone at a party what you do for a living
  4. Hand your business card to a client
  5. Give someone your phone number
  6. Post to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter

Whether you run a one-man or one–woman show or a multi-national corporation, the key to increasing revenue is to amplify your existing advertising efforts:

For Free—

  1. Sell a few more units of your product.
  2. Improve customer service.
  3. Instead of casually answering questions about your occupation, take a genuine interest in the people you meet. And look for opportunities to mention how you might be able to help them achieve their professional goals.
  4. Give clients two business cards so they can share one with a friend.
  5. Place your business name and phone number in a free online directory like Yelp or Google Places.
  6. Post a promotion on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

On a Limited Budget—

  1. Instead of spreading advertising efforts too thin, promote just one of your products. By focusing on a single strategy, you will be able to effectively measure the effectiveness of your campaign.
  2. Reward employees for superior customer service. Let your clients know about your commitment to meeting their needs.
  3. Join an active referral group like BRG, BNI or I Take the Lead. These organizations encourage lead generation among their members.
  4. Run a copy of your business card in the local newspaper or phone directory. Test and measure before upping your ad budget.
  5. Experiment with Pay Per Click (PPC) to improve website search engine ranking.
  6. Invest in Facebook PPC, display ads on LinkedIn and contests on Twitter.

The Sky’s the Limit—

  1. Having access to a healthy ad budget will enable you to try several types of advertising so you can test and measure the effectiveness of each.
  2. Run a customer service contest to reward clients who post reviews and take surveys. Clients who care enough to write reviews should be encouraged.
  3. Seek out a leadership role in your local chamber of commerce or professional organization. While this will require a considerable investment of time, it is well worth the effort because you will emerge as a leader in your field.
  4. Increase your current Internet campaign to increase visibility and gain social media friends, fans or followers.
  5. Buy promotional items featuring your company logo, phone number, website address and slogan. Encourage employees to distribute the items.
  6. Google is constantly changing algorithms to rely heavily on social interactivity. And few business professionals have the time or desire to comment to blog posts, comment on Facebook or tweet. So, if you haven’t hired a professional agency to manage your social media yet, do so today. In fact, call Kathy O’Brien Bowling at Mountain Marketing Group and put the luck of the Irish in your campaigns!

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: 2011—Marketing in Review

(This column first appeared on ROTWNEWS.com on January 1, 2011 and in The Press Enterprise on January 14, 2012.)

For our family, 2011 marks the year our daughter, Lauren, and her fiancé, Kyle, got engaged. Atop Coit Tower in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, Kyle proposed with an extravagant engagement ring wrapped in an unassuming Taco Bell hot sauce packet labeled Will You Marry Me?

The event melts my heart not just because I’m a mother who recognizes that the two of them are head-over-heels in love, but because, as a marketing professional, I appreciate the fact that advertising played a role in one of the most important moments of our daughter’s life. After all—consider the free word-of-mouth publicity their engagement story will generate over the course of their lives. You just can’t buy that kind of buzz. But you can try. And 2011 was filled with advertisers who did just that.

The Top 11 Hits and Misses that made 2011 a Banner Year:

Misses

  1. FAX Spam. Messages that come through FAX machine tie up phone lines, not to mention valuable ink and paper. Whoever invented this method of advertising should be shot.
  2. Text Spam. Ditto.
  3. Ashton Kutcher. It is an understatement to say that Kutcher made a poor choice to comment about the Penn State scandal on Twitter. In so doing, he emerged as the poster boy for why social media is best left to professionals.
  4. Charlie Sheen. Ditto.
  5. Groupon. Although some would argue that online coupon groups like Groupon and Living Social belong in the “hit” category, I argue the point based on the controversial Timothy Hutton ad which ran during Super Bowl XLV. Taking pot shots at suffering humanity is never a good advertising strategy.

Hits

  1. Viral Videos. 71 million YouTube clicks of an amateur video of a wedding party dancing up the aisle convinced marketers of the unprecedented potential of the viral video. Now professionals spend billions producing spots they hope will capture the imagination of the public, such as the case with Volkswagen’s tiny Darth Vader to the New Old Spice Guy Fabio.
  2. Flash Mobs. Because of their potential to go viral when recorded (see above), flash mobs have become big business, evidenced by the T-Mobile Flash Mob Video to the success of the T-Mobil Royal Wedding to the wink of the “flash mob canceled” commercial by AT&T.
  3. Television. Although I specialize in stretching advertising budgets, so rarely recommend TV ads to clients, there is something to be said for sinking a boatload of money into a well-conceived, top-flight campaign. Take Allstate’s “Mayhem like Me” series or the catchy new “We Are Farmer’s” jingle. You don’t have to spend billions on marketing. But if you can afford it, why not?
  4. Product Placement. While we’re on the subject of spending big money on advertising, I feel compelled to mention the method which has seemingly become the default for creative directors on Madison Avenue. Case in point? The 2-1/2 hour Tom Cruise commercial for BMWs, Ghost Protocol. Sorry, Morgan Spurlock…but Mission Impossible 4 was obviously The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
  5. Pinterest. Admittedly, Pinterest was not created as an advertising medium. But, take note…neither was Facebook. Already the number one source of traffic to the virtual consignment shop Etsy, Pinterest will likely emerge as a major advertising player in 2012.
  6. Kyle’s proposal—especially if we could figure out a way to get Taco Bell to pay for the wedding…

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business—KISS to Keep Biz on the Hill

To save the mountain, keep your busines on the hill.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 4, 2011.)

As soon as winter weather blew into Lake Arrowhead, I started experiencing insomnia. For weeks, I tossed and turned, double- and triple-checked the thermostat and added blankets to our bed, all to no avail. I’m embarrassed to share what proved to be the simple solution to my sleeplessness—socks. That’s right…all it took to warm me up so I could drift off to sleep was to slip into a toasty pair of socks.

In Lake Arrowhead and the surrounding area, we are experiencing a chronic problem of another kind—the impending death of our mountain community. Over the past three years, we’ve all watched in horror as businesses of every variety have shuttered at an alarming rate. Vino 100 in the Village, Betty’s General Store in Blue Jay and Tony’s Mexican Restaurant in Cedar Glen are a few of the most recent casualties. The good news is that the solution is just as simple as warm socks on a cold night.

Do you, like me, enjoy the convenience of not having to drive down the 330 or the 18 every time you need to:

  • Pick up groceries?
  • Grab a bite to eat?
  • Buy necessities like underwear, dog food and medication?
  • Find last-minute gifts?
  • Work out?

Although Bowling for Business is usually written to entrepreneurs, let me depart from my usual format to speak directly to consumers. We can blame local vendors for limited inventory, high prices and inferior customer service until the cows come home. But if we don’t make a concerted effort to keep businesses open on the hill, eventually, we will lose the luxury of living in an active, beautiful mountain community. Lake Arrowhead will become a ghost town.

And we’re hardly alone. Small businesses and towns across the country are dropping like flies. But statistics are hard to pin down for several reasons:

  1. Definitions vary about what constitutes a small town. For purposes of this column, we will defer to The Huffington Post, which defines a small town as anyplace with a population of fewer than 50,000.
  2. Community leaders gamely hide facts for fear reality will sound the death knell. So figures are often fudged. For instance, administrators insist that 80% of The Lake Arrowhead Village is currently occupied. But one need only survey the local landscape to more accurately assess the situation. Creative displays and signs promising “another exciting store coming soon” belie the sobering reality that far more space is available than leased…not just in the Village but across the mountain entire.
  3. No central database exists for reporting closure of a business or small town. So, while towns and small businesses open with pomp and circumstance, they tend to die with a whimper.

When all is said and done, like the rest of the country, those of us who make this area our home are suffering the harsh realities of a down economy. Job loss is up. Housing prices are down. Discretionary spending is low. So how can we affect the future of Lake Arrowhead?

Spend money on the hill!

Now, admittedly, doing this is not always possible. For instance, I recently tried in vain to locate a hot holiday toy called the  vtech InnoTAB by shopping locally at Mr. G’s for Toys, Little Folks Bookshoppe and Radio Shack. But I struck out. When I asked one of the proprietors why I couldn’t even order the product, he explained that large companies like vtech require minimum orders of 25,000 units, which is why the toy is only sold at big box stores.

But, whenever possible, we should exercise our local options because buying local matters. In fact, Mickki Langsten, Executive Director of the Mile High Business Alliance in Denver, which has an active “Buy Local” program says,

“Each dollar spent at a locally-owned business re-circulates in a community six times more than a dollar spent at a non-local business.”

So, if you want to join a gym, check out Curves Lake Arrowhead. The owner, Candy Fairchild Krelnikov, understands the importance of investing in the lives of her members. In addition to supporting client weight-loss efforts, she organizes field trips and shares beauty secrets like tips about makeup and hairstyling products.

Further demonstrating her commitment to the local community, Candy is organizing an informal group called Women in Action, made up of business owners who wants to meet to informally discuss business best practices. The first meeting will be held at Hot Shots in Blue Jay, at 1 p.m. the first Thursday of every month beginning in January.

If a similar group exists for men, I’m not aware of it. But the Chamber of Commerce encourages entrepreneurs of both genders to take advantage of mixers, meetings and business events held throughout the year, including the mountain-wide economic summit held annually in Big Bear.

So, the next time you shop or go out to eat, consider the cost of driving down the hill…not just in gas and time, but in terms of the potential long-term affect your decision might have on our local economy. Enjoy the fact that, for now, at least, you can still buy socks without having to leave the mountain.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Business sucks? There’s an App for that.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 14, 2011.)

I was required to take a torturously boring class in high school circa 1982 called Data Processing. (The fact it was held in the math department should have been my first clue that I was in trouble.) Since I try to block out the most traumatic experiences in life, I remember very little about the course. But I do recall the day that it was my turn to stand in the computer lab waiting 45 minutes for the bulky, loud modem to connect to the server via rotary telephone, so it could send back a string of useless numbers. After the incident, I was certain of only one thing: computers were a ridiculous waste of time.

Fast forward 24 years. I use computers and the Internet more often than toilet paper or toothpaste. In fact, I have to admit that in the glorious days since Verizon started selling and supporting the iPad and iPhone, I spend almost every minute of the day wired in.

At home, if I’m not checking available points in my Weight Watcher’s tracker, I’m logged onto Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, reading an iBook or eMagazine, playing Mahjong or balancing our checkbook with Quicken. At work, I’m almost always updating blog posts, tweeting on behalf of clients or evaluating website analytics.

And, although, admittedly, as a marketing and social media professional, I use technology more than the average bear, I’m hardly alone when it comes to relying heavily on technology. In fact, according to InternetWorldStats.com, almost 361 million people use the Internet multiple times each day. As an entrepreneur or non-profit director, don’t make the mistake of ignoring this trend.

For Free—

Whether you use a device supported by Google, RIM or Apple, and pretty much no matter what you want to do, there’s an App for that. (But I should reveal that Apple owns the rights to that phrase.)

Purportedly struggling in the darkness to escape from debris, stranded Android users in Japan downloaded Flashlight Apps some 50,000 times in the hours immediately following the recent tsunami and resulting earthquakes.

For business professionals, there are literally hundreds of thousands of apps for virtually every need:

But not all Smartphone apps are so utilitarian. Consider:

On a Limited Budget—

There is a Vook App for $9.99 for struggling business professionals called Help! My Business Sucks! The app offers marketing ideas to save virtually any company, though the results are not guaranteed.

A recent study by cnet Reviews revealed that 42% of Americans use a Blackberry, iPhone, Palm or Google Smartphone. Even if you, like my own husband, have somehow managed to escape the lure of purchasing your own handheld or tablet computer, consider the buying habits of your target market when you are making marketing decisions. Savvy business professionals won’t ignore the fact that a high percentage of people will try to access website content using their phones. So enable your site for mobile viewing. Doing so is relatively simple and very affordable.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If you can swing it, hire an app developer to create a customized application that will provide value to your target market. The epitome of interactive product placement, apps that integrate your brand through a fun game or useful tool could propel your product or service sales to new heights. Some corporations are already leading the charge:

  • Papa John’s offers a free iPhone app that lets users build electronic and order actual pizzas.
  • Spin the Coke provides Facebook integration so you can virtually play Spin the Bottle with friends.
  • Home Depot has a Toolbox that allows users to quickly measure objects with a virtual Caliper
  • The MGM Hot Tub Time Machine Soundboard promises to “get you out of any situation past, present, or future.” A chance to revisit Data Processing in 1982 and change my own early opinion of computers? At $1.99, that might be worth the price of admission.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Insane Campaigns

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 31, 2011.)

We used to spend Saturday mornings at the Denver Suds-n-Duds, where I played with miniature bottles of Borax and tiny boxes of Tide while my mom fumbled with quarters and battled the ramshackle appliances. Back then, I could sit for hours in front of the dryer watching the clothes spin. (Mind you, this was long before cable TV or the Internet.) So the delivery of our very first washer and dryer circa 1973 marked the end of an era. It also signaled the start of my disgust with all things washing-related.

An only child, it was my job to venture into our cold, dark utility room when the buzzer sounded, to check whether or not the clothes were dry. Why we listened to the timer was beyond me, since, in all the years we owned it, it never once correctly assessed the condition of our clothes. Each load required two or three complete cycles…which meant two or three times I would have to run in the dark, with bare feet, onto the uncovered concrete floor, open the dryer, restart the machine and run back before spiders, dust bunnies or utility room monsters had time to attack. In all of those years, never once did it occur to me to turn on the laundry room light or wear slippers.

What does this have to do with marketing? It reminds me of something Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Had I heeded his implied suggestion, to change strategies when something doesn’t work, I might not still equate doing laundry with serving time. It is for this very reason I strive to save clients the inherent frustration of habitually sticking with unsuccessful marketing campaigns. It might seem like a no-brainer to pull the plug on a plan that doesn’t work. But, remarkably, when I propose a shift, the suggestion is often meet with resistance.

Sure, the idea might be inspired. The right people might be doing the right tasks and have every base covered. Your campaign might be cheap. But check the bottom line. If you’re not getting the results you expected, something is obviously wrong. If this is the case, switch things up. Just don’t make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

For Free—

For example, if your social media campaign isn’t producing results, don’t assume social media doesn’t work. Instead, change your approach. Swap out your profile pictures and bios. Or post something using a completely different tone of voice. Track everything, and see if the changes affect your results. You might be surprised.

On a Limited Budget—

Review artwork and copy for print campaigns. Does your message show potential clients and donors how your product or service would add value for them or does it toot your horn? There is a distinct difference.

For instance, if you own a beauty salon, focus your marketing on the ways your products and services improve your clients’ appearance rather than on your own expertise and qualifications. It won’t make any difference to customers whether you’ve styled hair for 25 days or 25 years unless that experience directly affects their own heads of hair. Select a tagline that shows the way that your experience will ultimately translate to a better experience for them.

For example, instead of: “We’ve been cutting hair for 25 years,” opt for: “Keeping women chic for 25 years.” Although the difference is subtle, it is critical.

The Sky’s the Limit—

One of our clients initially bristled at the thought of changing an advertising campaign he had been doing with another agency for 14 years because, he said, “We’ve always done it this way.”

“Exactly how much business can you track to these ads?” I asked.

“I don’t know. We’ve never tried to figure it out,” he replied.

After working with him to quantify metrics, we were able to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of his existing approach. Faced with the raw data, he finally agreed to change things up. And for a fraction of the cost of his old campaign, we took an entirely different tact which significantly improved his bottom line. And though revamping an ad campaign isn’t rocket science, I’m certain Mr. Einstein would approve.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Forget the Fine Print

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 22, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 24, 2010.

When writing promotional copy for your product or service, less is more.

When I was in sixth grade, Mr. Khouri called my parents for a conference because, although I was excelling in Honors’ English, I was failing math. Since he wrote math problems on the chalkboard, he and my mother and father decided the solution was a giant pair of gold-rimmed aviator eyeglasses that made me look like John Denver. Not a fan of that particular fashion statement, I often “forgot” to wear my glasses or “accidentally” dropped them behind the back tires of our Pinto or “absentmindedly” flushed them down the toilet.

Unfortunately, there was a seemingly endless supply of hideous replacement frames at LensCrafters, which arrived in rapid succession…each pair unbelievably more hideous than its predecessor. This pattern continued until I finally earned enough baby-sitting money to buy contact lenses.

The horror of it all is probably why I refuse to acknowledge my increasing need for reading glasses. For months, I have been complaining to my family that every food manufacturer, magazine publisher and pharmaceutical company has recently, inexplicably reduced the size of the printing on their products.

Unwilling to consider that the problem might lie with me, I decided the logical thing to do was to start ignoring instructions. After all, at my age, I already know how to lather, rinse and repeat without having to read it on the bottle. Turns out, I am not alone.

With so many things competing for our time and attention, most of us are too busy to breathe. Rather than enjoying the luxury of leisurely pouring over every detail in each article that lands in our email inbox, we are lucky if we have time to skim headlines.

But, ironically, when it comes to creating content for others to read, most business professionals write website content and brochure copy as if their readers have nothing but time. So, if you have something you want to say to current and prospective clients, customers, guests, diners or donors, eliminate the fine print.

For Free—

When money is tight, you might be forced to do your own marketing. If this is the case, be brief. Without benefit of a professional writer or editor, and since you’ll be writing about something with which you are intimately acquainted, you will probably be prone to ramble. So here are a few words of advice:

  • Write whatever you want in a stream-of-consciousness style. Don’t even worry about adding punctuation or breaking your thoughts into paragraphs. Just get it all on paper.
  • Tear up what you wrote. That’s right. Toss it. Don’t worry. You know the material. Creating a disposable first draft will help you stay on track with your second.
  • After you finish writing your second draft, reduce it by at least 50%.
  • Then, get a second opinion from someone outside of your industry, who can alert you if you unwittingly used insider terminology.
  • Use plenty of headlines, sub-headings and bold print to divide copy. Nothing turns off readers more than an endless sea of words.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelance writer. If you are preparing a newspaper advertisement, find someone who specializes in writing punchy ad copy. If you are producing a corporate brochure, commission a professional who specializes in formal business writing. Few writers excel at all styles. And the benefit of using contracted professionals is your ability to hand-pick the right people for every project.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire someone to create a campaign centered on a very clear message. The more you try to say, the more you will dilute your message. Take a cue from these successful ad campaigns, and associated short-slogans:

  • Nike: Just do it.
  • Mountain Dew: Do the Dew.
  • Kay Jewelers: Every kiss begins with Kay.
  • Burger King: Have it your way.
  • KFC: Finger-lickin’ good
  • Taco Bell: Think outside the bun.
  • Bounty: The quicker thicker picker-upper
  • Subway: Eat fresh
  • BMW: The ultimate driving machine
  • Avis: We try harder
  • AT&T: Reach out and touch someone
  • Visa: It’s everywhere you want to be
  • Skittles: Taste the rainbow
  • Yellow Pages: Let your fingers do the walking
  • Miller Beer: It’s Miller time.
  • Home Depot: You can do it. We can help.

And, my personal favorite—LensCrafters: Eyes love LensCrafters. (Hey, I never said a slogan had to be true in order to succeed.)

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: The Pay it Forward Proposition

It pays to pay it forward.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 8, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 10, 2010.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more depressing movie than Pay it Forward.

Spoiler Alert: Although the premise of doing things for the sole purpose of making the world a better place to live is one I support, I wish the screenwriters would have framed the story in something other than the murder of a 11-year-old cherubic everyman played by Haley Joel Osment when he was still adorable (before his voice changed).

With that said, paying it forward is worthwhile not only in Hollywood but also in the real world…especially in business. The general idea is to selflessly give to three people without expecting anything in return. Then, the three people you help should do the same until the impact is felt in large scale. It’s a small but revolutionary idea. And I can’t think of a better time than the holidays to give it a try.

I propose you use whatever line of work you are in to pay it forward in your own little corner of the world. If you take the time to open your eyes, you’ll discover that opportunities abound. And they come at several different price-points:

For Free

One of the services we offer at Mountain Marketing Group is ghost-writing for social media accounts such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Our goal is to build a foundation and then teach our clients how to build on it by maintaining the accounts on their own. Although many choose to retain us in lieu of riding solo, most enjoy the process of learning how to provide industry-specific, valuable content to the folks in their target market.

But we usually have to repeat our social media strategy numerous times before it actually starts to sink in. Experts in my field agree the ultimate goal of social media is to contribute and engage instead of directly selling. But providing something for nothing is counter-intuitive to savvy business professionals who generally measure success by terms like ROI and “the bottom line.”

Like it or not, we are living in a brand new world, where we can no longer pretend we have cornered the market on anything! The Information Superhighway has made it necessary to honestly represent your offerings. But don’t worry; sharing information will not make you irrelevant. On the contrary; you will emerge as a leader in your field. For example:

  • If you sell soap, write blogs about secret ingredients and tools of the trade. Don’t worry; you won’t reveal anything that isn’t already posted online.
  • If you teach Latin, tweet key phrases and uses for the dead language.
  • If you make blankets, provide Facebook status updates when fleece and flannel go on sale.

According to a September 2010 Study by Pew Research, 54% of people conduct online research before buying anything…regardless of whether they end up making the actual purchase in the real world or in Cyberspace. So providing information to fuel their inquiries is a great way for you to pay it forward.

On a Limited Budget

Use some of your profits to fund a charitable organization. While I can’t show you a ledger to prove the value in contributing outside of your own firm, I can personally testify to the benefits (both personal and financial) of paying it forward by giving. Since we are near year’s end, perhaps the idea of donating is a tad more attractive now than at other times? Whatever it takes, go with it. Put your money where your mouth is.

The Sky’s the Limit

Sponsor a charitable event. Since sponsorship usually comes with PR-related perks like corporate attribution and public acknowledgment, some may argue this is not a true “pay it forward” activity. But I maintain you are paying it forward whenever someone else is the beneficiary of your benevolence. So select any organization that makes sense to you.

Call the executive director to set up a meeting so you can determine the needs and availability of the organization. Now more than ever, non-profit groups are in need of folks to pay it forward. According to SiloBreaker, due to the recession, donations to our country’s 400 largest charities declined this year by 11%. And that figure is even more depressing than fictionalized homicide.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Miscommunication Situation

Communication is critical in all forms of advertising.

Make sure you network the right way in the right place.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on October 25, 2010 and in the Biz Press on October 27, 2010.

While saving money to return to college my sophomore year, I did a short stint as an international flight attendant with a little-known charter airline called Arrow Airways. I was delighted to work one particular flight from Denver, Colorado, to Gatwick, England because one of my fellow crew members was a hunky Italian named Alberto.

When we landed, I quickly accepted his invitation to join him for dinner. Although his accent was thick, I was sure he said he would be taking me to an Italian restaurant called Apple Luigi’s. So imagine my surprise when we arrived at our destination in downtown London, which was not a fine Italian eatery called Apple Luigi’s but a gay men’s club called Harpoon Louie’s.

Why would I share this humiliating story? Because the lessons I learned apply to successful networking for business:

  1. Shut up and Listen.
  2. Kill the Agenda.
  3. Check your Six.

Shut Up and Listen

Instead of just waiting for your turn to talk, pay attention when you are chatting with someone. If you practice active listening, you will stand out because most people approach networking events with mouths open and ears shut. If I had spent more time listening to Alberto instead of trying to impress him with flirty banter, I might have ascertained that he was not a viable romantic prospect.

More recently, I participated in a speed-networking event where organizers asked participants to rate fellow networkers. The top three had this in common: they listened more than they spoke. If you want people to think highly of you, listen to them.

Kill the Agenda

Entrepreneurs often have “Type A” personalities who like to manage everything, often to their own peril. The reason I was surprised by Alberto’s revelation is because I came to the party with my own romantic agenda. But even though my time at Harpoon Louie’s isn’t what I had expected, I ended up meeting lots of interesting people. So, even though I had to find my own ride back to the hotel, the evening wasn’t a total waste.

Try to make the best of your circumstances because you never know what might unfold. Buckminster Fuller called this phenomenon the Processional Effect. As a Christian, I call it the Sovereignty of God. Whatever your belief system, try to let things happen naturally instead of trying to control the world. You might be surprised to make a friend, land a new client or learn something new.

Check your Six

Make sure you’re in the right place. Although you should go with the flow no matter where you end up, try to start off somewhere that makes sense. Before selecting networking groups to join and events to attend, figure out if regular attendees fall into your target market. Since I was interested in meeting someone I could date, Harpoon Louie’s was not an ideal location.

The good news is you don’t have to learn these lessons the hard way. Take a tip from me and network for maximum results on any budget:

For Free—

When it comes to finding places to network, think outside the box. Networking opportunities don’t occur only at official mixers that are labeled “Networking Event.” You can meet potential clients, customers and associates literally anywhere and everywhere…in the real world as well as Cyberspace.

For those who regularly read my columns, please allow me to repeat myself. The most effective way to network for free is online. Join and maintain social media accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And, above all else, remember to be the same person you are online as you are in the real world.

On a Limited Budget—

In this troubled business economy, when time and money are often in short supply, carefully select which networking groups to join. Instead of spreading yourself too thin by signing up for several organizations, start small. Join one group and take a leadership role. Arrive early and stay late. Volunteer to help set up and clean up so people see you as an active member.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If the funds are available, sponsor your own networking event. This will position you as a leader in the business community and enable you to hand-pick attendees from your own target market. And you can host the event wherever you want…from Apple Luigi’s to Harpoon Louie’s.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.