Blog Archives

Bowling for Business: How to Succeed in Business by Really Trying

Why networking is a "no-brainer."

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 13, 2010 and in the Biz Press on September 15, 2010.

At 18, I didn’t understand the subtleties of the musical How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. So I unsuccessfully lobbied our director to produce the far more popular and ever racier show, Grease. As a senior in high school, I related more to the naïve, love-struck Sandy than to the part I begrudgingly landed… matronly secretary Miss Jones. Ironically, I now realize I should have taken notes from my role.

In the climatic show-stopping scene, Brotherhood of Man, lead characters J. Pierrepont Finch and Miss Jones sing about the common business practice of networking by joining groups like the Elks and Shriners. If “How to Succeed” were written today, the lyrics would likely also include references to social networking websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

In the two and a half years that I have owned my own advertising agency, I’ve learned one indisputable fact: If you want to succeed in business, YOU HAVE TO TRY. My take on the best use of your time and talent might come as a surprise. As a marketing professional, of course I believe in the power of a well-conceived advertising and public relations’ campaign. But, when it comes to business success, in the real world as well as cyberspace, there is no substitute for networking.

By networking, I mean more than attending mixers or posting status updates on Facebook. Real networking involves investing yourself in the lives of those around you. Only this kind of venture will produce dividends in business as well as life. But don’t take it from me. Some of the best business minds in the world agree:

Jeffrey Gitomer:

How important is networking? If you’re trying to be successful, it’s the difference between mediocre and big.

Dale Carnegie:

You can be more successful in two months by becoming really interested in other people’s success than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in your own success.

Keith Ferrazzi:

You don’t just network when you need it. You don’t network just to get something from someone. The goal is not to get from others. It is to give.

Dr. Ivan Misner:

Networking minus follow-through equals a waste of time.

If you are ready to raise the stakes with your business—to really try to succeed—get started networking today. Here are a few budget-friendly ideas to get you started creating and contributing to communities, in the real world and online.

For Free—

Check out Free Networking International, which provides information about networking opportunities across the globe. But this organization heavily promotes a $40 course to teach you how to network. So you might be better off heading to the park and striking up a conversation with strangers.

Though some have tried charging for access to community websites in Cyberspace, the best the Internet has to offer is still available to everyone for free. So if budget is a concern, take advantage of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which allow you to fan, friend and follow folks who share your interests, goals and religious or political leanings. And when you join communities, do so as a thoughtful collaborator instead of as a bombastic broadcaster.

 

On a Limited Budget—

Hire someone to establish and maintain your social networking accounts so you can use your time to attend events in the real world. Make sure you are a fixture at chamber of commerce mixers, community events and networking get-togethers. One group I recommend is BNI, which is the largest business networking organization in the world, offering members the opportunity to share ideas, contacts and business referrals on a weekly basis.

 

The Sky’s the Limit—

Don’t just attend networking events. Sponsor them. Take a cue from the Business Press, which hosts the annual Inland Empire’s Largest Mixer as a service to the local business community. This year’s effort is especially intriguing as reporters will conduct and record brief interviews with interested business men and women and provide participants with a flash drive for upload to their websites. By taking an active interest in and providing for the needs of their target market, the BP is building a network that would even make J. Pierrepont Finch and Miss Jones proud.

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

Bowling for Business: Don’t Ignore the Voices in Your Head

Your Marketing Strategy Should Feature Social Media

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 25, 2010.

Social Media—You Know You Need To

I made a critical error in judgment last week. Despite reports from the National Weather Service that a nasty storm was on its way, I threw caution to the wind and headed down from Running Springs to Riverside for a professional development luncheon. Having once slid into a BMW on Kuffel Canyon (Yeah. That’s right. It had to be a BMW), I would normally err on the side of caution and stay home rather than risk a return ride on potentially icy roads. But since I’m on the board of directors, I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to the group.

I made it down the mountain and to my meeting without incident. But, on my way home, two tiny harbingers of danger appeared on my dashboard in the form of flashing batteries and brake lights. So, instead of driving straight home, I stopped by my mechanic’s. Adhering to Murphy’s Law, the very minute I pulled my car into the bay, the idiot lights went out. Just to be safe, the repairman ran diagnostics and determined that everything was fine.

After I left, about a block from the repair shop, the warning lights reappeared, and remained lit until my car died just above the middle passing lane, right before a curve, away from all of the rest of the traffic in the dead of night in the middle of a blizzard on Highway 330. Without cell phone service, and with a very full bladder, I reluctantly abandoned my vehicle and accepted a ride from a kind man who was, thankfully, a realtor from Big Bear instead of a serial killer. He drove me up to a clearing and I awkwardly loped home through 3 feet of fresh powder in soggy leather clogs.

By the time I stumbled home and called Auto Club, I discovered that my car was already en route to a storage facility in town. To retrieve it, I would have to wait for the storm to pass and cough up a $380 towing fee, as well $50/day for storage. As I write this, three days later, my husband is shoveling about 7,000 pounds of snow from our driveway so we can pick up my 4-wheel drive, chain-clad, very dead car.

All of the above could have been avoided if only I had listened to the still, small voice that prodded me to skip the meeting. Because I ignored it, my husband and I will be reaping it for some time to come. I share this story because business professionals so often silence the voice of reason when it comes to advertising. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this disclaimer, “I know I really need to advertise, but…”

One local entrepreneur, who shuttered her restaurant after three unprofitable years, wondered aloud, “Maybe things would have been different if only I had advertised.”

Indeed, I wish she had come to us for help. Marketing is as essential to business success as a working vehicle is to safe travel. But don’t take my word for it. Last year, business owners in America spent nearly $61 billion on advertising. They allocated resources to marketing because they understand the importance of advertising for—

  • Making your presence known to potential customers, colleagues, associates and competitors.
  • Maintaining your relationship with current clients by reminding them about the value of your product or service.
  • Strengthening your call to action and message.
  • Introducing new products and services.

Although most business men and women intuitively understand the value of advertising, since budgets are tight, they talk themselves out of doing the very thing they know they need to do. The result? At an alarming rate, Inland Empire businesses are failing to thrive. In fact, experts put the percentage of new businesses that fail, nationwide, within the first five years, somewhere between 50%-80%. The solution? Invest in the advertising strategy that offers the most bang for your buck. And, no matter the budget, in today’s technology-driven environment, that method is social media.

For Free—

The great thing about social media is that the only required investment is time. The top three social media platforms, in my opinion, are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you focus on these, and post valuable content to each account multiple times each day, you can achieve virtually every advertising objective necessary for business success.

On a Limited Budget—

While social media can be done without access to tons of cash, to be competitive, you have to be willing to find valuable information relative to the interests of your target market and post it on a daily basis. The problem is that most business owners don’t have time to do research and post status updates and informational links up to 90 times each week. Some actually want to spend time running their businesses! So, if you can swing it, spending money on social media management is worthwhile. Most of our clients report an average tenfold return on their investment after just 12 weeks of service.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The nice thing about having cash in reserve is that you have the luxury of paying experts to manage all of your advertising efforts, which frees up a considerable amount of time. Even so, we recommend that every client maintains a connection with their social media friends and fans. Our most successful social media clients post personal messages and stay connected to their contacts to supplement our efforts on their behalf. For ideas about what to post, might I suggest listening to the voices in your head?

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

Bowling for Business: Everything but the Kitchen Link

Full Spectrum Unity Holding Hands

The Top 10 Steps to Use LinkedIn for Business

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on 10-05-09

I’m often on the Internet for work. Really…it’s for work. So it isn’t my fault that I was so engrossed in posting to social media accounts last week that I failed to wake up my 13-year-old daughter for school. At least that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

Unfortunately, the argument didn’t hold much weight when Kaitlin bounded up the stairs at 9:30 with both barrels loaded, screaming, “Mom, what are you doing? Did you forget about me? You made me miss the bus.”

And then the bombshell, “Are you playing on your computer again?”

Now, admittedly, I spend a lot of time on my laptop. And when I’m not on it, I’m usually developing arthritic cramps in my fingers by typing on my tiny Crackberry keyboard. But there’s a reason for my obsession. Like most boutique advertising and public relations agencies, our firm is all about communication. We help people connect with current and potential customers and business associates by linking them with tools of the trade such as brochures, fliers, press releases and websites.

But my favorite method for communication is social media. I look forward to updating and reading posts and checking out photo uploads from friends on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. And, when it comes to business, it’s all about LinkedIn.

“What is it you do all day on the computer, anyway?” Kaitlin continued her somewhat justifiable tirade, while looking over my shoulder, “Are you on MySpace?”

“No. This is for professionals. It’s called LinkedIn,” I countered.

“Looks like MySpace to me,” she said. “Photos, groups, comments…”

“Well, it’s not for teenagers. Most of the people on LinkedIn are 40 years old and have household incomes of more than $100,000 a year,” I explained. “Besides, look at the pictures. People are wearing suits. Their posts are boring. And very few of them are smiling.”

“True,” she admitted. “So it’s sort of like MySpace for old people.”

To end the argument, I relented, “Exactly.”

But, in reality, there is a lot more to LinkedIn than my daughter’s rudimentary assessment. Launched in May, 2007, the site is the largest professional network in the world, with 25 million members representing 150 industries.

According to Krista Canfield, public relations manager for LinkedIn, “Basically what LinkedIn does is [to] help professionals accelerate their success.”

Consider this assessment of the site by the folks who brought us the Social Media Bible, “Anytime there is a tool that millions of people in one place at one time all with common interests are clamoring to use, you, as a businessperson, need to understand and take part of it.”

But where do you begin?

The Top 10 Things You Should be doing on LinkedIn

  1. Create a profile. Like other networking sites, LinkedIn has a user-friendly platform. So you don’t have to be a computer prodigy to follow the step-by-step tutorial in order to set up your free account. Just login to LinkedIn and get started.
  2. Complete your profile. Incomplete profiles send the wrong message. Make sure you list current and previous employment, education, honors and awards, even if you are not looking for a job.
  3. Invite friends and associates. LinkedIn is all about connections. Remember the classic Faberge Organic Shampoo commercial where Heather Locklear (yes, it was her) asked us to tell two friends about our shampoo so they would tell two friends…and so on, and so on? With LinkedIn, you will be able to connect with “first-tier” associates as well as connections’ connections, and so on, and so on…
  4. Seek Introductions. People debate the ideal number of connections. Some say that a list of more than 100 is too difficult to manage while others argue the more, the better. While the jury is still out, according to noted author and social media guru, Guy Kawasaki, “People with more than 20 connections are 34 times more likely to be approached with a job opportunity than people with less than five.”
  5. Write Recommendations. Take a few minutes to recommend your colleagues. When you post your referral, LinkedIn will send it for approval, asking the person you recommended to write a recommendation for you. This is worth the investment because, as I’ve learned from my membership in the SBBE chapter of BNI, the largest networking group in the real world, givers always gain.
  6. Join groups. Whatever your expertise or interest, a LinkedIn group exists. And you can join up to 50 of them. I recommend you connect with a couple of key professional groups as well as alumni groups, both from college as well as high school, as well as past companies. When your membership is approved, you get to display the group logo on your profile. How cool is that?
  7. Invite group members to join your network. Once you’re admitted to a new group, seek out strategic connections inside that group.
  8. Micro-blog. Called “Status Updates,” LinkedIn allows for short posts. Most people learned, early on, not to use this feature to report their breakfast menu. Instead, use it to provide industry info and relevant links. Posting once or twice a day is generally considered polite etiquette in LinkedIn Land.
  9. Look for a job, a sale or a partnership. According to communications guru Guy Kawasaki, “Most people use LinkedIn to “get to someone” in order to sell their product or service, form a partnership, or land a job.
  10. Participate in discussions. Follow group discussions. This is your chance to share your two cents and to learn from others. You can also take advantage of your connections by asking for advice.

So, on my next status update, I’m going to pose a question, “Where is the best place to buy an alarm clock for a sleepy teenager?”

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

Bowling for Business: Getting My Tweet Wet

This column first appeared on 9-21-09 at RIMOFTHEWORLD.net

Twitter bird announceWhen it comes to games of chance, I’ve never been particularly lucky. In fact, I can probably count the number of times I’ve won contests on one hand. So it isn’t difficult recalling the win that meant the most.

I was just five years old. My favorite television show was a local children’s program called Noel & Andy. Noel was a talented artist; Andy, her puppet counterpart.

I got up early every weekday morning to watch Noel & Andy because, as a kindergartner, my social calendar was pretty light. What’s more, this was long before the days of cable or satellite. Thus, there were only four shows to choose from at any given time.

So I was eager to enter a contest to win an invitation to Andy’s televised birthday party. The morning Noel randomly chose my entry, I ran to the kitchen to tell my mom the great news. In my world, Noel & Andy were bona fide stars. This was the big time.

The day of the taping, I was anxious to meet my television idols. But I never got the opportunity. Twenty other lucky Denver-area schoolchildren and I met the producers, who led us into an empty studio. They told us to have fun, eat cake, and smile at the cameras. Noel & Andy couldn’t be there, they explained. But they would want us to celebrate. Then, they turned us loose. The result was cacophony.

When the birthday party aired, it looked like a scene out of Plant of the Apes. Unlimited sugar and lack of supervision had turned otherwise mild-mannered five-year-old kids into an angry mob. At one point, I was standing on a table, singing and waving at the camera.

To this day, I’ll never understand why Andy didn’t attend his own birthday party. But the event reminds me of my journey on Twitter…full of promise, chaos, and opportunities to rub shoulders with important people and puppets.

Twitter Promise

I first heard about Twitter at a seminar sponsored by the Inland Empire Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Speakers Brian Solis and Sally Falkow, recognized thought-leaders in my field, invited us to follow their tweets. It sounded exclusive and, admittedly, a bit odd.

But I was curious. Imagine having access to valuable industry tidbits, in real time?  With this kind of connection, we wouldn’t have to wait for the next professional development luncheon for inside information.

So, like many of my peers, I rushed back to the office to boot up my computer and join the conversation. Mind you, this was before resources like The TwitterBook and TwitterPower hit the market. So I didn’t know that it is better to set up an account with your actual name instead of a pseudonym. That’s why you won’t find my tweets if you do a search for Kathy Bowling.

Twitter Chaos

As @bowlingirl, I searched for @briansolis and @sallyfalkow and followed them. But I didn’t know what I was doing. Millions of disorganized people seemed to be yelling into the Twittersphere, much like my wild Noel & Andy party-going friends. One user posed a question,

“How can I syndicate my blog?”

But instead of an answer appearing next, random, un-related comments streamed by.

“I hate Wednesday mornings. Hump day should be abolished.”

“State politics blocks budget. It is playground politics.”

“We cannot do great things – only small things with great love- Mother Teresa.”

I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what was going on.

This is Wikipedia’s definition,

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website or external applications.

In other words, Twitter is controlled chaos. It’s a place for people to share their philosophies, sell their wares, deliver news, develop a fan base, and converse…all at the same time.

Twitter Opportunities

At Mountain Marketing Group, we encourage our PR clients to dive right in by setting up a free Twitter account. The next thing we advise is that they take time to listen. In the same way you wouldn’t walk up to a group of people who are chatting and interrupt them all by loudly announcing that you want them to buy your product, it is not considered polite to tweet first and listen, later.

As noted by one of the most influential Tweeps today, @joelcomm,

“Twitter is a two-way communication tool—and that’s very important.”

In his book, twitter power, he observes,

“Twitter provides instant access to smart people 24/7.”

By listening and getting a feel for the flow, you will understand what, if anything, you have to contribute. In this age where Internet users actively search for the information they want instead of being force-fed (pull instead of push-technology), providing valuable content is tantamount to establishing a credible voice in Cyberspace. You can’t play if you don’t bring anything to the game.

After you observe, find people to follow who have something to offer. I follow PR and marketing influencers like @mashable and @chrisbrogan so I can distill relevant information to share it with my friends, family and clients with a direct quote, retweet or link. Evangelizing is something I’ve done my entire career. But now, I am able to share what I learn with a wider audience.

Joining the conversation on Twitter has broadened my horizons, which makes me more valuable to my target market. More importantly, by underlining the biblical instruction to be quick to hear and slow to speak, it has made me a better person. And that’s the best win of all.

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

Crowding in Cyberspace


Micro-blogging
So as I grow more comfortable with blogging and micro-blogging, I’ve ventured out lately to post comments on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. Today’s LinkedIn E-Marketing Group discussion interested me because the first post was written by a guy who I think must hail from Sweden or something. His name is Hans. And he is a prolific LinkedIn microblogger.

Swedish Blogging
The reason I appreciate Hans is because he posts comments without regard for the use of insignificant language articles like “the” and “a.” I am confident I would unintentionally eliminate such non-essentials were I to learn Swedish and then post blogs for Swedes in Cyberspace. So I have to give Hans props for writing in his un-native tongue.

Cross-Cultural Communication
Whether or not Hans hails from the USA, I give him props for posting. And I thank him for allowing me to join the conversation.

Follow me on Twitter
And if you have not yet found me on Twitter, please give me a follow. You can find me here.

Bowling for Business: To Push or Pull, That is the Question

Since the nature of a blog is to point to valuable content threads, found anywhere on the web, I’d like to provide my readers and clients with information about the most common question I recently hear, “What exactly is social media and how can I use it? Should I use it?”

FB linkThe short answer is that social media is the new vehicle for communicating with any number of people. It’s pull instead of push, which means that content is not just pushed by editors to listeners and readers without an invitation.
For this reason, some refer to it as “Invitation Marketing.” The longer answer is that, for the same reasons the practice of public relations was best left to professionals, so is social media. But if you want to handle it yourself, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Login and create a persona on several social media websites. Which ones? Take your pick. Some of the most popular are LinkedIn, MySpace, FaceBook, Diggit, Reddit, Flickr, Plaxo, StumbleUpon, Plaxo, Twitter and PhotoBucket. This list is by NO MEANS exhaustive. The number of social networking sites multiples by the millisecond. So try to choose the ones you find most convenient and most compatible with whatever product or service you are trying to sell.
  2. Keep your user names consistent from site to site. One of the main reasons for creating online personas is to boost search engine optimization. When meta crawlers search for the number of hits relative to your username, it will only tabulate consistent names. If your preferred username is not available on any one site, go to another. They are a dime a dozen. So it should not be difficult to find another suitable platform.
  3. Provide content. Make your point as quickly as possible. Then politely sign off.

To that end, let me take this opportunity to end my post. If you want to read some more suggestions about easily implementing social media, follow the leader.

Twitter Me Confused

So, at first, this whole social media thing was intriguing. I took some time to sign up for a few social media networking sites, in an effort to learn the medium so I could share my findings with clients. But no sooner had I started trying to locate these sites than I realized that communicating via all of them would be more difficult than scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro.

FB LinkThere is Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Reddit, De Licious, Diggit, Flickr, Reddit, Plaxo, Spoke, Squidoo…a seemingly endless stream of sites all begging for my profile. Once upon a time, I didn’t even know what an Internet profile was. Now, I spend my days linking, clicking, posting, updating and tweeting. No sooner do I complete the list than the sites beckon me for more posts. When will it end?

Sometimes, I have to admit, I wonder if there is really a future in all of this? After all, if they continue to grow at this pace, I will have to sit in front of the glow of my screen day in, day out, like a character out of The Net.

In the meantime, I choose to focus on a few. In fact, I usually recommend the same social sites for my clients. The reasons are simple. You can’t possibly communicate on all of them. I doubt any of us could even pretend to be able to FIND all of them.

In fact, now that I think of it, it’s time to attend to a few posts.

Life in 3-D

I just got back from a PRSA seminar. For the uninitiated, that is a professional networking group for public relations’ practitioners where people actually sometimes meet in the flesh instead of over bits of data on the Internet.

While I was there, I ran into several people I met in previous monthly PRSA luncheons and events. And, because we have been Tweeting each other for awhile, I actually felt more connected to them today than I had prior to all of my seemingly aimless social media networking.

When I got back to my office, I logged onto Twitter. And I stumbled across several tweets that actually interested me. Mind you, in the weeks and months since I started tweeting, I have been doing so almost like a blind squirrel crawling across a pile of acorns. My intentions were good. But I had no real idea of what I was doing.

Chubby And Cute Fox SquirrelTrying to follow streams of conversation on Twitter, at the time, was a bit like trying to watch Sabado Gigante on Telemundo for a gringa. A lot is apparently happening. But none of it makes sense to me.

Apparently, I was not alone in my confusion. For, even at social media seminars, most speakers couldn’t communicate the actual reason, method or need to use these new platforms. They only said that use them we must!

So, today, I feel a bit of vindication about my confusion. And I’m glad I faked it until I made it. I finally the conversation. If you want to join the madness, follow me. Together, we might just uncover a few nuts.