Networking for Those of Us Who Suck at It

A Day In The Life

Networking Doesn't Have to Be so Hard via Aidan Jones

Networking Doesn’t Have to Be so Hard
via Aidan Jones

One thing that you hear early and often when you are trying to build a business or a career in industry is to network. I’ve learned in the short time I have been doing this that I suck at networking. I get very awkward when I go to an event or when I am in a situation specifically for that purpose.

Fortunately for me, I have come to learn that there is no such thing as good or bad networking the only requirement is that you fully show up at the table. Fully showing up means that you have honest conversations with the people you are interacting with. Conversations with no artifice that aren’t manipulated specifically to meet your own needs.

Here are the rules that I have come up with to make networking more comfortable for me:

  • Be as you are: I used to think that networking was like a job interview i.e. you are trying to sell yourself as the best person for the job. The truth is you just need to show up and be who you already are.
  • Be honest about your successes: People like to surround themselves with successful people, so if you have been successful at something don’t be afraid to talk about it. Just make sure that it suits the context of the conversations that are going on.
  • Be honest about your problems: You never know if the person you are talking to has experience in the domain that might be a solution to your problems, so be honest about them. Again don’t forget to consider the context.

To illustrate, I spent an evening with my cousin and her friend who happens to work for a media company. We started talking about some of the challenges (be honest about your problems) that I’ve been having along the way (you will be hearing about those soon) and it turned out that his experience might be just what I need to get me through the little patch of confusion that I have hit recently.

One last note, a lot of entrepreneurs are afraid to share their ideas because they believe that the person listening might execute on them. It is a valid fear, but at the risk of sounding naïve I will point out that no one has the ability to execute your idea exactly how you will. So except you know that the person you are conversing with is already executing in your domain, set the fear aside and engage. You never know what will come of it.

How To: Design Your Customer Experience

Today’s discussion is about creating your customer experience. I’m going to use a play as a case study, yes a play as in theater. The name of the play is Kakadu: The Musical. I had the privilege of being invited by a friend and jumped at the chance to go.

The experience was amazing, and when you find an organization that puts on a play with only two service glitches it is worth talking about. How do you achieve such a service record? By designing the product delivery/service process with the customer in mind. Here is what I observed from the outside for the Kakadu musical.

Get Your Process Down

Get Your Process Down

Marketing: This is something that is universal to all businesses – you have to market your product. By this point you should understand your target market enough to know the channels to use to reach them, and it goes without saying that you have to create a product that your target market wants to buy. I heard about the show via word of mouth, but to get to that point you have to push the message via other channels. Kakadu had several press releases in newspapers, a lot of people were talking about it on twitter, and there were radio advertisements.

Sell Tickets: Kakadu used quite a few channels to get their tickets to their target audience. The locations for ticket sales ranged from a grocery store (Goodies) to the venue (Muson Center) and a Jazz Venue (the Jazzhole) to the internet (Afritickets and Eventiso). Having multiple channels for product/service delivery is great because it gives you multiple avenues to reach your target market.

Deliver Tickets: If you bought the ticket in person you picked it up right there and then, and if you bought it online the idea was that you could print it out as well. It almost didn’t work out that way though for the latter, there were some issues with one of the online ticket purchasing platforms. This was the first service glitch as the platform didn’t provide any level of customer service; luckily the play organizers did what any good entrepreneur should do, they handled the problem. They picked up the phone listed on their contact information and sorted it out. When we got there and found out they had sold out of the regular tickets, they offered to allow us to upgrade to VIP by paying the difference.

Get them to their Seats: Rather than let us navigate the theater by ourselves to find our seats, they had really helpful ushers to get us to available seats with minimal disruptions to the people already seated.

Let them Enjoy the Show: This was the best bit. The show was amazing, the actors were amazing, and it was everything I didn’t know to expect from Nigerian theater. The set changes occurred in the dark right in front of us and the actors were totally engaged in each other. It was one of those plays that engagement with the audience was limited to the musical aspects of the show. The emotional parts of the dialogue struck so real they had me breaking out my handkerchief to catch my tears. If this show comes on again, go. In fact if I’m in town when it gets reprised, I will go again. It wasn’t all perfect though as there wasn’t an intermission so my throat was bone dry from all the laughing and cheering.

What can you learn from this?

  • Think through it all: Look through your delivery process through the eyes of the customer. What do they have to do to buy your product/service? Walk through it as if you were the customer and ask the following questions:
    • Where do they shop? How can I get my products there?
    • How do you intend to deliver the product? Is it a way that your target market is used to? Would it cause them any inconvenience? If it does, is it a deal breaker? Could it result in them being delighted enough to share their experience with their friends?
    • Is the product worth what you are asking for it? Does the product deliver on the value proposition that you have promised the customer?
    • Bottom line how can you make the whole process more convenient for the customer?

 

A Day In the Life…Investing in Your Business

A Day In The Life

 

Welcome to A Day in the Life…. This is a feature that gives a peek at what goes on behind the scenes here and at my other business. I want to show how I practice what I preach, and to share some pieces of advice that I learn from other aspiring and successful entrepreneurs.

The first post is inspired by a blog post that I read at Design Love Fest’s blog. It was a Q/A on how to invest in yourr business.

Invest in Yourself via Investing in Gold

Invest in Yourself via Investing in Gold

Today I’m going to share how I invest in my business.

Design

I believe it is essential to have a great designer you can call on when you do the initial design for your business and when you want to make changes that can impact the design of your website, product packaging, or any other touch point. It is icing on the cake to find a designer who understands how design plays a role in business strategy. Cultivating a relationship that benefits both the design and strategy of your business requires the following:

  • An understanding that whatever is shared in the relationship is confidential. This applies to both parties as you want confidence that your business discussions will not leak to the competition. Establish this early and often
  • Once you are sure that you can trust your designer (note: don’t work with someone you can’t trust in this respect), be open about the intentions you have for the designs you are asking for and be open to the feedback the designer has. While they work on making things beautiful, they can also help you make things functional to what you are trying to achieve

Learn

While I have a degree right now, I never stop learning. I’m currently getting an MBA part time while I work on my businesses and my full time job. A lot of what I learn in school from both professors and peers inform the work I do at my day job and on my businesses. Here are some tips to pick a program that works for you if that is something that might be of interest to you:

  • Choose a program that aligns with your learning objectives. To do this you have to be brutally honest about what you currently know and what you need to learn
  • Find a program that works for your circumstances. For instance if you are working full-time and have to deal with a lot of traffic to get to and from work like most of us do, a part-time program with a heavy online component is a great option to get you what you need

Train

This might sound exactly like learn, but there is a contextual difference. With this it’s about learning and networking with people in your industry and outside of it. I am always looking for new formal and informal training opportunities. If you pick the right one, you could get to meet and learn from thought leaders in your industry and find people like you who are not necessarily competing for the same customers that you can learn from. Here are some tips on how to do this:

  • Focus on learning and not the certificate. What you learn will be more valuable than the paper you are handed at the end. To do this, look at what the program advertises and ensure that the learning objectives are closely aligned with yours
  • Bottom line make sure you will be getting value for your money

Invest in Key Resources

As described in the business model canvas key resources are those that are needed to deliver on your value proposition. Without these key resources, keeping your VP promise will be very difficult. Don’t create a canvas and put it in the cupboard use the key resources as a shopping list for what you need to have to keep the promise you have made to customers.

That’s all for today, tune in next week for more “A Day in the Life…”

Pay Attention…

This May!

The Beginner’s Guide to Business Plans is out. Sign up for the newsletter to get your very own copy.

In other news,I will be creating my first product. It is a SWOT analysis tool that will help you use your business model canvas to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your product. The tentative release date is the 1st Anniversary of Gig Theory, August 1st. Telling you guys this now is part of me putting myself on the spot (haha), and part to get you excited about a new addition to your business planning/management arsenal.

Also coming this month is a new feature called A Day in the Life….

A Day In The Life

This will launch in the third week of May (YAY!!!) and it showcases how I use some of the information that I share with you on this platform in my other ventures.

On to this week’s post.

I was reading the back of a can of air freshener recently and some of the copy caught my eye:

“Eliminates unpleasant odors. Freshness and perfumes every room in your home with the fresh and clean fragrance of nature.”

I read it about 3 or 4 times to make sure I was reading this correctly. Freshness and perfumes? That was a fail, not a huge one, but a fail nonetheless.

Why?

Because copy is one of the ways a company interacts with their customer. Well written copy helps the company communicate value in a professional way. There are not many customers who are particular about correct word choice in sentences, but you never know. Regardless of whether your customers are the type to pay attention to such details or not – if you are going to do something, do it well.

Bottom line for you:

  • Pay attention to the written material on your products, website, and any and all copy you have floating around. If your copy is sloppy, chances are something else in your business is.

What you can do next:

  • Gather all the written material you have on your business and proof read it. Your goal with this exercise is to make sure that there are no grammatical errors and that the words flow well.

 

The Fork in The Road

A while ago I was in discussions with a potential partner and we were talking about the rules of engagement. While up to this point things had seemed real, this particular discussion brought the idea of what’s possible crashing down. I was sitting there thinking through the fact that the momentum of this thing called Gig Theory could be potentially more than I could handle and could bring the reality of moving back to Nigeria into reality as opposed to a mere possibility. This partner was client number ONE as well as promotional vehicle number ONE and was worried as to whether I had what it took to walk my talk.

I believe that every entrepreneur comes on a moment like this, a come-to-Jesus moment when they realize that they are no longer dabbling but actually implementing the plan that they came up with. This is the moment when they hit the fork in the road that requires commitment on one end and running away on the other. The question becomes: to commit or not to commit?

Commitment means taking the dive, jumping over the proverbial cliff, going over the deep end; I can carry on with the oft used clichés/colorful metaphors but you get the gist.

Commitment means embracing the fear, the uncertainty, the thrill, and the responsibility of driving your own bus.

I mentioned the fork in the road earlier, one side requires you to commit and the other requires you to keep on dabbling. What will you choose?

Bottom line for you:

  • We entrepreneurs face crucial decision points every day that will impact the probability of our business success. One key to making good decisions is not to let fear make it for you.

What you can do next:

  • Understand that fear is a natural part of the human experience and while there is a chance that taking the decision that you want to could result in failure, there is an equal chance that it will be a stunning success. So take a chance.

Designing Your Product/Service

For a lazy person, I was super motivated on one particular day to grab cash, my car keys, and hit the road. I was going to get cake. I got to the cake shop’s location and couldn’t find it. So I went to the internet on my phone, got their number, and proceeded to call them three times just to get the right location. Why was I so motivated?

Well this place makes amazing cake!

Normally when I’m feeling a dessert, I go online to find recipes with the specific mix of ingredients I’m craving, I go shop for them, and make the dessert myself. But Take the Cake, the shop in question, makes cakes that are without question the best bought cakes I have ever had. Their ingredients shine through like the carrot in the carrot cake and the coconut in the Italian cream and their buttercream frosting tastes like real butter.

Cake

Via LisaB on Flickr

This story speaks to something about this cake shop:

Their ability to make the best cake I have had the privilege of tasting outside my kitchen.

To be able to achieve what they have achieved in my mind you need to understand what motivates your customer in the first place – the benefit their getting from you. To go back to the cake example, the cake shop makes it clear to the customer that they:

  • Make their cakes in small batches so that they come out perfect each time
  • Everything is baked from scratch using pure and fresh ingredients
  • They make Houston’s Best Cakes

The first two statements speak to the benefit that the customer can expect to get every time. They can expect a cake that tastes as good as or better than the last time they had it.

Understanding the benefit your customer gets helps you design your product because you are keeping the result of the customer’s interaction with your product in the forefront of your product development process.

So what is it that your business does that would make a lazy person get out of bed, into their car, and into busy traffic to get your product? With every version of your product, with every added feature, with every new component to your service, you need to think of about how this version, feature, or component will benefit the customer. Why? Well the benefit is what will motivate your customer to hand over some cash. And for every business that is the bottom line.

Bottom line for you:

  • Make sure that all your marketing materials communicate the benefit that the customer is getting. Your product/service and its packaging should also communicate the benefit if possible

What you can do next:

  • If you are not currently marketing materials do not communicate the benefits that you offer, now is the time to do so

Selecting your Target Market: Warm Niches

I have been doing quite a bit of reading in the last few months to wrap some concepts around my head, and one of the books on my list is Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Start-up. One of the key concepts presented in this book is to pick a niche as opposed to trying to cater to a large mass of people. He takes it a bit further and advises that everyone has a warm niche:

“A “warm” niche is a niche where you have some kind of association” ~ Start Small, Stay Small

A lot of us entrepreneurs think: “I’m going to target this group of people that has at least 3 million members; if I get only 1% of that market, my business will be off to a great start.” The thing with targeting such a large mass of people is that there are usually a few big players with large amounts of money targeting that group already. In business market share is everything, so the cost to get a measly 1% out of the hands of an established player might cost more than a small start-up can afford. This is where niches come in.

A niche is a small group of people that require a specialized service. Think about it this way:

You might be looking into developing a business that caters to the needs of craftsmen. There might be a lot of craftsmen in your market so you can look at a specific type of craftsman, say a carpenter. There are fewer carpenters than there are craftsmen. You might then consider narrowing it down even further by focusing on carpenters that cater to corporate clients. This is choosing a niche.

The concept of warm niches helps you choose a niche where you have some knowledge. For instance if you know someone close to you that is a carpenter who caters to corporate clients, he might help you acquire intimate knowledge of the issues that he faces day to day that your offering can solve. You can also, with his permission, use him as a resource in your research. He can point you in the direction of prominent trade publications or places where he and his colleagues hang out.

Picking a niche makes marketing your offering significantly cheaper because you are trying to reach a smaller number of people. And because this group is so much smaller, you can focus on where they hang out rather than trying to put out mass advertising. There is nothing wrong with mass advertising, but it is very expensive to reach a larger mass of people and that expense is something that you may not be able to afford.

So instead of trying to focus on 1% of 3 million; why not start with 1% of 30,000. It’s only 3,000 people, but these 3,000 people could make the solid start to your business.

References

Walling, Rob (2010-08-04). Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup. The Numa Group, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Go Out There and Do Your Work

I recently decided to volunteer with Paradigm Initiative Nigeria after I saw some information about their TENT program on twitter. A program like that was what started me off in business. When I put in my volunteer form I had no idea that one of the opportunities to contribute to their mission would involve teaching a class. When it came up I was petrified, but I said yes. I had recently read an article where Tina Fey talked about saying yes more was the key to her success and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try the same tactic.

I was tempted to get really formal by using a slide deck and everything, but I looked at my audience and decided to set objectives instead and go with it. That was the best decision I made. The students were receptive of the information that I provided using the objectives as guidelines, and they asked so many questions that helped me realize that my decision to be flexible with the class plan was the right one.

PIN

Myself and the Amazing Students at PIN after class

My initial fear of teaching the class wasn’t that I didn’t think I had anything to offer the students. The fear was based on me wondering if I was ready to get out of the front of a computer and take my material into the world. I read a post on Pam Slim’s blog that spoke to this directly. In her words:

It’s not about you. Here is the truth: if you spend your time worrying about yourself you have missed the point entirely. Your business is about the people you want to help. Their needs. Their fears. Their dreams. None of us will ever be perfect. Some will always be smarter, more productive, more witty, older, younger, more charismatic. Your people don’t care. They want help now.

Reading that post woke me up so hard that I had to bookmark it.

Bottom line for you:

  • Say yes to new opportunities
  • Your customers don’t need you to be perfect they need you to show up and do your job

What to do next:

  • Say yes when someone offers you the opportunity to share your work with the world
  • Share that                      (blog post, recipe, picture of the hairstyle that you just made up, product, insert what you just created into the blank) with the world.

If you haven’t already check out what Gig Theory has cooking for you this month.

Coming This April

In our quest to empower you to create your dream job, we plan to give away a business book that is relevant to the task of starting and building a business.

SIGN UP to the Gig Theory Newsletter for a chance to win the book of the month.

This month’s book is Business Model Generation.

Business Model Generation

Business Model Generation

It is a “handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers striving to defy outmoded business models and design tomorrow’s enterprises…”

This book is the basis for the Business Model Posts that have shown up on Gig Theory’s very own blog.

You want this book because it offers you a method to get your plan on paper and start troubleshooting in no time flat. You can check out a free preview here.

Only one copy will be given away, but there is more. I’m writing an eBook called The Beginners Guide to Business Models. 

The basic premise of the eBook is to help you use your business model to develop a business plan for your enterprise.

Hurry over and sign up for our newsletter for a chance to win the book. Also you will be the first to know when the eBook is ready.

How To: Go Beyond for Your Customer

It was a hot day in Houston, almost 100oF, and I decided that since I didn’t have a functioning car I might as well walk to the nail shop. The flaw in my thinking was that the nail shop was quite a distance to walk in such heat on a road that isn’t pedestrian friendly. Halfway through the walk I realized my mistake, but I kept going. On arriving to the nail shop the owner says she recognized me on the road but wasn’t aware of where I was going and she promised me a ride back home. I sit there, enjoy a massage, and my regular treatments. During the period I strike up conversation with a woman who has two toddlers but makes the 45 minute drive to the nail shop just to get her nails done by the owner and her employees; I hear about other customers who come from far and wide ranging from 45 minutes – 1.5 hours away. The lady who was sitting next to me, Mrs. 45 minutes, once drove 2 hours in hurricane related traffic.

Sitting through the whole experience I kept asking myself what was so special about this place that people traveled so far to come to get their nails done. I didn’t have to look hard to get the answer. A lady came in asking for a pretty design, all she could think of was some slashes and she was shown a design that absolutely delighted her – it had slashes (stripes) and dots in three different colors. Another lady came with her two young daughters, and the owner personally did her nails and the nails of her girls while having conversation with her like she was an old friend. And of course there was me, the woman without a car in the Houston Summer. Once my services were done the owner took me home in her white Mercedes SUV. The make of the car doesn’t have any bearing on this, but it was the first time I was in a Mercedes SUV so bear with me.

What did I learn? I learned that you need to keep your promises (your basic value proposition), but you also need to go beyond. The store promised me a nail job that I would show off and they delivered, but the owner went beyond by taking me home because she knew it was a long uncomfortable walk. The other people who came there had their not-fully-formed visions fully realized and mothers and daughters left with nice designed and well done nails.

Being able to go beyond like this requires that you know your customers, listen to them, and keep your eyes open for chances to improve on the experience that you currently provide.

So keep your promises and whenever you have the opportunity to, take it a step further and go beyond.