Believe

While talking about career transitions and social networking this week, one individual asked me (and here I’m paraphrasing) what was the one thing to do above all others in building an opportunity network.

The answer that came out surprised even me at first. It has nothing to do with tactics, or specific social platforms.

I said to Sara that you have to believe. You need a gut-level conviction that building a network is the most important professional endeavor you can undertake.

And I do believe that. I think I gave it lip service for much of my career, because networking equaled schmoozing in my mind, and frankly, I am not a schmoozer. But it was the early days of LinkedIn that opened my eyes to the potential power of networks – and the massive advantage of a hybrid approach marrying digital technology to personal relationships.

Each step along the way – blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – has grown that belief. But it has been getting past the pre-meeting stage which digital tools facilitate, and getting eye-to-eye, mind-to-mind, and heart-to-heart with people that has utterly convinced me. When friends are made, and opportunities opened up, and lives changed through these connections – well, it’s awfully hard not to believe.

You’ll read a thousand blog posts about the tactics, or the higher-level strategies, of using social networks. There’s a ton of noise about specific tools. I’m going to point you to the one thing that is foundational and drives the rest.

Believe. And if your faith is a little shaky right now, feel free to borrow some of mine. I have a lot of stories to tell – and so do a bunch of other people I can point you to.

————-

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

Announcing the Connection Agency

With a talented close-knit group of trusted collaborators, I’ve been working on something behind the scenes called the Connection Agency. We’re just now emerging out of stealth mode. But before I say more about the CA, I want to point to a very crucial part of the “why?” formula.

The boom of networked communications has opened up an amazing array of opportunities for individuals who are knowledgeable, connected, and trusted. Welcome to the new intermediation.

We talk often about how on-line networks are bringing about radical disintermediation (removal of the “middleman” – think about what Amazon is doing to the publishing and book-selling world). But what we need to see is that new intermediaries are needed, particular when it comes to knowledge curation, resource-finding, and person-connecting. eHarmony provides an example of how technology can intermediate to make matches more efficiently.

When I started my Impactiviti business 5 years ago, it was actually a “trust agent” business model – even before that term was coined by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. I “matchmake” my pharma/healthcare clients with personally selected, trusted and excellent outsource suppliers; and I work on a referral fee basis with those partners. It’s an intermediation business built on trust, reputation, knowledge, and new efficiencies (in fact, this week, I met with 2 high-caliber individuals for brand therapy sessions and encouraged them to adopt a form of that model in their respective spheres).

And here’s a wonderful little secret: there’s not much competition. We become so used to the inefficiencies, dishonesty, and incompetence baked in to our current work models, that few see what an astonishing opportunity awaits a network connector who can create and grow a new ecosystem, with character and virtue and proven capability at the center.

But the business need exists in ALL sectors, not just pharma/healthcare. So we’re evolving a model of an organic network of trust agents who will refer their trusted clients and suppliers across the network to “matchmake” needs – while splitting referral fees. The Connection Agency is a way to help entrepreneurs who work by old-fashioned, trusted handshake values to multiply value through the power of social networks and the universal need for trust-referrals.

The CA is a work in progress. It is, by design, a slow-grow evolution with a very long-term goal – a transformation of how business can get done when the purpose-built network is the heart of the business, not some add-on. We’re figuring it out as we go along and you won’t see a lot of noise about this network, because we’re focused on a high-quality, high-trust, high-touch business that, by design, is very selective.

Will the CA succeed? My current business experience as a solopreneur says, Yes! Scaling it to a network of people is a huge challenge, but I  think we can do it. And I/we will value your support, your input, your recommendations, your referrals – this is, fundamentally, a team effort. The adventure begins…!

————-

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

Welcome! How May We Gouge You??

It was a rainy morning in Chicago. I had flown in early, taken the train downtown, and gotten pretty well soaked on the walk to the hotel – but, I was here. Ready for a great few days of networking and SOBCon.

I’d booked the conference hotel (Hotel 71) months ago for the duration of SOBCon but needed a place for one night, so I had gone on-line and reserved a room at a relatively nearby place, which will remain unnamed at the moment.

Dripping my way into the lobby at about 10 am local time, I was flabbergasted by the following exchange:

Tom: “We have a room ready for you, Mr Woodruff, but there will be a $35 early check-in fee.”

Me: ???????????????????????

OK, let me get this straight. A room is sitting there ready, I arrive early (terrible sin!) – and now you want to ding me for an extra $35? In 25 years of business travel, I’ve NEVER run into this gouging maneuver (have you? If so, enlighten me – please!)

This, after mentioning that, no, I don’t recall ever staying here before. What a nice welcome for a new guest!

I described this red carpet treatment on Twitter and apparently others agree with me.

I’ll try to communicate my displeasure privately and see where that goes, which is why I’m not mentioning the property by name at this point. But if you’re in the hospitality business, take away this lesson – when your first encounter with the customer is a grab deeper into their pocket – for no good reason – you’re really not likely to build repeat business.

Not. Likely. At. All.

ADDED BONUS: no e-mail address, no electronic message capability on website, and no Twitter! Free Wi-Fi, though….

UPDATE: I confirmed with a second desk person that this is indeed a policy of the small chain (though I think it is presented as a reserved red-eye early check-in on some document I see in the room here – I was a walk-up). That person gave me the name and e-mail address of the Customer Service Manager, whom I e-mailed, and who kindly got right back to me with an offer to waive the charge. That was (in my opinion) the right thing to do – and I respect the two desk personnel who actually did what they had to do – enforce policy (even if it was uncomfortable).

I will continue to leave the name of the hotel unmentioned and simply suggest that they forward this post up the chain of command so that an internal decision can be made about the wisdom of said policy.

————-

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

Do Me a Favor at SOBCon

Later this week, I’m planning on enjoying a few happy days of networking at the annual SOBCon gathering in Chicago. And, if you’re attending, I want to ask you a favor.

But first, a funny story from last week…

I walked into an agency for a brainstorming session, and one of the folks there was surprised at my appearance. I mean, he knew I was coming, but he’d been following me on Twitter for a while, and for some odd reason, he thought I was some kind of intimidating 6’5″ behemoth. Maybe it’s that Steve 3-D avatar which does have a certain Terminator quality to it, but really – I pretty much look like a regular guy! Intimidating? Nah….

And no matter how I come across publicly or on-line, when in large groups, I’m actually the one who feels a bit intimidated. The shy gene never fully disappears, I guess.

So, do me a favor. As Carol Roth did last year (and I never forgot her for it), if you want to meet me, just come up and introduce yourself. I want to make the most of every moment in Chicago, which means talking to you, not drifting self-consciously in the crowd.

Oh, and fair warning on three things:

1. If there’s actually time to talk, I’ll cut through the fluff pretty quickly and really get to know you.

2. You’ll understand me if you have a sense of humor.

3. I do hugs. Despite my New England upbringing.

See you in Chicago!

————-

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

Hello Chicago: Free Brand Therapy!

Tomorrow (Wed April 27th) I unexpectedly have a free afternoon in Chicago. While I could thoroughly enjoy a lakeside walk and picture-taking safari, I’d actually rather get to know some of my contacts in Chicago better. So….

I’m offering three free Brand Therapy sessions (~60-90 minutes) for entrepreneurs/small business types who’d like to sit down, and not only get better acquainted, but also brainstorm your brand positioning. It’s something I love to do (read the comments in the linked post) and  if I can get to know some folks better and provide a little help – why not?

I’ll be in the vicinity of the Hotel 71 area.

Interested? E-mail me quickly and let me know (steve at connectionagent dot com).

Also, if anyone wants to get together for a quick dinner/tweetup meeting Wednesday evening – let’s pull it together!

- Steve

Inspiring Loyalty

A recent NY Times article – you’d almost think they’d known about this week’s LeadershipChat topic and planned the timing – described the Shifting Definition of Worker Loyalty. It’s a good overview of the many reasons why the old business contract is null and void – companies no longer earn long-term employee loyalty, and employees are learning not to expect Big Brother Employer to take care of them from cradle to grave.

Whether this loss of MAS (Mutually Assured Symbiosis) be interpreted as good or bad, it just is. And it brings up the question – what can a leader do to build and inspire loyalty within a company? (note the two verbs – build and inspire.  “Assume” doesn’t cut it anymore).

There’s no magic bullet, but I think people will open the wallet of loyalty when they see these three things:

  1. A mission worthy of their affections
  2. A culture worthy of their attention
  3. An example worthy of emulation

If your company is just providing good or services in order to perpetuate its own existence, that’s not going to inspire anyone who aspires to higher purposes. And as soon as something better comes along, there will be few ties of loyalty – after all, it’s just a job, not a mission.

On the other hand, many employees have refused better offers, or come back to the fold, because there was something special in the company culture – something that makes people actually want to come to work and be part of it.

And then, something very powerful – a leader who is a great example inspires loyalty because people instinctively want to follow and learn from someone who is blazing the trail ahead. There will be little loyalty to a mere functionary with a title – but far more attachment to an example who walks the talk and inspires greatness.

That’s all the high-falutin’ stuff. Now, let me turn to one very simple action – which anyone can do – that engenders loyalty. It so simple, that it’s easy to overlook.

Notice people. And let them know that you notice them.

This link came across my Twitter stream today. Look at the number of Twitter followers Trey has. Do you have any idea how much it means to me to be called out as a Twitter BFF (we’ve only met IRL once, btw)? And do you think that, just perhaps, I might feel a deepened sense of loyalty to my pal in South Carolina for noticing me publicly? (but Trey, that pink jacket…I dunno, maybe it’s a Southern gentleman thing…)

What are your thoughts on Leaders who inspire loyalty? That’s what we’ll be discussing during #LeadershipChat on Tuesday, April 26th at 8 pm ET. And, be sure to read my co-host Lisa Petrilli’s post Leadership and Loyalty: Why it Must Start Within You.

————-

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

Brand Therapy

I have a confession. I love every aspect of the work I do, but there is one thing that gives me the most immediate gratification and sense of accomplishment – sitting down with entrepreneurs and doing a brand therapy session. Distilling down a small business brand to the Core Four – its differentiating offering, its one-sentence summary, its compelling brand story, and its key marketplace analogy – is one of my favorite exercises. There’s a certain magic that occurs when you can help re-define a company in a few hours.

Recently I was in the midst of this process with a talented and successful digital agency in the Northeast. As I queried them about their core strengths, they kept coming back with nice-sounding (and true) phrases, none of which really distinguished them. So I scribbled J.A.D.A. on a piece of paper and pushed it across the table.

They sounded like Just Another Digital Agency. A commodity.

Now, in fact, they weren’t, and I knew it, but they hadn’t boiled their message down to a unique, differentiating identity. It was there, but it took some more pointed questions to finally bring it to the surface. They had revenue, they pleased their varied customers, but they were on a treadmill. Commodity brand positioning does that to you.

Why do companies need a brand therapist? It’s simple, really – we’re all too close to our own work. We get so immersed in our companies and offerings, that we can no longer see clearly who we really are. I serve as a brand therapist for others – but, I realize that I also need an outside voice for my own company. Because I’m too caught up in my own work to be objective!

I see this brand identity murkiness all the time – and the lack of definition even leads to taking on the wrong kind of work. It seems to be  unavoidable – ironically, even marketing/branding companies regularly suffer from the syndrome – but it’s certainly curable.

You may be coming across as J.A.S.P. (Just Another Service Provider), or J.A.T.C.  (Just Another Training Company) – or, fill in the blank for your offering. Sometimes an outside perspective – a therapist who can ask the right questions and guide you to a clearer vision – is just what you need when you’re at that point of doing a lot of work, but suffering from a lack of focus and direction.

Lots of big-time companies will suck you dry of time and dollars for a branding exercise, but my brand therapy sessions typically take about a day of focused time. We get to the Core Four, and if you need help in execution and campaigns beyond that, I have some wonderful resources in my network (yes, including digital agencies, marketing consultants, and loads of other talented providers!) Give me a call at 973-947-7429 and let’s set aside a day for some brand therapy. If, like me, you have eyesight that needs correction, you can look forward to that feeling you get when you put on a brand new pair of prescription glasses!

————-

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 154 other followers