Networking on Purpose (usually)

If you’re going to be successful, from a business perspective, you need to have purpose in your networking.

Simple but silly example: if you’re seeking to use the power of networks to grow your retail flower business in Missouri, it’s not likely that an investment of time building up a network of car mechanics in Sydney, Australia is going to be productive.

Network purposefully. Usually (caveat below!).

How can you use social networks to purposefully build business opportunities? Here are my “secrets”:

1. Show up. Strategically be present, at conferences and events and meetups and on-line, so that people can understand who you are and what you have to offer.

2. Connect with influential connectors in your domain. Not merely in the “we’re connected on LinkedIn” way, but build relationships over time. Don’t be shy about this. They’re connectors because they like to connect!

3. Bring potential clients, partners and other influencers along on your journey. Create a Linkedin group or a private Facebook group. Forward news articles and other resources. Connect people with other valuable people. Become the go-to person.

4. Occupy an empty space. There are countless market opportunities, in every conceivable domain, for curators, commentators, collaborators, connectors. You can build an entire career (I have) around finding something no-one else is doing, and filling that need.

5. Go deep with a handful. You can connect with 100,000 people on digital networks, but typically, the lion’s share of your business is going to flow from 5-10 key people with whom you have shared affinity and purpose. Concentrate on that handful, even as you build a broader network.

Don’t just network to accumulate follower numbers, or views, or ephemeral “influence” that comes from mass reach. A few people will make money from that. Most of us will grow business by having a focused purpose.

On the other hand, I freely and gladly admit that some of my networking is time is spent getting to know people with whom I don’t have some immediate or clear business purpose. Why? Because they are quality people, and when quality people band together, unexpected and unanticipated opportunities arise. I’ve seen this happen so many times that I now make significant investments of time in certain people and communities because I just know that in the long run, something great is going to come of it, for others and for myself. Call if faith, call it existentialism – I call it a fun adventure. We cannot predict what connections and open doors may happen indirectly through befriending and supporting people who may not be directly in our current business strike zone.

Even here, you’re networking with purpose. The purpose is discovery of new opportunities you can’t yet see or define.

So network with clear purpose, but also network with not-yet-clear purposes. If you purpose to be a helpful connector, you and others will surely benefit. And new purposes will become clear over time!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Is Your Sky Blue?

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Twitter: @swoodruff

My Business Vision

My LeadershipChat co-host, Lisa Petrilli, has written a stirring and helpful blog post about gaining a vision for our personal and business lives (Three Steps to Create a Vision for 2012). And, this is our theme for the final #LeadershipChat of 2011 – Vision. Not goals, not resolution – but the inspiring picture of “what could be” that fuels purpose and feeds action.

I liked what Lisa wrote so much about the three steps that I decided, for my pre-chat blog post, to simply apply her principles and see if I could articulate my vision. Here goes:

I strive toward a future where talent and creativity are unleashed to produce remarkable lives and results. I see a workforce driven, not by time clocks and paychecks, but by the internal fires of desire and unique ability channeled into creating value for others.

I see a day dawning where trust networks of real people outstrip the legacy efficiencies of hierarchical corporations; where handshakes and proven character hold more sway than lawyers and regulations.

I long for the day when people choose their career direction because of inherent fit, and where the pathway to success is paved with character, responsibility, diligence, and readiness to provide value.

I look for a time when long-term commitment triumphs over the compromises of short-term thinking.

I am committed to kindling these fires by building networks and business models that are disruptive to the status quo of short-sighted inefficiency, liberating people of talent and ethical character to do their best work and live remarkable lives.

There’s the vision. It has taken shape over decades and is pretty well set in my mind and heart. When you’re in touch with your core beliefs and values (see this excellent post by John Jantsch), your vision begins to take shape.

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How does that look when you step forward to a mission statement? Something like this, I guess:

My mission is to be a Connection Agent.

I am connecting people and businesses with their true identity and message; with creative opportunities to grow and succeed; and with other people and resources to bring about increasing success.

I want to leave behind a network of people who are richer because of these connections, and who will follow that example by enriching others.

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And how does all that flow out into activity?

The manifestation, so far, is the creation of business referral networks; a self/brand awareness consulting practice (Clarity Therapy); and ongoing tribe-building (LeadershipChat is, in a very important respect, tribe-building). The first two are current sources of revenue; the latter is my long-term commitment to bring together people who want to revolutionize business and life through purposeful use of social networks.

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OK, so how about you? Can you take some time this week to go through a similar exercise? Perhaps invest an hour tonight (8 pm ET) on Twitter for #LeadershipChat in order to discuss Vision with some smart, like-minded folks as you look to a new year? Hope to see you there, and to see your vision spelled out in the coming days!

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Hire Steve Woodruff if your identity and message need clarity (Clarity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Social Business is Not Enough

>> Go With What You’ve Got

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Twitter: @swoodruff

Go With What You’ve Got (A 2011 Reflection)

I freely admit that, in some areas, I am denser than an iceberg made of iron. In a few key respects, my mind runs with Olympic sprinter speed and dexterity – but in other ways, I learn at a glacial pace, only after so many crashes against the wall that I look like Rocky’s sparring partner on a very bad day.

But this year, I may have finally begun to turn the corner on one thing that I’ve believed (in my head) for many years, but failed to fully embrace (in heart and practice). When building business, Go With What You’ve Got.

You see, I often tell others that you really want build a small, high-quality, close-knit network – a tribe  in Godin-speak – instead of expending all your energy in amassing numbers. I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve written along these lines, and in many respects, I’ve practiced it – but, when it came to my primary revenue-generating pharma network (Impactiviti), I harbored a secret addiction to going wide instead of deep. There’s nothing inherently wrong with widespread recognition and messaging – but then I kept looking at where the revenue was truly coming from. And lo and behold (no surprise to any of you quicker learners out there), revenue was coming from a handful of long-standing customers/advocates. All the mass reach in the world, while good for the long-term, wasn’t really the driver. It was taking care of the people who already believed in me, and who talked me up to others. I finally started pro-actively investing much more time digging deeper than going wider.

Duh.

This simple insight, finally burrowing its way from mind to heart, re-shaped some of my social networking practice as well in 2011. I’ve always invested in the idea of cultivating a close “inner circle” of quality people, but it was difficult to set aside the broad reach model in practice. Somehow, the only thing that gets the applause lines is big numbers. Yet, I already had a wonderful circle of friends with whom I could cultivate deeper bonds. Did I really need to pour a bunch of energy into Google+, or worry about an influencer score, or be concerned about blog readership statistics? Not that any of those things are bad in themselves (well, maybe Klout…right, Sam Fiorella?), but I don’t really “need” mass numbers. I can barely cultivate deepening relationships with the wonderful people I already know.

Huh.

Finally, this “go with what you’ve got” lesson came home to me in a very unexpected new business direction. As many of you know, I have been building, behind the scenes, toward a grand vision I’ve had for years of a trusted referral network for building new business (Connection Agency). Yet, the very week I made this initiative public, an entirely different avenue of new business potential dropped into my lap – something that I already had been doing but didn’t really understand could be a business in itself. Doing Brand Therapy with individuals and companies has turned out to be the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done – yet it came to the fore only because I had some unanticipated extra time in Chicago pre-SOBCon and decided to do some free “therapy” sessions with people. Now, this practice has become a growing revenue stream in its own right, while Connection Agency has been on the slower development track.

Turns out the keys to success in 2011 were under my nose the whole time. As Thomas Carlyle put it so many years ago, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

Great advice for both business and leadership as we look ahead to 2012. What are the opportunities already at hand? What are you already bringing to the table? Who are the customers that make your business fly?

In fact, on Tuesday (Dec. 19th) at 8 pm ET on Twitter during LeadershipChat, we’ll be discussing our most important Leadership Lessons from 2011. Here’s one from my lovely co-host, Lisa Petrilli (My Most Life Opening Leadership Lesson of 2011). What’s yours? Feel free to write a blog post about it before, or after, the chat, and share your wisdom with other members of the community!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Twitter Chats and Cocktail Parties

>> Finding Your DNA

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Twitter: @swoodruff

Getting Off the Elevator (Pitch)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the elevator pitch/speech lately. And I have two major issues with it.

  1. It’s a pitch. You’re selling.
  2. It’s too long.

I get the principle, but I’d like to challenge you to have a clear message that is 10 words or less – the totally distilled, core message of who you are and what value you offer.

The kind of statement you can make before the elevator door even closes.

Can you fill in this blank?  I/we want to be the go-to person/company for ________________. That’s one of the questions that gets you started toward the 10-word summary.

Why is this important?

  • YOU need to be totally clear on your core identity and message. In a way that could fit easily into one tweet.
  • You may not have 2-3 minutes to get to the point.
  • Not every situation is a sales situation. Can you explain what you do to a neighbor in 15 seconds?
  • Your message needs to be packaged so others can transmit it for you. I often (spontaneously) ask clients who know me to introduce me in a group setting, to see if I’ve enabled them to truly grasp my identity.

An elevator pitch is a mug of beer. A 10-word-or-less distilled summary is a fine single malt whiskey, served neat. 100 proof memorable goodness.

Here’s how Ravenswood Winery does it: No Wimpy Wines. Three words of branding perfection!

By all means, have an extended version of your message for when you know you’ll have some time. But, in my opinion, one of our biggest marketing challenges isn’t designing an elevator pitch – it’s gaining clarity first about our market purpose, direction, and message.

I’m regularly astounded at how rarely this is in place – distilled message clarity woven throughout the company and its marketing. And that is why I offer Clarity Therapy sessions for (mostly) small companies who want to program their marketing GPS for clear direction (brazen commercial for my consulting services – because I’m quite good at this!).

What are my summary statements? I have two, depending on if the need is for consulting, or for business referral connections:

- I help clients gain clarity in their direction and message (analogy: clarity therapist)

- I pro-actively make beneficial business referrals via my trust network (analogy: eHarmony)

And, yes, part of the Clarity Therapy outcome is finding that key business analogy that will help clients picture your service in their minds, so they can remember it and explain it to others. This (along with a compelling story and a differentiating offering) is a crucial element to an effective go-to-market message!

If you’re feeling like you need to stand out more clearly in a very noisy marketplace, contact me about a Clarity Therapy session. Don’t waste time and money being just another face in the marketplace.

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

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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…!

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

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Do We Need to Put Up with This?

>> Business is increasingly being encumbered with regulations, processes, lawyers, and fears. Do we* need to put up with this?

>> The cost of business development/sales is huge. Do we need to put up this?

>> The landscape of providers is littered with the unscrupulous and incompetent. Do we need to put up with this?

>> The best people are scattered about in a patchwork quilt with only the loosest of ties. Do we need to put up with this?

>> Talent-stifling, hierarchical organizations/corporations dominate how business gets done. Do we need to put up with this?

I say NO. It’s time for the connection agents to band together. Stay tuned…

* = competent, trustworthy, reputable professionals of good will

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

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Steve Recommends: Negotiation Training

Steve Woodruff is the Connection Agent, and he has lined up top-quality recommended providers for a whole range of corporate training, marketing, and communications needs.

One of our Connection Agency partners does an exceptional job with training sales professionals/account managers in Negotiation Skills. Live workshops, custom and off-the-shelf programs, follow-up e-reinforcement – this group has always come through for my clients (they also have a great “Selling Higher” program for moving up the executive chain).

This well-established partner serves not only healthcare, but other industries as well! And since they are being recommended by the Connection Agent, here’s what you can expect: customer focus, quality deliverables, and proven integrity.

Download this introductory info sheet, ConnectionAgent_Negotiation, and let us know how we can be of assistance!

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Steve Woodruff is the Connection Agent, a client-vendor matchmaker often called the walking eHarmony of the industry. The Connection Agency is restoring trust and efficiency to the marketplace through the growth of a top-notch network of recommended clients and providers.

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

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