Into Every Life a Little Rain Must Fall
By Elena Fawkner
"Into every life a little rain must fall." And into every business too. Don't have the luxury of surplus cash to fund a rainmaker for your business? Well then, it'll have to be up to you. As usual. Here's how:
YOU HAVE VERY LITTLE COMPETITION
"Everyone wants to win on Sunday, but not everyone is willing to practice Monday through Friday." Vince Lombardi
If you asked all of your competitors whether they want to be successful, it's a fair bet that pretty much all of them would say "Yes, of course, who doesn't want to be successful?"
But if you asked your competitors if they were prepared to do what it takes to develop their businesses so they could ultimately become successful, to pay the price in terms of effort, discipline, perseverence and patience, although most if not all would probably answer "yes, of course, whatever it takes", the reality is that very few of them actually would.
Although everyone wants success, very few are prepared to pay the price over the long haul. Oh, they may give it a good go for a little while but when the results don't come quickly, they decide their efforts aren't working and try something else.
The cold, hard reality is that success takes hard work, lots of it, and lots of time. Overnight successes are very rare. That's why successful people say there's always room at the top. It's because most people quit before succeeding, even when success is literally just around the next bend. This is why you have very little competition. Although you may think you have a lot of competition, in reality you're really competing against only ten percent or so because the other ninety percent will drop out before they achieve success.
Think of your business as a garden. The first stage is to decide what you want to grow, the second stage is to go get seeds and plant them, the third stage is to tend your garden and the fourth is to reap what you have sown. The greatest challenge for most people is to sustain themselves through the third stage. This is where patience is essential because it may be some considerable time between planting and reaping. Tending your garden also requires, in addition to patience, creativity, self- motivation, self-discipline, perseverence and resilience (all the better to bounce back with after disappointment, my dear).
The good news, though, is that ninety percent of your competitors can't or won't stick it out long enough to reach the harvest stage. This is why you can be always be a success no matter how much competition you have. So, let's get to it.
DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO GROW
Before you can plant your seeds, you need to know what it is you want to grow.
"Communicating one on one is different. This requires listening, never taking your eyes off that person, conveying the impression that this conversation is very important to you." Rick Pitino
The first step in communicating with anyone about your business is knowing with absolute clarity what it is you and your business are about. You must decide what it is that you offer and to whom. This means finding your niche. It is the kiss of death to any business to try to be all things to all people. Accept the fact that not everyone is a worthwhile prospect for your business and don't waste your energies targeting anyone who is not a worthwhile prospect.
For example, let's say your business is about web site optimization for search engines. You take your clients' web pages and you optimize them for each of the engines, tailoring the pages to rank well. You don't design web pages, you don't create them, you don't offer credit card merchant facilities or shopping carts. You optimize existing pages to rank well in the search engines. Period. This is a very specific niche within the broader market of those requiring help marketing their web-based businesses.
Although that broad market will include people interested in web page optimization, it will also include people interested in learning HTML, looking for shopping cart assistance, looking for website design services or information on successfully promoting affiliate programs. If you targeted this entire market, it would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack identifying those people interested specifically in web page optimization.
Instead, narrow your focus to that niche of the market that you have decided to target and target ONLY that market. Everything you do needs to be focused on web site optimization and nothing else. Every communication you make must be to that end and no other. Don't allow your message to be diluted by generalizing. Don't allow your business to become fragmented.
The most effective rainmakers are very skilled at differentiating themselves and their businesses from the competition because they know exactly what they are selling and to whom before they ever meet their first prospect. They have rehearsed over and over in their minds what it is that makes them special and why a client would be smart to do business with them. They relish questions such as "So what do you do?", "What makes you special?" and "Why should I do business with you?". While ordinary mortals may stumble and fumble for effective responses to such questions, rainmakers have no such problem. Effective rainmakers know, specifically and precisely, exactly what they do and who benefits from their services and they are ready with powerful statements about their skills and talents.
You cannot be effective in developing your business unless you have mastered service knowledge. You need to know the features of your products or services so that you can tailor the benefits to the prospective customer's needs. Be sure you know the difference between features and benefits. If you're selling bar stools, a feature of the stool is that it has three legs. The benefit is that sitting on it will stop you hitting the floor. Remember: features tell, benefits sell.
Now, once you've identified the features and benefits of your product or service, develop a fifteen second commercial that you can trot out on cue whenever someone asks you, "So what do you do?". Most people are unprepared to answer a question like this effectively and so it is a golden opportunity to set yourself apart. Your fifteen second commercial will help you seize the moment and put your best foot forward. Use your fifteen second commercial to let each person you meet know exactly what you do and why you and your business are so special.
A fifteen second commercial for our web site optimization service might go something like this:
Prospect: "So, what do you do?"
You: "I run my own business, "Web Site Optimization". I tweak clients' web pages to optimize them for the various search engines. By creating a web page that appears in the first thirty search results for a particular search term, the client gets a huge increase in traffic to their web site and their sales go through the roof."
When should you use your fifteen second commercial? Each and every time you are introduced to someone new. Get in the habit of delivering your fifteen second commercial to as many people as possible. The more times you deliver it the more chances you have to create rain.
You also need to develop a uniqueness statement to respond to the question, "What's different about your service compared to your competition?". Use a three step format for your uniqueness statement. Step one is to briefly overview the three features and benefits that you will elaborate on in step two. Step two is to use three tailored features and benefits to explain your uniqueness to the potential customer. Select one about your business's services/ products, one about something your business has accomplished, and one about you personally. In step three, summarize what you've just told the prospect.
Here's an example of a uniqueness statement for our web site optimization service:
Prospect: "So what's different about your service compared to your competition?".
You: "I'm glad you asked. What's different about "Web Site Optimization" is the depth of our service, our results and our people.
"Unlike most of our competitors, we don't just create one web page for all of the search engines. Each search engine has different criteria for pages to rank well. We create a different version of each page specifically designed for each main search engine. For example, one of our clients' rankings on Alta Vista increased from the 75th position to 15th in less than a month. He's experienced a 500% increase in traffic and sales as a result. I have a background in software engineering for Yahoo so I have access to inside information about how the search engines work that most of my competitors just can't get.
"So, in answer to your question, what's different about us is the depth of our service, our results and the unique experience of our people."
It will take many rehearsals until you have your fifteen second commercial and uniqueness statement down cold. At first it will feel unnatural to you to give people a rehearsed speech but over time it will feel less awkward and you'll be able to deliver it with an ease and assurance that will sound perfectly natural.
"A network is an organized collection of your personal contacts and your personal contacts' own networks. Networking is finding fast whom you need to get what you need in any given situation and helping others do the same." Harvey Mackay
= Your Existing Network
Now that you know what to say, you have to find people to say it to. To establish your network, start with who you know. These are your existing personal and business contacts ... the people who will always take your call and who can help you reach your goals. Consider people such as your attorney, accountant, doctor, agents, sales people, family, colleagues, friends and vendors.
Schedule a meeting with who you know for the express purpose of exploring ways you can help each other expand your respective networks. If there's a fit, create ways to support each other. You are not looking to sell the other person on your product or service. Instead, you are establishing a genuine relationship with this person. It doesn't matter that although you may be able to help this person directly, he or she may never be in a position to reciprocate. The reason it doesn't matter is that this person has a network of his or her own and may therefore be able to put you in contact with someone else who can help you.
Noticing the strengths in others and communicating them is one of the greatest relationship-building skills a rainmaker can have. Much more than just paying idle, often shallow compliments, effective networkers focus on helping others focus on their strengths by using evidence to back what they're saying.
= Expanding Your Network
Now think about what you need to do to expand your network. Think about where you should go, what networking groups you should consider joining and how much time you have available to invest in networking. Ask people from your existing network where they go and what they do and start there. Also think about groups such as alumni clubs, industry associations and social clubs and well as your personal hobbies and interests.
Attend networking functions organized by these groups and when you're there, work the room. Enjoy yourself, shake hands firmly and smile. Show up early and leave late. If you go with a friend or colleague, split up. Play your 15 second commercial over and over again. Have a 45 second version ready too for those who are interested in learning more about your business. Spend two thirds of your time with people you don't know. Don't try and sell your services, focus on building rapport with the people you meet. Collect business cards and make notes on the back of them to jog your memory later when it comes to making further contact with the people you meet. Show genuine interest and get people to talk about themselves.
If you get anxious when meeting new people, arm yourself with a checklist of conversation starters such as industry challenges, trends impacting your business, and questions such as "What brings you to this event?" or "Tell me about the customers you like to do business with". End the conversation with "If there's ever anything I can do, please call" and exchange business cards.
TENDING YOUR GARDEN
As noted earlier, this is the part where most people drop out of the race. Therefore, it's the part where you can gain your greatest competitive advantage.
Failure to continuously follow through with people they meet is the number one reason most people never reach their full rainmaking potential. Many people attend functions, meet new people, collect business cards, file them in a Rolodex and wonder why nothing ever happens.
In order to succeed in your business, you must not only have a precise understanding of exactly what it is you are selling and to whom, you must also make a commitment to sell it over and over and over again, often to the same person! The average person has to hear a message seven times before they will remember it. Most sales are made after the fifth contact and only ten percent of people have the staying power to make the fifth call. That means that out of a group of 100 competitors, you're only competing against ten of them. The difference between you and the other ten will come down to the effectiveness of your system for maintaining contact with people who can refer you business.
Here's how to tend your garden:
= Follow Up the Initial Meeting
Following your networking activities, you will have in hand a stack of business cards from people you have met. What do you do with them other than filing them in your Rolodex? Write a short note to each person you met that you would like to develop a relationship with. This note should be handwritten, and go something like this:
Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed meeting you at last week's trade association mixer. I am particularly interested in your ideas for expanding into the export market. [See the importance of writing notes on the back of the card.] I have some thoughts of my own that may help you. I look forward to catching up with you again soon.
= Maintaining Contact
Then, about two weeks later, call Rosemary and suggest a lunch or breakfast meeting to explore ways the two of you could refer each other business.
Invite people you have met to attend social functions such as cocktail parties or other networking events.
Make it a point to make contact with every one of your contacts about every two months or so. This could take any number of forms, you need not always invite people to meet. Sometimes sending someone a clipping of an article of mutual interest or a cartoon that you think they will enjoy is all you will do. Other times, you may want to suggest lunch if you haven't seen the person for several months.
= Working Your Network
Over time, by following the above steps, you will develop a sizeable network and an organized way maintaining contact on a systematic basis will become essential.
Establish a system whereby you perform a set number of network development tasks a day, preferably at the same time of day. For example, you could set aside an hour first thing every morning to do your networking tasks. Let's say you have 200 contacts in your network and you want to make contact with each of these contacts at least once every two months. At this rate you will need to contact five people every day (200 contacts divided by 40 working days). All you have to do is make five phone calls between 9:00 am and 10:00 am and you're done. Or, you could make three phone calls, send one note enclosing a copy of the latest article you wrote for an industry publication and meet one person for breakfast or lunch.
Some days you will have both breakfast and lunch plans with someone from your contact list. Don't forget you can also kill two birds with one stone by inviting more than one person to lunch. Bring together people from your network who don't already know each other but who could help each other. Who knows who these people know that you haven't met yet?
You get the idea.
REAPING THE HARVEST
As you can hopefully see by now, the key is to keep in regular contact with your network on a consistent basis. Over time, these contacts will become a rich source of referral business for you and your business will grow in leaps and bounds as a result.
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Elena Fawkner is editor of A Home-Based Business Online ... practical home business ideas for the work-from-home entrepreneur. http://www.ahbbo.com/cgi-bin/mmp/sub.cgi?ahbbo=!FLM