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Today’s Career Challenge: Start Networking Like a Pro

Today’s Career Challenge: Start Networking Like a Pro

You can’t afford to build a career in a vacuum. Even the most independent professionals still need colleagues, clients, mentors, and friends. You can settle with the network you already have, but meeting new people has its benefits. The more people you meet, the more opportunities you have to learn new things, take on new challenges, and exchange interesting ideas. With a broader network, you can even get better business opportunities. If networking has all these benefits, why aren’t more people doing it?

One problem with networking is that it is a broad, ongoing activity. It seems like a daunting task. This is why most people just give up and wait around for the “right people” to come to them. But what are the odds of that happening without any effort on your part? This is why you need to set up a system to make networking easier. Your challenge within the next 24 hours is to set up that system. Why a 24-hour challenge? So that you can take action now and get results as soon as possible.

With that said, let’s get started.

1) Set up a tool to capture and manage your contacts. Estimated task time: 15 to 30 minutes.

The first thing you should do is to pick the right tool. You’ll need something that will allow you to input, gather, and analyze information in each potential contact’s profile. While you can fiddle around with a spreadsheet or a database for hours, this solution isn’t ideal. Setup should be easy so that you have no room for excuses or procrastination. The quickest way is to use an online form management apps, since it takes less than half an hour to set up an account and get your forms ready. There are many options out there, such as the popular Survey Monkey or Survey Gizmo, but personally I use PandaForm which has more features available to free users so we’ll be using that in the example.

You will be creating a “Potential Contact Questionnaire”. It’s a simple form where you can input details about each person you want to meet, including how you plan to introduce yourself and other relevant information that can make the introduction easier. Here are the fields you may need for your form, with the suggested field types in parentheses:

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    Contact information. Of course, you should start off by creating text fields for basic contact information such as the person’s name, email, and phone number. Don’t worry if, when filling up the form later, you realize that you can’t find the email addresses or phone numbers of your potential contacts. You can add an extra text field for “contact page link” instead if there’s a contact page on the person’s website. Don’t forget to add other fields like “Company” or “Mailing Address”, especially if you want to send notes or greeting cards via snail mail.

    Tip: When using PandaForm, you need to make sure that email notifications are off so that when you input a contact’s email, they won’t receive a message by mistake. You can do this by clicking “Save” at the bottom, then clicking on “Settings”, then the “Notification” tab. Finally, click the “Off” button under “Send Confirmation Email”. See the screenshot below for an example:

      Primary website (single line text). Almost everyone has their own website or blog today, so it’s important that you know this. Apart from being a means of contact, their website can be a way for you to find ways to initiate contact.

      List of other relevant links such as a additional websites or blogs (paragraph text). If your potential contact has more than one site, you can type them up here, one URL per line – after you’ve built your form, of course.

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      Additional reference links (paragraph text). These may include any relevant interviews, articles, and other resources that can help you learn more about the person.

      Individual text fields for links to their social media profiles. You can add individual text fields for links to each of their social media profiles. In this example I only used one field for LinkedIn and another for Twitter, but you can add additional fields for Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media services you use.

      Answers to “Why do I want to meet this person?” or “I hope this person will be my…”. List all the possible reasons you have for wanting to meet this person. Some options may include having them as your mentor, collaborator, contractor, or even just a friend to bounce ideas with. Since you can have more than one option per person, the best way to input this data is via checkboxes (see below)

        A paragraph field for “How can I help this person?” Networking isn’t primarily about what other people can do for you, it’s about what you can do for them. By looking over a potential contact’s list of websites, blogs, social media profiles, and related links, you’re sure to find at least one way you can help them.

        A paragraph field for your notes. You may need to jot down a few bullet points about the person you’re contacting. Include any “dealbreakers” that may turn off your potential contact. Some people may not like generic or template emails, extremely long emails, or unsolicited phone calls. They may also be vocal about the things they appreciate, such as courtesy or correspondence that gets straight to the point. If they mention any of these things, include them in your notes. Tip: An alternative for PandaForm users is to use the “Comments” text box that appears when you’re editing individual entries.

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        Create additional fields depending on your needs. You can create a few more fields and customize the form to suit your situation. For example, a simple text field for “Friend in common” allows you to write the name of a friend, relative, or other acquaintance that you and your potential contact have in common. You can also create an additional field for the date you’re planning on contacting them or even a draft of the first e-mail or phone call you want to make. Add as many fields as you need, but don’t overdo it.

        Once you’ve finished your form, you can publish it. Then, bookmark a link to the published form on your browser for easy access whenever you think of a new potential contact. Click here to see what your published form may look like. Of course, it all depends on what fields you end up using.

        2) Make a list of 5 to 8 people you’d like to meet. Estimated task time: 5 minutes.

        Now comes the easy part – listing the people you want to contact. We all keep track of people we wish we knew, even if it’s just in our heads. Listing their names and basic contact information is a concrete step towards meeting these people in reality. You can write the list down in a sheet of paper or, better yet, open up your form and start creating an entry for each person – even if it’s just their names. The key to this task is just to start with your shortlist of potential contacts. You can fill up the rest of the questionnaire after you’ve listed at least 5 people.

        3) Fill up your questionnaire for each person on your list. Estimated task time: 10 to 15 minutes per contact.

        If you already used your form to list your potential contacts by name, edit the entries internally so you can complete the rest of the questionnaire for each contact. In PandaForm, you can do this by going to the “Forms” page and clicking on the form name. You’ll be taken to the records section where you can see all the data you already typed in when listing your contacts (see below).

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          Fill up the more difficult fields such as their contact information, list of websites, and anything else you haven’t filled up yet. When filling up the entry for “How can I help this person?”, make your answer as concrete as possible. Instead of writing something like “help them improve website”, write “send a quick email about the typographical errors you found on the homepage”. Having a concrete, action-oriented answer can make initiating contact easier.

          4) Contact one person on your list today. Estimated task time: 10 to 15 minutes.

          Now, go over the data you’ve gathered. In PandaForm, do this by clicking the name of the form in the Forms page and you’ll be directed to the list of records you’ve entered into your questionnaire. Choose a person from your list, open the record you’ve created about them, and start contacting them using what you already know. This is where your answer to “How can I help this person?” really comes in handy. It can be a great way to introduce yourself and provide value to the person you want to meet.

          When completed, the time investment you spent on creating this system may only take 40 to 60 minutes. The rewards you get, however, will be reaped for a long time. Once you’ve created your questionnaire and get into the habit of filling it up every now and then, all you need to do is choose one of the people on your list and start contacting them.

          Take on today’s challenge and start networking. You’ve only got today to make this happen – otherwise, you risk forgetting about it altogether. If you like my workflow, implement it with PandaForm and share your progress in the comments.

           

          More by this author

          Leon Ho

          Founder of Lifehack

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          1 9 Essential Tips for Starting Your Own Business 2 Do What You Love and Love What You Do to Achieve More 3 12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job 4 10 Key Elements of Effective Meetings to Avoid Wasting Time 5 Pick Your Job Based On What You Love To Do, Not How Much You Have Invested In.

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          Published on September 28, 2020

          9 Essential Tips for Starting Your Own Business

          9 Essential Tips for Starting Your Own Business

          Starting your own business is the dream of every would-be entrepreneur. While it is a huge undertaking, the rewards of owning a business have proven to be worth it for millions of people all over the world. In this article, we will talk specifically about how to start your own business and how to make it successful.

          We have all heard the statistics about the high failure rate of new businesses:[1]

          • Roughly 20% of small businesses fail within the first year.
          • Roughly 33% of small businesses fail within two years.
          • Roughly 50%of small businesses fail within five years.
          • Roughly 66% of small businesses fail within 10 years.

          As these numbers suggest, starting a business and having a successful business are two vastly different things. Knowing how to start your own business the right way can mean the difference between long term success and failure.

          There is an old saying that people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. There is a lot of truth to this. Starting a business is more than just coming up with a good idea and jumping in. You need to have a plan for success, and that means you have to know how to set and achieve goals.

          From the time you get that (Eureka!) moment up until you open the doors, every decision you make will impact the business. So, it is important that you carefully evaluate every aspect of your business.

          1. Evaluate Yourself

          The cold hard truth is that good business ideas are a dime a dozen. Realistically, the chances of your idea being so unique as to be revolutionary are slim to none.

          This does not mean that you should abandon it. It just means that you will need to do more than just bring it to the market. The phrase “If you build it, they will come” works better in movies than real life.

          Be Honest – Doing honest self-evaluations are notoriously difficult. Humans just are not particularly good at accurately evaluating themselves.

          Here is a quick little experiment you can do with any group of 10 or more people. Ask them to hold up a hand if they know how to drive a car, virtually 100% of hands go up. Then, ask them to keep their hand up if they are better than average drivers. 90-95% of hands stay up.

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          So, what does this tell us?

          Because it is statistically impossible that everyone is “above average”, it illustrates the phenomenon called the “Dunning-Kruger Effect,” which is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills”.[2]

          Because of this Dunning-Kruger Effect, it can be helpful to consult others about what they see as our strengths and weaknesses. Just assure the person that you are interested in their actual opinion and you won’t be hurt or offended if they give it to you.

          Some of the things you will want to include in your self-evaluation:

          • Are you a self-starter? Unlike being an employee, there will be no one standing over your shoulder telling you what to do or when to go to work. If you are someone who requires a lot of structure, starting your own business may not be the best option.
          • How organized are you? Planning and organizational skills are important, especially in the early stages of launching a business. Entrepreneurs that “fly by the seat of their pants” rarely succeed.
          • How do you handle risk and failure? The fact of the matter is, going into business is a risky proposition. Success is never guaranteed. Smart business people take calculated risks, but they are still risks. If you are someone for whom the thought of failure or losing money would be devastating, entrepreneurship is probably not for you.
          • How well do you get along with people? How are your communication skills? Most of us consider ourselves “people persons”, but business owners take communication to an entirely new level. When starting out, the business owner is a jack of all trades. You need to be able to interact with clients, business partners, industry partners, suppliers, staff, accountants, lawyers, regulators, and a host of others both accurately and decisively.
          • How disciplined are you? Resilience and perseverance are two of the biggest factors that will determine your success. As we stated earlier, mistakes will be made and some of them will be costly. You need to have enough resilience and perseverance to continue getting up after being knocked down. The only sure way to fail is to give up.

          If you are satisfied that you have what it takes to become an entrepreneur, it’s time to move on to the next step.

          2. Evaluate Your Business Idea

          Again, being able to honestly evaluate your own business idea is key. However, this step is generally not as hard as the self-evaluation because the criteria used in the evaluation process is more objective than subjective.

          Identify your target market – Who are the people that will be buying your product or service? For this step, it’s important to alter your mindset. Instead of thinking like a seller, start thinking like a customer.

          Can you articulate answers to the following questions?

          • What is the problem addressed by your product or service?
          • How does your product or service solve that problem?
          • Why is your solution better than the competitions’?
          • Are people willing to spend money on a solution to the problem?

          You will also want to gather as much information about the people in your target market as possible. At the bare minimum, you will want to know the following about your potential clientele:

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          • Age
          • Location
          • Income
          • Gender
          • Occupation
          • Education
          • Marital Status
          • Ethnicity
          • Number of Children

          All of this information will help tweak your product or service to better suit their needs. It is also helpful in developing a marketing strategy.

          3. Evaluate the Competition

          Generally, you can divide your competitors into three categories:

          • Direct competition – These are companies that offer the same products or services to the same target market as your business. You can think of Burger King and McDonald’s as direct competitors.
          • Indirect competition – These businesses will offer products and services that are similar to the ones you provide without being the same. Another type of indirect competitor can be one that markets the same product or service, just to a different clientele or market segment. Subway and McDonald’s would be indirect competitors.
          • Substitute competition – These are businesses that offer different products or services to the same clientele in the same market segment as you. An example of substitute competition for McDonald’s would be the local mom and pop diner.

          Once you have identified exactly who your competitors are, you will want to gather the following information:

          • What is the range of products and services they offer?
          • Are they expanding or scaling down their business?
          • How long have they been in business?
          • What do customers see as their positive/negative attributes?
          • Can you identify any competitive advantage they have?
          • What is their pricing strategy?
          • What is their advertising/marketing strategy?

          The purpose of the analysis is to identify your competition’s strengths and weaknesses to better compete.

          For example, if your competitors sell largely to companies with more than 100 employees. You may decide to target smaller companies with less than 100 employees. This means that your pricing and marketing strategies will need to be more in line with what the smaller companies expect and can afford.

          4. Evaluate the Financial Feasibility of the Business

          In developing a financial feasibility analysis, you need to have answers to the following questions:

          • What will it cost to get your business off the ground and become profitable?
          • What initial expenses will you have?
          • What ongoing expenses will you have?
          • What is the source of your start-up capital?
          • What is the earning potential of the business, and how long will it take to achieve?
          • How will you keep the business open and pay your bills until it becomes profitable?

          Once you have this information in hand, you will need to build in an extra “cushion” for all of the extra “surprise” expenses that pop up. Additionally, most people are overly optimistic when it comes to estimating the profitability of the business and the time frame needed to achieve it.

          How much of a cushion do you need? No one can say for sure. Some people will tell you to double or even triple your estimates. At a bare minimum, you should add 50% to the estimates you made.

          It can be disheartening to learn that your business idea really is not financially feasible, but it’s much better to make that discovery now rather than after the money is spent.

          5. Have a Professional Business Plan

          If you haven’t done so already, get yourself a professional business plan. When I say “professional,” I don’t mean that you need to go out and hire someone to do it. I mean that you need to know what a professional business plan looks like and take it seriously.

          Too often, new entrepreneurs neglect to create a business plan in favor of flying by the seat of their pants. This is not a good strategy. Without a plan, you won’t know where you are headed.

          “It can seem a daunting task when you’ve never been faced with writing a business plan before, but it’s a crucial task which will enable your venture to start and continue on a solid foundation. A business plan is also necessary when you’re looking to secure funding or investment. Essentially, a business plan is your vision for how the business will run, what you expect to achieve, and how you will achieve those things.”

          -Mike Gingerich[3]

          6. Use Common Sense Money Principles

          Successful start-ups keep a tight rein on expenses. As an owner, you should know exactly where every penny is spent. In all businesses, expenses tend to go up over time. But in the initial stages, you can count on having more expenses than income.

          In the earliest stage of being a startup owner, you will deal with an array of challenges. You have to familiarize yourself with the selected business landscape and look for options to expand the business venture while saving the operating costs.

          During this time-frame, trimming the operating costs is not optional; defacto is a matter of life and death for your startup. You can’t keep moving in a specific direction. It is mandatory to drift your business towards one goal with smart planning.

          7. Start With a Narrow Focus

          All too often, I see new business owners get into trouble by overreaching their goals. What happens is that people take on work outside their expertise.

          For example, a website designer will take on a client who wants SEO optimization in addition to the design

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          Assuming that the web designer is not an expert in SEO, there are several potential problems with this scenario:

          • Pricing – Without knowing or understanding the scope of SEO that’s involved, the chances of underestimating and losing money on the project go way up.
          • Quality – They may be the greatest web designer on earth, but that’s still only half of the job. Clients rightly expect the entire project to be done right.
          • Reputation – There is no second chance for a first impression. These first projects need to be done well if you want any chance of referral business. They will also determine if your first few clients become repeat customers or not.

          Remember, Amazon started out just selling books. They slowly expanded their business until you can now get virtually anything on their site.

          Be like Amazon. Start with a narrow focus and expand from there.

          8. Search Out and Use Specific Resources

          There are a lot of free resources out there that every new business owner should take advantage of. They are a great source of information, help, and most importantly, networking opportunities. Some of these resources are general, while others are targeted to specific types of entrepreneurs. Both are worth checking out.

          Here’s a partial list of resources:

          • The Chamber of Commerce – Their slogan is, “Designed for business owners, CO—is a site that connects like minds and delivers actionable insights for next-level growth.”
          • U.S. Small Business Association – They offer free business consulting services, SBA guaranteed business loans, certification for federal government contracting, and more.
          • Women’s Business Club – It is specifically for women to network and exchange ideas, but it also useful if you are marketing specifically to women.
          • BLACK ENTERPRISE – Similar to the Women’s Business Club, Black Enterprise is designed specifically for African American entrepreneurs. They bill themselves as, “The premier business, investing, and wealth-building resource for African Americans. Since 1970.”
          • Hispanic Small Business Resource GuideThis guide is filled with resources and networking opportunities for the Hispanic entrepreneur.

          9. Just Do It!

          Okay, I borrowed the phrase from Nike, but it’s good advice. It not only means taking concrete steps to start your business but also to get out of your own way.

          A lot of entrepreneurs (and regular people) are afflicted by a condition called analysis paralysis. It is when someone overthinks about a decision too much that a choice never gets made, resulting in inaction.

          If you are a perfectionist, you need to be especially careful of analysis paralysis. Perfectionists tend to wait until everything is perfect before launching their business, and many never get off the runway.

          Final Thoughts

          Accept that you will make mistakes, that you won’t make the right call all of the time, and that unforeseen obstacles will always pop up.

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          If you are truly committed to the entrepreneurial lifestyle and your business, then take the plunge. The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to build a business that changes lives.

          More Tips on How to Start Your Own Business

          Featured photo credit: DISRUPTIVO via unsplash.com

          Reference

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