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I’m taking a 12-week class called The Certified Networker, a program of The Referral Institute. Each week a small group of students – mostly solopreneurs like myself – meet in Ithaca to learn how to build our businesses by referral. I’m in the process of identifying my network (or ‘contact sphere’ of people who can help me with information, support, and referrals – and vice-versa); investing time to develop individual relationships that strengthen this network; working my network to generate referrals; and eventually, soon – although it hasn’t happened yet – turning those referrals into clients.

I’m spending more time than I ever did before, getting to know people better through ‘one-to-ones’. This might be the core benefit the program holds for me, since I am chronically afflicted with feelings of isolation (have an hour and a therapist’s couch? We can talk more about it). A recovering introvert, I’ve been wanting to pull myself out of the isolation for some time now, with half-baked notions of project collaborations with other creative professionals, but did not, until now, have a structured plan and rationale to do so.

What do I spend all that time talking about with my potential partners in these 60-minute ‘one-to-ones’? I’m still learning about it – and have yet to put it into practice – but in order to generate effective referrals, my contact sphere needs to know a whole lot about me and my business. And I need to know the same about them.

Our homework last week was to develop a GAINS profile (an acronym for Goals, Accomplishments, Interests, Networks, Skills) I can give to the people on my list – the people I’ve identified as being strong potential referral partners – so we can share our personal, networking, and business goals.

My first effort read more like a curriculum vitae, but I’ve since made it more succinct. You can download it here: GAINS_JuliaReich.

Go ahead – download & read it. In my GAINS profile, you’ll probably learn more about me than you might have in a typical conversation or networking event. For instance, now you know that one of my goals this year is to get to NYC more often. If we were in a one-to-one, and you asked me why, that would give me the opportunity to let you know that I miss the city, and the relationships I developed there over 15 years. My intention this year is to re-commit to maintaining those relationships. I’d love to find a situation where I can land a retainer client or contract gig that gives me an excuse to get there every few weeks.

You might also not know that some of my accomplishments include: winning the 2009 Cayuga County Small Business of the Year award; having my design work featured in several books; writing a monthly food column for a local newspaper in 2008; and counting swing dancing and Settlers of Catan (a German board game) as two of my interests.

Why go into so much depth? What goes around comes around. If I help people achieve something important to them, they will remember me, and want to help me, too. And they will be more likely to share their information with me if I share mine with them. I’m learning a new, deeper way of communicating who I am and what I do, and my referral partners are being trained to employ the same strategies and language.

It makes so much sense, don’t you think? Stay tuned while I go out over the next several weeks and try this stuff in real life. I’ll be writing about the results.

Expanding Your Consultancy

I’m a member of a creative design business-focused discussion group, where every other week I join a moderated phone call with other ’solopreneur’ design firm owners. Together, under the tutelage of Ilise Benun of Marketing Mentor, we work on our business challenges.

On a recent call we had the pleasure of welcoming super-polished and inspiring guest Heathere Evans-Keenan of Keenan PR, which provides integrated marketing/media relations services. We invited Heathere to join us to discuss the notion of running a virtual agency, whereby teams of high-level talent are custom-assembled for each client and project, teams that may be geographically remote from the team leader, the client, and each other – and how to unabashedly and eloquently introduce and explain the clear benefits of this concept to our clients, prospects, and referral partners.

The topic originally arose because all of us in the MM group recognize the need to grow our agencies beyond ourselves, but do not want – for a myriad of reasons – to run a traditional brick-and-mortar agency with employees, workstations, and all that this entails. What is the next step once we have too much work to do ourselves? Heathere coached us to:

1. Identify our services range and where we want to grow. Beyond graphic design, this can include social media, web & software development, brand strategy, full-service marketing, public & media relations, and more.

2. Identify our preferred partners/subcontractors within that list of new offerings.
How do we find good people? She suggests we strive to keep our network alive – these are people we know or once knew, and people we meet. Surround ourselves with those we know and trust. Keep tabs on good people we knew from the past. For instance, I just recently became re-connected with a woman I worked with years ago on a website project, an excellent new media consultant. This took place through LinkedIn, when she saw and responded to a tweet I posted on Twitter – since my tweets get funneled to LI as ‘updates’. Social media makes this easier than ever before.

But what if we need a person in a field of expertise we are not that familiar with? This is riskier. Heathere advises we reach out to local and national networking/membership groups, like the PR Society of America, the PR equivalent of our professional organization, American Institute of Graphic Arts. Top contributors in any field are members of these kinds of professional groups. A lot of the effort is just talking with people – but we’ll find that word gets around.

3. Position our firms.
Define ourselves. Proudly and unapologetically use the term “virtual firm” (or as they say at thebauhub.com, a variation on the creative agency model, “Your global collective of senior creative minds”). The benefits are manifold:
Senior level talent. Each person has at least 10 years experience.
Flexibility. To organize a top level team and do it quickly; and to change the team from project to project.
Personalized service. One of my clients told me recently that the large branding firm they’ve been working with for several years sent their top execs to the first few meetings, but after that, meetings and phone calls were run by staff members who did not seem to be familiar with the client or the project. With the virtual agency model, there is no bait & switch from a senior team member to a junior-level person once the project is awarded. The team on the original call is the team you work with for the duration.
Value. Virtual agency rates are more reasonable and competitive as compared to medium and big and firms.

Some clients will always be more comfortable working with a firm in the conventional model of a Landor or Edelman. Let them go. A client who ‘gets’ the benefits of a virtual agency model is a client we want.

Since we’re all now thinking about how this translates into day-to-day details, Heathere shared a few tips on logistical details. At Keenan PR:
• each team member operates as part of the brand name of the firm
• they have their own phone number, but get a Keenan PR email address
• team members are 1099s subcontractors
• team members have a partner agreement, with a noncompete clause
• they utilize free or cheap online services that facilitate working within a virtual community, like dropbox.com, a free-portal for large file sharing; or efax.com, where faxes get sent to your email in-box

Her final suggestion: read The Distance Manager: A Hands On Guide to Managing Off-Site Employees and Virtual Teams

What is your experience running a traditional firm or a virtual one? Or are you on the client side, and want to share the pros and cons of working with one or the other?

The first-ever IGNITE event took place in Ithaca this past tax day, April 15, 2010. Dozens of people, including entrepreneurs, technologists, DIYers, creative professionals, grad students, and other brainiacs gathered at Pixel Lounge in Collegetown to view fourteen presenters, who had just five minutes to convey their ideas, using 20 slides that automatically advanced every 15 seconds.

The IGNITE network is a global one – “a force for raising the collective IQ and building connections. And, via streaming and archived videos of local talks, local Ignites share all that knowledge and passion with the world.”

I was one of the presenters, with a talk entitled “Sacred Cows: Anatomy of a Recycled Logo Project”, a narrative of my experience working with a farm client, who hired Julia Reich Design to design their new organic yogurt cup packaging.

Other illuminating talks included:

Dave Cameron – ”Sandwiches: Food of the Geeks”

Ed Cormany – “Why Nobody Ever Taught You How To Write Good (and what you can do about it)”

Bob Picone – “Childhood Dreams: Why They Are Important”

Matteo Wyllyamz – “How to Forget You’re a Human Being”

Tom Mansell – “Think While You Drink: Appreciating the Science of Wine”

Soon, video of the event will be posted online so everyone can see the presentations. I’ll update this post to include that link. Until then…learn more:

About Ignite, the global movement

Ignite Ithaca on Facebook

Ignite Ithaca website

List of presenters (including your truly)

Follow on Twitter (or search #igniteith)

Flikr photo page of the event

Before the event: article in the Ithaca Journal, April 9, 2010

After the event: article in the Ithaca Journal, April 16 2010 (including mention of my talk, the branding of organic yogurt)

Hackers and Sharers and Tweetups and Mittens

I wanted to call this post ‘Rut Removal’ (but as every blogger knows, opaque or clever titles get you nowhere in the blogosphere) – because along with the cold dark days and nights here in central NY comes the familiar winter cabin fever and accompanying professional rut. Happily, I had the good fortune this month to enjoy a fabulous get-away to far-flung Ecuador. I’ll save the photos and travel recos for a Facebook update; suffice to say, getting out into unfamiliar territory, being exposed to fresh visuals and culture was just the kick in the pants I needed.

I vow to keep it up. My business new years resolution is to get out more and attend more events. Spend more time in New York City, which I miss greatly. Meet people, learn, grow, invigorate, and bring it all back to my design studio to enervate my design work and my business practices.

So far on my list of conferences and events is the HOW Design Conference, in Denver in June, the Creative Freelancers Conference, also offered by HOW; the BRITE Conference at Columbia U (Branding, Innovation & Technology – I went last year and it was great); the Go Green Expo at the Javits Center in NYC in March; and in the immediate near future, the Empire State Tourism Conference in Albany next week. The only one I’m definitely committed to at this point is BRITE, but the others are on my calendar and I plan to decide soon.

Obviously my choices are based not only on my industry (graphic design & branding), but also the sectors I specialize in: food, wine, tourism, sustainability/green.

What events will you be attending this year? Have you attended events in the past that you loved and want to recommend? I’d love to hear from you.

One additional thought: my *other* New Years resolution – by the way – is to reinvigorate my blog by writing more, and more consistently. So on that note, see you back here soon!

(*this entry was originally a guest blog post I wrote on the Marketing Mix Blog last April; this new version below has been expanded upon)

I used to go to this one diner every day for lunch. This was back when I lived in the city. One time, after my meal, I went up to the cashier to pay, and the lady at the register started laughing at me. Was there food stuck in my teeth? Was I having a bad hair day? I followed her gaze down to the counter at my book that I had brought with me to lunch: Keith Ferazzi’s Never Eat Alone. BUSTED. The irony was lost neither on me or the cashier, as I was, of course, eating alone.

The book’s full title is Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. It’s about using the power of networking to build relationships and community with colleagues, contacts, friends & mentors.

Each of 31 short chapters highlights a specific networking technique or concept.

In one of the chapters, he advises readers to “Be A Conference Commando.”

Last March I went to the BRITE conference—Branding, Innovation, and Technology—sponsored by Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership. What would Keith think –  was I a Conference Commando?

Let’s find out. (So far, I’m doing pretty poorly on the Keith Ferazzi scale, based on the fact that I almost always eat lunch alone.)

I went to BRITE for two main reasons:

-in 2007 I moved out of NYC to rural central New York state so I needed some mental stimulation, exposure to new ideas, and a good write-off-able excuse to hang out in the city for a few days.

-At the time I was in a program with a group of other creative professionals, following something called the Grow Your Business Marketing Plan + Calendar and felt attending this conference would be an excellent networking component to my marketing checklist—along with all the other strategies we’d been learning about: research calls, crafting an online bio, blog creation/posting, etc.

Ferazzi suggests that conferences are not actually for gaining information and insight, but instead are opportunities to develop relationships. And in order to do this, you must be pro-active, not passive.

How does he do this? He researches the attendee list to make plans in advance for who he wants to rub shoulders with. But who do you think is more even more important to know about than the attendees? The speakers and presenters – the VIPs. He volunteers to help on the conference planning committee in order to have access to the Speaker list. Then what does he do with that? He’ll co-opt some planned boring evening cocktail event and throw his own dinner for the VIPs. He’ll plan the dinner in advance and send out invitations personally to them.

………….

While I was at the BRITE conference. I attended various addresses, breakout sessions, and a fantastic keynote given by Seth Godin, the social media and marketing guru and author of 10 books, including Purple Cow, the bestselling marketing book of the decade.

I gained a better understanding of such current catchphrases as ‘crowdsourcing’ (the average person can be tapped, via the internet, to help companies with solutions to their problems) and ‘tribes’ (leading a movement is the most effective way to spread your ideas); was able to hone my Twitter skills on my iPod Touch (in fact, unlike most other public gatherings, this audience was actually encouraged to dialogue with their devices while the talks were taking place, and after each speaker, the MC would field “tweeted” questions); and was exposed to compelling new technologies—my favorite of which is prezi.com, zooming presentation software.

However, according to Keith’s standards, as a conference attendee, I failed. (Well, maybe a D+).

Did I sign up to volunteer at the conference in order to gain access to its inner workings? No.

Did I research the VIPs beforehand and set up opportunities to hobnob with the ones I wanted most to meet in person?

Uh, no.

Much like some of you, I did not even really set goals for myself, other than that I would go, meet people, and learn a few things.

However, upon returning home, I did follow up with each of the people I met (one of Ferazzi’s tips), with an email that read:
Hi LaTeisha,

Nice to have met you at BRITE. What did you think of the conference?

Although there were some speakers that I felt were better than others, I really enjoyed the conference and came away with some new ideas and a better awareness of what’s currently going in the branding world. I run a small design and branding firm in central NY, and most of my clients are nonprofits and small companies, not these huge global brands. My challenge will be to take what I’ve learned and see how I can apply it to the work I do in this sector.

What are you working on these days? Have any challenges or questions I can possibly help you with?

Finally – would you be interested in receiving my email newsletter? Very occasionally I send out a short e-blast with news from the studio and marketing tips.

All Best,
Julia

This follow-up resulted in a few nice email conversations and a way to grow my e-newsletter readership.

The conference was short (1.5 days), small, and well-organized. Being an introvert (OK, a recovering introvert), I often feel drained by longer conferences. I left BRITE, however, feeling I had sufficiently established a few connections with people I did not know, and was appreciative of the insight I gained into the current branding and technology world.

So in these regards, my goals were met. Maybe not on the Ferazzi level, but I felt satisfied.

………….

Let’s go over some other, slightly more superficial Conference Commando tips. These are my own (not Keith’s).

1. Dress the part.

a. Attending a conference is business. Even though you may be out of the office, that’s not an excuse to look sloppy. Wear business-appropriate clothes.

For the BRITE conference, I figured attendees, being in the technology, marketing and branding worlds, would probably look sharp, and I was right. I made sure I did too, and I fortunately fit right in.

(As a side note, I did notice many of the men had a kind of “uniform” – jackets, jeans, and nice shoes. Sometimes jackets, jeans, nice shoes and TIES. Nice jeans – dress-up jeans.)

b. add something unusual to your outfit, like a necklace or funky tie. In my field, as a creative professional, I have a little more leeway here, but still, you can try it, as long as you don’t look like Carmen Miranda or anything. It will help you stand out from the crowd, give people something to break the ice with as they comment on your unique addition, and help you be memorable after you’ve met (“oh yeah, I remember her, she was the one with the light-up pin”)

2. Shaking hands

When you meet someone and shake hands, grasp firmly, not wimpily. Women are the worst offenders here. Practice in advance if you have to. Look the person in the eye, and smile.

Nametags: You may also want to say hello and use their real name, but not if you can’t find their nametag or its obscured. You will probably be shaking with your right hand, and so will they. Where do you think is a good place to put your nametag?

…………

Keep in mind that we all can’t be great charismatic networkers on the level of, say, a Bill Clinton. But I do hope this helps motivate some of you to attend a conference more ‘actively’ , less passively, and to think more about how to create relationships when you do go.

I don’t feel too bad that I may not have earned a Keith Ferazzi Conference Commando merit badge. I did some things right, and through the book Never Eat Alone, I am now aware of further strategies that I can work into my repertoire for next time.

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