Friday, July 27, 2007

I Love Purple Cow

Yes, I love Purple Cow. No, not the poem by Gelett Burgess, who should also be famous for his invention of the book-jacket blurb. Nor am I talking about the best-selling book by Seth Godin on how to make your business stand out in the marketplace.

Instead I'm talking about the Purple Cow Brainstorming Circle, a Philadelphia-area networking group led by Jen Antonio-Lim and Mimi Somsanith and inspired by Godin's book. Every month, the group meets at a local coffee shop to hold an Open Mic Nite, although no microphone is involved. The group splits into groups of ten or so, and people start sharing their ideas. Every one in the group gets 3 minutes to pitch their idea -- for a product, a company, a service, or some other worthwhile undertaking they have in mind. The group then provides feedback, comments, and suggestions on the idea.

Why do I like the Purple Cow for networking?

The format of the group breaks down the traditional "cocktail party" atmosphere of so many other networking groups. You are immediately working, sharing, and discussing things as a group. You are out of your comfort zone and interacting with new people, but doing it in a very friendly and collegial atmosphere.

Purple Cow is all about ideas, and people get charged up about ideas. Sometimes two or three people will share similar ideas, and suddenly they are making arrangements to get together later to collaborate. That's power networking.

You share your skills and experience. The opportunity comes not only when you share your idea but when you respond to other people's ideas. You might have a perspective on an idea that no one else might have thought of.

You find people who can help you. During your pitch, you get a chance to list the things you need to make your idea happen. You would be surprised at the wealth of help that is available to you at a Purple Cow session.

Do you need an idea to come to a Purple Cow Brainstorming Session? No, but it certainly helps.

I made the commitment to attend without an idea in mind, but then I had a middle-of-the-night inspiration about creating a directory of local Philadelphia networking groups. The response to my idea at my first meeting gave me the momentum to create the PHLnetworking wiki. My second Purple Cow session has connected me with people who are planning similar resource directories, so maybe something even larger and stronger will come from collaborating with them.

If you don't have a Purple Cow Brainstorming Circle in your area, start one up yourself!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Successful Networking Involves People, Ideas, and Goals

I had an epiphany recently.

Successful networking involves three things, working together: people, ideas, and goals.

People. Obviously, you can't network without connecting with people. Breakthroughs are a social act, after all. So talking to people is the absolute foundation of networking. But what do you talk to them about? Toll collectors talk to people all day long, but nobody would consider that networking. That's where ideas and goals come in.

Ideas. Ideas bring energy to your networking, and they bring a way to connect with people. A great idea will open doors for you. It transforms you from ordinary "Fred Jones who just wants to talk" to "Fred Jones who has an idea that could change the world and who is asking for guidance to make it happen." Well, maybe that's a little overblown, because the idea could be as simple as "I want to go back to school and become an Art teacher" or (even better) "I think a better way to teach Art would be to…" People love to hear about great ideas and they feel honored when you ask for their advice and guidance. The secret is passion. Come up with an idea you are passionate about, start talking to people about it and asking for their help to make it happen, and watch what happens.

Goals. Goals bring focus to your networking. Where do you want to go? What do you want to accomplish? Who do you need to know to do it? What do you need to know? Goals shouldn't be vague. "I want to have a job" is too vague to be useful. "I want to be head of Communications in a fast-growing high-tech firm in the Philadelphia area" is more to the point. You can tell whether or not your networking is moving you towards that goal. Goals and ideas are inter-related. Think of ideas as the key that will help open the door to achieving your goal. Well, that's not quite right, because a really great idea will transform your goals.

Well, my epiphany is obviously still in the formative stages. Is this a helpful way to think about networking?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Never Stop Networking

Todd Cohen, a consummate sales executive I met recently through my own networking efforts, talks in his blog about the importance of networking, not just for sales but for everyone.

If you are skilled and comfortable at developing and nurturing relationships in your personal life, then I think you should be able to apply those skills to successful networking.

Todd's site features an excellent guest column from Ford Myers, President of Career Potential. As a career consultant, Ford works with a lot of clients undergoing "career transitions" to help them overcome their fear of networking. 90% of his clients, says Ford, get their next job through their network of professional contacts. Networking is your most important career activity.

There are three points in Ford's article that resonated with me:

• Networking is about giving to the people you talk to, not taking
• The best networkers are good listeners
• Don't take rejection personally (Ford has a great acronym for it -- SWSWSWN!)

There is much more to Ford's column, so I invite you to read it or even sign up for his monthly newsletters.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Breakthroughs Are a Social Act

This was one of those "right messages at the right time" meetings. If I had heard Lisa Haneberg a month or so earlier, I would not have truly understood what she was saying. Since I was already having fun with networking, what she said went right to my heart in one of those "Aha!" moments.

Lisa was in Philadelphia on a tour to promote her new book, Two Weeks to a Breakthrough. Since Valeria Maltoni did such a fabulous job of summarizing Lisa's talk, I won't go into it here, but there are a few key points that really hit home for me:

Breakthroughs are a social act – They happen between people, not in the mind. You can have a fabulous idea, but if you don't tell anybody about it, it won't happen.

Little things make a big difference – Lisa makes reference to the butterfly effect, where a butterfly flapping its wings in China sets up a chain of events that causes a thunderstorm in Texas. You don't know which of your "butterfly flaps" is going to lead to bigger things, but if you keep taking small actions towards the achievement of your goal, you will be amazed at what happens.

Do something every day – Lisa has what she calls the Daily Practice: every day, tell two people about your goal, take two actions towards your goal, and make two requests that will help make your goal happen.

How has this helped me? For one, it is a real motivator. No matter what my mood, I force myself to tell two people a day about my goal, take two actions, and make two requests. Some of those "I don't feel like doing it but I have to" daily practices have led to my biggest breakthroughs so far. Second, it's given me the courage to ask people for some really outrageous and unreasonable things, and some of my requests have been granted.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Smart Ways to Use LinkedIn

Many of you have made the comment that you've set up a profile on LinkedIn but that you really haven't learned how to use it effectively. Scott Allen of the LinkedIntelligence blog has some fabulous ideas on how to use LinkedIn. I especially liked the entry on "LinkedIn and Your Job Search".

LinkedIn is a tremendous tool for professional networking. Just today, I used it to network my way into meeting with a key decision maker, just by seeing if one of my LinkedIn contacts knew someone in the company I wanted to learn about. The personal connection I was able to establish made it happen. So, I've been working on building my network of professional contacts on LinkedIn, and I encourage you do it, too. It's an investment.

More effective use of LinkedIn and other online networking tools will be one of the major sub-themes in the Fun with Networking blog. Of course, such online tools are best used as a supplement to real human conversations. So, pick up the phone and call someone today.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Start Networking Now (and Grow Your Career)

Welcome to the Fun With Networking blog. I've been thinking about starting this blog for weeks now, and all sorts of ideas for great blog posts have been bouncing around in my head. Now it's time for my first post, and I'm wondering where to begin.

Well, if professional networking has taught me anything, it is to simply begin – to make that first call, go to that first seminar, volunteer for that first activity.

Why am I writing about networking? Because I am networking myself. I am learning first hand about the importance of building my network of professional contacts, and I want to share what I've learned. I know it's tough to network, but I will tell you something I've learned: Networking is Fun.

Even for an introvert like me, it can be fun. There are definite benefits to being plugged into a large social network. I'm among the first to learn about new trends, products, and ideas. I've been invited to exclusive events to hobnob with Royalty. I've met people who know several of my closest friends, yet I had never met them. Even more importantly, I've become a connecting point. I bring people together when I see they have common interests, and people seek me out because I have connections.

On one level, I start this blog to share my own personal career search with my friends, colleagues, and professional contacts. On another level, this blog is intended to help others who are doing their own professional networking find the knowledge, tools, resources, and courage to do it successfully.

There are all sorts of books, seminars, websites, and networking groups that you can read, attend, use, and join. Some of those will be covered here in this blog. None of that is as important to your ultimate success as making that first call. And then making the second one...