Here’s the thing about running a business. You’re going to be wrong most of the time. My experience is that somewhere between 50-80% of the decisions you make won’t work out like you think they will. I don’t have scientific backing for that statement… but my experience working in and running businesses make me comfortable throwing it out there. Regardless of the numbers, you will constantly be surprised by what happens. What you thought was going to be brilliant will end up not being brilliant. Sometimes you’ll end up being dead wrong.
At first this may sound like a pessimistic statement. However, I find that the one thing successful business owners all learn is that you can’t eliminate that risk. You can only manage it. Starting a business is inherently risky. So the best you can do is to make the best decision you know how with the information you have at the time. The good news is that can be enough to keep your business successful.
The key is to stay focused and continue taking action. While taking any action is better than doing nothing, intentional action is your golden ticket. I see many businesses flailing around and trying anything that looks like it might bring in more customers. I know that feeling, I’ve experienced it first hand. The feeling that you don’t know what to do to get customers in the door can throw you into a panic state. That’s when anything can look like a life preserver.
It’s important to resist just trying anything though. One of the main reasons is that if you are not sure why you are doing what you’re doing, you will not be able to figure out how to replicate it if it works. You need to be able to track what you’re doing so you can evaluate what works and what doesn’t. If you try something and it works, you need to be able to do it again. That can help you gain back a feeling of control too. So you want to have a good reason for trying something new, even if it feels risky at first.
This is the concept behind A/B testing in on-line marketing. This is a common practice that entails creating two versions of a web page with some sort of call to action and tracking which works better. A common pattern is to send 50% of the visitors to page A and 50% of the visitors to page B. Then you track the traffic and see which page performs better. Then to refine performance even more the ‘winning’ page is then altered slightly and replaces the losing page in the test. If page B does better initially the original A page is dropped and a modified version of page A is then tested. In this manner web marketers can determine fairly quickly what colors, elements, wording and images get the best response.
You can do similar things in other aspects of your business. All it takes is some courage to try something different and a way to track results. Seth Godin often talks about the idea of risk in today’s business world. The idea that playing is safe is actually the most risky thing you can do hits this nail right on the head. You can try things. Innovate small parts of your process, or try communicating a different way with your clients. Then track the results and see what happens. If it creates a positive reaction do it some more. If it doesn’t then don’t. But either way track what happened. This will help you make decisions about what to do, and what might work, in the future. This also has the advantage of keeping you from trying too many things at once… which can prevent you from evaluating the results effectively.
Being wrong and taking risks are part of being an entrepreneur. So embrace those ideas. Make them work for you. Learn new skills that stretch your comfort zone and help you take new risks. Discover what other people are doing and try something that you think might work for you. Don’t just try anything… give it some thought. Ask yourself how it might affect your business before you jump, certainly. But don’t stop there. Embrace the risk and make it your friend. It just might enable you to find the four leaf clover that opens up your market like never before.
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When people talk about “networking” what do you think of?
Some images that come to mind might be an early morning breakfast, or a Chamber of Commerce luncheon where you chat a bit, eat a bit and introduce yourself. Maybe it’s an after work mixer for young professionals, where you grab a drink , some pretzels and introduce yourself. It could be a “speed dating” style event where everyone spends 10 minutes at a table before switching seats to introduce yourself to another table. It could even be a company meeting when people fly in from all the regions for training, motivation and you get to introduce yourself to your colleagues.
Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing if you are meeting people you are introducing yourself. We, as professionals, are constantly introducing ourselves. It is one of the most common activities on our schedule. Yet, how many of us really think about that process? How many of us really approach the introduction with intention?
Instead many of us just ‘wing it’ and say the first thing that pops into our head, or we use the old name, rank and serial number approach… “I’m Eric, I’m an accountant for Bigcorp”. Some of us may have prepared for our introduction by crafting a neat, clever, 45 second, elevator speech. “My name is Eric. I work for the leading solutions provider in North America, providing efficiency throughout the value chain and boosting our clients success to new heights. Our goal is to make your goals achievable.” Or something like that.
The more I talk to people, however, the more I realize how unprepared most of us are for this moment of introduction. Even those of us that do have an elevator speech. The more I watch professionals interact when they network the more I see that the introduction can be so much more than it often is.
Maybe this observation comes out of the fact that I have been floating in or around the entertainment business for 25+ years. Hollywood is a strange and wondrous place. Hollywood is all about telling a good story. This extends to the broadcast arm of the industry. I spent much of my career in radio, television and the Internet in all it’s glory. I am spoiled by good stories. Even the stories about the stories are interesting in the entertainment business.
When you meet a screenwriter, or a producer, you can bet they know exactly how they want to introduce the film they are working on. That story is foremost in their mind. Any chance they get to tell someone, “it’s a tale about Joe, a collection agent with a heart, who meets Juanita, a down on her luck single mother, and how they decide the only way to escape their dreary lives is to stow away on the first SpaceX shuttle to the moon.” And you will want to listen. You will listen because they know what their story is. They know why it’s important you find out how Juanita and Joe get to the moon… and how they get back once they discover 8 year old Billy and the family gerbil have stowed away too.
Your introduction is the opening act to your story. If you don’t catch someone’s attention when that curtain goes up, then you may find they sneak out to the lobby after the opening credits.
The introduction is one of the most important things you create as a professional. It has to be interesting. It has to tell someone what you do, and hopefully why you do it so well. It must be flexible. One script fits all doesn’t work in networking any more. You need to have a way to tell that story to the CEO of a technology company, as well as the owner of the local landscaping company. Either of them might be a valuable connection for your business or career. You must be able to introduce yourself at a BBQ, or at the opera. You must engage people you’ve known for years, as well as the woman you just met.
To do this you must spend time. Time thinking about the purpose of your introduction. Time thinking about the purpose of your business. Time trying different ways to talk about what you do. Asking yourself what makes you different, or why you get better results than others doing the same work.
Many of us think we don’t have the time to spend on this type of work. We think it will be fine just using the same old introduction we’ve always used. Time is certainly limited. The question, though, is what might happen if you don’t take the time to think about how you introduce yourself. What happens when you meet that perfect client… and your story doesn’t sound interesting to them. They just hear the parents from the Peanuts cartoons… Wah, Wah, Wah.
If you don’t engage people’s interest, if you don’t draw them into conversations, you could very easily find yourself on the dark side of the moon… with a lot more time to think than you want.
I’ve spent the last year and a half learning how to develop and deliver online training.
I’ve discovered some interesting things along the way. One of the most interesting to me is how badly designed most online training actually is. Even though most people don’t realize it.
So much training on the internet is just a screen capture video of somebody demonstrating something on their computer. Or somebody’s recording of their live lecture with a camera in the back of the room. The worst ones are terrible PowerPoint slides with voice overs reading bullet point after bullet point. Before you label me ‘elitist’, please don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of good information in most of those classes. I believe they truly mean well. They try to teach people effectively.
The problem is they miss something critical. The reason they missed the boat is because that’s not how people learn. People don’t learn by just listening. People don’t learn by just watching somebody demonstrate something. People learn by getting instructions and information, then doing something with it themselves. That’s the critical piece of learning that most online courses don’t provide. Studies show actively using something you learn immediately improves retention up to 70%.
What makes this even more detrimental is that there are people paying thousands and thousands of dollars every year to get this ineffective training. Essentially they get good information but they’re not retaining it. They’re not really learning how to do whatever it is the classes teaching.
This might piss a lot of online instructors off, however, I think it’s important that everybody understand what you are really getting when you buy online training. There’s a way to design curriculum so that you do learn the skills and retain them when the class is finished.
Unfortunately this way of training is not easy. It’s not always cheap. It requires lots of effort and planning and thinking about what the goals and objectives are of the training. But if it’s done properly online training can really expand people’s skills and knowledge. It can bridge the gap between those who have direct access to world-class training and the people who don’t. The Internet can be an equalizer.
So the next time you consider taking an online class ask yourself if you are being required to do use the knowledge while you learn. Are there activities, exercises or assignments to do? Something that will make this information stick in your brain. Sure, it will take longer and be more effort. But ask yourself, “what’s the value of this particular information if you don’t remember it next week?” Are you going to be able to figure out how to use it on your own or is this going to be just another adventure and learning something that you never use.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder… or does it?
Got 30 seconds? I’ll give you a tip to make your professional networking more productive.
When you network it’s important not to waste the opportunity to meet with them right away. Making the follow-up meeting immediately will help you to make valuable connections and keep your professional networking on track. Just a tip for your success.
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