30 000, 150, 6 and 3 are all important numbers to be aware of when it comes to building relationships.
Read on to find out…
Who’s in your circle?
If you’re running your own microbiz you’ll be familiar with the need to ‘Network’.
For some people this comes naturally and easily. For others finding the balance between useful self promotion, building meaningful relationships, and frankly, irritating people seems just impossible.
In a small business, you are your reputation. It means your personal relationships are crucial because they are your personal brand.
But remember that relationships are transactional. So don’t just focus on selling yourself, spend time too learning from your contacts.
People like people that are like themselves, and the best way of demonstrating that is by spending time getting to know them. I found one of the most productive ways of getting work is to spend time researching people or organization that I would like to work with, to be sure that when I approach them I am sure that what I have to offer will genuinely interest them and be useful to them.
It all comes down to numbers (or does it?)…
Don’t be deceived by the siren calls of the ‘twitter times’. Chasing numbers on social / business networking sites can be useful, but not always that productive. Be careful that you use these tools intentionally and carefully, and don’t neglect your contacts and networks in the ‘real world’ too!
Networks are looser and less formal than teams or partnerships, and actually can encompass literally everyone you know (or could know!). That’s a pretty daunting topic for a modest blog post, so let’s have a bit of fun and break it down into a numbers game:
This is the maximum number of connections the website ‘Likedin’ will allow. Given that the site encourages you to only connect with those you know personally, this seems an impossibly large number. But it shows just what is possible.
Key point: Small business can often spark some sense of personal loyalty, affiliation or even affection amongst our customers / users. Don’t underestimate just how wide your network could spread, or how much it could achieve for you!
Research shows that as humans we are best able to deal with people in groups of around 150. 150 being the number of people you can expect to have meaningful personal relationships with. The suggestion is that this comes from the time we operated as tribes or small villages. Many of the free form management structures favoured in creative technology businesses operate with a maximum of 150 people working at each separate geographic site. A famous example of this is the’Gore’ Group (of ‘Gore-Tex) who operate in blocks of 150 staff without any formal hierarchy within these groups.
Key point: It is wise to prioritise you best clients, or the most productive members of your network… but don’t expect to be able to manage more than 50 such relationship with any sense of authenticity.
6 degrees of separation? Originally expounded in the 1920s as a theory that any individual could connect to another individual in 6 connections or ‘steps’. This was widely held to be an academic myth. However, recent research using computer techonolgy has found this early estimate to be incredibly accurate (at least amongst those who are connected to computers in the developed world).
Key point: Who would invite to your dream ‘business dinner’? How would you pitch your business to them if only you had the opportunity? Chances are somewhere in your Network you are already connected to someone who knows someone who could make that happen for you. Be strategic about using your connections to achieve your dreams!
Incident Command Theory (used in training for the emergency services) suggests that the optimum number of people that should be ‘commanded’ in an emergency situation is 3. Practically the incident commander should ideally have 3 (and never more than 5) individuals reporting to them; with the rest of the hierarchy operating below. Any more and messages get confused, and time is wasted trying to determine priorities and reach agreement. [If you’re feeling keen & geeky, you can read the incident command manual.
Key point: Every business faces a time of crisis, of extreme pressure or busyness. Remember this is not the times to pull in lots of emergency back up! Follow the lead of the emergency services, and apart from your usual, rehearsed and reliable team, don’t work with more than 3 extra individuals.
How to make your Network count
- Focus on quality not quantity. Anyone can buy thousands of twitter followers, but how much more useful to have meaningful interactions with a people who can actually make your business a success?
- Tailor your communication to the audience. In Marketing the term used is ‘segmentation’ – don’t just keep one mass mailing list that scatterguns generic information to all your contacts; make sure that you write with your audience in mind, break down your mailing list, and send specific and relevant information to smaller lists. [Try mail chimp or similar online services to help you manage this for e-mail].
- Be different, be memorable. If you are planning on networking seriously you need to be clear about what the purpose is (are you researching / selling making contacts), and find a way of differentiating yourself from the crowd. Think carefully about what makes your offer unique.
- Reciprocity Remember there needs to be mutual benefit for those in your Network else you’ll loose people very quickly. Simply put if people feel used they will walk away. Think about how you can add value for those in your network, join them into a conversation, make them feel good about themselves…don’t just try to sell to them.
Over to you
How have you built your business connections? What’s your favourite way of interacting with people in your circle? Please let me know in the comments below.
Book Club: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Subtitled ‘how little things can make a big difference’ this fascinating books analyses ideas as if they were viruses and examines how they spread and how they become ‘contagious’. There are so many excellent and applicable lessons from this work for small business… how do you make your ideas or brand go viral? By exploring and understanding social dynamics, the way that individuals brains works, and how people can effectively work together we can tailor messages most effectively, and build intentional and useful networks.
Today’s Micro Action
Review your business plan, and think about whether your networking strategy links to that. Be intentional in the way you use and develop networks to support and develop your business. Make your networking work for you, otherwise you’ll become exhausted by it.