Conversation Tips for Networkers

by Natalie L. Komitsky

Well, now that you’ve figured out which network event to go to and you’ve dragged yourself there, you stand alone in a room crowded with clusters of strangers.  What now?  It does seem intimidating to engage with one stranger after another but that is exactly how successful networking begins.  Nothing worth doing comes easily.  And, just in case casual conversation is not one of your strengths, we have some suggestions for you that will help make your networking more productive:

Begin with the end in mind – You didn’t go there to pick up a hot date, did you?  Most likely your main objective is to meet someone who can help your business.  How can you make that happen?  First, you must understand what the person you are talking to does and how your service could potentially assist them.  Second, you need to clearly communicate what you do.  Third, you need to make the assertion that your product or service would be advantageous to them.  Of course, it is not that simple but try to keep these objectives in mind as you mingle.

Laughter is contagious – Use a little humor to create a connection.  Make a sarcastic remark about the weather, comment on how crowded the event is compared to the last time, commiserate about the traffic you experienced on the way, laugh about current events, or anything else that is of interest to the general public.  The key is to keep the mood light and upbeat.  If you make them laugh, they will enjoy talking to you and want to hear more.

Ask about them – Once you have gotten past the basic “Hi my name is…”show genuine interest in your fellow networkers.

  • Ask about their clothes, accessories, perfume, makeup, shoes, and resemblance to…, etc.
  • Get them talking about their work situation.  How long have they been there?  What do they do?  What are their biggest challenges?
  • What do they hope to accomplish through networking?  Is there anyone in particular they are trying to meet?  Are there any organizations that they are trying to find contacts for?  Introduce them to anyone you think may be able to help them.
  • Where are they from?  Where did they grow up?  How long have they been here?  How do they like it?  Are they married?  Do they have kids?  If yes, ask how many children they have and what ages they are.  This conversation could last all night.

Talk about the event itself –Share your impressions. Start with light topics such as the food, the lighting, the surrounding neighborhood, the parking situation, or other general topics related to the event.  Then, ask if they have been here before.  Are they members of the sponsoring organization?  How long have they been involved and at what capacity?  What other events does this organization host?  Is it worth the cost?  Have they gotten business out of their associations here?

Go with your gut – Watch the way people respond to you.  Taper your conversation according to your perceptions of your audience.  See what subjects make their eyes light up, what gets them excited.  Remember, you are not likely to get a job offer or close the deal of the century during one networking event but you be beginning a relationship that leads to that end.  Make sure the impression you leave behind is positive.

How to Find the Best Networking Events

by Natalie L. Komitsky

If you are going to spend your valuable time attending networking events, you will want to make sure that it is worth it.  Taking time to evaluate each networking opportunity will help.  Here are some tips to ensure your time is well spent.

  1. Ask – One of the best ways to get business leads is through word of mouth.  Your colleagues may be able to inform you of the typical tone and selection of participants at regularly scheduled networking events in your area.
  2. Meetup – Meetup.com is an online database that lists all types of public meetings.  If you input your location and select which categories interest you, Meetup will suggest opportunities near you that fit your personal and professional needs.  You can join groups that host the events and view all of their members.  Scanning member information will give you a feel for whether or not a group would be a good fit for you.
  3. Industry Associations – If you are a member of professional membership organizations, there are likely some events that would allow you to network with other professionals in your field.  If you are targeting a certain industry, check out their professional membership organizations.  Many times they offer open events where you could meet important contacts in a casual setting.
  4. Linked In Groups – Members of Linked In groups typically have similar personal and/or professional interests.  Groups with a local focus usually host events where the members can get to know each other better.  Once you are a member, you can scan the membership list and see if the companies and job titles represented are within your target market.  You can also begin to build relationships within the group prior to meeting in person.  This can be a great way to warm up to a potential client in an unobtrusive way.
  5. Social Gatherings – While you may not find many clients at your neighborhood barbeque, you will find many opportunities to form lasting relationships with people who are genuinely interested in you and your family.  Telling your friends and neighbors about a successful project you’ve been working on can be the first step in cultivating a strong referral network.
  6. Special Occasions – Particularly during the holiday season many organizations hold special occasion gatherings.  These events provide great opportunities to meet potential clients.  And, because the mood is one of celebration and fun, it is much easier to become friendly with people who may otherwise be unwilling to engage, especially important contacts who would not normally attend networking events.

Networking for Beginners

by Natalie L. Komitsky

Previously we discussed the advantages of building relationships with industry influencers.  While networking comes naturally for some, it poses a significant challenge for others.  Walking into a room full of strangers for the first time can be very intimidating.  All of your confidence seems to melt away.  But don’t despair; there are some surefire ways to avoid disaster.

  1. Take a colleague with you.  It doesn’t have to be your best friend or spouse, just someone familiar.  Just knowing that that there is one person there who knows you helps a lot.  When you go in, don’t stick together like glue.  Mingle separately and then, if you find yourself thinking “get me out of here,” just make your way over to your friend and check in.  It should be enough to get you back on track.
  2. Know what to say.  It sounds so simple but sometimes when you are standing in front of someone new and you’re feeling nervous, you might start stumbling over your words.  The best thing you can do is come up with a well-scripted introductory speech about 30 seconds in length that succinctly describes exactly what you do, who your target customer is, and what sets you apart from your competition.  Make sure it sounds fantastic.
  3. Know who will be there.  Go to the place that advertised your networking event.  See if you can find out who else will be attending.  Do some research on the individuals who will be there.  Do you think they may be potential clients?  Look closely at their pictures so that you can recognize them in the crowd.  Look on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn to gather more details about their personal lives.  If you know where their passions lie, you have a better chance of making a real connection with them.
  4. Stay positive.  When you do meet someone new, do not, under any circumstances, complain.  We all want to attract people who are overflowing with positive energy and push away people who give off negative energy.  If you are having a bad day and you can’t pull yourself out of it, stay home.  First impressions last forever.  Even if you are unemployed and suffering, don’t frame it that way.  You are an aspiring developer or an IT professional.  If you are not currently employed, you are consulting, working on a contract basis, freelancing, etc.  It is not misinformation; you would take advantage of those types of opportunities if you had them.  It is semantics and it makes a big difference in the impression you make.

In essence, relax and be yourself.  The most important part of this practice is to be genuine and sincere.  If you meet people who rub you the wrong way, move on.  There are always plenty of others around to chat with.  It may take a while to get used to, but once you have attended a certain group two or three times, people will recognize you and the whole engagement will feel much more comfortable.

Effective Networking

by Natalie L. Komitsky

Previously we discussed the advantages of building personal relationships with industry influencers.  Well, this may come naturally for some but for others it poses a significant challenge.  Walking into a room full of strangers for the first time can be very intimidating.  All of your confidence seems to melt away.  But don’t despair, there are surefire ways to avoid disaster.

  1. Take a colleague with you.  It doesn’t have to be your best friend or spouse, just someone who you know.  Just knowing that that one person that knows you is in the room helps a lot.  When you go in, you shouldn’t stick together like glue.  Mingle separately and then, if and when you get that “get me out of here” feeling, just make your way over to your friend and check in.  It should be enough to get you back on track.
  2. Know what to say.  It sounds so simple but sometimes when you are standing in front of someone and your feeling nervous, you might start stumbling over your words.  The best thing you can do is come up with a well scripted introductory speech, about 30 seconds in length that succinctly describes exactly what you do, who your target customer is, and some details about what sets you apart from the competition.
  3. Know who will be there.  Go to the place that advertised your networking event.  See if you can find out who else will be attending.  Do some research on the individuals who will be there.  Do you think they may be potential clients?  Look closely at their pictures, if available, so that you can recognize them in the crowd.  Look on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn to gather more details about their personal lives.  If you know where their passions lie, you have a better chance of making a real connection with them.
  4. Industry influence.  While you are looking at who will be there, see what companies will be represented.  Just because the person who would be your client at that a particular firm isn’t there, it doesn’t mean that the person who did come couldn’t connect you to him.  And, if you form a connection with that person, the referral will be personal which has much more impact.  So, see which companies the attendees work for.  See if there is any potential for work with that company.  If there is, research the details of their representative and try to connect on a personal level.
  5. Keep it positive.

Are You a Sheep or a Shepherd?

by Natalie L. Komitsky

If you were to search for ways to boost website traffic, you would find article upon article about Google rank and back links and getting links from industry influencers.  It’s mind-boggling.  They’ll even tell you to do a free giveaway, just to get X number of subscribers.  Is that what it is really about?  Do you have to play that game to get ahead?  Only if you are a sheep; the same sheep that go running down to the car dealership when they hear a ridiculous sales pitch on the radio again and again and again.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

It’s not about a defined set of steps.  It is all about relationships – real relationships.  If you are new in town and your car is acting up, what do you do?  You ask around to find a good place to get it fixed.  You trust that the person recommending this mechanic has used him before and knows that his work is both good quality and a good value.  What you don’t do is go to Google or to the Yellow Pages.  The exception would be if you are planning to go to the dealer.  But, if that’s the case, your decision has nothing to do with Google rank or the size of an ad, it’s based on past experience – an established trust.  No e-book will substitute for that.

Who’s Who

To be truly successful, you need to find ways to get into the lives of the people who can make a difference in your world.  The internet has simplified this task considerably.  All you need to do is to figure out who it is that you need to get in touch with and then find a way to catch their attention.

To find the influencers in your sphere, look at the leaders of organizations and people who write about your topic often.  Look for major employers on Linked In.  Look for people who hold decision-maker titles at those companies.  Look in membership lists, social organizations, garden clubs, zoo sponsors, virtually anywhere you can find a list of names.

Right Place, Right Time

Once you know who you need to get in touch with, you need to search far and wide to discover where you might happen to bump into them, again and again until they know you.  If they are a member of the Chamber of Commerce, see which committees they serve on.  Do they participate in any leads groups?  Do they give presentations?  Attend lectures?  Has their name been published in the newspaper or the local business journal?  Look for every possible angle you can to find commonality that is not directly related to your business relationship.  The most effective way into their world is through a personal connection based on a true match of intrinsic values.

Connect with Sincerity

The most important way to build your influence is to have your relationship be genuine.  Forget about the bottom-line, forget about the competition.  When you meet your chief influencers, get to know them like you would a prospective daughter-in-law.  You want to develop mutual respect and admiration.  You want to remember the details of their lives.  You want to share the experiences of life, to laugh together and roll your eyes together.  Then, you’ve got something to go on.  Forget about the gimmicks.  Sincerity wins every time.

The World of Color

by Natalie L. Komitsky

When you build a website, color is very important.  The combination that you use sets the tone for all that follows.  If you use sharply contrasting colors or too many colors, you may end up doing more harm than good.  Because of this risk, it is one of the most challenging aspects of design.  To learn how basic color theory applies to web design, click here. http://sixrevisions.com/web_design/a-look-into-color-theory-in-web-design/

Existing Elements

There is no need to reinvent the wheel when choosing a color scheme for your website.  You have many places to begin your search.  If you are working with an existing business or organization, you can pull colors from their logo, brochures, business cards, letterhead, or signage.  If your website is part of a complete brand makeover, the new marketing strategy should provide you with concepts and emotions that need to be supported by the design.  This approach is also important when designing for a new business.

Research

It helps to do a little research to become aware of any design norms that exist for your subject area.  Take a look at other websites in the same field.  If you are working for an environmental cause for example, you will likely see nature-focused images dominated by green.   As you scan through other websites, you will see other trends that include dominant color schemes such as primary colors for topics related to young children, brown for coffee houses, etc.

Image Colors

Just as interior designers often use paintings to pull colors from, you can also begin with a photograph or illustration for your color scheme.  If you have images that will be included on the website, you can use the colors within those images to build your color scheme.  Many software programs allow you to determine the exact signature of a given color in an image.  Below you can see one design tool (http://www.youngsmarts.com/) that allows you to isolate a color and develop a color scheme from that color.

Limit the Number of Colors

Although every designer has his or her own style, generally speaking, you should limit the number of colors in a website to 3.  In addition you can use shades and tints of those 3 colors for some variation, such as with links and hovering variants.  In addition, they should not be used equally.  The first color should account for 60% of the color application, the second color should account for 30% of the design and the final color should only account for 10% of the overall color application.   Following these general guidelines will help you avoid some of common web design disasters.

Resources

There are many resources available online that can help you see which colors will work best for your project.  The most common tool is called a color picker, and once you have identified the RGB or HEX signature for your color, you can use it to find an existing color scheme posted by another designer, or create one of your own within basic color theory guidelines.  You can even use the recognized name of a color, such as forest green or lemon yellow, to conduct your search.  Your design software should also have built-in tools to assist you with this task.

Feedback

It is very important to share your color scheme samples with people you trust for feedback.  You must ensure that that the scheme you select supports the marketing message you want to communicate and that your target market finds it attractive.

Building an Information-Focused Website

by Natalie L. Komitsky

There are some websites that exist for the sole purpose of sharing information.  This type of site has its own set of do’s and don’ts.  Let’s take a look at what our primary objectives should be and how to best communicate information to the public.

Clarityirs

For an informational website to be effective, it’s intended purpose needs to be clear from the beginning.  If a website visitor has to look around to find what they are looking for, or to determine what your site is about, you have lost.  The home page needs to be simple, providing a clear message that states it’s purpose.  Let’s use the IRS website as an example:

From the first glance, you see photographs next to clickable areas that immediately leads visitors to information.  These topics represent the most frequent reasons people visit the site.  At a second glance, you will notice that high contrast colors separate groups of information that are labeled in a way that is clear and concise.  This site achieves its purpose well.

Navigation

A clear and simple navigation system is extremely important on an informational site.  There should be a few tabs, usually around 5, that describe categories of information.  If there are too many choices, visitors may become frustrated and disregard your site in favor of another source.  Keeping it simple is key to your website’s success.

Relationships

If you are providing information about a topic, it is likely that you intend to become a thought-leader, or highly-respected resource for the industry.  Achieving this objective takes a lot of effort.  You need to provide updated information about topics that interest your visitors very frequently.  You could include a news section to keep readers updated on national and international reports, a forum to promote conversations about your topic, a blog to provide your organization’s opinon on hot topics, or a monthly newsletter for subscribers.  The key is to keep them coming back for more.

Call to Action

Depending on the purpose of your organization and your site, you may desire some kind of action from your reader.  At the very least, most sites provide a way to give feedback or make comments about postings and share the information through social media.  If the topic is part of an ongoing public debate, such as healthcare reform, you may choose to put some focus on the opinionated postings of your visitors.  You could use this emotional energy to solicit donations or recruit volunteers.  If your information website is part of an association or membership organization, you will want to talk about the benefits of membership and repeatedly ask visitors to become members.

Longevity

If your intention in building an information-focused website includes becoming an authority in your field, you need to think about where you will be five and ten years down the road.  Most organizations begin with a bare bones agenda but their capabilities expand significantly over time.  Once you have successfully established a network of website visitors, it would be better to tweak an existing website rather than starting over again.  Familiar is good.

In essence, an informational website needs to be clear and to the point; no visitor should question its purpose.  The navigation should represent distinct categories that relate to the most frequent requests for information.  And, to be sure that your site reaches the status of authority, it is essential to provide a multitude of resources that engage with the public through interaction and social media sharing.

Service-Focused Websites

by Natalie L. Komitsky

Selling products is a bit easier than selling services.  With products you can demonstrate how your widget works, what it looks like, how durable it is, and other popular features.  When offering services, you are asking potential buyers to trust that you will deliver what you promise.  They need to feel certain that your experience and expertise will greatly benefit them and solve their problem.

The Look

There are unwritten rules for each service industry that enforce the accepted norms and expectations each corresponding target market.  The colors, images, and overall feeling of your service brand should fit within these guidelines.  If you go to Chuck E. Cheese’s website, you know what you will find.  The site will be filled with images of Chuck E. and children having fun.  There will be specials offered and an overall feeling of fun and excitement.  Anyone who wants to compete with Chuck E. Cheese’s will have to show more of the same.

The Content

In order to convince your visitors to hire you for the services you provide, you need to have an uncluttered balance of information that includes:

  • knowledge-based information about your area of expertise
  • a persuasive description of your services including your standard process
  • biographies and photos of core team members and board of directors (if applicable)
  • testimonials from satisfied customers
  • case studies that detail how your services helped others

Call-to-Action

The call-to-action should be very prominent, clear, and repeated often.  You want to create a moment in which your visitor becomes convinced that it would be advantageous to get in touch with you.  When that moment occurs, it is important that they have a quick and easy way to act.  If the next step is not clear, you could easily lose your chance.

The Design

Take some time to check the website designs of leaders in your industry.  You will notice that there are commonalities in the organization of information as well as the ways that information is delivered.  These common characteristics represent what your visitors will expect so you should use it when planning your site.  If you choose to do something very different from the established norm, make sure that you have a marketing strategy that justifies it.

Attention to Detail

In addition to recognizing what is common among industry-leading websites, you should be careful to see what is missing.  If you are in a highly-regulated industry, such as finance, insurance, or real estate, you may already be aware of government regulations that dictate what you can and cannot include in your marketing messages.  Very often though, there are also subtle rules in these and other industries that, if broken, may expose you as an amateur.   Look for blogs and industry forums that talk about what should and should not be included and why.

Service based businesses most often solve problems or take action to avoid the potential of future problems.  For this reason, it is critical that the content of the site be compelling and persuasive.  Clear call-to-action buttons are a must.  Be sure that the organization and content of your site is similar to other industry leaders.  Being different can be a good thing if it is done with purpose but, more often than not it demonstrates a lack of mastery and therefore negatively impacts your credibility.

Product-Focused Websites

by Natalie L. Komitsky

There are several elements that must be part of your product-focused website in order for it to be successful.  The familiar issues of audience, unique selling proposition, and next steps will remain your cornerstones but there are some specific elements that are critical to the success of a product-focused website. Let’s explore them together.

Audience

First of all, you need to be clear about who will most likely be interested.  You need to design the website to appeal to them, whether they are inclusive of the entire adult population of the entire English-speaking world or restricted to 13 to 17 year old girls living in upstate New York.  It is critical that every aspect of the site appeals to your audience.

Photography

With a product-focused website, it is imperative that you provide clear photos of the product itself with enough detail to transform a curious visitor into a buyer.  If possible, include photos demonstrating using the product.  If they see someone they can relate to enjoying your product, they are more likely to make a purchase.  If your product comes in different shapes, sizes or colors, each variation should be pictured.

Description

In addition to a photograph, your products should also have descriptions that provide details about their qualities.  For example, clothing descriptions would include the style and fabric contents while food products would include ingredients and nutritional information.  If you are marketing to high-end customers, you may want to include more detail about how the product benefits the buyer, including endearing comments that make it seem irresistible.

Marketing Message

The success of many product launches is tied to a great tag line.  This short phrase tells the customer what makes a brand is special.  When designing your web site, you can use your tag line to create an emotional connection with your audience.  The tone and style should be carried out throughout the rest of the site design elements.

For example, The Company Store sells pillows.  The name reveals nothing about their product line; they could be selling canned beans or blue jeans. However, their tag-line “We’re all about comfort” is much more enticing.  Their current website design is dominated by light blue, a color known for relaxation.  Their pillows are prominently displayed throughout the entire site.

E-Commerce

Depending on your distribution plans, you may want to include ecommerce functionality so that customers can purchase your products from your website directly.  This usually means that your website functions as an online catalog and shopping cart.  If you have a variety of products, you will need to have them organized in categories, either by their characteristics (i.e., sweaters, pants, shoes) or by the way they are used (i.e., body & bath, home & candles, spa & skin).

Price

Whether or not you include prices on your website depends on many different factors.  Do you only sell your products through this website or do you also have retail stores?  Do you sell in more than one area?  Do your prices fluctuate often?  Most of the time pricing information will be included only if a purchase can be made directly online.  Alternatively, you may include a price range for a product line or sale discount information if prices vary by location.

Call to Action

A website visitor should never have to ask themselves what they should do next.  A product website should make the answer to this question apparent.  If there is ecommerce functionality, a call to action button, like a shopping cart, will work best.  If the site is for a corporation, such as McDonalds, the call to action may be related to finding the nearest location.  After the product itself, the second most prominent feature must be the call to action.

In summary, while many of the basics still apply, a product-focused website must contain clear descriptions of the products complete with detailed photographs.  If purchases can be made directly through the site, pricing information and related fees must be prominently displayed.  Lastly, a dominant, clearly-stated call to action is the only way to ensure visitors become website customers.

Which Web Designer Is Best For Me?

by Natalie L. Komitsky

Launching a new business is a very stressful journey.  One of the main stressors is completing a seemingly endless list of required tasks to get things up and running.  Even if you are just taking your existing business online, there are still a multitude of questions that need to be answered, many of which did not exist in a traditional setting.

Before you even look for a designer, you should consider what kind of website you want.  Find a few sites that interest you.  Be ready to refer to sites of similar businesses as well.  You should think about what kind of information you want to include on your site and how active you want to be online in the process of attracting visitors to your site.

Of course you should know how much money you can invest.  If you want a cookie-cutter website, that would be the least expensive and fastest option.  It would also limit what you could do but, if you have limited funds, it may work for now.  If you require something that is custom built to your specifications, that will take more time, effort and expertise and therefore cost more.  To decide which is more likely, look at the very bottom of the websites you like.  It will usually have a credit listed that specifies that the site was developed by a certain firm, or it may say that it is a theme from a specific distributor.  A theme provides a set framework and color scheme with a few optional features.

Once you have a rough idea of what type of website you want, you should consider content.  Do you have marketing materials that can be tailored for your website?  Do you have staff members who can draft new content?  While the design is very important to the success of your website, the words you use to communicate your message are also very important.  And, because most people spend less than a minute skimming your home page, you need to tailor your message to grab their attention right away, much differently than you would in a brochure or in person.

And finally, who should you work with to help get your website up?  This is where your examples come in.  First, ask for referrals from people in your personal and professional networks.  Most likely you will get more than one recommendation.  Check out the website of each web developer.  Evaluate their message.  Do they effectively grab your attention with their website layout and text?  Look at the samples of their work.  How closely do they resemble the sites you like?  As with any form of art, you need to find someone whose style matches your taste.

Once you have narrowed down the choices, meet with the web designers you like best in-person if possible or if not by video conference.  You need to be sure that you communicate well.  Ask about their experiences with clients.  Ask them some personal questions.  Pay careful attention to their responses.  The objective of the interview goes beyond evaluating their web development skills but serves as a way to test that they understand and can deliver what you want.  Because there are many dimensions to a web site, clear communication is very important.

In summary, to get the best results from your website designer, prepare in advance by considering what kind of website you want, collect some examples, provide some content, ask for referrals, and make sure that the person you choose to work with is a good match for you; that you understand each other and communicate clearly.

Happy hunting!