Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Jane Applegate @janewapplegate. Jane is the author of 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business and the producer and host of Tech Essentials, an online tech show for business owners sponsored by Microsoft. You can follow Jane on her website www.theapplegategroup.com
SmallBizLady: If everyone is connected on social networks, why do we still need personal connections?
Jane Applegate: Well, based on my experience in business with my production company and as a journalist, every positive thing that has happened to me has happened through a personal connection–often one person or through a referral. Since we spend so much time online, it’s even more important to schedule face-to-face meetings and schedule phone or Skype calls.
SmallBizLady: Give me an example of how personal connections worked for you.
Jane Applegate: One day a few years ago, I was interviewing a Microsoft executive for a documentary I wrote and produced for Dartmouth College. While we were walking out to the car, I asked if he would consider introducing me to just one person in Microsoft’s small business marketing group–any group. He agree and that one email introduction led to the biggest and highest profile project we have–producing and hosting Tech Essentials which is available 24/7 on Microsoft’s myfirstserver dot com site.
SmallBizLady: I know you are a real people person, but what if someone is shy and prefers to do everything online, do you have some advice for them?
Jane Applegate: Start with a small step like joining the chapter of a local trade association or professional group. Attend monthly seminars, workshops and networking events. Practice your ‘elevator pitch,’ which is just a few lines about who you are and what you do. If you don’t want to feel pressured to network at events, volunteer to work at the registration desk handing out name badges.. You’ll get to meet everyone in a low stress situation.
SmallBizLady: What else can people do to strengthen their personal network?
Jane Applegate: Everyone should spend at least a half hour day sending emails or calling people they know. It can be just a quick call to say hello–or you can ask that person if they have any projects they need help with or need to buy what you sell. Then, spend about the other 30 minutes of that hour updating your social networks. Post interesting information, not what you had for lunch or where you plan to have a drink after work. I like LinkedIn, especially the mobile app. And of, course, Twitter. Re-tweet anything that you find interesting. It’s a great way to connect with people.
SmallBizLady: What about setting up meetings? It seems that no one wants to meet anymore.
Jane Applegate: If traffic or distance makes it tough to meet face to face, schedule a phone, Face Time or Skype call. I’m a huge fan of Skype. When I was in Europe this summer shooting new video segments for our SmallBiz World TV network, I used Skype to keep in touch with my friends, production team and family. Skyping with clients and customers is a great way to maintain business and personal relationships. Remember, we do business with people, not companies.
SmallBizlady: Do you have more advice for people who are reluctant to reach out and ask for help or advice.
Jane Applegate: Finding a mentor is extremely important no matter what you do. The challenge is finding someone who is several steps ahead of you–and then convincing them to exchange emails once in a while or spending 10 minutes on the phone once a month. Many people scare away potential mentors because they want too much from them. Start by asking for the minimum contact–and see how it goes. Always think about what you want to ask them about or discuss. Be prepared and never waste their time.
One of my top advisors for many years was working in Washington at an extremely high-level, high-pressure job. We corresponded with personal notes and kept in touch like that for years.
SmallBizLady: What’s the best way to connect with someone you read about or see on TV or online?
Jane Applegate: Most people have a website with contact information. Look at the About Us page and find the marketing or PR person. Contact them first and explain exactly why you want to get in touch with the principal of the firm. Ask everyone you know if they know the person you are trying to connect with—there are truly six degrees of separation. It’s not that hard to get through to people if you do it in a professional and polite manner. I’m a big fan of good old-fashioned letters. People get such few letters these days; a handwritten letter can really cut through the clutter.
SmallBizLady: You advocate using hand-written letters. What about services like Send Out Cards?
Jane Applegate: That’s another great tool for connecting. A friend and colleague sends me those cards all the time. She personalizes them with photos and always includes a personal note. People love getting mail, especially if it’s not a bill or junk mail.
SmallBizLady: How can you encourage your customers and clients to make personal referrals?
Jane Applegate: If people like what you do for them, they are usually open to spreading the word. You just need to ask them to call one or two people… or make a quick email introduction. I’m making email introductions every day. It’s a simple and easy way to connect two people who you think should get together. In 2008 and 2009, during the worst of the recession, I was not very busy. Marketing budgets were slashed and I was sitting in Vermont trying to figure out what to do. I decided to spend several hours a day making connections for other people. Pushing out good karma with no expectations. When the economy picked up, I was busier than ever.
SmallBizLady: What is your best secret to expand your professional network?
Jane Applegate: Ask your best customers and friends to introduce you to two people who may need your product or service. A warm call is easier to make than a cold call.
SmallBizLady: You are great at getting people together. Do you have anything coming up that can help small business owners?
Jane Applegate: I’ve organized a 24-Hour Small Biz Makeover contest coming up on Oct. 17 in New York at the @NewYorkXpo. There’s still time for people to apply when they register at: www.eventmanagement.org/newyork/register.php. I’ve got the top small business owners in America including you @SmallBizLady, to come together to work with one lucky winner that day.
SmallBizLady: How did you get the top small business owners in America to come together for the 24-Hour Small Biz Makeover contest?
Jane Applegate: Through the years, I’ve tried to help everyone who helps small business owners thrive and flourish. So, I guess I’m just good at calling in small favors. We don’t pay anyone to serve on the Makeover team, but we do produce a great video and interview all the experts and make those clips available to them for promotional purposes.
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.
Don’t forget to Pre-order my new ebook How to Become a Social Media Ninja which will be released Oct. 20th. I’m providing 101 Tips to dominate your competition online. Go to http://succeedasyourownboss.com/ebook to place your order.
Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is America’s #1 small business expert. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.comMelinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works.