FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
|“That’s What Friends Are For (Maybe???)”||
|By: Ron Brounes||
As a small business owner, I can’t begin to tell you how many times (at least twice) I’ve answered the phone at work only to hear “May I please speak with the person in charge of your phone system?”. (Perhaps it’s time to get caller-id at the office.) Being a pleasant sort of fellow, I always try to be polite and let them know that I am perfectly happy vastly overpaying for my current long distance service. “You mean, you’re not interested in saving money?” the voice always answers back. Ultimately, despite my normally easygoing disposition (don’t laugh), I often end up being sarcastic or even cursing (or both) and hanging up on overly persistent solicitors.
I feel badly (sometimes) because I remember my old cold-calling days as a new broker at an investment firm. (Certainly you sales professionals can relate.) We were taught from day one not to take “no” for an answer and were given a list of comebacks for every possible objection. One time, the guy in charge of my “rookie class” made me call back this prospect who had responded “What part of the word no do you not understand?” before slamming down the phone. I was forced to redial immediately and say “I guess we got disconnected somehow, because I cannot imagine someone being so rude as to hang up on me.” He informed me that he had indeed intended to be rude and hung up again. (Unfortunately, he remained one of my better prospects.)
OH NO! IT’S HIM AGAIN
While no one enjoys these unsolicited annoying calls from a nameless, faceless voice on the other end of the phone, prospecting calls from those we know create a very different dilemma. Since starting Brounes & Associates, I have always been very leery of asking Friends, Family members, or other Acquaintances or “FFA” (not Future Farmers of America) for potential business. I never wanted my “FFA” to perceive my calls as having ulterior motives. I have long realized that many of my social calls were being screened by women as part of the normal dating process, but don’t want these folks also running for cover whenever my name appears on that caller-id display.
And yet, I always felt that some acceptable criteria does exist when it comes to talking with those we know about business opportunities. After all, the whole concept of networking stems from the idea of meeting others who can benefit from the products and services you provide (and vice versa). “FFA” are often the greatest resource for referrals and business introductions. They already know and trust (hopefully) you and can provide names of others who may be in need of your expertise and vast experience. Such introductions surely beat cold-calling the phonebook or leaving fishbowls in restaurants for diners to deposit business cards under the ridiculous premise that a prize will be awarded to a “lucky” winner.
A LITTLE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
The key to prospecting (and not bothering) those you know is to find that happy medium and not cross the line between being an aggressive business person and being a pushy pain-in-the-you-know-what opportunist. These newsletters, for example, have become one way I let my “FFA” know about the services I offer without hounding them for business. On countless occasions, my newsletter recipients have forwarded an issue to one of their associates or contacted me with a number of someone who may be in need of my services. I have been surprised at just what strange topic or anecdote struck a chord with someone and prompted them to “phone a friend.” I am always appreciative of anyone who thinks of me and takes such initiative.
Since starting my company, I have continuously set up appointments to visit with “FFA” over breakfast, lunch, or beers after work to discuss the nature of our respective businesses. I always viewed these introductory meetings as opportunities to communicate to others about exactly what I am doing and to learn more about their work as well. By getting to know each other from a business standpoint, perhaps we can find ways to work together in the future or may be able to think of associates who we could subsequently introduce. (After all, it’s not only what you know, but who you know that really counts.) These meetings must always remain two-sided and can never be perceived as one person taking advantage of a friendship with a “what’s in it for me” attitude. If opportunities present themselves, so be it. If not, you now have a better understanding of each other’s work (and hopefully enjoyed a nice breakfast, lunch, or beer in the process).
In some cases, these settings simply provide opportunities for me to “pick the brains” of certain successful professionals who can share stories of their past experiences and offer advice for the future. I firmly believe that most people, when asked, truly want to help, whether it be suggesting a business strategy or a potential contact. Over the past few years, I can honestly say that I have always found such interactions to be extremely beneficial. I have obtained numerous business contacts that have proven quite fruitful and have also made many introductions on others’ behalf. Personally, I take great satisfaction from learning that one of my referrals resulted in the establishment of a business relationship for an “FFA.” I believe that one of the biggest mistakes a small (or large) business owner can make is to forget about networking with past and current “FFA” once a steady stream of work starts flowing in. You can never have too many prospects in the pipeline because you never know when a source of business may simply disappear (often through no fault of your own). At the same time, you can never have enough business contacts who you are able to refer to others when their products or services may be in need.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
On that note, here’s another questionnaire to “pick you brain” on this topic (and to see just who’s still reading). Which of the following statements most accurately reflect your opinion? Please email me your response and any other comments to “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
1. I consider friends, family members, and other acquaintances (in case you forgot what “FFA” means) to be an excellent resource for potential business referrals.
2. I prefer to keep “FFA” totally separate from business relationships.
3. I am deeply offended by this and other issues of FWIW and wish to be removed from your list. (Right, like that’s ever going to happen.)
q Annual Reports
q Business Plans/Presentations
q Presentation Training
q Marketing pieces
q Op/ed. articles
q Position Papers
q Policy Manuals
q Financial Analysis
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies. Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910 for additional information. I look forward to many more breakfast, lunch, or beer meetings with “FFA” who may still be trying to figure out exactly what I do. Before you start screening phone calls, you should know that I have even been known to pick up the tab every now and then. Yep, my expense accounts at James Coney Island and Chick Fil-A remain open day and night.