Changing One Family’s Poverty: You Make the Difference!

This post is my contribution to Blog Action Day, joining thousands of other bloggers to write about one topic for a single day. This year’s topic is poverty.

I remember three years ago driving into Mexico for my first Corazon project. I was a member of Rancho Bernardo Sunrise Rotary and we were going into one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tijuana to build a home as one of our Rotary International projects. As we were driving to the site on a dirt road, rocking back and forth from the dips and holes, avoiding random abandoned trash piles and cars, I remember looking around and taking in the environment.

The dirt road, lined with trash, dogs running all over, and in the center a small steady stream of really dirty water I would later find out was the main sewer line for the neighborhood containing everything from runoff to human waste. Riding in the comfort of our cars was a bit surreal. We purchase our cars to drive to and from work, shuttle our kids around, or to keep up with our lifestyle, not really thinking much about it. Here in this neighborhood the cost of most of the cars in our caravan could provide five homes and completely change the lives of five families. The nice homes on this street were stone block or a simple wood design similar to what we were building this day. The average homes were made of old garage doors, wood pallets, and random materials, combined all together turning into some kind of complete structure. The worst of the homes were made of anything they could find, wood, cardboard, plastic sheets, a complete hodgepodge of materials, open and exposed to the environment around them.

When we finally arrived at our site I saw a stack of wood piled high in the center of a just set cement foundation, and a family standing to greet the group of people who were going to build a new home for them. The family is receiving their home through Corazon which has an amazing program where families earn their home by volunteering in their own community.

Our first step is to sort all of the materials so the assigned teams could start their projects of painting, cutting, and building. As the hours pass you start to see walls being formed, and then placed into position. By lunch the roof is framed, plywood is being handed up, and just as this is complete you hear the constant humming of hammers as the shingles are put into place. While this is going on another group is painting inside and out, a small counter for cooking is being tiled, and windows are installed.

It amazing to think about this process of building homes with Corazon, 50 people coming together to build a simple home, most have no construction skills, yet here we are, the day is over, and the home is finished. All of the volunteers gather around as the family has written a letter of gratitude which is now being read to the group. The last and best step to this process is handing the keys to the family for their new home.

Driving back home, slowing with the Tijuana border traffic, in front of me I have a perfect view of downtown San Diego, beautiful skyline, Coronado Bridge, all the city lights, my comfortable life awaits. Behind me, just an hour away from where I live is all this poverty, the poor neighborhood, where we just changed the lives of one family. For me I get that feeling in my gut, in my heart, in my mind, I have so much more to do. It’s not about one family for me one time per year. My path is leading me to many more experiences as I know one person in this world can make the difference to millions. I know I will positively affect the lives of millions of people through humanitarian projects I personally create, fund, or participate in. Projects like this home in Mexico are just one small step on my path, on my journey.

My last thought are for those who are most likely not on the same path as me. Follow Up Success is about attracting clients and increasing your referrals. I write about follow up strategies, marketing, sales, relationship marketing, networking, client retention, and resources for your business. Building homes in Mexico accomplishes many of these topics. It does not have to be homes in Mexico, any type of service projects in and outside of your community will help your business. By pulling clients, customers, and friends together with other people from your community you will forge strong relationships. These relationships will create many opportunities for you and your business. The benefits from helping others are endless! If you have experiences where helping others through service has helped your business, please support this post by making a comment and sharing it with everyone.

SWOT Analysis: Defining Your Strengths

In my last post, SWOT Analysis: Simple Tool to Improve Your Business, I gave an overview of SWOT and talked about a few of the benefits of applying a SWOT Analysis to your businesses or to yourself as a business professional. As I mentioned in my previous post I am part of a small group of business owners and sales professionals who have committed to SWOT exercise for the next four weeks. The format for our SWOT exercise is fairly simple. We meet each week prepared to discuss the current element of SWOT as it pertains to our business or ourselves. We then discuss our findings with the group getting valuable feedback from the other participants in the exercise.  This allows us the ability to further refine our SWOT Analysis.

Today I will review our discussion on Strengths (the “S” in SWOT) as it applies to my business as well as the 15 other small and mid size companies in the exercise. The discussion on Strengths was led by Kerry Klindtworth a realtor with Keller Williams. Kerry started out the discussion with a brief description of SWOT using sites like Mind Tools as references and discussed examples of different strengths from the site. These included the following ideas:

  • What advantages does your company have?
  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • What unique or lowest-cost resources do you have access to?
  • What do people in your market see as your strengths?
  • What factors mean that you “get the sale?”

Kerry started engaging the participants asking them to share their strengths with group. Once they were complete the group would question, add, and help refine the Strengths of that person. Here is some of the discussion:

  • Paula Sassi, Certified Graphologist and owner of Handwriting Consultants International listed her strengths as; 28 years of experience, knowledgeable, timely response (responding to client requests within 24 hours), very easy to contact, great speaker, and entertainer for special events as well as tradeshows. Kerry added “Paula is an expert in her field”. Rufino Autus, Financial Advisor with Autus Financial Group added “Paula is a straight talker and has a unique business for her market”.
  • Justin Stewart, Customer Service Supervisor with San Diego National Bank listed his strengths as; builds rapport with customers quickly, passionate about what he does, thinks outside of the box to find solutions, privately owned local bank, 11 years in banking, and constantly expanding his banking knowledge. Rufino added “Justin loves what he does”. Jexter Isip, IT Consultant and Principal of Dedicated Network Solutions added “Justin is amazing with followup insuring his customers know he values them”.
  • Cathy Peterson, Insurance Agent with Farmers Insurance listed her strengths as; great followup, vast insurance knowledge, and a personal passion to insure her clients have the right coverage. I added “Cathy not only has great followup, she has great follow thru! Always keeping you up to date with referrals she has received”. Jexter added “Cathy has great communication during and after the process of buying insurance”.

So how did I do in this process? What are the strengths of Alan Underkofler, Blogger for Follow Up Success, Consultant on followup strategies for your business, quickly becoming a go to person in the world of Social Media, Speaker, and soon to be published Author. Like everyone else in the process I took time to really reflect on my strengths in regards to my business. The strengths that I listed were; simple tools, unique solutions, cost effective, ease of implementation, 12 years of marketing experience working with both Fortune 500 companies and brand new at home startups, passion for followup, and enthusiasm to help clients achieve desired results. The group confirmed my strengths and added passion and enthusiasm.

Passion and enthusiasm have been strengths of mine for a long time! Passion and enthusiasm has always propelled me to my next challenge in business. Passion and enthusiasm pushed me to go after clients that everyone said were impossible to get, I was blind and deaf to the reasons they gave me! Passion and enthusiasm pushed me to commit to writing inventory and category management software that was unprecedented in our industry, I was blind to the fact that this was not possible! Passion and enthusiasm is what pushes me now… Right now! Pushing to be a blogger, pushing me to complete my book, pushing me to be a better speaker, pushing me to be a top producer in everything I do! I am blinded by my passion and enthusiasm! For me passion and enthusiasm allows me to be blind to failure and negativity, when you can’t see failure or negativity you can’t fail and you have no choice but to be positive! No choice but to be positive!

Obviously I got a bit more out of this than I ever expected! Hopefully you did too! This last paragraph was not about this post. It was about me and what I needed to hear! So, thank you for being a part of it!  What are your strengths, what inspire your passion and enthusiasm, what propels you to succeed?

Look for next week’s post as we take a closer look at Weaknesses (the “W” in SWOT).

SWOT Analysis: Simple Tool to Improve Your Business

SWOT Analysis is strategic planning method and effective tool to help you understand your Strengths and Weaknesses, and identify the Opportunities and Threats facing your business.  The analysis was created by Albert Humphrey during a research project at Stanford University using data from Fortune 500 companies.  Using SWOT you are looking at the internal and external factors of your business.  Internal factors would be your strengths and weakness while the external factors are the opportunities and threats.  Taking a look at these factors can help you apply your resources and capabilities to your market.

The reason SWOT is so powerful is that in a few hours you can discover opportunities within your business to expand or develop.  Exploring your business weaknesses will allow you to change or eliminate a negative pattern or element of your business you may be unaware of.  As you look at your businesses as well as your competitors using SWOT you will begin to see what sets you apart from your competition and then focusing on these discoveries can give you the competitive edge you are looking for.

SWOT Analysis can be completed by you, with a consultant or coach, with your management team, or with a group of business owners in your network.  The value of bringing others into the discussion is the discovery of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats you may not see on your own.  This should make your analysis more complete and powerful.

The benefit of participating in a SWOT Analysis for small and large business as well as solopreneurs and individuals are dramatic.  Starting next week I will be discussing each element of the SWOT Analysis with a group of small business owners and will share with you what we discover.  The goal is to give you real life examples of how to use SWOT and how it can make a difference in your business.

So you might be asking yourself how does SWOT relate to followup?  Followup will show up as a strength or a weakness for you and your business.  If it’s identified as a strength you might look for ways to improve on what you are already doing.  If followup is identified as a weakness then focusing on followup systems for your business will give you a huge advantage in your market.

Are You A Multitasking Follow Up Extremist?

In an effort to follow up with new contacts and customer requests I often find myself multitasking, I am sure you can relate! Managing multiple projects and tasks is not new to me by any means. As a Sales Professional either in a corporate environment or as a business owner multitasking becomes an art! I find myself always exploring new ways to get more things done!  I tend to create new habits to squeeze just a few more minutes from my day. As with all new habits and processes we create to achieve more, sometimes it’s good to reflect on the cost these new patterns have.

Yesterday I found myself driving down the road talking on my cell phone, answering a text, switching to my email to respond to a request and just for good measure checking in on Twitter! All of this reminded me of a recent email forwarded to me from Harvard Business Publishing regarding texting while driving!

Is texting while driving really worse than driving under the influence?

A recent study by the RAC Foundation based in London found the average reaction times slowed by 35% while writing or reading texts!  Compare this to the 21% slower reaction from those who had taken cannabis and 12% slower among those who had drunk to the legal limit! A January 2007 survey by U.S.-based Nationwide Insurance suggested 19 per cent of motorists said they texted while driving.  I am sure among my network of friends and colleagues this number would increase to well over 50%!  Are you thinking to yourself…  “this is great but I am an amazing multi-tasker!”? Look at this video of Richard Westcott testing the effects of texting while driving using a simulator.

Take a moment and really think about the urge to read or respond to a text while driving.  Is it really worth the cost?  Can it wait until you arrive at your next destination?  I am all about great follow up and have definitely been known to be an extremist but even I am rethinking some of my habits in regards to multitasking.  Having reviewed the study, I think about a few close calls I have had over the last year while driving on the phone and texting, reading emails, and checking twitter.  For you this might be checking the news, sports, stock market, or the weather.  Whichever other activity you are choosing while driving, hopefully this post will allow you to reevaluate the possible cost!

Take a moment and really think about the urge to read or respond to a text while driving.  Is it really worth the cost?  Can it wait until you arrive at your next destination?  I am all about great follow up and have definitely been known to be an extremist but even I am rethinking some of my habits in regards to multitasking.  Having reviewed the study, I think about a few close calls I have had over the last year while driving on the phone and texting, reading emails, and checking twitter.  For you this might be checking the news, sports, stock market, or the weather.  Whichever other activity you are choosing while driving, hopefully this post will allow you to reevaluate the possible cost!

You Already Have Your NEXT New Customer!

What is the value of our current customers? In sales it seems we are always striving to get the next customer… So much of our time and effort is spent towards new customers. As sales professionals we do many things to get the next customer or client. Our sales cycle could be hours, days, months, or even years. All of this work just to get the next new customer.

And then it happens! We win the next contract, get the new client, win over our newest customer. Depending on what you are selling you may or may not have some role with this new customer , possibly in training, roll out, or just insuring the sale is complete. At some point our new sale is finished. You are done, the sale is final, and hopefully you have been paid, only to move on to do the cycle all over again. Spend all that time and energy to get the next new customer again.

So that’s it! Let’s move on to the next customer! Right? Wrong! Who is more important to follow up with? New leads, old leads, or existing customers? Existing customers! Don’t get me wrong, you always need to have a constant flow of new customers. My point is the customers you already have are a great resource for new ones! John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing talks about this in his article What’s Your Referral Number? John suggests creating a percentage baseline for the number of clients referring business to you. Finding this number will allow you to improve on your processes so you can achieve the maximum referrals from your clients. Following up with your current customers will not only help you with your customer retention, it will also lead you to new customers. Why not start tomorrow by calling 10 customers you have not spoken to in the last 30 days. Just check in with them and see how they are doing. Make sure they are happy with your product or service. Ask them if you can do anything for them. It shows great customer service and you might just receive a referral to your next new client!

Remember the time you focus on your current customers will allow you to attract new clients with ease. Sometimes the all alluring next new client is right in front of you! All you need to do if followup, stay engaged, and build on the relationship you have already created.

Twitter: Engaging Participants at Your Next Workshop or Seminar

I am relatively new to Twitter having just set up my account a few months ago. I started using it in conjunction with my Facebook account for status updates. I remember thinking what could I possibly do with a micro blog where I can only post 140 characters? It seemed like I was using two social media platforms for no good reason but I was committed to search out the value of Twitter! Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send and read other users updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 character in length. You can find out more about Twitter on Wikipedia.

The value of Twitter seemed to really present itself when I arrived at Blog World Expo. Twitter was used heavily throughout the entire conference. The organizers of Blog World created a hash code (an event code) and instructed everyone to label their micro-blogging with #bwe08 when twitting about Blog World. This was an ingenious way to keep everyone at the conference informed about schedule changes, social events, lunch, event details, and even real time class participation. (Not to mention a great marketing tool for the following year’s conference because not only could this year’s participants read the twits, but anyone on Twitter around the world could also participate. Talk about wetting someone’s appetite for future conferences. People from all over the country and world were weighing in and asking questions about sessions they couldn’t attend and didn’t pay for. How cool is that?)

So how did this make such a big difference? With everyone micro blogging using the #bwe08 you were able to search Twitter and bring up all the posts regarding Blog World. This gave me a running feed from people attending the workshop I was in as well as the many other workshops I could not make. It was like I was attending multiple workshops at the same time. On top of that most of the workshops had the feed up on the screen or created a new hash code for the workshop we were in like #cred.

As the expo continued the twitting evolved to an entire new level. Attendees started adding value to each workshop with comments, questions, and posting links to sites being discussed. The speakers and panelists of each workshop were reviewing the tweets as they showed up on the screens during the discussion. Many speakers would answer the questions real time and go into more detail based on what they were seeing.

Additionally, I can now go back and search these twits and use them as notes to remember what I learned in each session.

The end result was an amazing interaction at each workshop. A truly enlightening experience for me on how new media can make a big difference. I can’t wait for the next workshop or seminar I attend where the organizers are using twitter to interact with the participants.

I have discovered many additional uses for Twitter, future topics will include:

  • Using Twitter to enhance the customer experience
  • Large companies using Twitter to connect with their customers
  • Following up with new contacts on Twitter

How are you using Twitter? Are you or your company using Twitter to interact with clients or prospects? Become part of the conversation and add a comment on your experience with Twitter.

Tradeshows Like Blog World Expo Create Connection Explosions

I just attended The Blog World Expo in Las Vegas. My expectations were very mixed. I really had no idea what I was getting into. My goal was to meet new people, successful bloggers, and to learn how to make Follow Up Success the go-to resource for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and sales professionals.

The Expo far exceeded my expectations. I attended some amazing breakout sessions with all types of bloggers both on the panel and in the audience. I had great discussions with bloggers, companies that support bloggers, and people of all levels in the blogosphere. For example, I met people I never imagined would be there like:

A good friend of mine and fellow blogger asked me today how I was going to follow up with all the people I met. (Is she joking? Does she not read my blog?) So how am I going to follow up with all these new contacts? To start, I am going to do what I have talked about in this blog 7 Steps to Follow Up Success of course! Everyone will be getting an email from me today letting them know how much I appreciated meeting them. I will also add the social platforms I use to stay connected to people in my network; LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Over the next few weeks I will be calling these contacts to learn more about them and explore ways I might be able to help them.

I am still digesting all the great information from Blog World and already know this experience has made a huge impact on me. I’ll be writing about this more in the future but for now, here are just a few of the highlights that really stick out:

  • New Media – Now’s the time to ride the wave and implement new tools…you can be a pioneer, opportunities are endless.
  • Twitter – The powerful use of a new tool…ruling the top trended topics, what could this mean for your business?
  • How companies like Comcast are using social media like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to expand the customer experience and add a new layer to customer service.
  • CNN and Twitter – CNN is using Twitter to pull in live questions and engage their viewers. How can you use this strategy in your business to engage your customers?
  • Are bloggers just crazy people with too much time on their hands? I will admit this may have been somewhere in the back of my head before attending the expo. Now I realize they are a group of professionals, entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and writers. With that in mind how can you use blogging to support your business and follow up activities?

The blog world has a space for you too!  Reading blogs, making comments on posts, or starting your own blog are great action steps to enhance your business success!   If you would like a taste of what it was like at Blog World Expo check out Ryan Hupfer’s great post and video, It’s All About The Connections: Thoughts, Highlights, And Lessons Learned From Blog World Expo 08.  Lastly, consider attending Blog World Expo 09 or BlogHer in San Francisco next year.  Both conferences get rave reviews.   They are well worth the reasonable registration fees…which by the way are discounted if you twitter.  The expo was a rich experience for me and I enjoyed it so much I might just offer to speak myself next year.  We’ll see.

I Threw Away All the Business Cards on my Desk: Now What?

I had a few people who made the comment, “OK, I have thrown all the business cards away that were on my desk, now what do I do?” or “Now that all my cards are in the trash, where do I get more leads?” Another comment came from an associate of mine, “I did what you said and threw all my business cards away!”. I of course reminded him that this is not what I said at all. Thinking about it now I realize this may not have been such a bad idea for him… I have been in his office a few times and I know half the cards on his desk are over a year old! What if anything can business cards which you have had on your desk for over one year, most likely not followed up on at all, do for you now?

Ideally we have all removed our business card collection from our desk or at the very least are working through the stack by calling, making connections, adding them to our data base and slowly throwing those business cards away. I know this week I had some great conversations and reacquainted myself with those people behind the business cards! In fact right now I am skipping the first day at Blog World Expo just to catch up on calls. I have been regretting this decision at times today but the reality is following up with contacts is more important to me.

You are not alone if you threw away all of the business cards on your desk! Many people realize the cards on their desk were just too old to follow up on. The next step is to change how you follow up with them in the future! In my previous post, 7 Steps to Follow Up Success, I discussed my approach to following up with new contacts I meet at networking events, chamber mixers, trade shows, and expos. I also just read another great article by C.J. Hayden in the Entrepreneurs Blog section of About.com titled A Pocket Full of Business Cards. C.J. offers another perspective on following up with new contacts.

My challenge to you is to attend a networking event this week, collect new business cards, and implement the 7 Steps to Follow Up Success with them. Just don’t start another business card collection!

Please… Stop Going to Networking Events!

Last week I spent a day making my fourth contact with people I met at a networking event the previous month. It was a great event filled with what seemed to be highly motivated professionals who truly wanted to grow their business and referrals. The strange thing is 90% of the people have yet to make a single contact with me. Should I take this personally? Maybe I present myself in a bad way or don’t say the right things. Could it be that most people simply don’t followup after a networking event? The question that comes to mind is why would you go to a networking event, meet 20 new contacts, and not followup? What is the point of that?

It reminds me of a conversation I had recently with Bob Civello owner of Smarter Small Business. I met Bob at the same networking event I was following up on from last month. He made an off handed remark at a later meeting about the lack of any followup after networking events. Bob estimated in the last two years he has attended over 50 business expos, tradeshows, and networking events. Bob has shook hands with over 2,000 people at these events. With that many people I would think at least half of them did some kind of followup. I mean how hard is it to followup with an email or a phone call?  I outlined my followup process in my post 7 Steps to Follow Up Success.

Sadly the rest of the story is only 14 people did any kind of followup. 14 out of 2,000! If you are one of the 1,986 people my hope is you are reading this! The part to really think about here is at this point Robert has so much value on followup that he is very open to meeting with anyone who engages him after the event. He knows if a new contact actually follows up they are well worth adding to his network. Imagine how easy it would be to stand out to Robert… Simply picking up the phone or sending an email would give you the opportunity to connect, make a true new contact, and create a new referral source.

I think most businesses and sales professionals want to stand out from their competition. It seems with Roberts experience it could be as simple as just picking up the phone and reconnecting.

Making New Contacts: 1 contact or 250?

Yesterday I talked about the value of networking and how it can be so much more than just business, contacts, and referrals. Each day you are given the opportunity to meet and connect with new people. Last night as my friend and I walked into his surprise 50th birthday party I had a great feeling. How cool was it for him to stroll into what he thought was going to be a small gathering of people and to his surprise see 100 of his closest friends, clients, and family.  It was a great time full of laughs, food, and of course cake! Throughout the evening more people seemed to be stopping in. I knew a few of these people but many I did not. Everyone knew my friend, everyone knew, liked, and trusted him. Seeing all these people celebrating in my friend’s birthday reminded of the Law of 250.

What is the law of 250? The law of 250 has been talked about my many of the best marketers including Joe Girard. Girard is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Greatest Salesman. World’s Greatest Salesman, there has got to be something to be learned from him! Girard sold more cars than 95% of all the dealerships in North America. He did this not just for one year but for 10 plus years! How did Joe do it? Girard believed in the law of 250 and knew if he could get everybody he made contact with to refer him into their network of friends, family, and colleagues that he could multiply his marketing efforts by 250. Michael McLaughlin the coauthor of Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants, trusted advice on successful consulting from the authors of the bestselling Guerrilla Marketing series goes in more depth on the law of 250 in his Guerrilla Consulting blog.

Everyone one of us have close friends in our life. If it was your 50th birthday who would you invite to attend? Who would you want to celebrate with? These are the people who are in your network of 250. These are the people that know, like, and trust you. You have a choice with each new person you meet; you can count them as one or invest in the relationship and tap into 250.