How ‘networked’ are you?

Today I am thrilled to be able to present you a guest post by Penny Power. Penny founded Ecademy, the first social network for business, in 1998 with her husband Thomas Power. The next twelve years have seen Penny successfully grow Ecademy into the global operation it is today, whilst also being a full time mum to her three children. When it comes to networking for business and collaboration between businesses Penny has a great vision which she expresses regularly in her blogs on Ecademy and in writing in her book Know Me, Like Me, Follow Me: What Online Social Networking Means for You and Your Business.

Enjoy this post!

Are you a Networked Business?

I am currently working on delivering a large and extensive research project to look at how the Banks and Government could support Micro and Small Businesses better. The goal is to educate those institutions on the value of the amazing people in our network and other networks so they can see that the future of business and therefore what funding support is needed in this new economy and new era of banking for micro and small businesses.

I have written 6 areas that I see are unique skills and assets of business people and owners who truly understand the opportunity that lies within the online networks, those that understand that these opportunities see that the opportunity to develop themselves and thier business reach far beyond purely building a sales pipe-line.

I would love you to read the article below and note which of these principles you follow and then take this Poll for us all to understand where we all are as a community.

I grew up with a father who believed strongly in networking. I grew up very sociable; I grew up with a love of people. It all makes sense that I love networking as an adult, as a businessperson. In fact I have always been a networker, connecting people, having an attitude of friendship first. I have not had to learn how to network.

However, the skill of networking is fast becoming one that even those who do not like to network will have to acquire.  It is not the domain of the extrovert or the sales person. Being ‘connected’, is about learning, keeping your business ahead, adapting, collaborating, being known, being liked and having people ‘follow you’. Ultimately it is about keeping your business in the minds of others and ensuring it has the ability to adapt, refine and stay competitive in a global marketplace.

The twelve years of supporting Ecademy Members has shown me that those who utilise a network have several highly beneficial features that make them more sustainable, more attractive for investment and bank support and increase the chance of success and reward:

In this article I will share six key areas that make ‘networked businesses’ highly attractive and I suggest you become a ‘Networked Business’ and use these thoughts in client negotiations, funding negotiations and when talking to your Bank.

1. Networked Businesses operate at a lower fixed cost.

One of the challenges for any business is scaling the amount of resources to enable growth. I remember a member of the Chamber of Commerce telling me that when he became Social Networking aware and used the networks well, he saw that the online world has one big benefit over the offline world and that was the reduction of overheads.

He stated that when he observed start-ups inside The Chamber, he saw people taking up an office, hiring staff and building their businesses as mini-corporates, following all the structure and rules of the world they had come from.  As a member of the social business networks he saw start-ups being able to keep their fixed costs low. No need for offices as collaboration was the key, working with people in all parts of the world on joint projects. No need to hire staff as many people liked to work for themselves and ‘sell’ their time when needed rather than for 40 hours a week. The spiraling costs and risks associated with employing people were cut out and the time taken to manage people and facilities were reduced, HR was no longer an issue.

I have seen many start-ups fail because they cannot afford to scale their resources and so their businesses remain dependent on their time only. Exchanging one person’s time as the owner for a fee does not allow a business to grow. Learning to collaborate and work with people who have the skills you do not have and are willing to work as a supplier rather than an employee will enable more businesses to succeed, and will give business the ability to scale, this is the ‘Networked Business’ way.

2. Networked Businesses have fast access to many skills and resources

Building a business requires access to skills and knowledge and the faster access you have to the skills or knowledge you need, in real-time, the more efficient your business becomes. One of our high profile BlackStar’s on Ecademy, William Buist has built his business beyond his dreams by utilizing the networks and he is a shining example of how this can be achieved. His light bulb, epiphany moment was when he realised that the larger his network grew the more time he had for his business. This is such a contradiction in terms for most people. The fear of building a network and maintaining it is often seen as out of reach due to time pressures. William and many others have proved this latent theory inaccurate in this modern world of technology and mobile communications. William directly attributes his business success to being ‘connected’ and being able to reach out to his large, diverse network to find the right people at the right time to solve a business problem for himself or his clients. Being able to find skills and resources at speed is the ‘Networked Business way’.

3. Networked Businesses often supply their services into a European and sometimes global market, extending their reach beyond their local market

I wonder if the markets around many businesses are fairly saturated with people who say and do the same things. Finding a Solicitor, Tax Specialist, Bookkeeper, Graphic Designer, the list could go on is not a difficult skill to find. I would not like to rely on my local advertising, Yellow Pages or even Google to bring me customers anymore. Trust is becoming the greatest form of marketing. Having people that trust you as a person and will advocate you is ultimately the best form of marketing any of us could strive for and this cannot be expressed in off the page advertising or through Search Engines.

A Networked Business has friends and these friends will be local, they will be European and some will stretch to all four corners of the earth. When I did my research for my book (Know Me, Like Me, Follow Me) I interviewed a homeopath in Leeds, Roger. Roger had a Blog about happiness and it had traffic from all over the world to his site. Roger did not know how to leverage this traffic and soon gave up because he could not find his local market this way. Businesses of the future will find a way of serving the interests of a global market, either through collaboration with ‘people like them’ who serve a local market in another part of the world or though adapting their services and products to monetise this far reaching network. This cant happen over night, but it is worth all businesses considering what they could sell, support, teach or consult on in the global market. I have seen many businesses adapt in this way, a great example was A graphic Design Agency in The Wirral, called Creatively Minded Design, owned by Ces and Jay Loftus that wrote a Blog stating they could design twitter backgrounds and in no time their sales pipeline was sorted for many months!

4. Networked Businesses adapt fast to market conditions

The phrase created by Darwin ‘the most adaptable survive’ is etched on my forehead. In fact my kids may chose that as my epitaph as I have stated that so many times in so many instances. The speed of change that we are experiencing is unprecedented, I am sure all generations say that, but ours has transitioned into a global communication revolution and the outcome is speed.

The biggest opportunities for businesses lie within the networks of online conversations providing they learn to listen! Listening online is a skill that requires an Open, Random and Supportive attitude, a non-blinkered view on the world that says to the world, ‘come to me and share your thoughts what ever they are’. I have seen so many ‘Networked Business’ adapt their products and services to suit the words, phrases and needs of the new economy. They know how to do this because they listen with the right intent, they know what they want and they know to listen to the needs of others. There is still significant money to be found, but not if businesses use the old way of hunting them out. The business lies within the random conversations, the social conversations. A ‘Networked Business’ is having conversations and is listening very intently. This the ‘Networked Business’ way.

5. Networked Businesses are highly sensitive to customer needs

One great teacher of mine taught me early that ‘customers buy, you do not sell’. The needs of customers change, none of us can say ‘I am selling this now and my customer will always want it’, well perhaps that is true for toilet paper, but not many things! Being sensitive to customers needs is about being highly connected to the source of your customer’s lives, thoughts, fears, threats and priorities.

We have all seen the shift in buying priorities in the market, but money does still exist, the economy has not stopped it has just shifted. Customer needs and priorities have shifted.

The most valuable lesson I have learned through building a ‘conversation network’, a ‘community’ is that the conversations are the most valuable part of our business. Few customers can tell you how to run your business or adpat your services, but their conversations will. I saw a Blog this week on Ecademy saying ‘my heart says iphone, my ghead says Blackberry’, this person was reaching into the community for advice on which way to go in his buying decision. The conversations collected from the community were possibly one of the best bits of research either Apple or BlackBerry RIM could have read, and if only they had joined in and listened and shared, I bet the outcome would have been different and the learning would have been invaluable for both parties.  A ‘Networked Business’ is tuned in, their radio is tuned into the frequency of their customers voice and they can listen, learn and be sensitive to the needs of the people they service. This is the ‘Networked Business’ way.

6. Networked Businesses are open to random friendships and focus on supporting not selling.

This is my favourite piece of the chocolate cake! Once I have consumed the previous 5 slices of goo I can then have fun. This is the easy bit…. being a friend.

When you stop wanting, when you stop trying, when you allow life to just happen online then you will see the magic.

The best analogy I can give is the pub. When you move into a new village with a local pub you want to be liked (I hope). You move slowly into the community, conversation by conversation and you get to know people for who they are. Business cards and lectures on what your business does is confined for that night that you get a bit drunk and you share boring stories! It does you no favour as this community, your village, your home is about friendship. But, of course friendship does lead to business. You ask someone if they know a good plumber, a good architect, a painter, an electrician and someone recommends someone they like and trust and know. Da da… a transaction happens. Equally, there may be family illnesses that throw you off course, problems with cash flow that means you cant buy a drink that night, a sudden need for someone to help you in a dark moment, and those people are their for you too.

Apply the pub analogy to your life online and be a friend, be you, get people to fall in love with who you are and then your world will open up, you will adapt, your will listen, you will achieve a low fixed cost business and you will achieve success, now and in the future. Your ability as a Networked Business to support others as friends makes your business highly attractive for others to advocate and refer business to, reducing you marketing expenses.

That is the Networked Business way.
Warm regards
Penny Power
+447771 543478
“Sharing People and Sharing Knowledge”

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