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Balancing Christmas and Business

You know it’s here, don’t you? The days are longer, the temperature is warmer and malls are decked with Santa. We’ve already had our family Santa portrait and it was only half way through November. Yes, the Christmas season is upon us. And whilst the anticipation of what the jolly man in the red and white may bring down your chimney is giving you a feeling of joy, in the back of your mind is the thought, “how is my business looking right now?” You’re tempted to have the odd lunch out with a beer or wine, and you know there will be corporate Christmas Parties to attend from 5pm til late on week nights, but you still need to take stock and remember – you’re running a business. Even if you’re not the boss, you should be thinking of yourself as YOUR boss – you are the business within the business. Here are some tips to balance your work with your festive pleasure;

1. Look at where you are now compared with where you were 12 months ago. If you don’t have records to refer to, you should expect potatoes under your tree and not presents (a threat my four-year old gets occasionally when acting up) because you need to know the past to meet targets in the present and plan for the future. Even if you don’t have last year’s figures (what you earned, how many sales, what was your volume etc) take stock now of what you have achieved. Then set targets for the next 12 months. You should do this every six months. Once for the calendar year and then again for the financial year. It keeps you accountable and on track. We make ourselves really accountable in our office, because we put our comparative stats up on a slide show in front of our entire staff!

2. Write down your top 20 leads for January. You really should be using November and December as lead generating months for January and February. You will be left behind in the tracks of Santa’s sleigh if you don’t. There is nothing worse than trying to start from scratch on the 15th of January when business has returned to normal.

3. Reward the biggest contributors to your business. Honestly it’s all about the quality not the quantity. Set yourself a budget and buy each of your valued stakeholders, referrers, clients and friends who contribute in some way to your success, a Christmas card and small gift. Even a scratchie is better than nothing. Google some gift ideas for what may be appropriate to your circle of influence.

4. Network rather than socialise. It’s easy to fall into that mindset of being all about the festivities and look around for that naughty mistletoe. Keep on track and remember you are a business person and you have a certain reputation to uphold in your community and business world. Sometimes the stories around water coolers are about what so-and-so did at such-and-such a function. Don’t be that “so-and-so”.

5. Arrive at work half an hour to an hour earlier for November and December to make up for the early finishes and plan better for a more productive day. You’re in wind down mode aren’t you? Make sure you are wound up at the start of the day to make up for this fact.

6. Don’t forget about your “do list”. For some reason at the end of the year, daily tasks drop off and planning goes out the window. Keep focused on what you need to do so that business keeps rolling in. You will notice patchy weeks of activity and now is the perfect time to think outside the box and look for new ways to do business or promote yourself and your brand. Start a blog. Get on youtube. Create a “marketing-you” calendar for 2012.

When you get your business back into a more focused mode during this potentially “silly season”, you will be able to relax and enjoy festivities, knowing you have planned for what’s to come. And finally – don’t eat too much or you’ll come back in 2012 feeling bloated, lethargic and regretful. There’s no better feeling than being healthy when you know all the temptations were sitting there right in front of you. You come back feeling energetic, proud and full of positive ideas.

How to network effectively – and common mistakes

I am the first to admit that I was a lousy networker. I did all the “wrongs” and hardly any of the “rights”. Over time though, I’ve learnt to watch the people who network well, and take some notes on why they are so effective at working a room. Before going into detail on the “do’s” though, I thought I’d relay the challenges I faced and what the “don’ts” are first.
• You arrive at the venue to be greeted by representatives of the organisation putting on the social occasion. They smile and hand you a name badge, instructing you to grab a drink at the bar and feel free to mingle. You politely nod and move into the room. The first thing you look for is the bar. Dutch courage always helps. The second thing you scan the room for is people you know! Once you grab the drink, you feel more comfortable having something in your hand, so you move straight to the people you know – and blend in. This is the first of the “don’ts”.
• Conversation amongst the group of familiar faces picks up, and you all talk about work, sport and local news. You are still scanning the room for other familiar faces so that you can feel like you’re “mingling” by moving from one group to the next. This is the second “don’t”. Don’t feel that because you move from one group of people you know to another that you have effectively networked.
• You have more drinks, even offering to go to the bar for others. As the night wears on, you feel a little tipsy and your conversation starts to head south – fast. Now instead of talking about business, current events or sport, you’re either talking about the opposite sex, how good you are or you’re telling a joke you heard at a BBQ recently.
• At the end of the night, you hand out cards to people who already have your number anyway, because handing out your card makes you feel as though you have seriously networked to the point there was even a result – they took your card.
There are dozens of other “don’ts”, but these are the most common. I will also highlight some other “what not to do’s” through this next list of “do’s”.
• On entry to the event, rather than just nodding to the representatives, ask them a couple of questions about the night. Such questions may be; “who else here is from your organisation?” Clearly there is a reason they are putting on this event, so it pays to know more about the organisers and who to catch up with during the evening. Another question may be “Can I give you my card in case you put on another event in the future?” This is one of the correct times to hand out a business card – to people who either don’t know you too well, or who you don’t know too well. The organisers are the best to give a card to because they clearly have a significant network of like-minded people.
• The rules. A lot of the “do’s” revolve around mindset and preparing before you make your way into the room. Here are the things to remember before you even start to socialise:
• a) smile all night – people approach friendly people, they remember friendly people and they never talk badly about friendly people. Tip – be a friendly person and smile. Do you ever remember not liking someone who smiles a lot? Be that person. Sounds easy? Next time you are at one of these events, just pause and think, “Am I smiling right now?”
• b) play a game – here is something has helped me a lot. I set up a game in my mind before I come to a social night. I set myself points to score based on the following elements – 1. the number of people I meet that I’ve never met before (target might be 12). 2. The number of questions I ask in a conversation with one other person I don’t know. The game is to find out more information about them, not to give more information about you. People rarely remember the person who talked about themselves or their company all night. 3. How many emails I collect. The idea is to email everyone I met at the night, the week after, to continue the relationship and rapport building post event. 4. The name game. Are you constantly forgetting new people’s names? Names are so important to people that it’s really disrespectful not to remember them. Here’s a tip on how to do it. First, repeat their name back to them. Secondly, in your mind, identify their name with someone else you know, a friend, family member or celebrity. Now associate that identified name with that person every time they say something. And finally, say their name heaps during the conversation. The more you say it, the more they feel important and the more you will be able to remember it.
• They are the main mindset rules, now back onto the other “do’s”. Make sure after you grab a drink and turn to face the mingling crowd, you get out of the habit of migrating towards familiar faces and instead try to find someone who is standing by themselves, or a couple standing together. Avoid groups as it’s really hard to launch into an existing conversation.
• When approaching the person or couple, introduce yourself, and after they say their names back, ask them what they do and how they came about being at this event. Keep it about them and remember to follow the game already mentioned.
• Collect their card and ask if it’s okay to touch base down the track.
• Find a connection. You have to attempt to find a common business thread between you and the people you meet. If possible think of people you can refer to their business. This is not only thoughtful but it keeps you on track with the purpose of the night – business and relationship opportunities.
• Move from these people to others you’ve never met before and continue with your “game” of collecting information, connections, emails and new relationships.
• At the end of the night you will have really “worked the room”.
Result: People will remember you for being friendly and approachable. They will love the fact you cared about their business and thought to refer business to them. People will appreciate a follow up email after the event. Organisers will remember to invite you to more events. A spin off from this but certainly not the main objective, you may also find people refer business opportunities or contacts to you! Good luck and remember – it’s just a game.