The Changing Business Landscape

Me at the BWC doing my "40 seconds". Thanks to

I took my Dad along to a recent Business Wealth Club networking meeting and it made me think how much the business environment has changed. When he was out on the road as a sales engineer from the 1960s to being a sales manager in the 70s and 80s and director in the 90s and 2000s he was employed by a company and travelled around his area visiting prospects and customers. He’d meet his colleagues at head office or regional offices and at the various exhibitions and dinners. There was no real line of communication with competitors, why should there have been? After all, his was the first generation to discover that a job is not for life, there wasn’t an environment of switching allegiances to rival companies.

Now it’s different. I know who my competition are and what they’re doing. I often team up with them to pitch for larger jobs o to work together on certain projects. We are in an age of joint ventures, of companies being smaller but teaming up to supply each other with extra knowledge or resources.

Looking around the room at the networking event I could see 150 people. I knew 75% of them personally. Even though many of their businesses are completely different to my own. I’d probably worked with about 15% of the room and had made profit making connections with 40%.

What’s changed since the late 20th century is the concept of silos, or companies as competing tribes. Most people wok for a small business with less than 100 employees. There’s much more interaction with people who don’t work for the same business and this has allowed, in the more entrepreneurial businesses to realise that cooperation and cross-company teamwork (often called Joint Ventures) is the new way to do business.

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Don’t be modest or ashamed – always vote for your own brand

Ayd Instone and Joel Roberts

Ayd Instone and Joel Roberts

I was an attendee (and sponsor) of The Business Wealth Club networking group Open Day in Oxford last week. 150 business owners had gathered to see Joel Roberts, one of America’s top media coaches, give a talk about how to sell and present yourself to an audience.

To start the event and to have something to discuss over breakfast, our host Dave Griffin said we should all get out business cards out and vote on our tables for the best one. These will then be passed to the front and Joel will choose his favourite from those 15.

Business cards were distributed to everyone on our table and we held up our favourite. I help up my own. All but one other of the ten people held up mine too. One lady said, “but you’ve voted for your own?”. “Of course” I said. “I’m voting for the best one.” She then put mine down and held up her own. I still won of course by 8 votes to 2.

What would you do in a similar situation? Assuming there’s not an amazingly good card around like mine, would you hold up your own? If not, why not?

Are you too modest to vote for your own brand? If you feel unable to push forward your own marketing materials without feeling a bit immodest you clearly haven’t externalised your business brand: we need to talk.

Are you too ashamed to hold up your cheap, flimsy embarrassing cards that you’ve invested not time and effort in or that still has the old logo on, or are those free ones with the generic stock image every plumber uses? If so we REALLY need to talk.

You wouldn’t go out to a business meeting to see potential clients in a big bag, or still dressed in your pyjamas so why send your business’s brand out there dressed as a buffoon?

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Return on Connections

There’s a phrase that’s common in business, ‘return on investment’. It usually means that any money or time spent on research or marketing should be made back with interest. It underlies a passive investment, that throwing money at a problem, say, marketing, should produce results or it’s just not worth bothering with.

The fixation is often solely on the money to be spent. In the changing world of business interactions that we’re living in today we perhaps need to broaden this definition of investment to cover more active investments such as online and offline networking. An expert in marketing will tell us that the power or success of a marketing message relies on the return on connections that the message has made. It really is ‘who you know’ or rather ‘who knows and trusts you’. The more and more high quality connections we have in business the more likely we’ll have to have that greater return.

People buy from people they like. People like people who talk to them and to whom they can talk with. It’s this two-way connection that is defining the new era (if you’ve ever heard of Web 2.0 then that essentially is what it means – two way conversations). The business model of large faceless monolithic corporation serving faceless plebs has run out of acceptance by newer generations. They want to buy from cool people who are just like them, or how they aspire to be.

Nowadays we have more ‘friends’ than any previous generation due in part to the contact management systems available to us such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. They allow us to be far more active in keeping those contacts familiar, with ongoing dialogues, than the address book of old which only ever prompted the annual Christmas card.

Business, like large ships, take so much longer to turn and respond to new ways of doing things. But it’s likely that increased connections and increasingly clever ways of managing them in a personable way will define new business. Soon we will all be asking the question, “how can I increase my return on my connections?”.

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