What does it take to achieve 513% growth in one year?
As I was packing for a business trip to Berlin, I realized I had just run out of business cards…
That makes 500+ business cards given away between March 2017 and November 2017. I am still hyperventilating processing this information, and imagine there must be a box of cards hiding somewhere!
Alas, probably not. The side effect of being a neat freak is that there aren’t too many places for those cards to hide.
As November unfolds, Sky(lark) is positioned to end the year at 513% growth. I am still hyperventilating processing THIS information, and imagine there must be a direct connection between giving away 500+ business cards in six months and 513% business growth this year, with a seemingly robust ramp into 2018 (fingers crossed!)
It’s of course not just about simply giving 500+ business cards away. You can accomplish that in one hour standing in the middle of the train station.
It’s about other things as well; I served the community through 400+ Pro Bono hours this year and I have never worked harder or produced more value for people with razor-thin profit margins. Success is a full-on activity with very little left at the end of each day (my totem animal right now is a squeezed lemon).
Besides hard work, success is about giving 500+ business cards away with intent, and identifying EXACTLY the potential intersections and mutual benefits + articulating them out loud for people when you give the card away. Otherwise, most individuals you meet don’t know what to do with you. So that’s part 1 (identifying who to approach and give the card to, and WHY), and part 2 (telling them what you see as a potential gain for them, or a specific opportunity for collaboration).
Part 3 is following up, often several times. Which is difficult, not because it’s hard (it is not), but because it takes time and intentionality. This follow-up is located in that elusive 4th quartile of the Eisenhower matrix labeled “Important/Not Urgent.” If you are not familiar with this matrix, please do it stat. It will transform the way you approach your “to dos”.
Was I totally “on” with the follow-up this year? No, I wasn’t. I still have a few stacks of business cards I collected at various events that I still have to do something with… And I know the more time passes, the less effective my follow-up will be. Making it a priority is key. If I would have prioritize it, Sky(lark) would probably be at 800% growth right now (and I would be chewing caffeine pills by the fistful – which for the record, I don’t)…
Part 4 of this is exposure of course; being in all the right places and having face time with people you want to work with. That is not hard; it is just a matter of – again – intent, planning, and investment. You have to invest time. You have to invest your attention. And often enough, you have to say “yes” to random, weird meetings; you have to lean into the world with an open heart; and you have to invest money in conference tickets and plane tickets and hotel rooms. It’s about investing the mental and emotional energy to overcome that moment at night when you put your head on a sterile, new pillow in another city, in another country perhaps, and feel utterly, thoroughly alone, knowing your precious child is time zones away wishing for you, missing you; knowing you could have had a lovely dinner with your spouse… Overcoming that moment when you ask yourself “what the heck am I doing HERE? I must be insane.”
Because you have to have the insanity of the obsessed. It’s that or nothing, the tepid existence of what’s at the opposite end of that spectrum, which is worse than nothing.
Part 5 is the most complicated, the part that cannot be taught (although I will try here): you have to train your eyes to see potential. To see what is the intersection between you and the other. The more remote the intersection, the more potentially innovative and valuable the collaboration. It’s like a muscle that needs to be continuously flexed, and flexed rapidly. That type of x-ray vision, I am not gonna lie; it’s a bit of a confluence of talent and skill. It’s not easy; it’s not beginner’s fodder… The good news though? It’s not a superpower. Anybody can build it and it gets easy with time. Once you get good at it, this mental process becomes like an app that runs in the background continuously, scanning for opportunities.
Additionally, because this is not just about the hustle, such vision will enhance the savor of your life as a whole. You’ll start noticing amazing details, nature elements, beautiful things, soul moving things, tiny generous acts previously unnoticed… It will be like gaining a direct connection with the heart of this world (because that’s exactly what will happen).
Part 6 is boldness. There is no substitute for walking up to a person, looking them in the eye and saying with sincerity and energy: “Hi! I am Cristina. I am a fan of your work in the XYZ area and I would love to know more.” Firm hand shake please.
If you are not occasionally uncomfortable, you are doing it wrong.
Part 7 is stamina, doing it over and over again with class and genuine enthusiasm. Looking the part, smiling, being absolutely, unapologetically, YOU.
Part 8 is organization. Write on those cards you receive (date, where you met people and why they were interesting to you). Use whatever system you prefer; CRM, digital scans, whatever. Otherwise it becomes unmanageable really fast. And by the same token, make it easy for people to remember you by making your card distinctive. I sometimes recommend to my clients to print small stickers for each event they go to; stickers that stand out and say “you met me at the XYZ conference in Jan 2018” I also use digital business cards (very well received by younger audiences); they have the added advantage that it instantly opens an email conversation with the recipient.
I constantly tweak my card, and invariably realize it’s never totally right for this or that audience. I have been toying with the idea of having distinct cards made for every major event I go to. Hopefully soon.
And while we are at it, please have a battle plan for EVERY SINGLE EVENT you go to. Because if you spend money and time, you have to have some goals and know specifically what you plan to get out of it. For the record, “networking” means nothing. Know when you are the hunter and when you are the hunted, and embrace both with generosity of spirit and a fresh voice.
And not to be a nag (although I am perfectly comfortable being a nag) you are there to WORK, are we clear? Enjoy by all means, because why not, but focus! Be “on” at all times and skip the second or third drink because being there is too expensive (if not in dollar amounts, then in energy) to waste on anything less than giving it your 100%. If you can’t do that, simply don’t go; it would be a frustrating waste of time.
Part 9 is continuously adding value; giving of yourself, your knowledge, your ideas and connections, ON THE SPOT, in 2 minutes or so. Sounds far-fetched? It’s not; again, it is a matter of intent and respect for both the other and, frankly, respect for your own time. You have to practice to get to a point to which it is effortless, but it is fun when you do. You feel amazing seeing the paradigms you shift for people, the help you give landing in the perfect spot and so on.
If you just give away 500+ business cards in 6 months without using that small piece of cardboard as a platter to serve value, you are nothing but a used car salesmen wearing a neon blue 70’s polyester leisure suit. I am sure you won’t do that though, right?
Part 10 is about fanatical, steadfast belief in the ways of the universe. The phone seldom rings having at the other end the person to whom you have given the business card. Sometimes it does, most times it doesn’t. Your energy poured relentlessly into the world and your commitment to your own burning desire is what brings it all in. The business card is just the ticket to the show.
I think that’s it.
Now go make sure you have well-protected fistfuls of cards (because there is nothing sadder than handing out a dog-eared business card) in every bag, backpack, notebook, and wallet you carry around.