Making friends

friends-fingers

The CEO of one of our clients retired recently, and I heard both sides of an incredible story of partnership and friendship that was built up over many years of our companies working together. It was truly impressive and reminded me of a story.

My dad used to say, “You can count your real friends on one hand.” Today, kids add friends to their Facebook pages in an instant, because technology makes us think we can shortcut the process to making friends. This is not true.

One of biggest mistakes about building relationships is trying to build a rich experience to win people over very quickly by using technology, and for those people with the greatest influence – I have called them the ‘one-percenters’ in the past – to share your message or story across their network so that it goes viral.

But in real life, and in business especially, relationships form via many lightweight interactions over a period of time, and usually with your customer getting to know the person first of all and gradually building trust.

So despite the speed of interactions that technology brings to the table, when you meet somebody for the first time and have a conversation, you are not suddenly best friends.

Small is Beautiful

More than half of UK GDP comes from small businesses. In the US, it has been quoted as high as 70%. At a meeting in Brussels, one of the ministers told us that if every small business was helped and encouraged to hire one new member of staff, there would be no unemployment in Europe.

So why am I a big supporter of the small, the underdog and the start-up. Because it is the lifeblood of our economy and it means people will continue to be creative, use technology to collaborative and think and share in communities rather moving backwards to an era where we clocked in and worked 9-to-5.

While big brands such as General Mills, General Motors and General Electric will still have their place, this is the ‘long tail’ of business. A billion little entrepreneurial opportunities ready to be exploited by smart, creative people. The future will be about ‘more’. More innovation, from more places and more people – people focused on narrow niches, where collectively all these producers will reinvent the industrial economy.

I liken it to the old days of small specialist shops and boutiques on a high street, but this time online, trading via Etsy or some other platform or ‘storefront.’ I don’t think we are too far away. In the meantime, I am happy to attend, support and present at events that encourage businesses of all sizes to come together and talk, share, exchange. I will be at Business Expo 3.0 (www.national-expo.co.uk ) on March 8th – we have a lot to learn.

Community update

CompTIA UK hosted our UK Channel Community last Thursday at the ICC in Birmingham and most of us agreed it was the best meeting to date.

A community operates differently. Whilst sometimes tempted to dictate the run of play, it was more productive and more satisfying to see members of the community step up and take the lead at different times during the session, each adding their own nugget of value to the collective. Our chair, IT consultant Richard Tubb, is well respected by all, and his effortless leadership ensured everybody in the room was included, particularly with the ‘30-second Best Practice’ session, now an institution at these meetings. Adam Harris launched the legal resource centre and shared why we localised it for the benefit of our UK members, and vice-chair Lee Evans, owner of Vital Technology Group, updated the delegates on the Quality Mark we are working on.

It was also pleasing to see some new faces take the stage, such Les Billing from HMD Electronics, who led the update on the Vendor Resources Portal and my favourite session of the day, ‘Connecting with Customers’ presented by Gareth Brown, MD of Sytec. Gareth told us that simplicity is the key for customers; that we often talk in our own ‘IT language’ which customers don’t understand, and how great it was to see his company’s mantra – “We Fix IT” – get a great response from the group. This was my biggest take-away from the day: all of us must “de-jargonise” and “de-fluff” our services when we market, and talk to, customers. Great phrases!

The most fulfilling piece of all however, was seeing the members come together, engage in conversation, laugh out loud, talk about the markets, economy and trends, even about their cars, but most importantly build connections and enhance the community.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes the beauty is just to step back from the conversation and watch the magic happen.

Communities

The CompTIA Annual Member Conference (#amm11) and Colloquium event are both over. Some enlightening sessions and excellent networking for a solid 2 days. Highlights of my presentation can be found at: http://blog.comptia.org/2011/04/07/making-social-media-work-for-your-business/

My main takeaway – technology drives communities. Whilst Facebook is great and accounts for 4-5% of all the time we spend online, less obvious communities like Ravelry is what it is all about for me. Specialised groups, in this case with an interest in knitting and crocheting, bring like-minded people together. Don’t understimate the power of the knitters – there are 1.2 million members to this community. That is technology’s true power.