There’s a spate of posts on “things to do to get through the current economic climate“. I have to confess most of them washed past me. It is not that they didn’t have good advice, it is just that it was mostly things that should be done at the best of times too. Likewise, at each business lunch and talk I’ve given recently, the discussion has been about what strategies should be used. How should businesses be marketing or managing differently? Then, three times in a row, the same piece of advice came up: Meet up.
I don’t mean the meetup.com service. I mean meet up for a coffee. Meet up for a lunch. Meet up for a drink. “Benjamin!” you say, “that’s a bit frivolous. Shouldn’t we be working harder, rather than out socialising?” But think about it. Business demand is down in many sectors. That means getting smarter about finding new customers and keeping existing ones. It means ensuring you have a good network in place, should things take a turn for the worse. It is about scarcity, not capacity. The long-term winners will be those with that extra insight that enables them to make smart decisions and avoid mistakes. It won’t be the ones running 10% faster in the wrong direction.
Keep on Meeting
Discussions are great for a business, especially in tough times. Identity your most important customers and meet up with them. Not email. Not a phone call. Arrange to meet for that coffee or drink. At a personal level, think about your most valued friends. Book in some time with them, just to meet up and chat. Find out how they are doing. It’s about protecting valuable relationships, as well as sharing issues and insights.
I’m a massive advocate of social media and technology-mediated communication. I blog, tweet and video my way through the day. Often I’m teaching others to do the same, or I’m building blogs and community sites, networks and communication systems. I love the stuff. However, I value face to face communication more. There are somethings that only face to face communication will provide, and they are things that we need right now.
Something is Missing
When you talk to someone, rather that type to them, you hear a sea of additional information. Technically, it’s called prosody. The inflection, rhythm and tone of their voice change, from “yes, things are ok” to “yes, things are ok”. Did you spot the difference? Of course not. There wasn’t any. But if you heard me say them, you’d be able to tell if business was turning good, or if business was turning bad. Not because I was trying to mislead you by what I was saying, but because words may tell you where things are, but emotions tell you where things are heading. You don’t need to consciously think about interpreting the information coded in the prosody of someone’s speech. You’ve been learning to do it every day since you started listening. It happens unconsciously, but only when you talk.
When you see someone, you see their body language. Their posture and movements tell you even more about what they are thinking and feeling. Are they looking at you, or gazing away? Are they fidgety or still? If you can’t see the person, you loose that information. I’m not talking about advanced body language reading skills, just understanding “how is my relationship?” or “am I spending enough time with them?”
And That’s Not All
I haven’t got to the most important reason for meeting up face to face. Non-verbal communication is great, but there is something else that only happens when you physically go somewhere to meet up. Chance conversations. When I was working in Asian cultures, it took me a while to realise the important conversations were the ones that happened when the formal ones were over. Actually it’s no different anywhere in the world.
While email and phone might be informal compared to the written letters of old, they still aren’t as informal as we like to think they are. We are trained to be efficient on the phone, and conversations are stilted, even in video conferences with the very latest high definition equipment. Our brain knows that valuable bits of communication are missing, and it longs to have the gaps filled in. A conversation, in a relaxed atmosphere, is something unique. We crave it, but too often we deny ourselves the opportunity for it. In difficult times, it is the only way to figure out what is going on. It is the only way to build strong relationships that will protect you and your business. It is the only thing that provides the confidence to get on and get things done. It also surfaces the extra nuggets of information that enable the entrepreneur to succeed. Trust your instincts on this one.
Balancing Online and Offline
There was a peace in the Mail Online today – How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer. Ordinarily it isn’t something I would rise to citing, but it has been interesting to see the reaction on-line. Dr Aric Sigman, quoted in the article, probably hasn’t made any friends in the on-line world, but I doubt he is bothered about that. Don’t worry, he has written about how TV is killing us too. In case the comments people have added to the piece don’t provide enough entertainment for, you, check out the spoof “Daily Mail says Postal System Causes Cancer” by the incorrigible Tom Morris. Needless to say, neither represents a systematic research piece!
I’m definitely not reducing the importance or the power of digital communication. The mass media makes much of ‘the battle’ between online (social media and social networking) and offline. While they might appear to be warring for our time – or budget in the case of business – in a healthy set up, they are complementary to each other.
As a business, for almost everything except on-line retail, you want to end up face to face with potential customers. You want potential customers and your sales channel to meet and transact business. For personal relationships, eventually you want to push past the technology and meet the people “in real life”. Social media scales your ability to reach out to new contacts, and preserve existing ones.
One Thing Leads to Another
Vibrant on-line communities lead to face-to-face meet ups. It is almost inevitable, and has been since the earliest digital communications. In the same way, online tools act as a sustaining mechansim for existing relationships, when distance or time limit contact. The best way to build an on-line community? Get people meeting face to face. Want to preserve a time-scarce or geographically dispersed community? Use on-line tools. One of the reasons that social media is such an effective tool for growing business, or your personal social network, is that it acts as an efficient funnel between “the big wide world” of contacts and our intimate circle of relationships. Which takes me back to where I started…
Now is the time to invest time into important relationships. Check in with your most important customers. Look up your friends. How are they doing? Is there anything that you can be doing to support them? “Chill out” away from the day to day hype and get a proper read on what is happening.