264: Never Stop Building your Network with Lorraine Ball
After spending too many years in corporate America, Lorraine said goodbye to the bureaucracy, glass ceilings, and bad coffee. Today you can find her at Round Peg, a digital agency located in Carmel, Indiana building smart marketing strategies for businesses who want to use internet marketing tools to grow Laureen is also the host of More than a Few Words, a weekly marketing conversation for business owners. In her spare time, she loves to travel and take photos.
So you actually started your agency in more of the traditional sense but migrated to digital. How and when did you know it was time to make that transition?
I would love to tell you that I strategically planned that out that I saw this whole digital thing coming and I anticipated it, but no. Actually what happened was, we were doing small business marketing and I hired a couple of young professionals who were like, you know, you need to take a look at this Facebook thing. This is going back 2007 or whenever, you know, right in that time frame. We started looking at it and what we realized, as we were looking at it is we were working with small businesses who didn't have a lot of money. We saw this, wild west where there weren't a lot of rules and there were a lot of opportunities to make a big splash on a small investment. That’s what really intrigued me so much about the early days of digital marketing. It's gotten a lot more static since then, but in the beginning, it was a great place to try out so many different things. One morning, I woke up and realized that that was most of my business and I've never looked back, I really enjoy it.
Why don't you share a little bit about some of the lessons that you learned during this transition?
I think the biggest lesson that I learned it took me a little while to figure this out was that the basics of good marketing, knowing who your customer is, knowing what their pain points are, knowing what your objective is when you have a conversation with them. A conversation can be a television ad, it can be a direct mail piece, or it can be a social share on Instagram. Starting with who your customer is, and applying all the same strategies of traditional marketing to digital marketing makes your campaigns much more effective. I said earlier that it was kind of the Wild West, but as digital marketing has matured, understanding that I have to go back to my roots as a classic marketer and apply that same strategy makes the content much more effective, makes it drive the results, and makes everybody a lot more satisfied with the content we're putting out and the results that we're getting back.
So can you help our listeners remove any fear that they have around networking by sharing one of your most successful or favorite networking stories?
So I love networking, I have to admit that when I first started the business, I was a bit of a networking junkie. I didn't have a lot of customers and didn't have a lot else to do so I was running around any, any, and all networking events until I kind of create a little strategy there. But one of my favorite stories is I was at BNI when I first got started. And I thought that was a great way to learn the basics of networking. One of the rules and BNI is that if you can't attend an event, you have to invite someone to take your place. I called a friend of mine who was a marketer. So I thought she'd be a perfect replacement and she couldn't come. But she said, "You know, I got this friend, Eric and he is trying to get around to all the BNI chapters in the city. I'll hook you up, he'll take your place. And so I was like, great. And we chatted on the phone, and Eric took my place." So I wrote him a thank you note and we went off on our merry way. Two months later, I'm at a different networking event and I'm walking through a doorway. Coming through the doorway exactly the same moment is this very large gentleman. I mean, he's built like a football player. S I do what I always did at a networking event, we almost bump into each other a step back, and I said, "Hi, I'm Lorraine," to which he replies, "I'm you." And I'm looking at this guy, and I'm thinking In what world does a God who's built like a football player think he's me? So I take a step back because I'm not quite sure he's all there and I asked him, "So why do you think you are me?" And he explained, he's Eric, he's the guy that attended the networking event in my place. So I started to laugh and I told him what I was thinking. Eric was a contractor, his customers were homeowners, I was running an agency, my customers were businesses, there was no reason for us to really do a follow-up networking event. Except he made me laugh. So when he suggested that we grab a cup of coffee, I thought, you know what, every now and then you just have to spend half an hour with somebody who makes you laugh. Well, we had coffee, and we had coffee again, and we became friends. What we discovered was, even though our markets were completely different, he would run into people who needed me and I would run into people who needed his services. We had a great referral partnership, we ultimately started looking for office space, we decided that we were going to buy a building. We bought a building that we could house both of our businesses in. Eventually, I bought him out and he's gone on to other things, but all of that I would never have had the courage to move out of my home and buy a building. I can't tell you how many different customers I have relationships with today because of that, and it all started because he made me laugh and because we recognized that as people we really liked being around each other. So that's my favorite networking story is that you know, being willing to have a conversation, even if you're not quite sure there's a business reason to do it.
Now, can you share a little bit about how you nurture these relationships? Because regardless of the size of your network, it's extremely important to maintain and nurture your community in your relationships.
So one of my favorite strategies is every now and then I particularly do this when business slows down. I go through my online address book, but whatever and I make random phone calls and I'm not doing it to sell anything. I will call people who I've met in networking events, maybe we've collaborated, and I haven't heard from them in a while. And I just randomly say, "Hey, I was just calling to touch base." Now, pre all the COVID stuff, I'd be like, "You got time for a cup of coffee?" What I found is, if I would make five of those calls a week, they don't take long, every one of them makes me smile, because these are people I genuinely like and all sorts of things come out of those conversations. Number one, in some cases, it just reinforces the connections. In other cases, I'll get a, "You know? I was just talking to someone and I didn't think about you, but I'm going to hook you up." Or someone mentions maybe, "Hey, I'm going to this event or this conference." One of my favorites was I called somebody I'd known for a long time and she said, "I'm so glad you called, I'm moving to Florida and this will be a great opportunity to say goodbye." Then as we connected, she said she was selling the business and that she would introduce me to the person buying it. Had I not picked up the phone at that moment, she might already be in Florida. I might never have had a chance to say goodbye, but also I might not have had a chance to build that relationship with the person who was taking over.
What advice would you offer that business professional who is really looking to grow their network?
I think that you have to kiss a lot of frogs and I think you have to be particularly in the beginning, willing to kiss a lot of frogs and just go to a lot of events and meet a lot of people. But don't go with the intention of shoving your business card in everybody's face and talking about yourself. What you really want to do when you walk in the door at any networking event, is meet people and look for those people you want to have a longer conversation with. Because it is that follow up conversation that will tell you whether this is a connection that's going to go somewhere. If you approach each conversation with more of your detective hat on, who are you what do you do, who are your customers, is there a place where we overlap? A question I like to ask is to ask them about one of their favorite projects. That's because if somebody starts talking and they light up because they're excited about their customers, that's somebody I probably want to hang out with. If they immediately start with, you know, "I'd love my job if it wasn't for my customers," that's not necessarily somebody who approaches business the way I do. Then one of my other really favorite networking questions is, "Hey, have you been to any other events that you think I might like?" I've asked that question twice in my life and both times, I ended up in organizations that had dramatic impacts on my business, that maybe I would have found eventually. But I found it exactly the right moment because somebody said, "You know, I think you'll like this group," and I went.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
I think the first thing I would say is to be braver sooner. I don't want to say the older I get, the more experienced I am. But the more comfortable I am with my gut instincts and my ideas, the more comfortable I am speaking up, and the less likely I am to sort of second guess myself. I might not have had a depth of experience, but I definitely was smart and I think I spent a lot of time in the early years, hiding that a little bit by couching my suggestions or taking a backseat to someone else. Particularly I was a woman in a lot of male-oriented industries so there's certainly a lot of that in play. But I think I would, even when I started my business, I had some male peers, who basically said, "You've got to raise your price, you're worth more than this," and just being braver sooner and being willing to just say no, this is what I think and it's okay if you don't get that.
Any final word or advice offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
I think that I would suggest that you never stop building. Often I think business owners get into this. It's almost a high school attitude where they say, "These are the people who were in business when I started, we've grown up together, this is this is my network." It's kind of like my graduating class. But you know what, when I was a junior in high school, I had some friends who were seniors and some friends who were freshmen, and my senior friends graduated and they went off somewhere else. So those younger people coming up were or newer people coming up were bringing in filling in gaps. That I think, is also very, very true of your network. You may have that core, but always make time to bring some new people in for some fresh ideas, because also some of those other folks may roll away from one reason or another. It's not like you have to have that same sort of high level of thinking you have to build out an entire network. But after several years of doing it, and you have that solid core, you always want to be on the lookout for those one or two new people who are going to just add that extra spark which helps you grow a little further.
Connect with Lorraine:
Round Peg Website: https://roundpeg.biz/
Lorraine’s Podcast: https://morethanafewwords.com/
Lorraine’s Website: https://lorraineball.com/