July 16, 2012

Facebook event etiquette

Facebook makes it very easy to organize events and invite friends, colleagues and associates to them. However, it's all for nought if you don't make effective use of the features offered to you as well as bear in mind a few courtesies regardless of how you invite people to your activity.

Here are a few things to remember:

1) Location, location, location!

Coffee shops are very popular to hold informal get togethers and networking opportunities. Be sure to call ahead and make sure they don't already have an event scheduled that might present a conflict. And also make sure when preparing your announcement to specify where in the venue you're going to be meeting. If your location has two floors, specify whether you'll be upstairs or down stairs. If they have a patio, specify if you'll be inside or outside. This is especially helpful for making sure that people new to your networking circle can find you.

2) Know when from the get go!

Don't create an event without a set start time. Trying to get a consensus on a good time from your potential guest list is pointless. Just give people a window of a few hours. They will come when they can, or not at all.

3) Respect your hosts.

You should always encourage participants in your event to purchase something from the venue while they're there. A cup of coffee, hot chocolate—even a relatively overpriced soda—as a courtesy for using their space and often their free wi-fi. Not hungry or thirsty? At least drop a dollar in the tip jar on your way out. The owners and employees are working hard and space taken up by non-paying customers is costing them money. Make your event worth their while and they'll be happy to have you back.

Happy Networking!

July 2, 2012

Are you undermining your own ability to network?

Whenever we enter an election cycle, people tend to post their political opinions (or those of others) ad nauseam on their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and other social media platforms.

Photo composition by the author
derived from public domain images and others CC BY-SA 2.0/3.0
Shal Farley, Joella Marano, Gage Skidmore and Stand-Up Sucks, LLC
If you use Facebook and Instagram strictly for personal interactions with friends and family, you can stop reading now. However, if you rely on social networking for maintaining your professional/business relationships, you might want to think twice before publicly posting that meme or political cartoon that favors or criticizes a potentially divisive topic or figure.

To use Facebook as an example, there are myriad tools made available to users to determine not only who sees what they post but also to effectively filter what they see from "friends"—and those "friends" have no way of directly knowing about it.

We all have a friend—or more—who's incurably addicted to Facebook and posts about every mundane event in their life? If you don't want to see their posts anymore, you don't have to "unfriend" them, just "Unfollow" them and you won't have to see their posts about their latest meal or check-in at the gym. You'll still be "friends," but they will have no idea that you aren't seeing their posts, and if someone did it to you, you wouldn't know it either.

In extreme cases, you can add a person to your "Restricted" list which would limit what they see to your "Public" posts.

A member of my family once posted a picture on their profile apropos to this essay. It simply said,
"Face your life, 
don't Facebook your life."
People tend to overestimate just how interesting their life is to other people, hence the hypothetical example above. As a business owner (e.g. independent contractor, freelancer, etc.) you need to remember that if you're going to use social networks to grow our business and/or create awareness of yourself or your brand then you can't make the mistake of wasting the time of clients and potential clients with posts that are mundane or potentially offensive. Just because someone is your "friend" on Facebook doesn't mean that they want to know every little detail of your life or even your opinion on divisive issues like politics or religion. Such posts can result in not only losing a Facebook friend but alienating potential clients and employers.

This doesn't mean that you have to censor yourself, just take advantage of the tools social networks offer to tailor your posts to specific audiences.

When I see something online or in another news feed that I want to share, I don't just hit that "Share" link and let the chips fall where they may. I take a moment to consider the following question:
"How will posting this make me look to potential clients?"
If I feel that the post is interesting but absent of any type of divisive message or personality, I'll make it public or visible to "Friends and Acquaintances." If I want to share something a little more personal, perhaps a remark on my availability for work due to an illness, I'll make that visible to friends only.

Another useful tool is Facebook's "Lists" feature, with which I can create specific lists of people who I know would be okay with me posting certain types of content. For example, I like to share things of a spiritual nature from time to time, so I made a "Spiritchal" list which includes people among my friends who I know would appreciate seeing those sorts of posts while other friends—particularly those who don't care for spiritual content or those who I'm just not sure of in that regard—will never see it. I also adhere to a strict "Friend Request" vetting policy.

When it comes to political content, I'll admit that I have "Unfollowed"—without "Unfriending"—several people who I consider friends and colleagues because I don't care for their politics. And it's precisely that reason that I rarely post anything smacking of political content on my personal Facebook profile. I don't want potential clients to be offended or annoyed by anything I might want to share to the point that they unfriend or unfollow me and not only forget that I exist but effectively forget that I might be able to provide some service for them down the road. Does this mean that I have no interest in politics and don't care to engage people in such discussions? Of course not. Heck, I ran for US Congress in 2010. As such, I have a separate Facebook page reserved specifically for political postings. It's not a list, nor is it a group—two Facebook features that would allow me to add specific people to it. It's a Page that people are welcome to "Like" or "Unlike" as they so choose.

The closest I get to posting anything political is an occasional plug for this page—usually tied to an infrequent blog post—in which I tell my friends and acquaintances that if they want to engage me in a discussion about politics or socioeconomic issues, they are welcome to do so there but not on my personal Facebook profile.

So, remember, when using social networks for business networking, put careful thought into the things that you post and consider how it might be interpreted by potential clients and customers. You don't want to alienate anyone.


Latest Revision: October 1, 2019
Revision (image added): June 19, 2018
Revision: August, 24, 2017
Revision: September 14, 2016;;)

January 25, 2012

Getting it in writing

A lot of people who are new to being self-employed often neglect a very important element to conducting business professionally: The contract.

I won't deny that contracts can be intimidating but anyone who conducts themselves honestly and knows how to read, has nothing to fear from a contract. That document exists to protect the interests of both parties involved and the only people who "get screwed" by a contract are the ones who don't bother to read it.

I've met lots of independent business owners who insist on doing things based on "a handshake" or "gentlemen's agreement." They have very noble and romantic ideas about trusting people as men or women "of their word." And thus, they shun entering into contracts and accuse anyone of doing so as being suspicious or untrustworthy. I've experienced this first hand.

It's important to know that a contract isn't about not having trust in the people you work with. It's about placing one's trust in what is most reliable when entering into any agreement: a clearly written document that doesn't change from the moment it's printed versus fallible human memories that—more often than not—can shuffle around details, randomly delete clauses that were clearly stated and interpret as gospel-truth ideas and possibilities that were only implied and not even fully discussed.

I had an experience with a client a number of years ago that taught me in no uncertain terms the importance of getting in writing the terms of any exchange of services.

I was hired to build a web site and did everything I could to maintain contact with the client to ensure that they were following the progress of the build. However, they were more concerned with just "getting it done" than they were about approving the work as it was progressing.

When the site was completed, the client decided that they didn't like it and they wanted it rebuilt from the ground up. I had already been paid for the site that was built and it was pretty clear that the client had no intention of paying more since they weren't satisfied with the work that was done. I tried to point out to them that I did everything I could to get their approval of the site while it was being constructed specifically so I could avoid having to do the work twice but that didn't matter to them and there was really nothing that I could do because I had nothing in writing that described the details of the agreement. The only thing we could both agree on was that I agreed to build them a web site for a specific sum of money. In the end, they got what they paid for, a web site that they didn't like and I refused to rebuild it because I only agreed to build one site in the first place. The client was very upset by this—and so was I. The last thing any business person wants to do is piss off a client. People are more likely to share a bad business experience than a good one*.

In order to prevent this mistake from ever happening again, I composed a contract that addressed every mistake that I made with that particular "gentlemen's agreement" including: 1) Putting the agreement in writing. 2) Making it clear to the client that if they offer no input on the project then they're stuck with what they get when it's finished. 3) If they want the project redone, then they have to sign a new contract.

I have entered into a few "handshake" agreements since then but I always made sure to follow up such agreements with a "Letter of Understanding" that puts into writing the terms of the agreement as I understand them. This gives the other party something to reference and even negotiate against as the project progresses or is ultimately dissolved.

In the end, having a contract ensures that each party has an indisputable source that they can turn to whenever questions arise about who's responsible for what in the business/client relationship. And as long as people take the time to read their contracts, consult with an advisor and/or legal counsel, there will be absolutely no surprises when conflicts arise later on—and they almost always do.

*A couple of years later, I was able to just give that particular client a full refund on their project. They were family members of a very close friend and colleague and it was important to me that there would be no contention between us over the mistakes we made in our arrangement. In the end, I felt that it was worth it.