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Toot your own horn

Even people who aren’t in business might hear the following question dozens of times during a typical week:

“Hey, how’s it going?”

Take a moment to think about how you typically respond to that question. Most people will answer something like, “Fine. How about you?” They feel they are being thoughtful by deflecting the attention from themselves and onto the other person. But it’s really more of a habit. Those who are exceptionally positive about life will usually say something like “Things are going great! I couldn’t be busier!” even if they aren’t.

Both of those responses bring challenges for those in the business world.

Deflecting the question

The first answer, an easy “Fine,” dismisses the question and leaves the person who asked with no information that can let them help you. It feels as if you are avoiding the question. They’ll immediately be thinking, “Hmm, this person really doesn’t want to talk about this” and they’ll steer clear of getting any more information. It may be the way most of us respond, and most people perhaps expect it, but this isn’t doing you any favors from a business perspective.

The busy beaver

The second one, in which the person enthusiastically respond that things really couldn’t get much better and they are as busy as they could possibly get, isn’t a very smart response. When you suggest that you’re exceptionally busy, the other person will immediately think that your plate is too full to help with the referral they might have been thinking about sending your way.

If only you could read your friend’s mind, says Ivan Misner, founder of BNI. You’d be running after him shouting, “Wait! I really do want Sue’s business!”

Misner shares an example of a financial planner whose client once told her, “I could have sent you several new clients, but you gave the impression that business was great and you didn’t have time for more clients.” She then understood that through her falsely upbeat response she was actually shooting herself in the foot.

How to respond

Naturally, when asked how things are going, you don’t want to brag in an arrogant or boastful way. But you can and should make factual statements about your business that highlight successes while leaving the door open for new clients.

For example, you can talk about a project you just finished that you’re especially proud of. You can talk about how you recently saved a client money. Or you can share how a customer made money because of something you did. Then add on a comment that leaves the door open for new business opportunities.

Each of these three options are underscored by a story, which we’ve talked about before. That makes them memorable.

They show your enthusiasm for your line of work. That’s powerful because people want to work with someone who loves what they do.

Best of all, these responses let people know how you can help others with their business, feeding your referral sources with new insights.

Alternatively, you can share that you are open to new business, and still do so without looking desperate. This is important! I heard a consultant once respond that things were really slow for him. He sounded almost depressed, reminding me of Eyore, the downtrodden donkey character in Winnie the Pooh. I immediately lost interest in sending him referrals because I thought his attitude would make me look bad. In contrast, if he had shared this in a positive way, by saying that he was looking forward to getting another project he could sink his teeth into, I would have tried to help him out.

A few samples

Here are a few sample responses, inspired by those in the book The 29% Solution by Ivan Misner and Michelle Donovan:

Q “How’s it going?”

  • Life is good right now. I just landed one of my biggest clients ever. Looking forward to more growth ahead.
  • I’m about to enter my slow season, so I’m starting to look for new opportunities.
  • I can’t complain. I’m about to franchise my business. Do you know anyone looking for a business opportunity?

Q “What’s new?”

  • I’m really excited. I just hired a new salesperson. Do you know of any opportunities I can pass along to him?
  • I was interviewed last week for a business magazine article. It should be out in a couple weeks. Would you like me to send you a copy?
  • I’m involved in a course right now that’s teaching me how to shorten my sales cycle. It will open the door to more business opportunities

Q “How’s business?”

  • I’ve got eight new clients so far this year, but my goal is to get twenty.
  • Sales are up 50%. I hope to hire someone new next month.
  • Our third quarter was pretty good, but we’re expecting to increase our client base even further in the fourth quarter.

You can see how all these responses, even when things aren’t going perfectly, present a positive attitude while still being honest. They open the door to new business even when you are busy.

Your task for this week is to write down the following three questions and come up with two possible responses for each one:

Q “How’s it going?”

A

A

Q “What’s new?”

A

A

Q “How’s business?”

A

A

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Toot your own horn

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