Sep 14, 2009

The One That Got Away

Let me tell you a story about my Epic Failure.

At my first networking opportunity, I showed up dressed to the nines, with newly-bought, professional business cards in my hand. Not only was I ready to swallow my introversion reflex, I was prepare to talk about my business to complete— and possibly uninterested— strangers. Passing out my cards with a smile and handshake, I did what passed for "working the room" until the meeting began. I spotted a potential business opportunity— a trophy-maker who worked very close to my office.

I approached him as he moved toward his motorcycle, extending my hand.
"Hey Bud," ( His name deleted for privacy ) "Tell me more about your business. Who's a good lead for you?" This is my standard introduction— it lets them know I'm ready to help them, and they almost always open right up.

He gave me his standard business talk, and ended with a short encouragement to send him any information on people that might want custom trophies for special occasions. I waited patiently, and extended one of my cards.

"I'm a graphic and web designer, and I'm local. If any of your trophy buyers might want a nice website to showcase their award, or a press release for an existing award, I'd be happy to give them a very reasonable price."

He took the card, looked at it and paused. Then he handed it right back.

"You know what... No. No thanks. Can't really say that I'm at all interested."

Inside, I was devastated. I'm trying to press into the network mould, after having had so much work come in as referrals, and I watched as all rules of nicety and politeness were being cast down onto ground at my feet.

Although I'm sure my face fell, I put on a classical, fake-jovial smile.

"Oh?" was all I could muster before I reached out and retrieved my card from his hand.

"Yeah." There was a slight pause. "You see, I'm a trophy designer, and we use clip art exclusively. Also, I'm a software developer, and all my old partners live in this town. They are all web and graphic designers as well. If I needed a website, I'd have to choose which friends to disappoint. I just know too many to consider getting to know even one more. So thanks, but no thanks.

"But hey, I have 6 terrabytes of clip art in my office, and I collect it. I just received a 6 gigabyte hard drive in the mail yesterday full of vector dragons. Not cheesy ones, but good ones, directly from China. I can't offer you any business, leads or contacts, but if you ever want to talk clip art— you're welcome to come down to the store and use any that you want for free.

"Remember, FREE. Well, I'm on the road."

With that, he revved his engine loudly— as if to remind me that the end of the conversation was at hand. Then he zoomed off loudly.

I wasn't mad. I'm still not mad, but you had better believe that the encounter still sticks in my mind. He wasn't at all interested in my business, or what it could do for him and his business— but he was willing to give out free resources so that I remembered him and HIS business.

1)Learn From The One That Got Away
Today, if I get in a situation where there can't be any connection, I usually offer to give something to them for free, perhaps a quote or a free idea. Its a fine way for them to remember MY business.

2) Diverge From The One That Got Away
I also try to reach out to other designers in the area, whether they are good, or not so good. Everybody needs somebody sometime... Perhaps I will need a second photographer or illustrator on a job. Many print designers need web designers. Some web designers need graphic designers. A shared resource doesn't always have to be a competitor. It can be an asset.

3) What Should You Do Next Time?
I have run this scenario over a few times, and I hope that actually I never have another "One That Got Away". But if I do, I hope to keep the conversation friendly, and perhaps offer THEM something for free...

Tyler Dockery, Dockery Design, Raleigh Web Design

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