Episode 73

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Judy Robinett has led both public and private companies as CEO and served in management positions at Fortune 500 companies. She is on the advisory boards of Illuminate VC, Pereg VC, and Springboard Enterprises. Judy previously served as a managing director of Golden Seeds Angel Network and as a member of the faculty of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Business Program. Judy’s book, “How to Be a Power Connector: the 5+50+150 Rule,” was named the #1 business book of 2014 by Inc. She has been profiled in Entrepreneur, Vogue, Fast Company, Forbes, CBS, Huffington Post, and Bloomberg Businessweek.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Judy’s background
  • Why networking is crucial for biz-dev (and why referrals alone is not a biz-dev strategy)
  • The 5+50+150 Rule: why you need to target 50 people
  • Why there is no lack of money keeping you from getting funded
  • Positioning yourself to be invited to the right events (and which events you should target)
  • Judy’s strategies for being a good networker and how she interacts with strangers
  • How to deepen the relationships you already have
  • Why you need to kick fear to the curb and just talk to people
  • How to provide consistent value to your network so that you keep relationships fresh
  • Why you should reach out to people you feel like are above you
  • Judy’s Top Ten Power Connecting Tips

 

The Golden Nugget:

“They can break you, but they can’t eat you. Kick your fear to the curb.” – @judyrobinett Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. I am glad you’re back, thanks for joining us today. We’re going to talk about a topic, we’re going to go at the new business topic, but we’re going to go at it in a different way. We’re going to go at it in terms of how do you build a network and how do you serve other people and how does that end up serving you. So let me tell you a little bit about our guests. So Judy Robinett is a business thought leader, powerful speaker, and one of the nation’s leading experts in helping leaders develop strategic business relationships. Known as the woman with the titanium digital Rolodex, for those of you under 30, that’s what LinkedIn used to be, and labeled by Forbes and the New York Times as the new breed of power connector, Judy has served as the CEO of both public and private companies and in executive roles at some of the top corporations in the world.

She has helped many entrepreneurs and businesses to access millions of dollars in funding, which I’m sure is tied back to the connections that she has. She has written a book called How to Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule, which we are going to dig into. And that book will give all of us an opportunity to provide instant effective strategies for meeting the people you need to know and bonding with them fast to further your goals and theirs. And I suspect that’s an important part. She’s also been profiled in Fast Company, Forbes, Venture Beat, Huffington Post, and Bloomberg Business Week as a sterling example of the new breed of super connectors. And I suspect that’s something that we all want to aspire to. So Judy, welcome to the podcast.

Judy Robinett:

Thank you. I’m excited to be here Drew.

Drew McLellan:

Now, I suspect one does not get to be CEO of all of these companies and executives in top corporations right out of high schools. So tell us a little bit about the path that you took to get you to where you are today.

Judy Robinett:

Oh my gosh, I would have never dreamed I would end up in business. I started life as a social worker and was so heartsick over children that were abused that I went back and got a masters in labor economics and ended up working just for our state in an agency. Then one of my friends was working at a Fortune 300 company and said, “Send your resume over.” So that was a lucky break for me. Then at one point I was really sick of working for other people and decided I was going to take the leap and I did.

Drew McLellan:

So how does all of that… And what’s fascinating to me is that agency owners often have that same crooked path to business ownership that a lot of them actually have the same background you do, social services, psychology, and then find their way to owning a business. But how did networking become a topic that was so important to you? What about that really spoke to you?

Judy Robinett:

Well, initially it didn’t Drew, so I was bullied and teased in junior high, I was terribly shy. And I can remember in the corporate world, if I had an event I had to go to, I’d go late and leave early and I would hang out in the corners. But I noticed a really interesting thing at work, that people who I didn’t see as necessarily smarter or working harder were getting promoted. I started seeing that there was this underlying network of powerful influencers in the corporation. I picked up a book, How to win friends and influence people.

Oh my gosh, I can remember first talking to people and deciding maybe they did like me, I was okay. I perceived it to be, I was very shy, but I think the truth was it was a self worth issue. Then the more that I developed a little gravitas, the more I could see it was just a critical skill. It certainly is as an agency owner and those who are really good at finding clients, doing customer acquisition. You know in your heart and you know personally that warm introductions are more likely to turn into clients than anything else. So I could see that it was just a very important skill to have.

Drew McLellan:

Actually you’re absolutely right. So when to a lot of agency owners about their biz, they have a program or efforts. What I hear a lot is, “You know what, we don’t go out and find new clients, we get a lot of our business through referrals.” So the logic is obviously if you have more connections and those connections are a little deeper and a little tighter and they know a little better about how work and what you do, in theory, those referrals would get even better and stronger and more plentiful, right?

Judy Robinett:

Yeah. But you do have to have both sides of the coin, Drew. You can’t just not do biz dev because… And I see this pattern. So often the people who are not necessarily good networkers or they feel they’re not good networkers often don’t have any biz dev. Then they struggle paying the bills, and so it’s absolutely critical. So I teach people how important it is to talk to strangers. I’ve met billionaires hiking on a trail out of Park City, Utah. And just important to just have that twofold, be focused on getting the warm relationships which come from relationships you’ve already developed who at one time were probably strangers and making sure that you have that funnel.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, Judy, I love hearing you say that because I harp on that all the time, that referrals alone are not a new business strategy. So I swear to God listeners, and I did not ask her to say that was completely unprompted, but amen to that, I agree. So talk to us a little bit about this idea… Well, first I’m intrigued by the title of the book. So help us understand the 5+50+150 rule, what’s that based on?

Judy Robinett:

Well, it’s based on some research that I discovered, and that is that groups fall apart at 150. So these people who are trying to do massive LinkedIn or Facebook and send Christmas cards to 40,000 people, it doesn’t really work with your own personal, professional network. Then research shows that that first circle around you of five people tends to be your close friends and family. And they already know everybody you know. So they’re not going to be really good at building your business either, it’s that in between group. I tell people to target for 50 people because that’s where the magic starts happening for your business.

By the way, the reason the book is titled Power Connecting is I was going to write a different book on how to get funded. I raised millions of dollars for companies. In the proposal I had for 50 people I was going to interview for the book, Mark Burnett, various people that I knew. My agent called me and she said, “Geez, I thought you only lived in Utah and Idaho. How do you know these billionaires and celebrities?” And I told her and she goes, “Oh, we’re going to do a book on networking.” I said, “Oh, not me. I think that’s icky and manipulative and I don’t really believe in it.” She said, “We’ll come up with a better word.” So that was the word they chose to use.

Drew McLellan:

Was your role in a lot of the companies you worked for, was your role a fund development role?

Judy Robinett:

No, not at all. I started, I made the leap. I’d said about social work and so into employee relations was my first. But slowly I worked my way up and became vice president of a hospital then I was CEO of a small public biotech company, and then a couple of other smaller companies.

Drew McLellan:

Because I think the only thing that would scare an agency owner or more than biz dev would be if they had to go ask people for money for fundraising. So the reason I am asking the question is because if you can use your techniques to do that, which I think for a lot of people is the most daunting of tasks, then certainly telling people about the work you do and how you can help them should be less frightening.

Judy Robinett:

Yes, and that’s true. Drew, you absolutely hit it on the nail. Most of the things that we fail to do, like get funding to get our company to the next level, are founded on faulty assumptions. So I really have people rethink their assumptions and big ones are, there’s no money or no one will help me. There’s $369 trillion of private global wealth in the world, there’s no lack of money. I generally find out people are in the wrong room and they’ve not figured out how the funding ecosystem works or figured out how to package themselves and get themselves positioned. You can create luck and people will say to me, “No, you can’t.” And I’ll say, “Really? Go stand on the train tracks, tell me if you got bad luck.” You very much can position yourself.

So it’s important to get in the right room and really understand the ecosystem. And there’s no lack of money, there’s no lack of information, there’s no lack of anything out there. All the resources are there. So after you get that in your head, then you start. It’s good to get yourself educated and understand family offices fund people, corporate VCs, many agencies that have gone from small to middle, that next step up, usually include some kind of a JV with a bigger partner. Some of the big players in the VC world are certainly in media.

Drew McLellan:

So when you use the word networking, let’s define that for folks. They’re sure about what we’re talking about. Then I want to dig into the recipe of how it gets done. So when you say networking and you’re talking about connecting, what do you mean by that?

Judy Robinett:

So a lot of people waste time at chamber meetings and various networking groups, and most of those don’t have the clients that you would like or the people that could help fund you. I always say to people, “Make sure that there’s people in the room that are smarter than you or have the resources you need.” So the way that I start with networking is very strategic. And as Covey would say, we begin with the end in mind. What is it that you need? And it can be growing your business to the next level, it could be funding, it could be finding customers. And that will determine how to get in the right room. For instance, with funding, everybody’s got a problem, but for every problem there’s an answer. So investors are frantically trying to find good businesses to invest in and they typically hang out together. So I start with, what is your goal? What is your goal? Then think about where do those people hang out that will help you get in the right room?

Drew McLellan:

So as we’re thinking about those goals, so if an agency owner the goal is to increase the client roster of their agency and let’s say they’ve got a targeted list of 25 or 30 companies that they believe they’d be a great fit for and really be able to help with, what are the steps they take? So they’re looking at this list of companies, they don’t know anybody at any of those companies, let’s just say, which is probably not likely, but let’s assume they don’t know them. What are the steps they should take to begin to develop that network?

Judy Robinett:

So one of the things that I suggest, Drew, is that people position themselves so they’re invited to these highly private curated events. Davos is probably the best known, there’s many others. But there’s professional organizations that many people haven’t heard of because they go to events in their own industry. One that I often tell people to go to is the Association of Corporate Growth, ACG, and they have chapters in most cities. Even Salt Lake has one, they’re all over the world actually. This is CXO level executives in mid-tier companies. So most of the companies that you’re specifically targeting, you’ll find that they go to these kind of an organization. They welcome new folks, you can attend a meeting and go to a lunch and they make it a point for new members to get to stand up and talk a little bit about their company and who they are, and they have networking after the meeting. Those can profoundly affect your business because it would be hard to find a group of 50 to 100 CXO level business owners that are across different industries at one meeting. So that’s an example.

Another thing, and I’ll give you an idea, a friend of mine was recruited by a wealth management firm in Salt Lake to come develop a big book of business. He’s black and he is gay and he doesn’t know anybody in Salt Lake. And within two years, he has a tremendous book of business, he’s outdone everybody locally. I said to him, “How did you do that?” And he said, “I joined The Symphony.” And I said, “What?” And he said, “Well, I paid a little extra so I could go ahead of time and network, break bread, drink a little wine with the people before the event started. That’s where my customers hang out.” So I tell people to get creative and think about organizations that maybe they haven’t thought of. And organizations are powerful just because it’s not one on one. There you’ve got a group of likely prospects and specific that would fit your target. It’s a big enough company, they can pay your bills. If they’re at these meetings, then they tend to be much more optimistic and open about having new relationships.

Drew McLellan:

So as agency owners, most of the listeners are agency leaders, most of them probably have a decent Rolodex or a decent LinkedIn profile, in terms of connections they’ve made. I want to get back to the comment you made about it being a two-way street. So let’s talk a little bit about network behavior and what that looks like. When you are a connector, my assumption is that where we’re headed is that all the connections you make can’t be for your own gain and that you also have to be helpful to other people. Can you talk us through pragmatically what that looks like?

Judy Robinett:

So you don’t want to be perceived as a taker. Adam Grant wrote a really good book on that, Givers and Takers. On the other hand, you don’t want to give, give, give until you’re drained. But yes. So everybody’s got a problem and everybody’s got a solution. Ideally, you want to find people who really need your services and then you want to show them that you have the level of competence and the level of warmth that they would want to work with you. So it’s absolutely critical to build the relationship. I tell people that it is just like with fundraising, nobody will write a check the size that would buy a house unless they know you, like you, and trust you.

Research shows when you meet a stranger, the first thing you look at is warmth, are these people safe? The second, do they have a level of confidence? But I always add the third and that’s a level of generosity. Because just because someone can help you doesn’t necessarily mean they will. So the law of reciprocity teaches, and it’s absolutely true, that if you help others they help you. The big mistake that I see people with their network is they don’t know who the people that they know know.

So research shows your influence is limited to a friend of a friend of a friend. But most people don’t really tell their story with the people who are already in the network or discuss their goals. An example of this is my agent said to me one day, “You need to meet Mike Muni.” He’s sold Act Software for $45 million, he’s got a new software platform. Mike flew to Salt Lake and I said, “Geez, you’ve got this top rated app and I’ve never heard of it and I’m a pretty voracious reader.” He looked really sad and. Of course, he didn’t have one of your great agencies, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right, he needed a little PR.

Judy Robinett:

He said, “If I could just get in Success Magazine.” I said, “I want you to call my agent who I’ve known less than six months, who you’ve known for years. One of her good friends is Darren Hardy, publisher of Success Magazine.” He almost fell off the chair. I find this, over and over and over, the people in your network, professionally or personally, you’ve not sat down, shared a bit about your story. Then a very good thing for you to do is to ask, and it’s my three golden questions. I often say to people, “How can I help you?”

But after you’ve provided help, and that can be an introduction, it can be an article you found, a recommendation of a book, a client who’s not a good fit for you, you can send to somebody else. Then I have tell them your story or what your goal is and then say, number one, what other ideas do you have for me? And people love to share advice and they will. Number two, who else do you know I should talk to? This is the way that I literally networked myself to Mark Burnett, it’s how I know Gina Davis, got on events with Mark Cuban, all of this kind of stuff. I was a nobody from a little town in Idaho. If you saw the movie, Napoleon Dynamite, I went to that high school.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Judy Robinett:

So if I can do it, you can do it. I finally sat down one day and I thought, “What is it I’m doing?” And when I meet a stranger, two things, I either will comment on their clothes, something appropriate. You think about how tickled you are if somebody says, boy, what a great pair of shoes, Drew, you’ve got, where did you get those? So I pay attention to people’s clothes. Also the second thing you can do with the stranger is ask a question, where do I go here? Or what do you recommend? And it’s amazing, you just open, it’s like pulling the cork out of the wine bottle. Usually after you’ve got through that first uncomfortable first comment, then you’re home free.

Drew McLellan:

So I think we got two of the three golden questions, so do you have any other ideas for me? And who else should I talk to? Those are the first two.

Judy Robinett:

The first one is, how can I help you? And for instance in my emails I’ll say, happy to help. I want people to know that I will help them. And not only will I help them, I can help them. So I’ll say to people, “Drew, where you going next?” Or, “Do you need any help with your cat?” I know vets, I know people all over the world. So I make it a point of trying to find out. And I love to do this, I just love to make a difference in people’s lives. I’ve got a critical mass of people that people can ask me about anything and I’ve got a connection. That’s what happens when you get 25 to 50 people that you know that you can reach out to.

And by the way, in your networking efforts, a big thing that you can do is write down who those 25 to 50 people are right now and reach out to them and engage and say, “This is where I’m going with my agency, what other ideas do you have for me? Who else do you know I should talk to?” You’ll be stunned. A matter of fact, people write to me and tell me your stories. It’s amazing what happens when you do that.

Well, the second one, when you say, who else do you know I should talk to, you make sure that you go meet those people and then you ask them the same thing. Pretty soon you’ll have a much stronger network and make sure that your network has people who have money, have gravitas, influence, they’re powerful enough that they can make things happen for you, and they’re across different sectors. Whether you already know everybody in media probably, but if I looked at your 25 to 50 people, how many of them could you call on the phone and they could write you a check or they could connect you to someone that could write you a check? Or across different industries that are important to you.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, great advice. So I want to dig into how to nurture and grow your existing network. But first, let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back in and dive into that. I hope you’re finding this content really helpful. I just want to take a quick pause and remind you that on top of the podcast, we also do a lot of live workshops for agency owners, agency leaders, and account service staff. If you’re interested in the schedule, check it out at agencymanagementinstitute.com/live. Let’s get back to the show. Okay, we are back with Judy Robinett. We are talking about being a power connector and what that looks like. So again, Judy, I’m guessing most people have what they believe to be a decent network or they know a fair amount of folks. So if this isn’t about finding strangers that they don’t know, but it instead it’s really about how do they nurture the relationships they have.

So let’s say I’ve known somebody for a few years sort of tangentially. We bump into each other at industry events or we know enough to know, and we probably know each other’s name. How do I deepen that connection? So it’s not me introducing myself to a stranger, but it’s somebody who’s maybe in my Rolodex or my LinkedIn connections, but I don’t really know them very well, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to pick up the phone and call them and assume that they would call me back. So how do I deepen the relationships that I already have some sort of connection to?

Judy Robinett:

I would write an email and reach out to them and see if you can schedule a phone call or schedule a lunch. You can look for a small gift. I’ve had people send me. I often will say, when I’m afraid, I go to my cave with dark chocolate when I’m talking about how to overcome your fears. And many people have just sent me a little thing of dark chocolate. And it is powerful if you send a little thoughtful gift, it’s something that you maybe know that they like. But first, I would start with sending an email or picking up the phone and calling them and just saying, I’d like to catch up.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a crazy idea, picking up the phone.

Judy Robinett:

Pick up the phone and call because most of us are actually pleased to talk to people that we know. So if you get out of your head… And again, fear really held me back, Drew. And I’m 63 and if I looked back on my life, if I could have just kicked fear to the curb earlier and realized what it was doing holding me back, it was me that held me back and held my early business back. I at one point had started my first company, a franchise restaurant, stupid me. I went to a bankruptcy attorney just so scared and I wasn’t sleeping nights, and I was terrified about meeting payroll. He looks at my financials and he said, “Well, you’re not even close.” I said, “But I’m broke.” And he said, “They can break you but they can to eat you.” That was just a great lesson for me. I went, “Okay, let’s figure this out.”

I reached out, got some help, found out almost every business had gone through of this at one point. And if you dig down, get some help, you’ll get through it. If you don’t, you shut the doors and you think you’re a failure and the reality is you’re not [crosstalk 00:25:57]. So hopefully that helps. So the fear is important to get over. And if you are kind and you’re generous, I would just find an article, recommend a book, do something that adds value and start thinking about how you can add value to people. Think about who is this person? What would be of interest to them? But be brave, pick up the phone, make the phone call.

Drew McLellan:

So let’s say you pick up the phone and they actually answer their phone or you set up a lunch or a coffee or a drink or whatever that looks like, what does that conversation look like when you actually get to have it?

Judy Robinett:

Well, it needs to be focused personally. Relationships are built first personally before business. So catch up on the kids, catch up on the pets, we all love our pets. Drew, you talked about your cat, I talked about mine and my horse. We adore our family members. So Michael Milken once said that the three things that people care most about are their family, their finances, and their health. So you make sure that it’s a personal relationship you’re catching up, you’re finding out how they’re doing, how the kids are, how’s business, keep it personal, even your interest, golfing, hiking, whatever.

Drew McLellan:

So what I’m hearing you say is I suspect a lot of agencies when they finally get u