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Make friends at every turn, you’ll be amazed how much value you gain

We all know the old saying, “don’t judge a book by the cover” – but how many of us are guilty of doing just that every day? How many of us might consider someone not worth our time because they are emptying the bin, answering the phone or collecting our ticket on the train?

If you’ve seen me speaking on stage, you might think I would be easy to spot while out and about – or at least easy to identify as “a successful business woman.” Most of the time though, I am a “scruffy baggage” – my mother’s description. I spend my time in meetings or with my family, not on following the latest trends or shopping for new clothes; I can often look more like the cleaning lady than the lady of the house. I spend hours in coffee shops and don’t travel first class because I like engaging with people. This has meant that a lot of the time I get to see how people treat others who don’t look as if they can offer them anything.

When I’m Lara Morgan, Successful Business Woman I am treated in a particular way. When I’m just another person in the crowd, I’m often treated differently. I don’t do this to try and catch people out; I really just don’t have the time to mess around with smart clothes when they’re not a necessity, I no longer need conform, I do not need a new job. I put on the clothes that are clean, and get on with my day. It is very interesting though, to see how some of us behave.

On more than one occasion, smartly dressed up-and-comers have ignored me or even been rude to me, and then kicked themselves when they were introduced to me and realised they would actually have quite liked to chat to me, ask my advice or get me to invest with them.

I have been to networking events before where people have chosen to speak to the person in the designer suit over me in my jeans and jumper. It might seem like the person in the designer suit will spend more money with you, put more work your way and be a better contact, but you can never tell who a person is just by the label in their jacket.

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A person who doesn’t look “the part” might look that way because their business is doing so well, they’ve not had time to spend their hard earned cash on a posh outfit. They might have all sorts of contacts and ideas that could help you and your business, or they might just know the name of the person you need to speak to at that company you’ve been trying to get a meeting with.

You don’t know until you speak to them. Indeed close at hand within your own network of team members, family and friends might be an incredible network of people that can help you get a hand up. Only the other day, I shared my excitement in a product we were developing to discover a member of my team, from the digital side of the business knows exactly the person I need to speak to. My infectious excitement and open shared enthusiasm continues to deliver results.

We all make snap decisions about people based on how they look; I suppose it’s just human nature. But everyone in this world is of vital importance in their own way, and we should therefore treat everyone as an equal. Everyone, from the barista making your morning coffee to the bedraggled-looking person you sit next to on the train deserves your respect, and a smile can go a long way.

When you walk into a building for a big meeting with an executive, you might think you’re far too important to make conversation with the receptionist – and you would be very wrong! That receptionist is a goldmine of information who can help you in an infinite number of ways. Just a few moments of your time in making conversation and just being polite can mean they will be onside at some point down the line if you need them – but you shouldn’t make conversation just so that someone will owe you a favour; you should do it because it’s the decent thing to do!

I expect a lot from the people who work with and for me. They work really very hard to produce the results I ask of them, and I am fully aware that while it’s the company director who comes to the meetings with me, they are reliant on a whole raft of people helping them to hit their targets. Every single person in any organisation is important and vital to its success. You might think that warehouse staff are ten a penny, but if you treat your warehouse staff with respect and dignity, they will be more inclined to work hard for you, picking faster and more accurately than they might if this were just another pay-check to them.

By taking the time to thank our staff, freelancers and casual labourers for the effort they put in, we create a culture where people are not in it just for the money. A business where everyone is in it together, working as a team, will always fare much better than one where people are just there to collect their salary. This is especially true in the current economic climate where we’ve seen so many giants of British business stumble and fall. God forbid, but if you should ever get to a point in your business where you’re not sure you can pay the wages on time, or you can’t afford pay rises, you need your staff to stand beside you – not to jump ship because they were never invested in the outcome in the first place.

No matter whom we speak to, it is important to treat everyone equally. Think of every opportunity to have a conversation (not a chat, because a conversation is an exchange of understanding with meaning) as an opportunity to network – and network your socks off! This philosophy has always worked well for me, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t work just as well for you.

Written by Lara Morgan
Lara Morgan is best known for growing Pacific Direct, from start-up to successful exit, 23 years later. She now invests her time in fast growth companies and represents UKTI as an Export Ambassador, having previously exported to 110 countries. Her vast experience and business knowledge includes specialisms in licensing luxury brands, manufacturing toiletries and selling to the hospitality environment through complex global distribution chains. She's also an expert in leadership and developing talent having learnt through her own experiences of employing 500 employees in an open fast growth sales culture.

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