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Lifelong Learning

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“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.” ~~Albert Einstein

We started to consider the skills and techniques of doubling the results of your networking efforts on the first Sunday morning in January and have continued every week throughout the year. Thank you for staying the course. I certainly hope you have found some value in the fifty-two sessions presented.

Although networking is the recognized leader in building business relationships that work, there is no ready college course on the material. Hopefully, this information provides some illumination. Hopefully, too, you have applied these principals and enjoyed twice the results this year than you saw last year. You can do the same again in 2016 by following the same principals again. One of the nice benefits of having completed every topic is that now you can now access all of the information at your own pace, rather than an arbitrary weekly rhythm.

Go back and revisit them all—in order—and speed through the areas that you are already proficient at and take your time in the soft spots. Set your goals for the year (or shorter time frame) and set measurable targets.

Life is a continuous opportunity for further learning, so consider committing to continuous education. There are many resources readily available and I present a short list of candidates for your consideration.

Endless Referrals Bob Burg

The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret Ivan Misner and Virginia Devine

How to Work a Room Susan RoAnne

Networking for Success Robyn Henderson

The 29% Solution: 52 Weekly Networking Success Strategies Ivan Misner and Michelle R. Donovan

Unlimited Referrals Bill Cates

Let’s Connect Jan Vermeiren

Business by Referral Ivan Misner and Robert Davis

Build Your Well Before You Are Thirsty Harvey McKay

Building the Ultimate Network various contributors

Your action this week is to set your plans in motion for next year. Start by reviewing each entry and define a method to polish the existing skills and augment the others. Give yourself the gift of continuous learning and have a very Happy Holiday Season.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.



Written by bniguy

December 24, 2017 at 9:50 am

Posted in HowTo, training

Your Advisory Board

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“To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, it requires a lot of disciplines.” ~~Steve Jobs RIP 10/5/11

You may have heard that business owners wear many hats. This is very true. It requires a lot of different skills and activities to keep an enterprise humming and thriving. We all bring various competencies to the equation—both business-related and personal. For example, one person may be a good marketer, excellent father, decent driver, and terrible golfer. They can’t sing but write well. This composite individual has strengths and weaknesses. In your business (as well as in personal relationships) weaknesses can be crippling and even fatal. Understanding that, you can appreciate the value of an advisory board.

This is a group of peers—fellow-business owners—that gather regularly and discuss pertinent issues. They bring expertise and experience into areas you are lacking and you can offer the same to them. Theoretically, seventy-percent of all business is the same while most of us only think of the thirty-percent that differentiates them. You would hardly think of an auto repair business, financial planner’s office, and chiropractor have much in common but they all deal with finding new customers, servicing accounts, billing, tax preparation, hiring, insurance, website selection, and countless other similar details. When someone has already mastered the process of accepting credit cards, for example, the other members can benefit from that knowledge.

In some cases you can start your own group. In others you can join an existing one. A good middle ground is a mastermind group. These are similar to business networking groups except that the focus is on sharing ideas rather than mining for referrals.

The best advisory boards will challenge your pre-conceived ideas and highlight soft areas. They can be uncomfortable yet invaluable. Some are very hands-on while others are more visionary and big-picture-centric. Some meet monthly and some meet quarterly. Some meet in person and others in more virtual settings.

Ivan Misner in The 29% Solution quotes business strategist Geri Stengel regarding ten effective tips for creating an advisory board, summarized below:

  1. What is the objective of your board? Will this be an industry-specific group or more generalized? Will it be a hybrid (business-to-business or homeowner-centric, for example?) Will it be regional, national, or larger? Will it include customers?
  2. How do you choose the right people? Understanding the purpose is one thing. Further defining the level of expertise, business size and maturity, etc., is another matter, as well. Whatever metric you define, be certain to consider “people skills” as well. Look for willingness to share, problem-solving ability, communication proficiency, and so on. Some boards love to recruit celebrities and a big name adds some allure while also opening the door for powerful introductions but don’t just gravitate to that if it is not a fit in the other areas, as well.
  3. What are your expectations? Be clear about time commitments, responsibilities, desired results, and all the rest. The clearer you are about the strengths and weaknesses of your current board make-up, the surer you will find the right person for the right reason that will stay. If your board will consider private matters have a confidentiality agreement prepared.
  4. What is the compensation? Certainly involvement has its own rewards. Decide on food, expenses, stock options, and cash payments, if any.
  5. How will you maximize the experience? Carefully consider the logistics and prepare agendas ahead of time. If prior knowledge of a topic is needed, deliver that ahead of time. End every session with a recap of the action plans and facilitate the process. Ideally, recap each meeting for all attendees (perhaps all members.)
  6. Honesty is the best policy. As mentioned above a strong advisory board will be challenging. Every member should share their own mistakes, especially in the early formative sessions. This builds rapport and provides a framework for trust. Honesty may put you in an uncomfortable situation as the probing questions uncover what you don’t know, never considered, blind spots, and so forth. Keep the conversations frank without personal attacks.
  7. How will you deal with the time/distance gaps? Meeting frequently drives momentum yet can burn members out. Meeting less often can lead to drift. Defining these expectations and finding suitable methods of between meeting communication is important. Emails, wikis, listserves, shared websites, and so on provide useful ways to move ideas across erratic schedules. Some members will access this late at night, for example. It is also useful to assign sub-committees who meet on specific topics at their own schedules and report results at the regular sessions.
  8. Will you respect the board recommendations? Everyone’s time is important. Do not monopolize the floor, for example. Conversely, when something needs to be said—do so. Listen to the advice given and consider your own actions. You will ultimately live with any decision, so there is no need to rush. That said, respect the advice, share your decision, and share the results.
  9. How will you keep board members informed? You may in time find the advice was incorrect and now will be talking about how to repair and restore. You may find that new areas of opportunity or concern have cropped up. You may simply find that things are moving according to plan. Briefly updating your advisory board is important.
  10. How will you deal with problem members? Set a structure up that enables you to deal with the inevitable issues that arise. Be certain to consider legal challenges, as well.

Who might you want to seek out for an advisory board? Here are some areas to consider:

  • People in your profession. This includes current professionals as well as prior specialists. There are benefits from both areas. Active experts have current technology, contacts, regulatory knowledge, and more. Former wizards bring different depth, too.
  • Outside observers. These can include regulators, authors, and business consultants.
  • Members of similar or related professional organizations like trade group people.

This is a large, significant area and sets the tone for your 2018 focus. Your action this week is to start planning your advisory board. I am including a link to Geri Stengel’s website here as an idea factory. Start fleshing out the answers to the ten questions above and solicit feedback from those you respect.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

December 17, 2017 at 6:30 am

Make a Difference

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“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” ~~John C. Crosby

Mentors provide leadership, guidance, and support. Their interest in our success may be unexpected or actively sought. It may be provided with patient step-by-step counseling or delivered in more fleeting, sometimes cryptic teaching moments. No matter the method it is offered in a sincere desire to help and received—when fully understood—gratefully.

Mentorship embodies the “Giver’s Gain” philosophy.

By serving as a mentor you have the chance to make a significant difference in someone else’s life. Less apparent is that a mentor has a golden opportunity to sharpen their own skills. In teaching we learn.

Think of your mentors. They took some time to help and made a difference. What feelings do you have for them? Gratitude is the most compelling emotion. If they called and asked for some help you would set other things aside and give this effort the attention it so fittingly deserves.

We have been together for fifty weeks and it is time to begin paying it forward to others while deepening your personal understanding, as well.

Characteristics of a Good Mentor

All successful business people do not necessarily make effective mentors; certain individuals are more effective in the role of developing others. Whether or not an individual is suited to the role of mentor may depend on his or her own stage of development and experience. For example, a fairly successful individual may have had a specific, or limited, background and may not have enough general experience to offer. Prior to entering into a mentoring relationship, the protégée should assume the responsibility of assessing the mentor’s potential effectiveness.

The qualities which are essential in an effective mentor include:

  • DESIRE TO HELP Individuals who are interested in and willing to help others.
  • HAVE HAD POSITIVE EXPERIENCES Individuals who have had positive formal or informal experiences with a mentor tend to be good mentors themselves.
  • GOOD REPUTATION FOR DEVELOPING OTHERS Experienced people who have a good reputation for helping others develop their skills.
  • TIME & ENERGY People who have the time and mental energy to devote to the relationship.
  • UP-TO-DATE KNOWLEDGE Individuals who have maintained current, up-to-date technological knowledge and/or skills.
  • LEARNING ATTITUDE Individuals who are still willing and able to learn and who see the potential benefits of a mentoring relationship.
  • DEMONSTRATED EFFECTIVE MANAGERIAL (MENTORING) SKILLS Individuals who have demonstrated effective coaching, counseling, facilitating and networking skills.

Your action step this week is to assess your own mentoring potential and seek suitable candidates that deserve your attention. In some cases you may need to break the ice and inform these candidates of your intention and availability.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

December 10, 2017 at 9:04 pm

Hub Firm

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“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” ~~Jack Welch

Just as no man is an island, no (or almost no) business transaction takes place in a vacuum. There is usually a preceding and following event (or three.) In the book The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret the author, Ivan Misner, refers to the concept of a hub firm at the center of these events.

Hub firms take time to develop and rely heavily on trust and competence. In the hub firm model, one company has the relationship with the client and coordinates business across other companies in order to assist the client with those other transactions.

Hub firms cover a wide-range of situations—towing to a repair shop, power-washing before painting, and cleaning up after construction are a few everyday examples. These are simple partnership arrangements while the true hub firm is more complex. Let me give you two examples of these.

Consider the Financial Planner who works with a variety of clients. Some of these are people who are starting a new business. A typical Financial Planner might recommend that the client find some resources and may have a few loose recommendations. The savvy Financial Planner, however, has already aligned herself with a CPA, a business attorney, and a business banker, for example. These professionals can all meet the client at once and map out a cohesive startup strategy. Certainly, any member of the team can drive the hub relationship for their clients, as well. This team approach provides competitive advantage and can save the client time and (usually) money, as well. At the right point in the process they can introduce web designers, graphic designers, advertising specialists, and so on.

A second example has to do with a hub firm Realtor. In this scenario, we have a home-owner who is listing their house. The Realtor can mobilize a carpet cleaner, moving and storage company, and interior designer as follows. The moving and storage company gets “clutter” and bulky items out of the home and into storage. The carpet cleaner freshens up the floors and the painter does the same for the walls.  The landscaper improves curb appeal and the interior designer stages the home for quicker sale. The Realtor coordinates these efforts and can utilize these pros, as needed.

Both of these identify the power of the hub firm model. Not every client requires all the members of the team. The hub firm “quarterbacks” those efforts. Building a hub team takes time and commitment. These trusted partners must maintain the integrity of the whole team with each project.

Your action step this week is to begin to build your hub team. Consider some of your best clients and what needs they have and who you know that can help. In some cases you will need to coordinate existing relationships. In some cases you will need to replace existing relationships. In still others you will need to establish and develop new relationships. The effort is well-worth the trouble.


© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.


Written by bniguy

December 3, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Speak and You Shall Receive

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In repeated studies over the years people rank their fear of public speaking above the fear of dying. This can be a daunting experience but if you are in sales your business is going to involve public speaking. Let me take you one step further. If you are in business you are in sales.

Please take a few deep breaths…we can get through this together. Standing in front of a room presenting your product or service brings butterflies in the stomach for some. Like two sides of a coin, though, strengths and weaknesses are joined. Those butterflies provide valuable energy when you can teach them to fly in formation.

As a business professional you are often asked to give a sixty-second elevator pitch at networking events. Sometimes that expands to a ten-minute chamber function talk or a twenty-minute sales presentation. Ideally, you will not only share the information with confidence but include motivation and leadership at the same time. (see week 23.) As intimidating as this may all seem your audience is rooting for your success, as well. After all, they have time invested in the talk, too.

There are professionals that can help you. One of the best local resources is your Toastmasters club. There are dozens within a short drive of most people and these are supportive training environments where you move at your own pace. Membership dues are insignificant and participation is voluntary (although that is where skills are developed.) I think of it as renting an audience.

There are business coaches, life coaches, sales trainers, and even speaking coaches in your local area, as well.

For those do-it-yourselfers (experienced and not so) here is a short list of five tips to consider:

  1. “A winning effort begins with preparation.” ~~Joe Gibbs Prepare, prepare, prepare! Prepare an outline and practice using note cards. Write (or better type) using large font and simple words. Make it incredibly easy to read. Avoid over-preparation, though, as that leads to nervousness. See the next point for more on this.
  2. “A man’s accomplishments in life are the cumulative effect of his attention to detail.” ~~John Foster Dulles Focus on one or two areas you know best. This will be easier for you to talk about which raises your confidence level and reduces stress.
  3. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” ~~Napoleon Bonaparte Using visual aids provides a ready roadmap to follow for both the speaker and the audience. Avoid the temptation to simply read the slides, however. This is insulting to your audience and diminishes your credibility, as well.
  4. “Who’s to say who’s an expert?” ~~Paul Newman The audience is here to listen to you. Remain credible and engaging and remember that you are the expert du jour.
  5. “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.” ~~Walt Disney Creativity goes a long way. Ask questions to engage your audience. Move around the room. If you can juggle or sing, that is a compelling ice breaker, as well.

In BNI, members have the opportunity to present ten-minute presentations to their fellow members. For some people, this is reason enough not to join. In fact, presenting is not required although it is a wonderful opportunity. Recently a CPA faced this reluctantly and was at a complete loss. She considered rescinding her membership rather than face the group—who are a very supportive audience. A fellow member recommended that she simply come up with ten questions and take twenty seconds to ask the question and forty seconds to answer it. This seemed palatable to the accountant and she prepared the questions before the day of their delivery arrived. Nervously, she stood and read from the sheet. Question One. Answer One. Question Two. Realizing that the question assumed a little knowledge she wasn’t sure the members had, she interjected a two-sentence clarification and read Answer Two. Question Three. Answer Three needed more elaboration, so she spoke directly to the audience about this area of accounting—an area she was knowledgeable and passionate on. This was easier than she expected. Glancing down at the paper she combined Question Four and Answer Four and expounded on exactly how this element faced her clients and the solutions she brought to their businesses. It was a little surprising to her when the President stood up and let her know that she had already gone over by a few minutes and recommend people get together with the CPA later to hear more.

There are many resources about public speaking. Please avail yourself of them.

Your action this week is to look for opportunities to present and practice each of the five tips above. If you are terrified, simply focus on a single sixty-second presentation and hone it to perfection. Find as many different venues to repeat it as you can. Start with the dog as your first audience, if you must, then move up to a networking environment. Enhance creativity by including a joke, poem, or catchy saying. Expand your repertoire of presentations over time. As your skill develops, seek out small speaking opportunities such as lunch-and-learns, chamber of commerce events, professional associations, and so on. Many groups are often faced with the challenge of finding qualified speakers. Make their life easier and yours richer by becoming a competent speaker.


© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.


Written by bniguy

November 26, 2017 at 6:32 am

All the News that Fits

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“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” ~~Mark Twain

Most people read the newspaper every day yet only a few Master Networkers read with intent. This week we examine this rich source and provide two exercises to develop your skills, as well.

Most news subscribers simply review the information to stay current with local and global events, chuckle at the comics, track their favorite sports teams, and little else. Occasionally they may review specific classified ads or check movie reviews and the like.

“The paper holds their folded faces to the floor…and every day the paper boy brings more” ~~Pink Floyd

This skimming is fine although it leaves many opportunities untapped. Each page, if not each article, opens doors for others in your network. With a little training of your mind you can see these and pass them along.

Let’s consider a possible scenario.

One day you are reading the paper and notice that Adams, Baker, and Carlson have lost their lease on Shangri-La Office Park. Moving this organization will be a big task and you wonder who could handle such an endeavor. Knowing that Sonya is a certified project manager between projects you give her a call and send the article in an email.

This is just a lead, little better than a cold call. Certainly, if you have any connections to ABC or Shangri-La you would pass that along, as well. In our scenario, however, you have nothing to add.

Sonya is a professional networker, though, and scans through her LinkedIn connections to find a close friend who knows the CEO of ABC. It turns out that they went to Law School together. Sonya gets past the gatekeeper, meets the CEO, and secures the business. This is a win-win-win solution. Do you think Sonya will appreciate and remember that you started the process? As a Master Networker, I guarantee she will. One of the philosophies of a professional networker is to give without remembering and receive without forgetting.

Your action this week is to begin developing these skills. Pick up today’s paper and read it to find opportunities for two people in your network. They are there. You will probably find more. Accept the challenge to find two and share them with the professional you have in mind. If you found two per day, Monday through Friday, after a year you will have helped more than five hundred people in your network.

The second action is to go back through today’s paper and find leads for you, too. Look through your network to see who can help turn these leads into referral opportunities.

These skills will enhance your networking ability for the rest of your life. Start small and start today.

Special offer: If you are Triangle BNI member the local Triangle Business Journal has partnered to make a special offer. With local readership of more than 30,000 professionals with an average household income of $265,000; 51% owners and partners in their businesses; and 74% are decision-makers in upper or middle management. Please contact and mention Triangle BNI.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

November 19, 2017 at 8:19 am

Ask. The World Turns

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“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” ~~Robert Frost

The most effective method to grow your business is by word of mouth marketing—specifically, by referral. When surveying business owners about this all claim to use this. Once probed further, though, we generally find that they have abandoned the process as unsuccessful. See if the typical experience lines up with yours. They usually ask a few key people and keep the request vague (“open” is their term.) “I am looking for anyone that needs my services.” That might be a new transmission, their deck rebuilt, to sell their house, a new bank account, etc. After receiving a few polite promises to “keep that in mind” with no tangible results, they stop asking.

Who do you know that is looking for a new bank account?

That is not an easy sort, is it? For those of you that truly want to help, here is the process. You need to stop whatever you are otherwise thinking about, mentally scroll through everyone you know, consider whether or not they are looking for a bank account…wait a second…I have no idea who’s looking for a bank account. Let’s think about the last conversation with a specific person (trust me, few referral partners ever get this far) and replay that conversation in memory. “We spoke about the football team, their golf game, their new car, their trip to Florida next month, their job, their in-laws…No; I don’t think they need a bank account.” Seriously, how many of the 250 people you know on a first-name basis do you want to perform this exercise on? Can you expect your business partner—who isn’t even in your business—to do more than that?

If your referral partner even considers one this fully they are hard-pressed to consider many more. The person asked gives up quickly and unless the person asking is totally oblivious, they stop asking for more, as well.

This is all very counterintuitive, since we do not take the time to examine what we are asking people to do. Please stay with me here. It is important.

Who do you know who needs a bank account? How would you possibly know that? Heck, you might even need a new bank account and not even realize it.

I grew up in upstate New York and snow was a common driving environment. In fact, one of my earliest driving pleasures was taking the VW bug out to the department store parking lots on Sundays to “do doughnuts,” which is sending the little rear-engine vehicle into an intentional spin, like my own personal tilt-a-whirl. It was great fun.

As winter drivers we learned to regain control in a skid by turning the wheel into it. I boldfaced that since snow season is upon us and a reminder is always a good thing. Although that is the more effective driving technique it is totally counterintuitive.

The same is true in asking for referrals. I fully realize that anyone walking into your bank branch office that wants to open an account you can help. It doesn’t matter if they are married, single, young, old, Christian, Muslim, straight, gay. I guess the only qualification is that they need to be breathing.

Asking for living people keeps it open (my term is “vague”) and sends your referral partners into the “We’ll call you” corner.

How can you be more specific? Who needs to open an account? Too vague. Why do they need a new bank account? Knowing that, it is far easier to recognize them.

Consider what your bank has to offer new account holders. Who would find that appealing?

Answering a few of these questions up front will be more useful. Mark Sheer, author of the book Referrals, recommends a simple two step statement and question that is very effective. In fact, he recommends that you never change a word.

Here it is: “I’m expanding my business. Who do you know who…?”

Let’s try that for our banker.

“I’m expanding my business. Who do you know who has a child in college locally?” In order to be more helpful, I would name a few local schools, as well.

“I’m expanding my business. Who do you know who is a Real Estate Attorney?”

“I’m expanding my business. Who do you know who manages a church or community fund?”

Let’s take one of these and expand the mental process for your referral partner as an example. “Do you know anyone with kids at UNC or Duke? Do you know anyone with students at NC State or Meredith?”

Now, with this little bit of focus the person can run through their mind and pull out anyone with college-aged kids, sorting from the 250 they know down to 75 that qualify. Some may be in school, some may be out, and some may not be going to college at all. Along the way they will find they know people in the alumni associations, university professors, and season ticket holders who can also be good entry points into the college student market.

When you asked for anybody you got nobody. When you asked for a specific population you find a number of candidates.

I took a look at Wikipedia and found that there are more than 5,000 universities in the United Sates, an average of 115 per state, with 14 million students (4.75% of the US population.) Our banker wants to add 40 new accounts per month. Would it trouble her in any way if every new account was an NC State student? The answer is clearly no. Is it possible to find 40 new accounts per month from that population? The answer is clearly yes. Commit to that population, market heavily, and make it easy for new student account holders to bring their friends in as referrals. Could you run a contest among fraternities and sororities and offer playoff tickets to the winner and a pizza party to second place finishers? My guess is that your client that runs a pizza shop would probably donate the prize, as well.

By focusing on NC State students you may be conceding attorneys and church secretaries, but that is just temporary. Once the student program is running itself then you can turn your attention to another group, such as that.

Your action item this week is to internalize these concepts and select a single specific market. If you need help in this area return to week 3 Picture the Perfect Customer ( and week 31 Elementary My Dear Watson (  Write three specific “who do you know?” questions and send those, via email, to every client you have. If you belong to a networking group bring these three specific questions to the group and use them as the basis for your weekly presentation. Commit to stay with these three questions until you master them.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

November 12, 2017 at 9:17 am