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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.

 

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Written by bniguy

December 3, 2017 at 1:51 pm

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 (https://bniguy.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/picture-the-perfect-customer/) and week 31 Elementary My Dear Watson (https://bniguy.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/elementary/.)  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

Elementary, my dear Watson

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“Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.” ~~John Buchan

Continuing with the importance of communication think of yourself as a detective. Questions are your best resource. Listen much more than you talk. My friend, Marty Clarke, wrote an excellent book entitled Communication Landmines which goes into this in much more depth.

In this post I simply want to point out three main communications errors we all make and often experience. Master these and your networking skills will soar.

The first major problem is talking too much. We’ve all experienced this from the receiving end and felt trapped. Once you got locked in how much listening did you do after that? Most likely your attention was turned to finding an exit or trying to figure out how they are breathing or just focusing on the pattern their spittle makes. When the other person talks too much it is a horrible experience. That said, we are also guilty of the same mistake at least once in our life. As a detective turn your attention to assessing when the other person is starting to experience these symptoms. They start to avoid eye contact, begin stepping backwards, look over their (and your) shoulder, yawn, glance (or stare) at their watch. As soon as you see any of these reactions immediately turn the conversation to them and ask a question.

More importantly how do you avoid this landmine? Practice and preparation are the best tools you have. There are a few questions you often get at networking events and you should be prepared to answer them quickly and completely. When I am on the phone I count my words and always try to get to the point in 25 or less. Try that the next time you are in a conversation over the phone (tick your fingers up one-through-ten and then back down ten-through-one and finally once more one-through-five. Stop and consider, “What was the point of the last twenty-five words?” If you are just getting to it—accept the fact that you are taking the long way home. Find the shortcuts and tighten up your conversation.)

The second common communication error is reliance on jargon. We talked about that in more depth last week so I won’t elaborate. However, this week’s action steps meet each of these head on and we’ll examine it more in that section.

The third common communication error is vagueness. Many of these posts address that, as focus and clarity are keys to your success. When you ask a Realtor who they would like to meet and get the answer, “Anyone looking to buy or sell a home” who did you think of? Is that the result you want when someone asks you the same helpful type of question? If the Realtor is more specific we can be of more help. “I specialize in empty-nesters. This is a great time to move into a home more suited to their lifestyle without kids.” About twenty words and I imagine you actually thought of someone. If you are an engaged listener you may ask for more clarification of the term empty-nesters. “Their kids have moved out or are in college.” The more specific you are the wider the listener’s mind opens. In fact, if you know exactly who you want to meet this is an excellent shortcut, very appropriate for business-to-business clients or strategic alliances for any provider. A business banker may have a competitive rate to offer and knows of an automotive company looking to expand. She asks for Woody Toe, the owner of a local auto body shop noting that, “Our bank understands automotive equipment leasing and we work well with repair shops like Woody’s”

This week’s action involves meeting each area directly. First, develop a one-minute or less response to the following questions (from two weeks ago—repeated here.)

  • Who is your target market?
  • What sets you apart from your competition?
  • What is your most popular product (or service?)
  • What is new in your business?
  • Why did you choose to go into your profession?
  • What do you like best about what you do?
  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • What do you do?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Where are you located? Why there? If you could choose a perfect location, what would it be?
  • How do you generate most of your business?

Second, eliminate jargon. Create two columns and list every term you use (trust me; your company literature is rife with it.) Look for terms like full-service, turnkey, small business, and so on. Develop layperson language and simplify it so a twelve year old could understand it.

Third, write out a complete referral request identifying the person you want to meet—listing their company, department, title, and industry. I recommend doing as many of these as you have target markets. Once written, then practicing asking from the specific to the general, just as the banker example above.

© 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

July 30, 2017 at 5:37 am

WIIFM: What’s in it for me?

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“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.” ~~Clifford Stoll

This week we consider some fundamental communications skill in sales. That is, understanding and stating the difference between features and benefits. Features are simply facts. They neither engage nor inspire. They do not impel action or transfer an emotional connection. Features are a list of what that never considers why or, as the title notes, “What is in it for me?” Your prospect wonders, “Why should I care?”

Dr. Ivan Misner includes a good example of this in the 29% Solution, by listing the features of a car.

“V-6 engine, dual exhaust, front-wheel drive, sunroof…heated seats, heated glass.”

As you can see, this is a list of features you may or may not entirely understand or appreciate.

What are some of the benefits of these features?

  • The V-6 engine helps you pull out into traffic quickly. It may impress your friends.
  • Dual exhaust improves fuel efficiency, provides more power when starting out, and adds a “throaty” sound to the engine (which may also impress your friends.)
  • Front-wheel drive provides more legroom, since the driveshaft tunnel is not needed.
  • The sunroof provides the open road feel of a convertible while retaining the added structural security of a hard-body sedan.
  • Heated seats provide a warmer environment on chilly mornings and better comfort on long road trips.
  • Heated glass allows the convenience of clearing the windows in winter without manually scraping them clean.

These benefits put the prospect “in the driver’s seat.” Some of those benefits appealed to you while others did not. The professional is aware of the benefits and can align them to the prospect. If the person you are talking to is most interested in fuel efficiency then you can recommend a good automotive choice and highlight the features that support fuel efficiency. In fact, the same vehicle may appeal to two very different buyers as long as the emphasis is on the areas of interest to them.

How does this apply to networking? Since we are meeting other business owners and sales representatives many networkers do not consider the benefits and only list features. Feature lists are certainly more precise and, when shared with a colleague, can be very effective. Network administrators, for instance, can share industrial terms with each other and successfully impress with their technical grasp and currency of knowledge. However, all that jargon leaves the rest of us out. In fact, it disenfranchises us from any ability to refer them or connect them to someone they could help since we are so clueless in that arena.

If instead they spoke in terms of response speed, data security, recovery time, and reliability we could recommend them to others with confidence.

My litmus test is to imagine sharing what I do, what my product or service does, and how this can help you by imagining I am explaining it to a twelve year old. I don’t want to wear out your attention span or go over your head.

Your action this week is to highlight the benefits you provide. Consider some of your favorite customers and remember what problems you solved for them. A simple (and highly effective) shortcut is to ask them. You have been meaning to call and say hello anyway. Here’s a good excuse.

Find out the main reason they chose to spend money with you? They sought a benefit, not a feature.

The second action is to list all the features of your product or service and identify as many benefits as possible for each one. I highly recommend that you complete this portion before proceeding to next week’s blog entry.

 

© 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

July 23, 2017 at 8:49 am

Are you frustrated with your networking results?

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“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~~Albert Einstein

If you have ever felt that the time spent networking was wasted I submit that it is not the activity itself with the problem. Rather it is your intent and/or your event. Amateur networkers experience this often and heed Dr. Einstein’s observation by simply discontinuing the practice. They are not crazy—just fed up.

This week let’s consider a more effective strategy to improve your own networking results.

The best place to initiate a change is from within so we will start there, as well. What was your intent in attending the last networking event that frustrated you? If it was to collect as many business cards as possible I imagine you hit that target well. And yet, it was completely unsatisfactory. Later that night you pulled out of your bulging pocket many new contacts–and did not know what to do next. Insanely you did what you always did. That is, you robotically keyed each one into your database and methodically sent a generic email to everyone. This is high effort with low return. Feels a little like insanity to continue, doesn’t it? It is like throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping some will eventually stick.

Sadly, some will stick. Some connections strip mined from a loosey-goosey networking event may eventually become the perfect person to accelerate your business. I say sadly because this fools people into doing more of the same. Hello, Albert!

Consider this common model we are all familiar with that should illustrate what is happening. Some people do buy winning lottery tickets. That is what keeps the vast majority buying their own. The winner is in the ticket, though, not the purchaser. That ticket would have gone to someone anyway. The same is true in these lucky networking contacts. The success comes from the person you met—not you.

Rather than rely on hope change what you think to see better results. What is your intention in networking? I recommend taking two main goals in with you.

The first is to look for people that can help your current customers, prospects, or strategic alliances enjoy more success. Improve their life. Forget about helping yourself. You tried that and have many useless lottery tickets to show for that effort. Let’s say you are a Residential Realtor and one of your current buyers is looking for a new home they can downsize into now that they are empty-nesters. The kids are not only out of the house but out of college. Maybe they are avid golfers or indulgent pet owners. Look for someone who can help these people take a memorable golf vacation or can introduce them to a great pet spa or veterinarian. If successful, you won’t have a pocket full of business cards but will have one or two valuable contacts. Get to know them better. When comfortable you can introduce them to your clients. When they know you they can introduce you to their clients—some of whom may also be downsizing (or upsizing or whatever.)

The second intent is to look for people that can further your goals. Imagine you are a mortgage broker who has an excellent program to help people that have good income and no down payments get into their first home quickly. This may be ideal for someone who is just graduating from an expensive school and launching a lucrative profession. However, when they first come out of school they are saddled with large school loans and can’t even start shopping homes until they get a job offer. After that they can select the city and start the process and usually want to go fast. These may be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and so on.

Let’s imagine you do not have any contacts into these schools. (If you do, start there.) If not, network for these resources. You might look for people directly or indirectly associated with specific universities. (Here’s a hint—these schools probably have a calendar of events. That’s a very effective shortcut.) Barring that, you might instead network for people who have successfully negotiated that process already. That is, they graduated ten years ago and are now successful. Ask if they can help you understand the issues facing your intended target market. You may find your plan is not likely to succeed. This is okay since it saves time and lets you reshape the plan. You may find they are influential in the alumni association. This is wonderful as they may be perfect golden goose for your program. More likely you may wind up somewhere in the middle.

At any rate you will almost certainly find that your networking will be far more effective by changing your intent or your event. Welcome to networking sanity.

© 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

February 19, 2017 at 6:49 am

Field Your Winning Team

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“Teamwork is so important that it is virtually impossible for you to reach the heights of your capabilities or make the money that you want without becoming very good at it.” ~~Brian Tracy

 

The first seven weeks of this process are foundational in nature and so far we have set goals, blocked time, and defined the perfect customer. Once we know the customer it is easy to define the best strategic alliances to form and nourish. These people work with our customers for different reasons.

 

Ultimately, beginning from this exercise and continuing throughout your career, you are building a winning team. You may not be a sports fan but probably know a little about baseball. Actually, any team sport or, as Brian Tracy notes in this week’s quote, almost any human endeavor of any consequence is enhanced with a quality team. For illustration purposes I will choose baseball. Feel free to select a more comfortable analogy of your own, however.

 

Baseball features “position players.” There are infielders, pitchers, outfielders, catchers, and so on. Some are renowned for strength, some for speed, some for control, etc. By and large they each need some measure of all aspects while their specialty—and their specific talent—emphasize certain attributes.

 

Your winning team will follow that same model. In baseball these teams don the same uniforms and combine their efforts to score more runs than the opponent. In your team everyone on it works with the same customers and the ultimate goal of improving their customer’s lot in life. The better we do that the more additional customers they will bring to us. The better we handle them the more customers we gain and the better the caliber of teammates we can attract.

 

Let’s consider four attributes that help sort out suitable players:

  1. They need to work with the same customer type as you do on a regular basis—yet be there for a different reason. No competition among players on the same team.
  2. They need to know, like, and trust you well enough to introduce you to their best customers.
  3. They are influential enough that others will listen to what they say.
  4. They have firsthand (or secondhand) experience with your product or service.

 

Last week we outlined restaurants as the perfect customer for our Merchant Services business. Potential teammates for that market include CPAs, printers, uniform companies, commercial pest control, beverage and food wholesalers, etc.

 

Who would an Interior Designer align with? Residential Realtors, Furniture Representatives, Painters, Flooring experts, and remodelers—just to name a few.

 

This week identify three Word-of-Mouth business partners for you.

 

© 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

January 22, 2017 at 7:43 pm

Communication Landmines

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“Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.” ~~John Buchan

Selling is all about communication and questions are your best medium.  Listen much more than you talk.  Local author Marty Clarke wrote an excellent book entitled Communication Landmines which goes into this in much more depth.

In this post I simply want to point out three main communications errors we all make and often experience.  Master these and your networking skills will soar.

The first major problem is talking too much.  We’ve all experienced this from the receiving end and felt trapped.  Once you got locked in how much listening did you do after that?  Most likely your attention was turned to finding an exit or trying to figure out how they are breathing or just focusing on the pattern their spittle makes.  When the other person talks too much it is a horrible experience.  That said, we are also guilty of the same mistake at least once in our life.  As a detective turn your attention to assessing when the other person is starting to experience these symptoms.  They start to avoid eye contact, begin stepping backwards, look over their (and your) shoulder, yawn, glance (or stare) at their watch.  As soon as you see any of these reactions immediately turn the conversation to them and ask a question.

More importantly how do you avoid this landmine?  Practice and preparation are the best tools you have.  There are a few questions you often get at networking events and you should be prepared to answer them quickly and completely.  When I am on the phone I count my words and always try to get to the point in 25 or less.  Try that the next time you are in a conversation over the phone (tick your fingers up one-through-ten and then back down ten-through-one and finally once more one-through-five.  Stop and consider, “What was the point of the last twenty-five words?”  If you are just getting to it—accept the fact that you are taking the long way home.  Find the shortcuts and tighten up your conversation.)

The second common communication error is reliance on jargon.  Unless your audience is at the same level of expertise as you eliminate the technical terms and speak plainly.

The third common communication error is vagueness.  Focus and clarity are keys to your success.  When you ask a Realtor who they would like to meet and get the answer, “Anyone looking to buy or sell a home” who did you think of?  Is that the result you want when someone asks you the same helpful type of question?  If the Realtor is more specific we can be of more help.  “I specialize in empty-nesters.  This is a great time to move into a home more suited to their lifestyle without kids.”  About twenty words and I imagine you actually thought of someone.  If you are an engaged listener you may ask for more clarification of the term empty-nesters.  “Their kids have moved out or are in college.”

The more specific you are the wider the listener’s mind opens.  In fact, if you know exactly who you want to meet this is an excellent shortcut, very appropriate for business-to-business clients or strategic alliances for any provider.  A business banker may have a competitive rate to offer and knows of an automotive company looking to expand.  She asks for Woody Toe, the owner of a local auto body shop noting that, “Our bank understands automotive equipment leasing and we work well with repair shops like Woody’s”

This week’s action involves meeting each area directly.  First, develop a one-minute or less response to the following questions.

  • Who is your target market?
  • What sets you apart from your competition?
  • What is your most popular product (or service?)
  • What is new in your business?
  • Why did you choose to go into your profession?
  • What do you like best about what you do?
  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • What do you do?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Where are you located?  Why there?  If you could choose a perfect location, what would it be?
  • How do you generate most of your business

Second, eliminate jargon.  Create two columns and list every term you use (trust me; your company literature is rife with it.)  Look for terms like full-service, turnkey, small business, and so on.  Develop layperson language and simplify it so a twelve year old could understand it.

Finally, write out a complete referral request identifying the person you want to meet—listing their company, department, title, and industry.  I recommend doing as many of these as you have target markets.  Once written, then practice asking from the specific to the general, just as the banker example above.

© 2013 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

May 19, 2013 at 4:54 am