Substitute You For Me

Substitute You For Me

One of the foundations of effective networking is that you need to ensure that your company (and you) are represented at a meeting.

Although you can normally plan your life effectively to attend your meeting, there are times when the needs of others cannot be changed and you must miss a meeting, so what do you do?

The key word has already been used, plan!

With 30-40 other people in the room at the meeting, if you are not there people may make a mental note that you are missing but when the meeting kicks off, you are soon forgotten about completely and remain forgotten until the person next sees or hears from you. In the case of network meetings ‘absence makes the heart forget’.

The people who volunteer as substitutes are interesting. They are keen and eager to help, but often as they have no idea what to expect, the message they deliver can be less than effective unless you prepare them properly.

Many times I have seen people who have been press ganged into substituting for someone, stand up and read an email or fax that was sent at the last minute. The person reading it is nervous because they have never been to networking group before, so they read out the message badly and sit down quickly, glad that it is over with. All that really happens is that the minute is filled and done. No effective message was delivered and your opportunity to strengthen your network is wasted.

Using a substitute is an opportunity to deliver your message in a different way and should be planned in advance. There are five actions you need to consider when using a substitute.

The first is if you get a lot of notice of your absence, announce it the week before. You can use it as a way of informing people about your dedication to seeing a customer, or if you are taking a break to recharge the batteries after a long and successful year. Mention your substitute and ask the group to make them welcome.

If you only get a few hours’ notice of your absence, call one of your fellow members, tell them you have a substitute, and ask them to look after them to ensure they enjoy their visit to the Chapter. Remember any visitor or substitute is a potential member for the Chapter or customer of the members.

If you have access you can also send a message to your Chapter via email, telling them of your absence and your substitute. Just think how welcome your substitute will feel when people are expecting them and they offer a friendly greeting. Substitutes can be very nervous and a friendly welcome helps to put them at ease.

Next step, rather than just email or fax a quickly written note, take the time to visit the person who is going to substitute for you. If they know nothing about your group, take them for lunch or at least a nice coffee.
You need to explain about the group with focus on the one minute presentation (this is the bit they may well be dreading)

By visiting them, you will be able to show them how much you appreciate their help, everyone likes to feel appreciated. If you can’t make it physically then take the time to talk on the phone and let them know how grateful you are.

Thirdly, ensure that your meeting fees are paid in advance. It is a bit of a slap in the face if your substitute must pay for their attendance at your group, as well as doing you a favour. If you cannot prepay, please call the people in your group who handle the money and get them to let you pay next week.

Following the meeting (but no sooner than an hour) call your substitute to thank them for their help. It is also an idea to call one of your fellow members and ask them how your substitute got on, before you call the substitute. Again, showing your appreciation is good, and it means that if you must avail yourself of them in the future they are more likely to respond favourably as they have had a good experience.

On your return to the Chapter, take a moment to thank your substitute (even though they are not there) and explain the success of the meeting that caused your absence or the happy time you had on holiday.

Who do you send as a substitute? Most importantly you want a willing person who is going to turn up. Too many times people arrange (and don’t prepare) a substitute, who then doesn’t turn up. As we know networking success depends on regular attendance. If you are away and your substitute doesn’t show up, you are marked as absent, so ensure your substitute is going to make it to the meeting.

Your choice of substitute is often limited by time factors if you haven’t pre-planned. You should talk to someone about the possibility of substituting for you well in advance of you needing them. Even invite them to a meeting when you will be there so they get a feel for the meeting and are not thrown in at the deep end. It is good to have a couple of ‘subs in waiting’ prepared, in this way there is a better chance one will be available when you need them.

If you have staff members, it is often a great idea to ask them to substitute for you. Some staff will refuse outright, but that is okay.

Treat your substitutes with respect, remember they are helping yo

However, if you do get a staff member to agree, ensure you treat them well. As with other ‘subs in waiting’ take them along when you are there, introduce them as the valued member of your team that they are. Then, when you need to call on them to substitute, let them have time off in lieu of the time taken attending the meeting. If you let them go home early on the days they substitute for you, firstly they will appreciate your recognition of their help, and secondly other staff members might be tempted to get involved.

If you are not able to give them the time off in lieu, a gift voucher (from a group member) or other suitable appreciative token will help you to say thank you for their effort. It is also a great idea to ask your staff to attend a meeting with you anyway. It introduces them to the people who are passing work to you and lets them see that the boss isn’t just coming in at 9.30 in the morning after having a nice sleep in.

If you are not going away together, your spouse or partner is an ideal substitute. They see you go off to your networking group each week and probably have no idea what happens. They know you better than anyone and often, spousal substitutions are very informative and entertaining.

Extended family members are also a good substitutes. My own father has substituted for me on several occasions and he says he enjoyed it.

Customers and suppliers are also people you should consider when you need a substitute. An additional benefit of asking a customer, is that they will have experience of your services and will give a very good reference, and rap about you.

Something that flairs up every so often in a networking group is the phenomenon of ‘rent-a-subs’. These are people, who for whatever reason, are not able to attend a group as a member but seem to be able to get there every third week as a substitute.

The problem with ‘rent-a-subs’ is that they become so well known to the group for what they actually do for a living, your message is ignored subconsciously.

The presentation your substitute gives need not be a boring verbatim reading of an email, think creatively. Often getting them to take a small prop of some description helps to ease nervousness as it shifts the focus from the substitute to the prop. Do not write a presentation which has to be read exactly, use a bullet pointed list and space the text to make it easy to read. You might even consider recording the speech yourself to give them an idea of how you would prefer it delivered.

Another creative way I have seen a substitution happen was a mobile phone salesperson who had his substitute hold up the latest mobile phone, set to video phone. He then delivered his own one minute presentation, via phone, from his holiday location. A very effective substitution, and demonstrated a product very well.

Incidentally, the same phone man delivered a semi substituted presentation once on a cassette player. It was the morning after a big party he had attended and although his body was there, his mind needed more sleep. He sat at the table, with dark glasses and a dead pan face and when it was his turn to speak, he hit the play button and left the room. The tape played a message he had pre-recorded the day before and at the end, explained his tiredness and that he wouldn’t be back as he was off to bed. He then asked if someone could someone turn off the tape and bring the machine to his shop when they were passing. It was a very effective message, delivered in his own semi absence.

I have seen a computer sales person deliver a pre-recorded video message from a laptop activated by his willing substitute.

As with your general one minute presentations, the more creative you can be with your substitute’s presentations the better, but don’t embarrass your substitute, or they will never help you again.

The need to use substitutes cannot be avoided but what you need to do like any aspect of your membership (and business) is to plan in advance so that when you need to call on them, they are ready, willing and able to help.

Module Actions

Identify a group of potential substitutes
Prepare them before you need them