My friend and I decided to venture into the world of networking one evening last fall, so we signed up to attend a local community’s women’s business networking event. We had scarcely signed in at the door and slapped on our name badges when a woman walked up to us with a stack of business cards and thrust one into each of our hands.
“Hi, I’m networking,” was all she said. No name, no elevator speech.
I looked down at her card to see that she was in the business of making and selling beaded jewelry. The font on the card was hard to read.
“Barbara?” I said
“Yeah,” she said. “I hate these kind of events.”
Clearly, she left a lasting impression on me, but probably not what she intended.
“Networking” has come to mean so much more than cocktail parties and structured networking events. Having a network of allies—people who can help you build your business, your expertise, or your breadth of connections—is more important now than having a sparkling and detailed professional resume printed on fine linen paper.
This summer, we’ve been offering a series of “Explore Your Next” workshops in the Salt Lake City area focused primarily on expanding networking skills and opportunities, and finding ways for busy people to build specific and strategic relationships within the context of their already full lives.
In June, we invited two guest speakers—both Chocolate Villa alumnae--to our evening group. Laurel Ingham is the Development Director for the 4th Street Clinic, a non-profit organization that provides medical care for homeless people in Salt Lake City, and Amy Luther, Program Director for the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition. Each gave us their ideas on easy and strategic ways to build a support network.
Building Connections—Laurel Ingham
Laurel is one of the most natural networkers I have ever met, even to the point that she says, “I don’t really even know how I do what I do. I just do it.” I’ve never seen anyone more capable of getting people to give money to a cause than Laurel.
Laurel has three main practices that she follows:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be generous in offering help in return.
Laurel grew up in a family with parents who were active in their community. “The world is your family,” was their philosophy, she said. “You help people who need help and they help you when you need it.” Laurel believes this way of giving and receiving help is what makes humans feel connected to each other. “I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people—women especially—to ask for help. It’s why we live together in families and in communities.”
Have an “open-door” policy.
Every Sunday morning, Laurel makes cookies and posts a picture of her results on Instagram. She’s working her way through a cookie cookbook, an idea she picked up from a friend. “Everyone knows they can come by for cookies on Sunday. Most people even know where I hide a key. I just ask them to be sure to let the dog out if they come by.” Laurel also practices openness in other ways—she answers her phone if at all possible when people call, and she turns routine events into social gatherings.
“I became a beekeeper a few years ago, so every year when it’s time to harvest the honey, I put an announcement out on Facebook and people show up to help. I get free labor and they get honey. It’s a good trade.”
Tell it like it is.
Laurel is known to most as a direct, honest, fun-loving person who speaks her mind. She believes that building relationships with others requires you to be comfortable with yourself first, and then connecting directly with the authenticity of others. “Some people find me intimidating because I’m so direct,” she said. “That’s ok. I don’t need everyone to instantly like me. I just think we should be more open and straightforward with each other. We don’t need to waste time.”
Your Own Personal Board of Directors: Amy Luther
Amy is a warm and dynamic mover and shaker in the world. She connects easily with others, and is passionate about helping people achieve their personal and professional goals. She presented a brief overview on how to build your own personal board of directors.
“Having a personal board of directors can be really helpful to you when you are considering making a change in your life, or when you need to get unstuck, or when you need others’ perspectives to help you build or expand your business or skills,” she said. Amy walked the group through an exercise in identifying people in their lives or networks with specific experiences or expertise that could be useful.
“Let’s say you are going to start a business,” she said. “It’s likely you’ll need some people to give you financial advice, legal advice, and marketing or strategic planning advice.” She said it’s important to invite people to be members of your board who will be honest and straight with you. Close friends and family members might sugar coat important issues, which you don’t need right now. But they may also be excellent mentors if you can have a personal, but business-like relationship with them.
“Your board never meets together; you simply set up a schedule to meet with each of them individually, either in person or by phone.” Amy emphasized that when inviting a person to your board, it is important for you to be clear about the time commitment. You might ask if they are willing to work with for an hour each month for the coming year.
“And what’s in it for them?” she asked. “Well, you might consider taking him or her to dinner on occasion, but you’ll probably find that most people genuinely want to help other people, to share their experience and wisdom.”
Having a network of people who can be our teachers, mentors, and long-term allies is critical to our success. And as you build your circle of support, keep in mind that you, too, are in someone else’s circle of support, and you have the chance to help and mentor others while you are receiving help for yourself. It’s just how it all works best.
Next month we’ll highlight our experiences from our “Finding Your Voice” workshop and “All Networking is Social—A Guide to Building a Dynamic LinkedIn Profile.”
And in the meantime…