I will confess to feeling a bit nostalgic recently. A couple of weeks ago, I gave a presentation for SCORE at an event run by a colleague and friend that is so dear to my heart. As I sat down to prepare beforehand, I got to thinking about Elizabeth and how we met. But since my class was called the Nuts and Bolts of Social Media, this also spawned a few thoughts about how people feel they’ve made “connections” by way of social channels – a very different avenue from what was once the norm for interacting with other professionals. It made me take a moment to consider how I’ve gotten to know some of the most important people in my business (and personal) life through networking.
So in this day and age where you can find anyone and anything online, I wondered… does networking really matter?
Let me take you on a brief journey… I started my first business in 1999 (yup, just dated myself!), and a few years later, I started Precision Marketing Group with a focus on outsourced marketing for entrepreneurial companies. I was pregnant at the time with my third child when I received a call from a former corporate world colleague, who invited me to present at this networking group she belonged to. My particular speaking engagement was scheduled for April, but I had never been to this organization before – so I shuffled my 8 months pregnant self over to an event to see what New England Women Business Owners (NEWBO) was all about.
The first person I met was Maureen Condon – my now business partner. We both listened to Susan Hankins, a subcontractor for PMG for 14 years, talk about SEO (which, at the time, was not such a well-known topic). Six weeks later (and two weeks after delivering my third child), I went back and delivered a presentation on marketing for small businesses. What’s funny is that I didn’t even bring business cards because I thought that was too “sales-y,” and I very clearly remember I was quickly reprimanded by Rona Hammada, a long-time member and past president. “We support one another, we help each other,” she said. “Next time you come, you better have your cards!”
I happily joined NEWBO, became a member of the Board of Directors, and a couple of years later, I became President of this amazing organization. I had the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible business owners. And in the process, I made several lifelong friends from whom I’ve learned a great deal over the years. Lessons that, to this day, still impact the way I view and conduct business:
- Be true to who you are, as long as who you are is true to others.
- There is more than enough business to go around, so help one another.
- Owning a business is hard. Share what you’ve learned and leveraged to grow your own company.
- It’s okay to be vulnerable and share what stinks about your business. Someone else has absolutely been there – and they can give you some pointers, too!
- Ask for what you need and want. You’ll miss out on opportunities or resources that are out there if you don’t reach out to your colleagues.
I internalized these learnings and they’ve been the foundation for how I have done business since. Sadly, NEWBO is no longer around – the economy, an all-volunteer organization, competition… a number of factors all took their toll. But what NEWBO and the amazing women I met taught me certainly sticks with me today.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten all sentimental on you, that initial question still lingers… “Does networking matter?” Especially in this age of social? And my answer is a resounding YES!!
As Maureen and I have grown our business, we have found that all the lessons learned at NEWBO truly do matter. Yes, social media is awesome – and it can help you make connections if you’re being genuine and helpful. But there is nothing like a great event and being in person, meeting people like you, meeting people doing better than you.
For instance, just a few weeks ago, Maureen and I traveled to Florida for an event with four other marketing agencies. And we were there simply because we had networked! We met the organizer, Bob Ruffolo (can I say I love him?) – and we sat down and shared what was working, what wasn’t working, what we’ve each learned while growing our marketing agencies, and so much more. And to think none of this would have even taken place if we had never made it past connecting via social media. It’s the personal face-to-face connection that really enables you to engage.
I know that it’s sometimes hard to put yourself out there, to take the time, and to be present – but don’t think you can grow your business (or career) without networking. Be there. Be present. I can say with conviction that the connections you make will impact you for a lifetime.