by Molly Kelly
"Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor." ~ H. JACKSON Browne, Jr.
I often find myself telling friends and colleagues that doing business as a 38 year old, is much easier than it was as a 28 year old. In my case, it has less to do with age and everything to do with experience. Those short 10 years included birthing 3 children, moving 5 times, and learning to use whatever resources I could get my hands on, just to get through each day. Efficiency in life and in business is one of the best skills that one can learn and while I still haven't perfected my personal efficiency ratio, I know that it has significantly improved.
To be efficient, you don't have time to reinvent the wheel and test your new invention. You have to learn to use what is readily available to get from point A to point B. In my career, that means get from zero to a ridiculous revenue goal in the shortest possible timeframe. Think Lightning McQueen, not his sidekick, Mater.
After being out of my field for 8 years, I knew that coming back would not be without a few speed bumps. While I was confident in my ability to succeed, I also had to convince the people around me, and had a short window to do so. The work I did during the years that I spent away from the corporate world taught me a lot about networking, and I quickly put those skills to work. When executed effectively, networking doesn't have to look like a cheesy mixer with a pocket full of business cards, and often results in meaningful dialogues with the people you meet. It should be an experience that can be used as a tool to get you where you need to go, quickly, and allow you to interact with the people who will be with you on your journey to success. Here are my Top 3 most useful networking tips...
1). Get out of your office. There are going to be days when eating lunch at your desk seems like the only way to finish all of the minutia that your job requires. Lets face it, that may help you get through the two months of expenses you've been putting off, but chances are, you won't make a new connection in that hour and you will get salad dressing on your paperwork. A very successful real estate agent who I know lives by the mantra "every outing is an opportunity" and I'm a believer. Even if its just 15 minutes, get out of your office and interact with someone who may otherwise become your competition's opportunity.
2). Smile. I know, you think I'm crazy for adding this to my top 3 networking tips. I promise that it works. A smile shows confidence, approachability, and warmth. Who wants to engage in conversation, let alone do business with someone who they perceive as grumpy or aloof? A smile also says that you're genuine and slightly vulnerable. At 28, I never would have looked the elevator grumpster in the eye, let alone flash him a friendly smile. I'm not sure what I was afraid would happen, but it must have been scary. At 38, I know that I have nothing to lose and regardless of how my business may benefit from it, I could be the only smile he sees all day, and everyone deserves a warm smile.
3). Care. A networking opportunity or conversation should never be about what you can do for the people who you're trying to influence. If you put yourself out there, smile and act personable, and engage in a genuine conversation, you will always have another opportunity. People do business with those who they trust and the best way to establish that trust is to show people that you are more interested in them than you are in making sure you tell them all that you know. The information that you learn through listening can serve as a springboard for your next meaningful conversation. Listen, learn and show that you care by following up with something relevant to the conversation. Clipped or emailed news articles, a piece of research that your firm puts out on their interests, or even a simple hand-written note to say how much you enjoyed your conversation, will go a long way to creating that trust.
I know these seem like common sense examples and are probably things that you do on a regular basis. The good news is that when used effectively, they also can serve as a neutralizer to some of the speed-bumps you face in your career. I know that I can't ever claim to have as much Industry experience as my competitor who has been in the business for 25 years. However, that isn't always the deciding factor when someone is deciding who they want to be their advisor, service provider, contractor, etc. If you make these tips a regular and deliberate part of your networking plan, you will cast a large "net" and won't feel like you're "working".