By Lucia Lecuna
Networking is probably the only way people can create their social influence map, one that will ensure their business survival. Some might think networking is instinctive, like curiosity, but it is not. It is a skill that can be trained, and I also believe it is an attitude that goes beyond the human need to socialize. Networking, when done strategically, provides a methodology to measure results.La Prima Dona (getting to know who is Donna Messer)
From the first day that I heard about the Canadian Queen of Networking, I knew: “I want to meet her”. I felt certain that would be a specialist who understands all about this networking skill that some people take for granted. I knew that for some it was as natural as getting up in the morning. For me and almost everyone new to Canada, it is not easy to learn to network. So I wanted to learn, set tasks and improve my networking skills.
Most people in Canadian society are eloquent; they have a huge vocabulary, a method of pronunciation and pace that is the common way to communicate. I found that in many cases, new immigrants, and foreign trained professionals, need guidance to maximize this much needed networking skill.
Enter an expert; her name is Donna Messer (by the way, she is my mentor). She is a Journalist, a trainer, a speaker, and a business woman. She is an open minded social worker, with the skill and energy that keeps her in perpetual motion. She is constantly sharing her experiences, secrets and know-how to anyone willing to listen, learn and follow her advice.
But following in her footsteps is not easy, since she goes faster than speed of light. She made me realize that one of her secrets is her story telling. She shares many success stories on business people, companies, families and students that are part of her network. Those stories are all about lessons learned, about those men and women who have gone through her network and her training.
Networking is about meeting people, but with much more than the shy “nice to meet you”. It is offering something measurable. It is asking what you can do to help them, and paying attention to what they need. It’s listening and offering them something that can add value to the relationship. Networking is an active and effective way to relate to others. It is being open and proving to be trustworthy, sincere and respectful.
Two weeks ago I decided to follow Donna to one of her networking training sessions, one she calls, “The Power Team”. The venue she chose was awesome; it was an indescribable house close to Toronto, adapted to receiving visitors. The venue is operating as a Bed and Breakfast, with enough space for events accommodating over 50 people. It was here that I met a diverse group of professional men and women who were there to expand their network. At the beginning, we were encouraged to begin talking with people we didn’t know, to share a little insight into who we were, and why we were at the event. We couldn’t talk about the weather; we had to talk about ourselves.
So there we were, beginning to build relationships, meeting each other while enjoying a variety of delicious canapés prepared by our host Doug Rapien. It was then that we began to realize, what it was that we could do to help each other.
Some could provide IT solutions, while others offered connections to financial services. There was a dentist, several marketing specialists, an accountant, an art expert, and incredibly talented business men and women. There was even a succession planner, who could help with funeral planning. All in the room had one thing in common: they wanted to improve their lot in life. They wanted to change their direction a little and to offer their expertise in a field they understood and could control.
I began to take notes on my phone until it ran out of battery; this was something I should have thought before I began my note taking. Luckily, I had my little note book, so I’m still able to share some of the main ideas I learned that night:
• Network in small groups, preferably less than 60 people, this way you have a chance to speak to at least half of the people in the room.
• Build the relationship first; keep track of what you suggest during your conversation. A follow-up e-mail is mandatory as a next step.
• Set goals and determine ways to relate to those you meet. Business can develop.
• Ask for what you need, but never ask for a job or expect privileges over others in the room.
• Listen to people in an active way.
• Try to read more than their words. Body language and tone are equally important.
• If you want to start a successful business in the next few years, focus on: seniors, pets and children, this is where the growth is.
• Your infomercial is important. Words should be precise and practiced; you have to choose your personal description, and use enough interesting material so that people will want to ask you for more details and your business card.
• People enjoy hearing stories, and we all have some we can share. We are the only ones that have those relevant and timely stories. These stories can be about a situation at your place of work, that can be humorous, but they should not be embarrassing for you or anyone involved.
• Anywhere can be the perfect place to network. You never know what contacts your neighbor, the man next to you that works-out every day at the gym or another parent at your child’s school may be willing to share with you. All may have something in common with you.
The networking training is Donna’s strength. If you want to learn from her or connect to her, she lives in Oakville. Her website is http://www.connectuscanada.com . Donna travels all over Canada and the United States training and mentoring. She always shares her resources.
In doing my research, I noticed that when is about networking the key words could be “finding coincidences”.
I’ll close for now, “Have a good one”… as they say here in Canada. Watch for my next writing exercise.