Networking is a 24/7/365 experience
Those of you who know me realize that I am almost always in the networking mode. If you are ever not sure, just check with my wife and sons and they can tell you story after story about how I have slowed the family down on countless excursions in order to talk with someone who I found interest in learning more about. Networking is not just the breakfast of champions. For me it is breakfast, lunch, dinner and the snacks in between. I rarely tire of the ability to exchange information and learn more about others. Now that you understand a little more about how I am wired, let’s talk more about how Networking is an activity that you can use to help yourself and others at almost any time and any place. I’ll share a few anecdotal stories along the way.
I got my first indoctrination into the value and power of networking when I got involved with the YMCA in the early 1990’s, first as a volunteer and then as an employee.
What started out as an exploratory volunteer activity advanced quickly into a life-changing exercise that redirected my life and my career. Much of who I am and what I do today got its roots from this period. Almost everything I did with the Y involved networking with others. My role there for the first 6 years involved spreading the good word about the Y and this was classic networking at its finest. The final months of this period allowed me to use the network I had grown with others to ask others to invest in the program the Y was working on that included the construction of a $3 million facility in Springfield, TN. There were days when I was not active in either using or growing my network for the advancement of the YMCA. What I didn’t realize at that time is the network I was construction would end up being so very helpful to me in the following years up to today.
One of my favorite networking stories was often told by our CEO, Clark Baker. Clark often told the story about one of his key volunteers. The story said that this gentlemen met his future business partner in the steam room at the downtown YMCA. Before you jump to any conclusions that are unfounded, let me tell you that these gentlemen went on to have a very successful run in the property management world. If you spend any time around the Nashville-Middle Tennessee YMCA you could probably figure out who I am talking about.
More of my networking now involves “building bridges” to someone or some organization that I would like to know or do business with. Having a strong foundation of contacts makes this much more achievable, but I could not do what I do today without the strong foundation I began building over 20 years ago.
I work with a career transition group in Brentwood, TN each Monday night and all too often I meet people there who are in transition who have little to no network to fall back upon. They have focused solely on their work lives and spent no time weaving a web of contacts they can use for their own business or personal advancement. In today’s free agent world of work it is suicidal to not have a network or to work on your network on a regular basis. The responsibility for your advancement rests solely on the man or woman you see in the mirror each morning, and I don’t mean your spouse.
Another recent networking story involves a person I knew of for many years and Auburn University. Last spring I was riding a bus from the Economy parking lot at the Nashville airport to the terminal when I spied a gentleman with an Auburn jacket. As an Auburn dad I cannot ever resist the opportunity to give a resounding “War Eagle” to my Auburn comrade and he returned the greeting with a smile. We began to talk and I learned that this gentleman was someone I knew of for many year, but had never met. We have since talked and strategized on several occasions and the connection we made that day has been one that has been good for both of us.
My wife and I are hard-core college sports fans (SEC!) and we have met and talked with dozens of people when we attend events such as Vanderbilt football, basketball and baseball games. One of the best venues I have ever been exposed to is the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament. We have attended this event in Atlanta, New Orleans and also in Nashville and you never know who you might meet while there.
Networking is the breakfast of champions, but it is also a snack or entrée that you can enjoy at any time and in any place.
Just like our regular meals, if you go without networking for a sustained period of time your personal network will suffer.
Feed that network on a regular basis. You’ll have a healthier as a result!