Networking, we are reminded of its importance but what does it really mean? Traditionally, networking meant meeting someone in person and exchanging business cards but in today’s business world, it takes on broader meanings and encompasses much more. It’s about more than just getting leads; you can also learn and grow as a professional through your network. It’s about developing a relationship and sharing useful information, advice or assistance, and oftentimes business opportunities grow out of that. Networking isn’t something that you only do in person at events either. These days, online networks are just as important. Whether you share your own knowledge with others or learn from someone else’s experiences, networking this way leads to good things.
Throughout our 25 years in business, we have benefitted from advice given by others and so, in turn, we wish to support the MBE community in a number of ways, including blogging about topics pertinent to supplier diversity. I always hope that what I write is of interest and perhaps helps people out.
Last fall at the NMSDC’s annual conference, a woman came up to me and introduced herself. She recognized me from a mutual group we share on LinkedIn where I often share my posts. She thanked me specifically for a Corporate Spotlight piece that I did with Disney and told me that after she read it, it was as if a light bulb had gone off over her head.
She had recently branched out on her own and was still learning the ropes in many ways. The Spotlight piece highlighted that corporations had programs and people in place to help small business owners like her to navigate their procurement processes. It also encouraged her to reach out, which she did. She told me she contacted Matt at Disney (since retired – congrats again Matt!) and he scheduled an informational meeting for her. What she learned from them helped her to better understand whether she was a good fit with Disney and what she needed to do to be ready to work with corporate clients.
This is just one example of how networking in nontraditional ways, online or through knowledge sharing, can lead to personal and professional growth. The benefits of networking are not solely getting a lead on a new client. If you approach it with only that goal in mind, you are really missing out. Writing for my company’s blog, Staffing 360, brought me into contact with some great people who have now become mentors; people that I could help and people that helped me.
Of course there are also business opportunities that come from this kind of networking too. I sometimes send my posts to a corporate diversity professional at a major company that I know and ask for opinions on the topic and what I’ve written. We don’t do business with them (yet!) but he’s a great sounding board to know if I’m hitting the mark with something that will appeal to diversity professionals and/or MBE suppliers. During the course of one conversation, this professionals feedback included outlining which conferences their buyers attend and he encouraged MBEs (like us!) to use those opportunities to meet those buyers and better understand their needs. It was great information I was able to share with my colleagues and the opportunity to learn about it came from writing my blog and sharing it with my network on LinkedIn.
Finally, corporate program managers get in touch with me occasionally to ask if I know an MBE that can provide this or that product or service. They don’t just call if they need technical staffing solutions (which we provide) but to tap into my knowledge. That’s just smart business on their part and I’m happy to help out by putting them in touch with someone or just letting those in my network know that there is an opportunity. Being a business broker is not the purpose of my writing efforts or my networking, it’s more of a byproduct, but I’m happy to help. That’s the point.
Developing relationships and helping each other out is the primary goal. How you help depends on the individual and the question or problem. I know that I have been continually and pleasantly surprised by the ways in which my network has grown and how things have unfolded. I’m so gratified when someone shares their story with me and thankful to those who have helped me.
The woman who approached me at the conference couldn’t have known how happy her words made me feel. Up until that point, everything that could go wrong in terms of the logistics of setting up the day before, had gone wrong. Her success and gratitude reminded me of why networking in a variety of ways is worthwhile.
Corporate Outreach Manager