Secrets of power networking

It's not net-sitting, it's not net-standing around, it's not even net- eating; it is, says Mark Avery, net-working. "Remember – you're there to get something accomplished."

He should know. For nine years Avery has been a member of one of the four Business Networking International groups that meet in Traverse City. It's no coincidence that in those same nine years his business, C&M Insurance, has grown its customer list dramatically and gone from three employees to sixteen. "There's no doubt, networking set us on that course."

Avery is one of the area's undisputed power networkers. Which means he doesn't pass on junk leads, he follows up with contacts within a week – always – and he stays on point.

"The first 15 minutes of a BNI meeting is open networking," Avery explained. "I can do a lot of business in 15 minutes."

So, apparently, can Mary Rogers. A networking super-hero, she turned her skills into a business, Marigold Productions. As founder, Rogers assists other women with their career development through a variety of opportunities many of which are, you guessed it, networking events.

"A year and a half ago I even made a contact that turned into a morning radio show," she said.

Here are some inside secrets from some of the area's most successful power networkers:

Tammy Durfee-Brandon, membership director of the Traverse Area Chamber of Commerce, has built a career around networking. She started at the Chamber three years ago as a sub-contractor, was hired as a part-timer, then was offered her current full-time position. Proof, she says, that you can network within your company as well as out in the community. Whenever she's in the job market, networking is the first strategy she uses. Durfee-Brandon is also a brilliant business card manager.

"One little secret that I do is as I collect business cards, I bend the edge of the ones from people I want to follow up with. At many events you tend to get more than you know what to do with. That little crease in the corner triggers to me that I need to be following up with them."

She also makes sure she wears something with pockets. That way, she can keep her own cards in one pocket, the cards she's collected in another pocket and doesn't have to drag a purse around. "It keeps my hands free for shaking."

When the time comes for that all-important follow-up, she dashes off a quick email with "Hi New Friend" in the subject line.

Dave Crater, owner of the Traverse City OneCoach franchise, said he starts preparing for a successful networking experience before the event even begins.

"The power of intention is huge. Have an intention in your mind before you go. Don't worry that there might be a hundred people there. Tell yourself this instead – 'Let's concentrate on meeting four or five.'"

Crater said 95 percent of his business has been developed through networking, and advised those new to networking to envision themselves helping others.

"It's the old Kennedy saying but it's still true. Ask what you can do for the person you're coming in contact with and they'll be a lot more likely to engage with you."

Other tips for those new to networking come from Deb Callison, of Certain Success, Inc. an organizer of Networking Boot Camps. "Don't be nervous because everybody feels like you do sometimes, even if they don't look like it. When you walk in the room, seek out the person who is even more nervous than you."

Introduce yourself and take it from there; you'll have a no-pressure beginning to the evening and you'll have made another nervous person feel more comfortable. Resist the urge, though, to latch on to one person.

When it comes time to follow up, Callison recommends a letter instead of an email. "Everybody likes to get real mail, but hardly anyone sends it anymore. So, if you do send a card, it's almost certain to get opened, read, and remembered."

She suggests a brief, handwritten note with this simple message: "It was great to meet you at (list event). Hope to see you soon."

For the more seasoned, even jaded networkers, Rogers offers one way to renew lagging interest: "If you feel that you have already networked your way through all the local groups, wait six months and it's a whole new crowd of people. Go back and the room is going to look completely different. BN