Power Players' Lounge: Patience and persistence pay off in networking

There is an old cliché...it's not what you know; it's who you know. As much as we perhaps wish that weren't true, most of us know that it is. Whether they are looking for advice, to buy product or to fill a position, people are more likely to reach out to someone they know rather than a complete stranger.
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In January 2009, SNEWS® named the industry's first class of outdoor industry Power Players (click here to read).

"Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in these economic times," SNEWS reported when it announced the Power Players. "Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. And that is the driving force behind the launch of the SNEWS Power Players -- an honor that will acknowledge outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors." To acknowledge the honor of being chosen as the first class of Power Players, the group wanted to collectively give back to the outdoor industry through what we have dubbed, the 2009 SNEWS Power Players' Lounge. Each week, through the end of October 2009, a new column will be posted to the Power Players' Lounge. It's intended to be a place where our industry friends can gather to read and hopefully discuss ideas for improving business -- especially important during these challenging economic times. We encourage you to interact with others while hanging out in the Power Players' Lounge and it's our hope their columns will inspire imagination and debate. Use the comments button at the top and bottom of each article to post your own remarks and observations, and to engage in discussion.

Power Players' Lounge columnists include: Bill Gamber, Joe Hyer, Jennifer Mull, Brad Werntz, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, John Sterling, Josh Guyot, Mike Wallenfels, Beaver Theodosakis, and Sally Grimes.


This column was written by Sally Grimes, Outdoor Industry Women's Coalition (OIWC). (sgrimes@oiwc.org)

There is an old cliché...it's not what you know; it's who you know. As much as we perhaps wish that weren't true, most of us know that it is. Whether they are looking for advice, to buy product or to fill a position, people are more likely to reach out to someone they know rather than a complete stranger.

This is where networking comes in. You don't want to be that stranger. You want people to reach out to you when they have questions that could ultimately benefit you and your career. But, they can't reach out to you if they don't first know you.

And regardless of your ultimate goal, networking works, especially in our incestuous industry. We are in this industry because of our passion for outdoor activities, which often come down to trusting our partners in challenging, perhaps even life-or-death situations. This carries into our work, and we are more likely to trust people who are in our network and who we know we can trust.

At the Outdoor Industry Women's Coalition (OIWC), I see it work on a regular basis. We have a strong network of over 1,500 women and men who, by joining the organization, open themselves up to the wonderful world of networking. We get calls from manufacturers looking for PR firms, PR firms looking for designers, designers looking to hire new staff, and women looking to get into the industry. It's a beautiful cycle and a thrill to see it all come together.

But unfortunately, networking and putting yourself out there is challenging for many of us. If you're like me -- an introvert at heart -- it just doesn't come naturally. I've heard people say it feels like a chore, it's draining, they're too shy, they don't know what to say, and really...who has time to network, anyway?

Thanks to many of my mentors, I've realized that networking is a skill you can learn, just like paddling or climbing, and while some may be more natural than others, anybody can do it. By watching and learning from the wise and seasoned pros in the industry, I've learned a few tips that have helped me develop my networking skills and ultimately helped me build a strong network.

  • Don't assume that you want to network with any one person over another. True, you may want to meet the HR Director at the company where you hope to work, but you never know where the entry-level person sitting next to you will be in three years. This is especially important in our industry where people tend to stick around for decades, jumping from one company to another.
  • Be fully engaged at the moment. People can tell if you're looking around the room, multi-tasking when you're on the phone with them, or not really listening. Is this how you want them to remember you?
  • Be honest. At an Outdoor Retailer trade show, my husband and I both had meetings with the same person on the same day. We have different last names, and not knowing we are married he told us completely different stories as to why the company would or would not be able to work with us. He left a bad taste in both of our mouths, one that neither of us has forgotten.
  • Figure out what you can give -- to get later. You'll leave a positive impression if you listen deeply, ask questions, and offer to help. And ultimately, that person will be more likely to help you when you need it.
  • At an event: arrive early, bring a buddy, and look for the loners. Arrive a few minutes early or on time -- it's much easier and more comfortable to talk to just a few people than walk into a crowded room and break into a conversation. If you can, bring a buddy. It eases the 'workload' of networking and makes for smooth introductions. And look for those who came by themselves -- they'll be eager to have somebody to talk to.
  • Give a (sincere) compliment. Maybe this is unique to women, but it's a foolproof way of easing into a conversation with somebody you don't know. "I love your necklace. Where'd you get it?" can lead to an in-depth dialogue...and they'll always remember that you love their necklace. My husband says that this technique can work for men too, if done more subtly, and -- at least with women -- an immediate caveat that shows you're not hitting on them; "Hey, cool necklace. My girlfriend would love that."

The most important tip I've learned, though, is simply to get out there and meet people. None of these others things matter unless you're in the room, on the phone, and making sure that the next time somebody hears your name, they'll know who you are.


OIWC has a slew of related resources at http://www.oiwc.org/?page=Careerpathnetworking including recommended articles, books, and even a quiz to find out how good of a networker you are. This page is usually accessible by OIWC members only, but for this article we are opening it up to the public for a limited time.


We have made this article public access, to ensure all may be able to read it. If you like what you are reading, and want to be able to fully participate in the discussions and view articles and expert corner columns in our archives, you'll need your own SNEWS® subscription, which we've made really easy – the SNEWS Freebie. Click here to activate your own SNEWS access today and become part of the strongest and most interactive outdoor and fitness industry community on the web today.

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