If you have trouble finding the right networking opportunity for you, consider starting your own event. A networking event can be as simple as calling four or five people and inviting them for lunch, or as complex as organizing a permanent group that meets on a monthly basis.
Scott Melzer, a financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial Services, teamed with speech coach Eileen Sinett a year and a half ago to create their own monthly networking breakfast.
There were a number of reasons for starting a new group, says Melzer. “One of the reasons for me was simply location. My office is in Cherry Hill, but I live in Mercer County and I wanted to start developing more business connections closer to where I live.”
The group meets the fourth Friday of each month at 8:30 a.m. at Sinett’s office, 610 Plainsboro Road. Cost: $10. The next meeting will take place Friday, August 26. Space is limited, so reservations are necessary. For reservations E-mail Sinett at eileen@speakingthat connects.com.
More importantly, Melzer finds that as a financial advisor, “I’m in a business where people need to have a lot of trust in the person before they will talk about their money situation. You can’t develop that kind of trust by just going to one networking event. You have to have a group that meets regularly so that you can get to know the people and they develop that trust in you.”
Melzer has only been a financial advisor since 2005. Prior to that he owned Knight Dreams comic book store in Princeton. “I get the creative side of my personality from my mother and the financial side from my father,” he says. His father was an accountant so he “grew up around finance and I was always comfortable with it, and helping people with their finances taps into the creative half of my personality.”
He graduated from Rutgers in 1992 with a bachelor’s in English and creative writing. “That pretty much explains why I’m a financial advisor,” he laughs. His weekends are also used creatively. He is a filmmaker, specializing in animated films. His most recent film will be released this summer at the Otakon Film Festival in Baltimore.
Another area business person who is in the process of organizing his own group is Kevin Thompson, a speaker and business consultant. His group, Out of the Box Workshop, will begin meeting once all of the details have been finalized. There will be a $5 to $10 fee for the meetings. “It’s important for people to feel that they have a ‘buy-in’ with the group,” says Thompson. Information on the new group can be found at www.outsidetheboxworkshop.com.
Thompson is a business consultant, trainer, and speaker who specializes in training business owners and their employees in providing excellent customer service and team building. “This is still a difficult time for many business owners,” he says, explaining why he believes his new group will be a success. “Right now, for business owners to make money they have to learn to think outside the box. They have to create alliances and team with other business owners, even when the two businesses might seem unrelated. I want to provide an opportunity for all types of business owners to get together, to meet each other and to learn to help each other.”
Thompson also credits his parents for his career choices, although at first glance, his current career has little to do with where he started from. He received a bachelor’s in economics and community health from Tufts University, inspired, he says, by his dentist father and his mother, who worked in a pathology laboratory. He worked as a hospital administrator for several years and became particularly interested in customer service and helping patients have good experiences while in the hospital. He received a master’s in public administration from Rutgers in 2005 and then decided the time was right to strike out on his own.
As two experienced networkers, Thompson and Melzer have several suggestions to offer on how to make networking become more than just a series of “first dates.”
Choosing the right event. Melzer uses the dating analogy when describing different types of events and how to make the most of them. There is the speed dating, or mix-and-mingle event where the goal is to meet a lot of people, quickly size them up, and decide whom to follow up with for a second date. Mixers, charity events, speed networking, and golf outings are a few of these type of events, he explains.
Often, however, the problem with these events is that people spread dozens of cards around “rather like buying a drink for every girl at the bar, then never making that second phone call,” he says. If you know you won’t do the follow-up, these type of events are a waste of time and money.
Groups the same people attend on a regularly monthly or weekly basis are more like a long-term relationship. The parties involved have a chance to really get to know each other and form a bond of trust.
Creating strategic alliances and developing meaningful business relationships are the two main reasons both Melzer and Thompson have for networking. “You have to ask yourself what you can give to the people you are networking with,” says Thompson. “Ask yourself how you can be useful to them, not how they can be useful to you. You must be comfortable that if you refer them to someone they will do the type of job for that person that you, yourself would do.”
In the end, both Melzer and Thompson agree that there is no right or wrong networking organization. Each person must find the group into which he or she fits and feels comfortable. “You’ve got to understand what you are looking for, then make sure that you are getting what you need from the group,” says Melzer. “Without that, networking is just a series of first dates, when you are looking for a relationship.”