Get out there! Networking is a tool to embrace year-round

 By Gary Gosselin

Dolan Media Newswires
Business networking is a socioeconomic activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.
So the holidays are over and the parties, events and socializing have come to an end.
Depending on your perspective, that can be a good or a bad thing. But you should not go and hibernate now; networking is a year-round effort and doesn’t have to be a chore.
“Our business is a relationship business and networking and has been a great buzzword, but what you’re doing is investing in your community and your community is investing back in you and that’s the wonderful part,” said Grand Rapids attorney Joy Fossel.
“I’d say find a cause you have a passion for; almost everyone has a cause they feel strongly for … become part of a committee or a board, and that’s an easy way to start the process. There are other people sharing that goal and when you have a shared goal it’s easy to start relationships.”
She said many people approach networking or community action as strictly a business development function. But they never get the satisfaction that they could if they just focused on doing something good in an area they like.
For Fossel, it was the Red Cross.
“[I]t allowed me to connect with people who had the same passions, and they led me on to other things,” Fossel said. “… We care about things and we have a need to be a part of that. Everything grows, and a lot of our growth depends on the relationships that we make along the way.”
Go offline a while
Many of us get too caught up in the phenomenon known as social media and technology, and some use it as an excuse to not have to interact with others.
Mike Bernacchi, a lawyer and professor of marketing at University of Detroit Mercy, said that’s the wrong way of thinking.
“Every business is a people business, and if you isolate yourself and let technology take over, then you’re out of it,” he said. “I think we miss the people part, and being connected to people is important especially since we work so hard to ‘depeopleize’ our universe” with Facebook, email, blogs, etc.
In addition, one of the problems with networking online — almost anything online—is that systems try to match you with people just like you, or thoughts that you already express, Bernacchi said.
“And that’s all well and good, but we don’t all want to be connected to clones,” he said. “In real life, the value is the diversity of the networks, and the skills you acquire being connected to different types of people.”
He often gets complaints that people just don’t have time to do anything in person because they’re too busy.
“People might ask, ‘How do I have time to pray with all I have to do?’ ‘How do I have time for my family?’ Our life is made of priorities, and you have to choose and to make time,” Bernacchi said.
“You should look for every opportunity to work with other organizations, and convince them you have value as a human being, and if you can’t convince people you’re worth anything, how can you get the clients?”
Brighton attorney Marla Linderman, president-elect of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, said she was calling people directly for an upcoming event. Many of the recipients asked why she was calling personally, rather than just send a text or email or have someone on the committee do it?
Because they would have to tell her no directly, Linderman said.
That happens a lot less in direct conversations, she said, and is one of the advantages to direct contact.
In fact, she said, during one of those calls—totally unexpectedly and unsolicited—one of the contacts she called for support of WLAM asked
if he could refer clients to her.
What’s effective for you?
Follow-up is vital as well, Linderman said.
“We went to all these holiday parties, and gave people cards, and if you send a note and take the time, say, ‘Hi, I wanted to stay connected you are important to me,’” she said. “When you were at these mixers and holiday parties, there were 50 other people, and if you want to be the one or two they do remember, you have to make the effort.
“In closing arguments, they tell you you have to make the point three times. It’s the same in life, too.”
It’s good to join organizations that support you, she said, adding that WLAM “is wonderful because you have plaintiff and defense, Republicans and Democrats, and even have some men involved. It’s a good cross-section and a good group of people.”
Personal contact and building personal relations is the heart of their business at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, said Fritz Morsches, chief marketing officer.
He said that the firm encourages its members to join professional organizations and to volunteer whenever possible.
“Any type of activity, whether it’s coaching a soccer team, joining a professional organization, playing bridge or any function where you have contact with others, it provides networking opportunities,” Morsches said.
He stressed that it’s easy to lose sight of simple human interaction and networking on the most basic levels if we just text or email: “Personal contact is so important. We can’t lose sight of that.”

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