Alternative Places to Network
Look beyond your standard groups and cocktail receptions for business connections that really work.
By Jessica Chen | Entreprenuer
It’s been said that there’s a time and place for networking – any time and any place.
“Every minute you’re around other human beings is a chance to network,” writes charisma coach Olivia Fox Cabane in her article titled, “Plane Speaking: In-Flight Networking.” “Self-made billionaires are known for their tendency to network everywhere and all the time.”
So no matter what the occasion – whether you’re at the yoga studio, your child’s soccer game or at a religious event – networking is possible. Here are three entrepreneurs who learned the prime venues best suited to their networking needs could sometimes be found under the most extraordinary circumstances.
Start as friends
Co-founders Mike Scher and Dan McCann’s random encounter in a hospital is what eventually led them to partner and start Frontline Selling, a sales training and outsourcing company based in New York City.
Scher, 47, and McCann, 36, met on May 24, 1996-they were at the hospital while both their wives were giving birth to their first sons. Their mothers-in-law started talking and introduced them. They first joked about who had the bigger child; then they scheduled dinner for the following week.
“It became pretty obvious early on that we shared a lot of the same value systems,” Scher says. The two also shared a common passion for sales, and they clicked during their first meeting. Over the years, Scher mentored McCann in sales, and McCann would suggest potential businesses to start. They developed a trust and friendship – something that’s often omitted at formal networking events.
“You see all these forced places where you go to network and expand, and you always wonder what people’s real agendas are when you’re there,” McCann says. “We weren’t [at the hospital] for the business networking, but the business networking came out of that.”
McCann and Scher both have the perspicacity to make connections anywhere. In fact, it’s a mentality they value enough to teach their sales team.
Scher says if you meet someone in a fortuitous encounter, it’s wise to follow up with lunch or dinner. It shows you’re investing in that person and getting to know his or her needs. And it’s that ability to put yourself out there that Scher says allows “life-changing things [to] happen in the most unlikely places.”
Network in high places
While Scher and McCann’s hospital encounter was rather effortless, Steve Cody, co-founder of Peppercom, a PR firm, had to climb a mountain – literally – to make his entrepreneur connection. Scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro with his son and a group of like-minded adventure-seekers brought Cody together with two corporate lawyers and a CMO from a technology firm.
“I’m somewhat shy and reserved, so I don’t necessarily go out of my way to network,” Cody says. “But it’s interesting that the climbing threw these six or seven strangers together. You had [a] forced, best-of-all-worlds, worst-of-all-worlds experience.”
After the seven-day climb, one of the lawyers contacted Cody for PR counsel on a human resources case. It showed Cody that his other extreme hobbies – long-distance bike rides, marathons and even standup comedy – could also be venues to network. He found a niche of entrepreneurs – people like him who enjoyed taking risks in business and risks in their hobbies.
“I think there’s something about the shared pain or challenge, the goal that knocks down barriers that I wouldn’t be comfortable knocking down [at] a standard cocktail reception,” Cody says. “There’s some sort of common bond.”
Talk to strangers
Rosalind Resnick, founder of Axxess Business Consulting (and a contributor to Entrepreneur magazine) may not have scaled mountains, but the working mom, who works and lives in New York City, is on the John Hopkins University undergraduate advisory board, and owns a second home in Long Island, is a globetrotter on a weekly basis.