Published in The Nashville Business Journal
Building your own personal brand requires a large network of professional associates, peers and friends. Think of every person you meet as an opportunity to learn something new. The more people you associate with, the greater your chances to build your knowledge base. And the bigger your knowledge base, the greater your likelihood of success.
My 20-year involvement with Tractor Supply Co.’s retail trade organization allowed me to spend time with peers who ran a large retail company. Through these associations I observed and learned a variety of leadership styles and how to benchmark both my company and myself against some of the best in the business. This form of networking was one of my principle methods of learning and improving.
I continue to network today, recently engaging an acquaintance at a cocktail party to work with a local nonprofit I support. It only took trading business cards and a short follow-up to seal the deal. Not all social events are this productive, but you never know until you try. Here are a few more tips I’ve learned:
• Make lunch count. Have lunch with as many different people as you can. Every mealtime and break time is opportunity time — don’t let it go to waste. Avoid routine daily lunch with the same people — or at your desk.
• Keep track. Never leave home without business cards in your pocket. When you meet someone new, exchange cards and then quickly follow up, preferably with a good, old-fashioned handwritten note. Be sure to log every new association in your contacts file.
• Reach out. Take the initiative to call, email and occasionally schedule face time with the contacts you think have the most potential. It’s impossible to imagine all the ways reaching out can benefit you.
• Cold call. It sounds scary, but you will find that most people respond positively to a cold call from a peer and often respect the initiative. This is easiest when the industry, company or individual has recently been in the news. Try it. You might be surprised by how well it actually works.
Networking is your opportunity to learn. The more associations you make, the more you learn and the more valuable, worldly, interesting — and I believe happier — you become.