Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another. However, the idea of networking tends to make some people uncomfortable or, sometimes, even confused. When some people think about networking, they see it as an endeavor that seems insincere at best and selfish at worst. That is the complete opposite of what networking should be – friendly, useful and genuine.
That’s where PLANET’s Green Industry Conference (GIC) – taking place here in Louisville, Oct. 23-25 – fits in. The GIC is an opportunity not only to learn about industry trends and to be inspired by industry experts, but also to make new connections and build new relationships. In this interactive learning environment, there is a sense that everyone has something to contribute to the discussions and all come away enriched by having been there.
As Kelly Slater from Pleasant Landscapes in South Carolina described it, “You think you’re alone until you get to the GIC. The successes of others can help you as your successes can help them.” Another attendee added: “I was pleasantly surprised at how all of the people are so nice and easy to talk to. Coming to a national event instead of a state event is an excellent experience. The removal of any competitor ‘worries’ while networking is the magic. Everyone is so open to discuss business issues honestly and to really listen to you in return.”
GIC provides a number of great networking opportunities starting with one of PLANET’s most widely recognized events, Breakfast With Champions, held on Thursday and Friday mornings from 7:30 a.m to 8:30 a.m. at the Marriott Downtown Louisville hotel.
Each morning, attendees choose from approximately 80 roundtables on a particular topic, such as recruiting, safety, human resources, finance, public relations, marketing and community service. A maximum of 10 participants, including an industry expert who acts as a facilitator, gather at each table for in-depth conversations about their chosen topic.
This is the perfect way to meet peers and hear how they are dealing with or have dealt with real-world challenges. Kevin Wolcott of U.S. Lawns of Northern Maryland and a repeat Breakfast With Champions attendee, says, “The Breakfast With Champions always amazes me. Every year, I think about sleeping in and always make the breakfast. I always get motivated and leave with unexpected action plans.”
Breakfast With Champions is a ticketed event open to PLANET members and nonmembers (tickets can be purchased at PLANET’s registration at the Marriott Louisville Downtown on Wednesday or at the Kentucky Expo Center on Thursday). Tickets can be purchased for a single day or for both days. Breakfast With Champions is an extremely popular event, so, don’t wait to purchase a ticket.
PLANET is also debuting a new networking opportunity this year. The Learning Lounge, located in Room B105 at the Kentucky Expo Center, will include a networking lounge that will be open throughout the conference, in addition to more than a dozen 20-minute Power Talks on various industry-related topics, a “Genius Bar” where people can have one-on-one conversations with industry experts, as well as a PLANET Marketplace.
GIC also includes a “newcomers rally” for first-timers to the conference and specialty group receptions, both of which are great opportunities to meet people and share stories.
With so much to see and do, it’s important to have a strategy for maximizing all of the networking opportunities available to you at GIC. Here are some tips that may be helpful as you navigate your way through this week and the days following your return home:
• Have a networking goal. Determine your own goals in terms of meeting new people. Are you looking for new suppliers, consultants, mentors or just peers in general? Determine the types of people you would like to meet that would help support your business goals, and make it a priority to connect with those people. Set a goal of one, five, or 10 new personal contacts.
• Make time for personal meetings and dinners with colleagues. Make sure there is time in your schedule this week to have coffee, lunch or dinner with other conference attendees. Conferences are a great opportunity to grab some time with someone with whom you have always wanted to connect. The face-to-face time is very important in building relationships.
• Make notes about each new contact. Networking events are great for meeting new people, but these events can also be a haze, making it difficult to remember interesting details about each person that you meet. Therefore, take a moment to write on the back of a person’s business card a few notes that will help you remember this person in the days to come. You should also write down the date and name of the event in which you met this person. If you meet someone of interest, consider following them on Twitter (maybe even re-tweet them), connect on LinkedIn and Facebook, subscribe to their newsletter – it’s all about showing an interest in what others are doing and a great way to remember points about a new contact that can ultimately help grow into a mutually beneficial relationship.
• Remember to follow up. A couple of days after meeting someone for the first time, be sure to get in touch with that individual. This is a great opportunity to develop the relationship by bringing up a topic that you discussed (and maybe even wrote on the back of your business card). Following up with relevant conversation helps to reaffirm your previous interaction in their mind.
Take advantage of all of the networking and educational opportunities surrounding GIE+EXPO and HNA, and your business will be affected in a positive way.