By BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTOR’s staff
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — Many contractors have discovered the power of networking through peer groups, trade associations and best-practices organizations. By developing a network of business associates, contractors have improved their bottom line by knowing where to turn for information and advice.
“There’s not one piece of information I need to know that is not available somewhere or from someone,” said networking expert Brad Hirni, who spoke March 5 here at Power Meeting XX of the Quality Service Contractors, a subgroup of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association.
Despite the benefits of effective networking, Hirni said, not all contractors devote enough attention to developing their networking skills. He suggested that QSC members concentrate on his “Seven Keys to Mastering the Art of Networking”:
1. Think of yourself as an information resource.“ Each of us is different with different experiences, but we’re all a walking, unique encyclopedia of information,” Hirni said. “You have to realize that you have value to others. We all can’t be good at everything, but each of you in running a business may have one or two areas that you’re really good at. A master networker realizes his limitations.”
2. Realize that your most important asset is your positive attitude and self-confidence. In meeting new contacts, you should create a positive first impression by being enthusiastic and projecting positive body language.
3. Have the courage and desire to make new contacts. “Many of us do not know how to make small talk,” Hirni said. “But you can become knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects by being able to make small talk.”
Fear or lack of confidence prevents some people from trying to make small talk in social settings, he noted.
“Courage is the taking of action in spite of fear,” he said. “Courage is not the absence of fear.”
4. Be useful to others as you seek information from others. “Networking is a two-way street,” Hirni said. “Networkers always have an attitude of gratitude. From the time you meet someone, think about how you can help that person.”
5. Discipline yourself to think proactively about information you want or need. No more than 20% of people think proactively about what they need to know that they don’t know already, Hirni said. Part of the process is to get to know people who may be able to help you.
In social settings, view someone’s nametag as an open invitation to talk to that person. At group dinners, introduce yourself to everyone at the table before you sit down.
Hirni also suggested that QSC members equip themselves with a “10-second commercial,” in which they tell a new contact their name, the name of their company and a benefit of the company stated in a brief but highly memorable way.
6. Always follow up on commitments made to others. If you promise to get back to someone with information, for example, make sure you do so. People won’t forget broken promises.
7. Express “thank you” frequently both verbally and in correspondence. The latter can be done via e-mail or letter. Hirni said he carries pre-stamped thank-you notes with him when he travels.