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Business Networking

March 1st, 2019 by

When I first entered the business world back during the Johnson administration, networking seemed to consist of eating, drinking, and playing golf with other business people.  And being shy in my early years, I dreaded much of the social interaction with relative strangers that this process required.

But, I would learn the importance and great personal value to the art of networking.  Let’s face it the word is not netgolf or netlunch or netdrink.   It is network… emphasis on WORK please.

As with learning any skill, the more you practice, the more time you put into it and the more you stretch your comfort zone, the better you will become.  Of course social interaction comes easier to some.  But for all, networking in today’s business environment requires an informed effort.

In his outstanding book “The Art of Networking: Beyond the Handshake”, author David Woods suggest that most of us live inside a close bubble of friends and family and in order to realize our career potential, we have to push ourselves outside of that space and intentionally build new relationships.  This book is a worthy read.

I would also offer two other great sources on this subject.  First, take a look at, “The Fine Art of Small Talk,” by Debra Fine.  Her subtitle “How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills–and Leave a Positive Impression,” suggest that this would be a perfect primer to the shyest of us.

Perhaps the best source I can put you on to is, “Give and Take:  Why Helping Others Drives Our Success,” by Adam Grant.  Grant presents a holistic approach to building better relationships by suggesting that there are three types of leaders: givers, takers, and matchers. The ideal style is that of — you guessed it — the giver, who injects helpfulness and energy into any room.

So, why and how should we concentrate on networking in today’s business environment?  Let’s put the benefits into prospective first.

New contacts and referrals: The most obvious benefit of networking is to meet potential clients and to generate referrals, which you can then follow up on to hopefully add to your client base. Networking can also help you identify potential partnerships, joint ventures or possible areas of expansion of your business. 

Visibility:  You need to meet and communicate with potential clients and business partners on a regular basis to maintain strong relationships. Attending business luncheons, trade shows and networking events raises your personal profile by keeping you front and center in the minds of the right people.

Staying currentIn today’s ever-changing business climate it is important to keep up with market conditions as well as overall trends in your industry. Thus, attending seminars and networking with your peers and business associates on a regular basis will help you to stay current.

Problem solvingIn addition to the potential of increasing your business you can often find solutions to your essential business needs by networking. For example, if you should need the services of a bookkeeper, accountant or lawyer you may find the ideal candidate via networking.  The same can be true of fulfilling financial needs.

Expanding knowledge and experienceNetworking can be ideal for expanding your knowledge by taking advantage of the viewpoints and prior experience of others.  Getting advice from someone else who has had similar business needs and has already figured out how to fulfill them, can be of extraordinary value. Taking advantage of the experiences of others before you invest time and money in a particular venture can prove to be priceless.

Confidence and morale: Finding other business people who are optimistic and positive and regularly associating with such people can be a great morale booster. This is particularly true in the difficult early phases of a new venture. Also, if you are not naturally outgoing, regularly meeting optimistic people can also encourage more confidence in you.

Let me make two more important points about networking. 

Today we are all consumed with the social media world.  Meeting people in person may seem old fashioned in the digital age.  But I would submit that, wherever possible, you should network face-to-face.  Social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be excellent ways to communicate with customers and business associates, but they are a weak substitute for meeting people in person.

As a final thought on this subject, I would refer you to my last blog entry, Hush Up and Brush Up.  The best business networking groups operate as exchanges of business information, ideas, and support. And, the most important skill for effective business networking is listening.  The entire process of business networking will be significantly enhanced by good listening skills.

Break out of that bubble and get to it.  Effective networking will make both you and your business better.


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Brush Up and Hush Up

December 7th, 2018 by

by Randy Stertmeyer, COO, Communicators International, Inc

Stert, Miami University, Ohio Baseball. captain… a few years ago.

If you are in business, and especially if you are in sales, it is always a good idea to “brush up” on your listening skills. And a big part of listening is to “hush up.”

I’ve heard it said, we have two ears and one mouth, and a wise man uses them proportionately.

Anyone who has taken a sales course has learned that there are two kinds of questions; closed-end questions which usually require a short, often one word, answer like “yes” or  “no”; and open-end questions, which require long, descriptive answers. We learn much more from the later. But to really learn from them, you need to shut up and listen.

Listening is an acquired art. We call our company Communicators International. We have learned that good communication springs more from when and how to listen than it does from how we use words.

It is generally agreed that the concept of listening as an art, was born in a seminar given in 1974 by Eric Fromm, a world-renowned social psychologist.  In speaking to a group of American students in Switzerland he related “the art” to his success as a psychoanalyst.

The best short primer on listening effectively I’ve seen comes from psycho-spiritual writer Aletheia Luna. She offers the following steps:

  1. Make Eye Contact. (Obvious, but frequently forgotten.  If you don’t look at the person while they’re speaking, you give them the impression that you don’t care).
  1. Don’t Interrupt. (Let the person speak uninterrupted. Allow the person to say everything they need to say. The goal is to shine the spotlight on them, not you).
  2. Practice “Active Listening”. (Clear your mind of your needs and of your mission, to assure that you fully understand what you are hearing).
  3. Show You Understand. (Provide positive reinforcement to show that you understand.  A simple nod or a quiet verbal response such as “yes”, “yeah”, “ah”, or “okay” will demonstrate interest and comprehension without interruption).
  4. Listen Without Judgment. (To effectively master the art of listening it’s extremely important to withhold any negative evaluations or judgments. If you understand your business, your needs and goals aren’t going anywhere. Once you fully hear the other person’s thoughts you will have a better roadmap for making your case).
  5. Listen To Non-Verbal Communication. (About 60 – 75% of our communication is non-verbal. Observing “body language” is a critical part of listening).
  6. Create A Suitable Environment. (It is impossible to listen to another person when your phone or theirs is buzzing. Remove all distractions and find a quiet place to sit down and listen).

Stert the handyman, 2018.

It is also critical in today’s hi-tech world to apply these same principles to the many forms of communication beyond face-to-face verbal encounters. Emails and text have replaced a great deal of the interpersonal dialog we used to see in business.

It makes it much easier to hide; to avoid unwanted discourse. Without body language available as a tool, we must learn to read between the lines. As with face-to-face meetings, we must slow down and fully digest the written exchanges we have every day.  This means reading more than once and analyzing in the context of the person and situation involved.

The tendency with emails and texts is to rip off a response and move on. These quick replies are often visceral and reactive. Wrong!!! Slow down. Think. Yes, time is precious, but being reactionary is very dangerous.

So brush up on your listening skills. I am reminded of an old Four Seasons song that was on the “B” side of their big hit Rag Doll in 1964. The first two lines of the chorus say it all:

Silence is golden
But my eyes still see 

The next time you are in an important meeting or on a critical sales call, give it a try… just hush up and listen.


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Top 10 Thanksgiving Dishes for which you’ll become largely thankful!

November 19th, 2018 by

By Terri Sparks

Thanksgiving is America’s most traditional holiday meal, one with a national menu that every family follows in their own special way… year after year. For many of us, “traditional” means those famous, handed down recipes from Grandma. You may eat the same dishes every year—green bean casseroles, candied sweet potatoes or sausage stuffing (do you call it dressing?) Or, how about something wildly different, tasty beyond belief… and only allowed to be ingested just once annually…  to bring to this year’s table?

Over the years, my friends and family have been coming up with a “twist on traditional” dishes that might have the boring old Pilgrims sailing the Mayflower back to England. Check these out…

Here are my top ten Thanksgiving food recommendations. (Warning, you may have to start taking Lipitor immediately afterwards…! But remember, these are decadent recipes for just ONE feast.And,they are worth it!

  1. White Castle Stuffing – a TAS favorite! My best friend, Lorraine used to make this all the time. I thought she was bonkers, until I actually tried it. Just make sure you remember to state when ordering, “no pickles and no cheese.” Smash ‘em up and stuff ‘em or bake ‘em! Yes, this is stuffing consisting of full-sized White Castle hamburgers! (4+ million calories per serving)
  2. The TAS famous Hankie Pankies for appetizers. Speaking of “stuffing”. This one drives my mother-in-law crazy, because everyone stuffs themselves with these before the big meal. Ground beef, spicy breakfast sausage, Mexican Cheese all melted together and topped on those little Pepperidge Party Rye Slices; toasted just a bit. My father-in-law would disown me if I didn’t bring them! (6+ million calories)
  3. Turkey Dinner Pierogi – A hand-rolled apple sage turkey kielbasa placed on a generous bed of billowy apple and sausage stuffing pierogis, and then doused in traditional Thanksgiving gravy. (Caloric content beyond the threshold of measurement)
  4. Thanksgiving Leftovers Pizza – With store-bought pizza dough, use the gravy as the sauce, mashed potatoes and turkey as the toppings, and mozzarella cheese to pull it all together. Feel free to throw in whatever leftovers you have, too. The guys may want to wear their Sansa-belt pants before attempting to eat this. Sooo good! (A billion+ calories)
  5. Apple and Sausage Macaroni & Cheese – Fresh apples and some hard cider give this basic mac and cheese a double dose of fall flavor. (My kids love it!)
  6. Three-Cheese Corn Pudding – What’s better than one cheese? Three, especially when those cheeses are white cheddar, yellow cheddar… and, Parmesan. (Say “Cheese! Jabba the Hutt endorsed!)
  7. Leftover turkey casserole – Shredded turkey, celery, water chestnuts mixed with cream of chicken soup and some mayonnaise, and then topped with a crunchy, salty abundance of crushed potato chips- DONE! Years ago, the favorite of Sidney Greenstreet. (Famous wild food food forwager, Euell Gibbons,would be spinning in his grave nonstop upon reading this recipe.His loss, as it is amazingly tasty. Seriously!)
  8. Pumpkin Chocolate Tiramisu – I found this one last year on Marthastewart.com. The “old” Tiramisu dressed up with pumpkin puree, replacing the espresso syrup with almond liqueur. (If you can still move by the time this is being offered, you won’t want to miss it!)
  9. Cranberry Jell-O Shots – Need I say more?
  10. Pecan Pie Martini – Again, no words needed.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year because it reminds us all to give thanks and count our blessings. After this top ten list, we probably should also start the Atkins diet!

Gobble Gobble!


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THE IDEAL AGENCY-MEDIA RELATIONSHIP

September 18th, 2018 by

In Spring of 1997, when our firm was young and had relocated only six or seven months beforehand from Chicago to Portland, Maine, we had a visit from a media rep. David Corson called on me. He worked for a publication called “Retail Operations & Construction.”

I didn’t know who he was, what he wanted from us or our clients… or, anything about his magazine. But those were the days when we weren’t so busy, and probably, were a lot more hospitable. So I agreed to meet him for breakfast.

Immediately upon meeting, we found out we had some commonalities. Both had athletic backgrounds, were workout fanatics… and the pièce de résistance , both of us were members of the same national college fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). From the get-go, I liked this guy.

I liked him even more when at the end of our initial meeting, he said, “I think I know an account which would love your services.” Within one week, we added a new name to our growing client roster.

The years passed, our business grew as did David’s. He ultimately left the publishing company he was with and started his own firm. In what seemed to be no time at all, he was owner/publisher of Retail Construction, Hospitality Construction and Healthcare Building Ideas magazine & Commercial Kitchens. He developed and managed a number of tradeshows, summits, retreats and other networking events. He did well… and from our vantage point, never forgot us. As a matter of fact, he even hired us! For a number of years, Communicators International, Inc., was full-service advertising and public relations agency for David’s company. We had a blast together. But more importantly, we helped each other grow.

Like so many others in this industry, his firm and ours were hit by the recession. In July of 2008, Communicators had a client roster consisting of many overseas accounts that focused on America. Bam! All at once, we lost 60% of our annual revenue due to non-domestic firms cancelling annual contracts. David really got clobbered, and ultimately re-tooled his firm, winding down his tradeshows and bringing the three aforementioned magazine titles under one new masthead, which he still owns and runs: Commercial Construction & Renovation. In spite of his business hits, David was 100% honorable to us. Whatever he owed, he paid us in full.

Since that time, slowly and surely, both of our companies have come back. We moved to Florida in 2012; David’s firm continued to build up the magazine, added some addenda publishing titles and more. Over the years we’ve signed on a number of new accounts due to his recommendations. We’ve never forgotten the services we get from his firm over and beyond running our clients’ advertising. Bottom line, after 21 years, this publisher still cares about us… and, we still care about him.

In retrospect, looking back to 1997, all of our businesses have changed. 21 years ago, we were all becoming quasi-geeks, getting stoked about all the conveniences and digital tricks we were bringing into our respective companies. David’s firm was doing this, as were we. Like all small businesses, ours were changing with the times. But one thing never changed in the relationship between this media company and Communicators International, Inc. We were interested in each others’ success; we listened to each other; we helped each other… and both firms continually benefitted due to this ongoing, beautiful relationship.

In this blog, I want to publicly thank David Corson for being a great partner.

Phi Alpha, Bro!


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