Back when I worked at a marketing/advertising agency as the Director of Public Relations I began honing the skills known as networking. Networking is not something taught in school, although I strongly recommend it be. But then, how do you teach Networking 101? I took a stab at it in one of the 400 level classes I taught in PR at Champlain College. The students asked about how to shake hands and I happily led the class in a hand shaking exercise - they thanked me and said they found it helpful. In my years at Marist College, I had no such luck. But, in the agency world, you are thrust into many situations where you either learn to network or you get really good at waving as you watch opportunities pass you by. After I started to really feel I was getting some sort of knack at networking, I soon labeled it "cruising with intent."
Now I own my own public relations business - yes, it is official, I am a women business owner - Rachel Carter PR is now registered with the State of Vermont. This new title certainly brings about an incredible amount of networking responsibilities. And for this blog, I will offer my opinion and feedback on three networking forums I have come across - this week actually involving all three!
Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce - Located at www.vermont.org, the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce has built its way into my heart the way a complex friend does - the kind you never seem to have figured out until you realize they've been loyal and around long enough that they really are a great friend. I first utilized the Chamber when moving to Burlington from Nashville, Tennessee (that is another blog) and purchased the membership directory to start my job search (side note: first job in Vermont was a chambermaid at the Days Inn on Shelburne Road). From there I landed the gig as Marketing Director at New England Financial - Burlington and would often attend the Business After Hours events with various insurance agents - more-or-less as marketing morale support. I found the mixers to be annoying - more of a lame get-hit-on-by-creepy-older-men-or-cheesy-younger-ones event than anything else. But, then, once at the marketing agency, I tried it out again - this time with other co-workers as a pre-game and excuse to go out on a work night. Throughout this time, I actually started to meet people and started "networking" - all while cruising with intent - even if that did mean checking out a few cuties.
Anyway, once I started to make preparations to go into business by myself, I found the Chamber of Commerce events to have been an invaluable part of my business owner training. And not just the mixers, but the legislative breakfasts, and other community work the Chamber is involved in. One of the first things I did when I was on my own was join the Chamber and purchase a bunch of Business After Hours tickets. These events have become a highlight of my month - and not even because of the networking anymore, but I have some great friends in the Burlington business community and this is where we hang out. And tomorrow night the event is at Blues Night at The Lincoln Inn - how stoked am I?
Women Business Owners Network - This group, located at www.wbon.org, is like the fun, flashy friend who you like immediately and jump on the bandwagon because it looks like a good idea and because you feel it in your gut - don't you just love when your head and gut agree? I joined the Women Business Owners Network without knowing anyone in it, without having gone to a meeting, and without having heard much about it except I knew it was in existence and knew it had a good reputation. I joined about a month after joining the Chamber and my first event was the spring conference. I was hooked!!! What a well run, organized, positive energy filled, copious amounts of great networking, useful and helpful seminars, and healthy food filled event! Yes! I go to the Burlington chapter monthly luncheons (was at one today) and look forward to going to the new Williston chapter events as well - and that fall seminar at Topnotch - I just need a roomie!!
Business Network International (BNI) - The Vermont chapter is located at www.bnivt.com and I was invited to attend a meeting (which I did yesterday) by a talented graphic designer who owns Interrobang Design. It seemed similar to the Vermont Business Roundtable in that one professional in a variety of disciplines is invited to be in a networking and lead generating organization. I think the big difference between BNI and others I have mentioned is the focus on lead generation. It is also similar to the Rotary Club structure with the more old school and fraternal internal structure. While I was a Junior Rotarian back in high school and even in Alpha Kappa Psi (professional business fraternity) in college, I find this type of structure not to be as much my style as music and mixers and women empowerment. Plus, the meetings are at 7:30 in the morning - doesn't that defeat the purpose of having a home office? I mean, how can I cruise with intent at that hour?
Now, I am a believer in the power of three, so while I will not be joining BNI, I will be switching all banking from Chittenden to Key Bank so I can participate in the excellent program - Key For Women - another networking opportunity I am sure to be blogging about in the near future!
See you all at the Lincoln Inn tomorrow!!