Here's How to Network like a Pro
Westchester’s business networking scene is vibrant and fruitful — if you know where to go, what to do, and who to look for.
Attitude Is Everything
“One of the most important parts of successful networking is attitude,” says Marsha Gordon (pictured, left), president and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester (BCW). “Remember: Positive energy attracts like-minded people... it is important to smile widely, watch your body language, and be careful of dress and grooming.”
Photo by John Vecchiolla
Business Council of Westchester
The BCW is the county’s largest business advocacy organization — and a source of abundant networking opportunities, hosting more than 80 events each year. Among the most notable of the Rye Brook-based association are the Business EXPO, in March, the “Beat the Heat BBQ,” in July, and the Annual Dinner, in October, which this year featured former PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi as guest speaker.
Whether you’re an established business owner, a budding entrepreneur, or simply an employee looking to build his/her brand, everyone benefits from networking. “Networking is all about relationship-building,” says Connie Gallo (pictured, left), vice president of business development for Berlin Productions, a marketing-and-promotion agency in White Plains. Her advice for connecting? “Engage in fun, light conversation. People are more apt to do business with people they enjoy.”
Don't Be Pushy
“That’s a turnoff,” says Amanda Bayley, cofounder of PLAN it WILD, a Croton-on-Hudson habitat-restoration business. Instead, she recommends that networking newbies adopt a listen-and-learn mentality. “The word ‘networking’ sounds so robotic and transactional,” she says. “I view networking as people simply gathering in a room talking to each other; it’s much more pleasant to partake of that versus walking into a room of overly serious people with sales agendas.”
This seems self-explanatory, but the whole point of networking is to expand your connections base, by making as many contacts as possible. This includes getting out of your comfort zone and meeting new people, according to the BCW’s Gordon. “Be sure to meet new people at each event,” she advises. “So often, we see people just talking to friends, coworkers. Go up to someone you don’t know and say hello. They will appreciate it, and it may lead to your next client!”
You may have made great contacts at a networking event, but if you don’t follow up, you won’t stand out. “Follow-up is essential,” Gordon says. “Write that ‘nice to meet you’ note. Invite those you met for a cup of coffee or lunch. Be sure to ask for other contacts, as well, and be open to meeting great people with whom you can form strategic alliances.” Don’t let your hard work go to waste!
Hit the Golf Course
It’s no joke that plenty of deals are sealed on the greens. Golf courses provide a relaxed, casual, outdoor setting that lends itself perfectly to networking. “Golf outings can be an effective form of networking with prospective clients because they provide an opportunity to bond and build rapport for several hours while partaking in a fun and competitive activity,” says Paul Viggiano, director of marketing and business administration at A.G. Williams Painting in Pelham. “Most courses do not allow cellphones. Therefore, all participants are disconnected from their office and day-to-day activities, which lends to a truly captive audience.”
Westchester has plenty of hotspots for networking. You’re likely to find the muckety-mucks gathering at event-heavy places, like the Hilton Westchester in Rye Brook (boasting a 10,000 sq. ft. ballroom, the county’s largest); Westchester Marriott, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Tarrytown (shown above); and Brae Burn Country Club and Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase.
We’ve all heard the cliché that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That is especially true at networking events. Setting a light mood at the start ensures a greater chance of maintaining a positive impression throughout the meeting. “Smile, it’s the best way to be warm and inviting,” Gordon recommends.
“Join networking groups in NYC and Connecticut to expand your reputation and access to new opportunities,” advises Robin Colner (pictured, left), founder and president of DigiStar Media, a digital and social media consulting and training firm in Harrison. Colner recommends groups, including USA 500 Clubs, Ellevate Network, Professional Women of Westchester, Public Relations Society of America, and Gotham City Networking, as well as private mastermind groups.
Know the Room
It’s important to know who the movers and shakers are at every networking event. A good tip is to try to get a list of who will be at the event, and look for those whom you’re interested in meeting. It can also help you craft a unique approach to each networking event you attend. “I find every crowd to be a little bit different, so you need to change up your approach,” says Joe Guilderson, president of Corporate Audio Video Services, an Elmsford-based audio-visual equipment supplier. “For the more professional audiences, I think you need to have your 10-second opening line right away. For more casual groups, I would tend to start with fun, then get into an opening line. Either way, it is still a stage, and you are still performing.”
Let's Do Lunch!
We all have our favorite lunchtime haunts, but some restaurants are known for attracting a business crowd. “I recommend Sam’s of Gedney Way (shown above) in White Plains,” says Dina Pace, founder of Pace Production, Inc. Pace also frequents Mima Vinoteca in Irvington, Tramonto in Hawthorne, and Rosie’s Bistro Italiano in Bronxville for lunch meet-ups. “Augie’s Prime Cut does a great biz lunch, too,” adds Jamie Imperati, president of Professional Women of Westchester.
Formal luncheons also provide great networking opportunities. “They are very informative and better for consuming long-form discussions, panels, and debates. You typically get to speak to the people at your table or the panelists after the luncheon,” says public-relations strategist Kris Ruby, owner of Ruby Media Group in White Plains. “This is a great option for introverts who fear having to talk to a room full of strangers for an hour,” as one might expect at a typical after-hours networking event.
Memorize Your Monologue
While you never want to come off as robotic while networking, it certainly helps to memorize a quick primer about your educational background, work experience, and what you can offer those you meet. It helps to have a monologue of some kind memorized, so you’re not caught off-guard should a chance encounter arise. “Be ready with a three-minute elevator pitch if directly asked about your work,” recommends Gallo of Berlin Productions.
“I think it’s important to be natural about your networking,” says Viggiano of A.G. Williams Painting. “You don’t want to be the person who is constantly walking around with a business card, pushing a service.” Acting natural puts you at ease and makes you more approachable to others, he adds.
Offer to Help
Too many times we think of networking events as a “how can this help me” type of situation. However, it’s important to show a willingness to reciprocate by helping others. “Be sincerely interested in their business and personal needs,” BCW’s Gordon advises. “The most successful networkers are consistently finding ways to create success for others.”
Professional Women of Westchester
Less than five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female. Jamie Imperati (pictured, left) of Professional Women of Westchester (PWW), seeks to change that. PWW provides business and personal networking opportunities for women to be able to come together, discuss challenges, and support each other. The female-centric group is well-regarded in Westchester as a place for top female businesspeople to get to know one another. “Professional women who attend our events tell us that they keep coming back because they feel a kinship among like-minded women who understand the uniqueness that is born of being a female entrepreneur who is also a mother, daughter, sister, and partner,” Imperati explains.
“Asking questions opens the conversation with an easy talking point because everyone at the event is there for a reason,” Gallo of Berlin Productions says. Asking someone, ‘What brings you here tonight?’ is an easy opener, she advises. “Start a dialogue,” she says, “and learn a few things about the new contact. It also quickly identifies common interests. You may also learn about people’s passions, making it easy to continue a conversation. It’s important to be sincere
Getting a job or potential client referral or reference is the desired end goal of many networking efforts. You want to impress any potential employer, boss, or client with your qualifications, personality, and experience in your initial networking efforts. The more successful you are, the better chance you have of getting that coveted referral or reference. However, building these relationships can take time. “Don’t judge the value of a specific networking group by the amount of referrals you initially expect from the members,” cautions Colner of DigiStar Media. “People need to get to know, like, and trust someone over time in order to refer business to them.”
Before diving into networking, it’s important to prepare and practice your sales pitch on what your talents are, what positions you are seeking, and what companies interest you. At the same time, it’s important not to let your script impede a natural flow of conversation. “I don’t memorize a sales pitch, but I am very comfortable talking about what we do concisely and in simple terms,” says Robert Cioffi (pictured, left), COO and cofounder of Progressive Computing, a Yonkers-based technical solutions provider. “Anyone who has networked for a long while knows that sounding either too prepared or ‘salesy’ is not going to sound genuine.”
Take a Chance and Talk!
“When I first started at People’s United Bank seven years ago, I had just moved to Westchester and didn’t know anyone or anything about the area,” says Joseph McCoy, a regional manager at the bank’s Purchase headquarters. “I went to every event I could, so I could meet people. After a year or two, I started to figure out more about what events I needed to go to and what organizations I needed to be more involved in.”
“Never be afraid to simply walk up to someone, say hello, and shake their hand,” adds Jennifer Flowers, founder and CEO of Accreditation Guru, Inc. in Mamaroneck. “It can be as simple as that.”
Utilize Your Existing Contacts
“As you enter a room, seek out people you know who are talking to people you don’t know,” says Cioffi. “This is a great way to break the ice with that new person. Hopefully your mutual contact will be thrilled to introduce you to each other.”
“Networking” online is as important today as networking in person. Be active on popular social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, advises Kris Ruby (pictured, left) of Ruby Media Group. With social media, she says, “You can amplify the reach of any networking event or brand message for a fraction of the traditional cost of print advertising.”
“Twitter is often used as a way to identify and communicate with new connections that share common interests,” adds DigiStar’s Colner. “A great way to get on a company’s radar is to favorite and even respond to some of their tweets.” Twitter can also help you maintain contact with your new connections long after a networking event has passed.
Photo by Lynda Shenkman
Westchester County Association
One of the county’s largest economic-and-business-advocacy organizations, the WCA helps connect business pros in nearly every field, from real estate to finance, healthcare, hospitality, and technology. They host several can’t-miss networking events every year, including the upcoming Annual Fall Leadership Dinner and the Holiday Networking Party, along with thought-provoking conferences and panel discussions throughout the year. Their events are always a good chance to rub shoulders with Westchester’s business elite.
Have an X Factor
Show others that you have an “it” quality that makes you stand out, whether its sociability, charm, curiosity, focus, authority, intellect, or humor. “It takes a certain personality to be good and successful at networking,” says McCoy of People’s United Bank. “You do have to take some risks in that you can walk into an event where you don’t know anyone and have to create situations where you are meeting people. Some people can do that without any problem and others absolutely dread it.”
It’s never too early to start learning the basics of networking, and Westchester’s future business leaders can get some practice at the annual Westchester-Putnam Youth Summit. Scheduled for April 2019 and hosted by the Westchester-Putnam Work Development Academy for Youth (coordinated by the BCW and run under the auspices of Westchester-Putnam Workforce Development Board), the summit allows young adults (ages 16-24) the opportunity to learn important interview skills, meet local business owners and participate in interactive workshops.
Zero in on Names
“Always get someone’s name correct” when networking, Cioffi of Progressive Computing says. “When they say it to you, say it back and repeat it in your conversation a few times. One of the sweetest sounds to hear is your own name. So be sure to learn the names of others and use them!”