I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (still don’t!), so I took the LSATs, went to law school and became an attorney. I quickly realized I would have been a great lawyer if it wasn’t for all that darned fine print!
How does one get their business message across? A pithy elevator pitch and a business card is a good start.
My lovely wife Donna is an indefatigable, relentless networker. She can work a room like you would not believe. Consequently, we get invited to all sorts of networking events hosted by local chambers of commerce and business organizations. The other evening, we attended an event at the home of a local mortgage lender. There were realtors, lawyers, and all sorts of other folks. Dinner was catered and local wineries were pouring their luscious liquids.
As a legal, compliance, audit and operational risk recruiter for the financial services industry, I am always paying attention to how companies and job seekers present themselves, and I sensed an opportunity to observe the goings-on at this networking shindig, with the idea that I would put my observations into this here article. The main thrust of these events is to drum up business. Realtors need lenders, lawyers need real estate clients, etc. All I needed was a drink.
The number one question asked at these events is “So what do you do?” I’m a big fan of the “elevator pitch,” so I was curious to find out how people responded to the question. After all, this was a great place and time for people to work that room and drum up some business. The vast majority of attendees were established business owners and/or employees. I have my pitch down pat: “I am a recruiter, or headhunter. I help financial institutions source qualified legal, compliance and internal audit candidates.” BAM.
I was surprised to discover that, while everyone obviously knows what they do for a living, not everyone is able to succinctly express it. One person even responded by saying “Oh, you don’t really want to talk business, do you?” At a NETWORKING event? Nah, why would I? Some people are very outgoing and social, while others are more restrained and introverted. These traits may or may not impact how successful you are. An introvert who knows how to make good use of that quality may become just as successful as an extrovert (if we are talking about, say, real estate, where one might believe that the extroverted personality has an advantage).
When I was in college back in the 1980s, I had a summer job canvassing with NYPIRG, the New York Public Interest Research Group. We rang doorbells in the late afternoon in an effort to get people to give us money for various environmental causes. Most of us were, at the time, an assortment of liberal, hippie types in tie-dyed shirts. But there was this one guy right out of Brooks Brothers, with crisply pleated khakis and a freshly ironed IZOD (remember those?) polo shirt. Perfect haircut. He didn’t say much, and didn’t make much of an effort to socialize with the rest of us. He struck me as somewhat introverted. But man, could that guy canvass. At the end of every shift, he brought home the most bacon. I was so impressed that I asked if I could go with him on the next shift, to observe how he operated. I realized, number one, that unlike the way most of us presented ourselves (and before I accompanied him, I don’t think I ever gave a thought to how I came across to the people who answered the door), this guy looked sharp and professional. I noticed that people seemed more receptive to him than they were to me. And who would the average dinner-making mom (or dad) rather see at his or her door: a scruffy, longhaired hippie or a clean-cut, nicely groomed young man? And, number two, he really knew his stuff. He had the elevator pitch down-pat. He may have been somewhat of an introvert, but he sure had self-confidence, and I learned that the two are not mutually exclusive. You can be a self-assured introvert just as surely as you can be an extroverted mess with horrible self-esteem. BUT I DIGRESS.
Back to the party. I became engaged in conversation with a woman who worked in the wine industry, something I take a strong interest in. I asked for her business card, and she told me that SHE DIDN’T HAVE ANY WITH HER!!! She said something to the effect of “I came from the gym and I left them in my other bag.” I thought to myself “how can you come to a networking event without business cards?” Luckily (not really, because I NEVER leave home without them), I had a bunch of my cards on hand, and I gave her one and asked her to contact me so we might continue the conversation.
I turned my attention to the host, the mortgage lender. While he was certainly busy making sure everyone was having a good time, he was wearing a tee shirt with his company’s logo, including the address and phone number. Smart move, he didn’t have to say one word, and he was constantly communicating! On top of that, he was the host, which gave him the “home court” advantage. He knew everybody, and by introducing us to each other, he was accumulating a lot of goodwill, which can translate to more business down the road. Yes, all that food and liquor costs money, but it’s money well spent.
I next turned my gaze upon the food and wine vendors. The food, which was absolutely delicious, came from a local deli/caterer. They are well known in the community, especially for their weekend oyster barbecues, held right outside their door, in full view of the main thoroughfare. Sadly, apart from a 4’x4” decal placed on the plastic wrappings that covered the various salads, there was no advertising of any kind. The caterer could have been wearing a t-shirt that advertised the business, but he was not. There were no posters, no business cards. I’m not sure if anybody even knew where all this great food came from. Wasted opportunity.
I noticed a stark contrast between the two wineries that were pouring their products. The first winery came with little more than their wines. The only advertising was the wine bottle label itself. Too bad, because these wines were truly spectacular. The second winery was another story. The pourer was wearing a jacket with the winery name and logo. She had business cards, two-for-one tasting card specials, a nice banner with a picture of the winery along with location and phone number. She even had materials designed to entice people into joining their wine club, and actually signed up a few people right there at the event!
The information age has given most everybody an equal opportunity to create their own mini-empire. We are all in a position to become our own “brand.” Even my lovely wife, “Donna Declutter” (she is a professional organizer), was wearing her company logo, ever vigilant, and knowing that a good number of people at the event just might need her services.
There are many ways of getting your business message across without seeming pushy. People are naturally curious about others’ occupations. Be ready to satisfy their curiosity with a good elevator pitch and a business card.
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