Transcripts: How To Start Networking Like a Pro in Omaha
In this episode of The Omaha Podcast, learn from networking expert Christopher of 316 Strategy Group. Christopher discusses professional tips on how to go about networking the right way!
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Matt Tompkins: Welcome back to the Omaha podcast, where Omaha’s most successful entrepreneurs Hello oh it’s at a speech to texthelp your business grow. I’m your host, Matt Tompkins of Two Brothers Creative, and you already know that networking is essential to growing your business. But how do you network effectively to actually get results with limited time and resources? On today’s episode, we are going to turn you into a networking pro with proven techniques and strategies specifically for Omaha that are easy to implement. They don’t cost a bunch of money and they allow you to just be yourself and enjoy building new relationships. Our own Christopher Slater is a networking guru who knows the ins and outs of all the various networking groups in Omaha. And we share what has worked and what hasn’t so that you know how to start networking in Omaha like a pro.
Christopher Slater: So this morning I was working in my office at home and it was about 830 or so. And and I was really tuned in to what I was doing, what I was doing. I don’t remember at this point, but that was just hours ago.
Matt Tompkins: Sure you don’t remember.
Christopher Slater: But I happened to catch out of the corner of my eye, out the window, a vehicle pull out of my driveway and head up the street. And I didn’t recognize the vehicle. And so I got up and I went around, checked the door, and and sure enough, there was a a plastic grocery bag or I’m sorry, a paper grocery bag with sweet corn ears of sweet corn in it and brought it in. And it was from Megan Bengston. And Megan is with JPMorgan Real estate, and she’s a friend and she is an absolute rock star real estate agent. And she’s also the outgoing president of the Omaha Area Board of Realtors. She knows what she’s doing. And this is really just a terrific illustration just this morning of somebody taking the time intentionally to make that personal touch. So what does that tell us about relationships and what is it that she did? It’s it’s taking the time. Welcome to the Omaha podcast. I’m here with Joseph Kenny and Matt Tompkins, and I’m Christopher Slater.
Matt Tompkins: Intention is a big component and you kind of mention it, but that’s as we were talking about this, just different stories. We’re sharing the intention to make that happen and follow through with that is something we’ve all seen and we all have kind of stories that that just stand out. But if you boil it down to the simple first step, it’s having the intent.
Christopher Slater: By the way, I have to say about the bag of sweetcorn, my wife was just as excited about the paper bag that it came.
Joseph Kenney: Of course she was.
Christopher Slater: Because we needed a new paper bag for our recycling in the pantry, so Megan knocked it out of the park.
Matt Tompkins: Last question, though, that. Did you eat all the sweet corn already? I’ve already consumed.
Christopher Slater: Tonight. It’s on the menu. So she also helped me with my meal prep.
Joseph Kenney: Intentionality is often missed by by business owners. We have grand ideas about what we want to do for our customers, the experience that they’re going to have. But if we’re not intentional about it, it simply won’t happen. What separates Megan and if you’re not familiar with her. She is one of the brightest lights in the real estate community. But she’s quite intentional about everything that she does, and she truly invests in relationships.
Matt Tompkins: Yeah, you know, I think back to all the things that stand out, just when you look back at you see other people doing it, and maybe at the time you didn’t recognize it as that they’re making that intention that that extra special touch or next step going above and beyond. Know we hear that a lot that’s that’s what it stands out is I look back at like role models other colleagues and people the industries that I’ve worked in that kind of influenced my, I guess, desire to do that as well because it really is an investment, you know, and when you’re investing in relationships and Chris, I think Christopher, I think you are like the absolute pro at networking, you know, on this table. He’s the networking rockstar. Everybody says he’s like, Chris is the networking guru.
Christopher Slater: Because you guys are such introverts.
Matt Tompkins: Yeah, we’re so quiet. But, you know, intention is important. Networking is like the cool buzzword and it has been for a while, but it really is relationship building. And I think it would help. You know, I’m fairly new with owning my own business here in the first few years of that, and I know I’ve had these questions. I think a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners especially have this question and that’s how do you get started? Like where do you begin with what seems like an intimidating, daunting task?
Christopher Slater: You know, that’s that’s a great question. And to backtrack just a little bit, going back to when I started networking, formerly, if you want to say that it was that it was at Joe’s urging, as a matter of fact. So, you know, he had mentioned, oh, you really need to get involved in this or you really need to get involved in this now. And I don’t need to do that. But it’s because I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know I really had no clue. And it just it just seemed alien to me to formalize a relationship process. But it actually is a place to start. And then and then once kind of getting started and getting your foot in the door, that’s when you have the opportunity to really meet a wide variety of terrific people. And, you know, not not everybody that you meet is somebody that’s going to help you grow your business, but that’s somebody that you’re building a relationship with. So, you know, when it comes to networking and actually getting started, it’s just reaching out and asking other business owners, you know, what are you doing? Who is it that that you get involved with? There’s a number of different organizations in town that you can do that with.
Matt Tompkins: Would you say that when you break it down to its simple form, that networking for your business is really the same thing as relationships with friends and, you know, people outside of your job. It’s in essence a relationship, a connection that you’re you’re putting an effort to continue and kind of build on that. And then as you build friendships, I mean, how many times you had like the uncle, Uncle Bob, and he’s like, Oh, you need your roof cleaned. I know a guy. I know a guy. Everybody knows a guy, right? So so is that is that are they similar or are there similarities there?
Christopher Slater: If you’re doing it right, there’s a lot of people that do it wrong and then it becomes a transactional type of relationship and that just simply doesn’t work in the long term. It might work for that particular transaction, might work for that one account for for a period of time. But that’s not really truly building relationships. That’s just meeting people and having a business transaction. But over time, particularly as you spend more time networking, as we say, it really is relationship building. So and then we’ve all heard the adage that people want to do business with people that we know, like and trust. And that’s very true. And there’s no better way to actually start to lay the foundation than to kind of cast a wide net to begin with. And you have to feel it out. And there’s a lot of different ways where it’s either a formal meeting that you’re meeting with the same people every single week and you’re getting to know who they are and what they do and kind of feeling them out over time. Or there’s events, you know, the coffees or the happy hours or socials or whatever it might be, which is a good opportunity just to have conversations with people. It’s not about selling.
Matt Tompkins: I think the soft sell, I kind of described it that way. It’s or or even a better way to think of it is is when my coach tells me it’s you don’t promote, you participate. And even with social media as a as a tool or resource at people’s disposal there, you know, participate don’t just promote, don’t just sell. You just be a part of this community or this person’s life. And I mean, you see. Results. And I know you’ve seen results that it may not happen right away, but it may. Ten years, 20 years. But it’s a big it’s a big return on that investment if you want to if you want to call it that.
Joseph Kenney: Relationship building and investing in relationship is a long term game. If it’s a game at all, it starts with being sincere and it needs to be intentional. Somebody like Megan is trying to connect with people that move or that are buying or selling homes. That doesn’t happen often. The average person does move 11.7 times in in their lifetime, but you have to catch them on that cycle and you have to have built a strong enough relationship that they want to do business with you. Yes, everyone knows a realtor that they want to do business with, but not everyone or everyone knows a realtor that they could do business with. But not everyone knows a realtor they want to do business with. And that’s where somebody like Megan shines. A couple of weeks ago, we were giving a presentation to an emerging technologies group, and we were asked very pointedly, What are the technological trends that are on the horizon that all realtors should go after? And our answer, quite simply, was, yes, you have to embrace some of this new technology that’s on the horizon. But our recommendation is actually to go back in time and invest back into those relationships. You know, in real estate, there’s this term farming, you know, your your list or a neighborhood. It’s really not farming. It’s really investing into relationships. On the small business scene here in Omaha, I can tell you with without a doubt, one of the first reasons a restaurant starts to flounder is because they stop investing in those relationships that brought them success in the first place.
Joseph Kenney: You know, all restaurant owners start with a dream. They have this storybook ending about how they’re going to come out to the table and talk to the, you know, the family that’s stopping by for a slice of pizza. But that that doesn’t last very long, especially when you get caught up with running a business. You’ve got payroll, you’ve got inventory, you’ve got management, you’ve got you know, every business has has its challenges and you start dealing with that and what’s lost is the customer and you stop investing in the relationships. Recently, we stopped at Virtuoso Pizza in Benson, a terrific pizza joint, Better ownership. David Lassally is a master of investing into the relationship. Yes, he’s known all over the United States for slinging pie and he’s really good at it. But he’s even better about coming out to the table when he has a chance and touching every single person as he goes along, asking them, What was your favorite piece of the eight tonight? What would you like to see done differently? Why are you in here? Have you ever been here before? What’s your name? And the next time that you come in, he’ll do the same thing. But this time he’ll probably remember who you were or remember a little bit about you. He’s starting to build that relationship. Not for right now. He’s thinking about the long term value of every single customer that walks through those doors. We can learn a lot from somebody like like David Meighan or any of the other people that we’ve we’ve met.
Matt Tompkins: So intentionality making that concerted effort and making it authentic and real since yeah, it can’t be because that’s what and then I say like it’s like a relationship. Networking for your business is the same thing as a personal relationship because you have to look at it the same way. If you look at it as I remember when I got my first like one, two, one email, Hey, let’s have a one on one. I’m like, What’s this mean? What is this? Is this code? What is this being sent to me with a networking group? And I’m like, I don’t know. And I had to learn what it meant. Obviously, you know, I go home and Wendy’s like, It’s amazing. What is wrong with you? It’s a 1 to 1. It’s a meeting like, Oh, okay, sorry, I’m not up on the vernacular, but but we think of it as like, oh, this has got to be this very, you know, just rigid, structured thing as opposed to just a relationship. And if we treat it like a relationship, that’s when they last. I mean, that you talk about finding people that you trust. That’s how you build that trust and it stays with you and that person forever. I mean, really for life.
Christopher Slater: It does. And I can count, you know, probably on both my hands the number of times that I’ve had those one to ones that have lasted, you know, typically block that out for an hour. Right. And when I have coached people on networking and setting up those 1 to 1 meetings, I’ve encouraged them. They don’t have to be an hour. You know, it’s a lot of pressure for some people, you know, to be able to fill an hour with with small talk. Basically, some people just can’t do that, set it up at 30 minutes. But admittedly, I’ve had them go hours. Hours. I had a 1 to 1 a few years ago where we stopped and paused so I could go get a haircut. And she came along and had a drink while I was getting a haircut. And we went back and had some pizza. So, you know, that’s not that. That’s and that’s building a relationship with somebody. You know it. We have the time. So but it it really just like you said, Matt, it really is about building those authentic business related relationships are no different than building a real relationship because they are real relationships. And and in those meetings and those one to ones, the mistake that people make is just not listening. You know, they sit down and still feel like they have to sell. And and those that are successful in building those relationships as in a personal relationship.
Matt Tompkins: Good listeners, they good listener, that is I mean that’s key to it I think any relationship period you know what’d you say I mean I’m guilty of that. I’m like I came from I am the, you know, the theater kid grew up just goofing around on camera, the class clown willing to do anything for attention, you know, And you fast forward to working in radio where your job is to just talk and talk and talk. And I’ve I find myself doing that. And I’m sure, you know, my brother and Wendy will vouch for that, that. Yeah, Matt, you could maybe not talk so much but it is it is about there is a real value to that. And, you know, I try and force myself to stop. Listen, even even if you’re excited, you want to tell them just listening it. I mean, that’s such a crucial component that people and I myself am guilty of, too, where you just you gloss right over it. And so, so intent. Making it personal and authentic and listening is another another big tip.
Christopher Slater: Yeah, absolutely. And that is hard for people because dead, dead hair makes people uncomfortable. And, you know, we talked earlier about, you know, how do you get into it and why is it overwhelming for people, You know, when I say get into it, getting into networking and the first step in building those relationships, you know, a lot of us are introverted and, you know, everybody sitting here, everybody would would describe us as extroverted people.
Joseph Kenney: It’s not the case.
Christopher Slater: There’s such a thing as an extroverted introvert or an introverted extrovert. And and and that that can be overwhelming for people. So I encourage everybody to just take that step. Yeah.
Joseph Kenney: I’ll go back to sincerity for a moment. We operate a fairly large company and we get busy just like everyone else. And our original goal was to send out something nice to a set of customers every month. And we’ve done that for a while, but this past month got a little busier than normal for a number of reasons. So we got a little extra help delivering some of those client gifts. We didn’t hear from anyone and Christopher’s observation was spot on. I just posed the question, you know, why do you think we didn’t hear from anyone? And he said, Because it wasn’t us. And there we were, the very company that preaches sincerity and intentionality. We were intentional, but for a moment we lost our sincerity. And so we’ll change. We’ll go back to the way we were doing it, and we will deliver those those client gifts in person. It makes all the difference.
Christopher Slater: And it’s an investment in time. You know, that’s that’s what it is. Here was an effort to save time. And we realized that we need to take the Well, the gift.
Joseph Kenney: Yeah, the gift. Is it the time?
Christopher Slater: Yeah. Right, right.
Matt Tompkins: But I will say this with all of the all of the the, the lessons learn these tricks of the trade that work. I mean, they’re not tricks because they’re done with a good, honest intent, but they do work. And the other important thing is they don’t cost you any money, you know, it doesn’t cost you any money to put that extra effort to personalize it, to make it a personal face to face, you know, a conversation. You know, I mean, aside from maybe having to pay for Christopher’s haircuts every now and then. But and I like Joey, you mentioned early on, I did want to mention this with going back in time. You know, I would always tell students when I was teaching in Boston, I would tell them like they’re like, how do we get in the door? And, you know, news and media and it’s such a cutthroat industry and like, yeah, you know, there are opportunities, but if you’re not on their radar, if you haven’t had some sort of relationship, they’re not going to know you exist. And like, well, I emailed them, I sent him a, you know, cinema, a messenger on Facebook or, you know, I tweeted at him like, no, that’s that’s fine.
Matt Tompkins: But you have to do it. You have to put make the extra effort to stand out. And I think we kind of lean to heavy into the easy ways of communicating. And I know from me personally when I was in school and I. Was part of the Omaha Press Club show. And it was it was this random opportunity to just I mean, I think I was impersonated Tom Osborne on stilts in one one skit and we’re just goofing around. But I met all of these people like Rob McCartney, all these you know, I work in a radio at the time I was just starting out and it was that just that experience, you know, having having a drink in the dressing room and joking around with Rob McCartney’s dad at the time is just it was it built that relationship and it wasn’t built on anything false or phony. It was it was real. And so now if if I if you want to connect with these people or you want to ask a favor or they can help you, it’s so much easier and natural for that recommendation to happen.
Joseph Kenney: Listening wise. I’ve made it a point over the years that on the on that first meeting, trying to pick out one item that you hear that would be different about their life, whether they mention an upcoming event, personal interest, an important date. And I make a note either in a journal or a mental note, and then at the appropriate time, send it back to them. So if I know that somebody is into a marvel comic, maybe I drop drop that Marvel comic in the mail or an important date that’s, you know, something that should be recognized. But they never thought that somebody on the first chance meeting, remember, and then dropping them a note, even if it is a tweet or a direct message or in Facebook messenger or a card, I think a little bit more of that could be done. Just surprises people enough to remind them that maybe you’re a little bit different than everyone else.
Matt Tompkins: Yeah, you stand out, especially when I think you know, I know, like I’m on the cusp of the millennial generation X could be on either team. But, you know, I’m still, you know, weighing the odds. See which one I want to join here clearly.
Christopher Slater: Yeah clearly X.
Matt Tompkins: But I do notice that like, you know, you’re you’re younger you think this is I don’t need to do that. That’s an old school way of doing it. The reality is not a lot of people maybe under the age of 40 are doing those things. So when you do do that, that’s how you stand out. You know, you’d be shocked and surprised. And I tell people this all the time that if you want advice, call your the person you look up to go down to that. For me, it was like a radio state. I went down and I said it was like me. And, you know, Tom Beck. I spoke to my class, one of the few classes I showed up for, fortunately. And you know, he said, Well, come on down anytime you want. And I could have just left it at that. But I said, All right, how about now? And he’s like, Well, I guess, I mean, we’re going to lunch. I’ll go to lunch with you. Let’s go. And it was me and I remember Gary was there and Lucy and I made these these these kind of first introductions that led to I think at the end of that day, they said, well, you know, kid, if you want to if you want to come, you know, stick around. We we got an internship program and that’s kind of what started my entire broadcasting career. And, you know, had I not shown up for class, but also just, you know, not thinking about this as I need something and it’s a transaction, it was just, you know, I want to I want to go have lunch, Let’s hang out. I just want to learn from you. And you’d be shocked at how many people in big, powerful positions are more than happy to let you buy them a drink, let you buy them lunch, or feel the phone call with your advice.
Christopher Slater: Well, you mentioned earlier, Matt, just picking up the phone. And when you’re thinking about somebody and just pick up the phone and acknowledge the fact that that you were thinking of them. And and it’s strange these days, admittedly, to just pick up the phone and call somebody, you almost feel compelled that you have to send a text. Is now a good time for a call? You know, pick up the dang phone.
Matt Tompkins: So let’s kind of I want to kind of button things up with some some more a few more action items. I know from my position as a kind of a a newer business owner and a lot of people maybe just starting out or they haven’t even made that leap yet and they’re thinking about it. It feels very overwhelming. I mean, with the time constraints and you, you, you’re so busy just blinded by all the things you have to get done and you’re behind on. So what would you recommend to that person to whose it feels overwhelming? Don’t even know where to start. There’s so many choices and options. Like what are some just simple, you know, first three steps a person can take to get started with investing in relationships.
Christopher Slater: If somebody is looking to get involved in networking, you don’t necessarily need to jump right into a networking group or jumping right into and committing to a meeting that meets every single week for an hour because that one hour becomes 2 hours of a time investment when you’re talking travel to and from and chit chat and what have you. But there are a number of different opportunities via these networking organizations or the number of chambers of commerce that are here in the Omaha area, the Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the West Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Ralston, Sarpy County, they have social opportunities, whether it’s a whether early morning is your jam and you want to go for coffee or if they want a social hour, that’s a really good place to start. Dipping in your toes and and you get to meet people on a less formal basis and just having a cup of coffee, exchanging some business cards. That’s really part of the game right there is just, you know, talking to people and they’ll share with you what’s working for them and then take it from there.
Matt Tompkins: I mean, it’s always funny, at conventions we pay thousands and thousands of dollars, companies do for booth space, and the deals are never made at the booth. They’re always made at the happy hour where you’re joking around, having fun, just relaxed and it’s conversational. It is it is a genuine relationship that you’re building there, as opposed to a formal, rigid structure with barriers in between that.
Christopher Slater: So yeah, years ago I was at a convention and rather than have a booth and wait for people to come to me, it’s like, Well, why am I going to pay for the booth space? I’m just going to walk around and talk to everybody at their booth.
Matt Tompkins: Yeah, I know. That’s, that’s what I said too, after the last time I went to a may, I’m like, Oh, do we just get tickets and walk around? This feels like I can save a lot of money. You know.
Joseph Kenney: Our first client in Nashville, it was really important for him to to meet us in person. So he he didn’t sign a contract until we landed in Nashville, went to his office, and we shook hands. And then the deal was done. He grew up in an Amish community, and he told us that, you know, relationships were paramount. And it really meant a lot to to us, it was a learning lesson that we’ve we’ve taken back over the years that sometimes you go to those extremes of getting on a plane, flying to Nashville, shaking hands, and then the deal’s done. But these aren’t you know, investing in relationships isn’t about just closing multimillion dollar deals. I’m I’m shocked at how few of a thank you cards that we get for interviews. I would say over the last three years, of all the people that have interviewed for positions maybe two and in a strange way, that thank you card is the beginning steps of an investment for a relationship, a relationship that could provide future opportunities, income, more networking opportunities, a way to broaden their horizons, so to speak.
Christopher Slater: It’s a concrete illustration of time and intent.
Matt Tompkins: Time and intent. Two big components, and we’re going to include these in the show notes. And also I think it would be helpful to provide an actual list to all the local networking groups in Omaha. Options for you to get started. I mean, there are a lot of options, but until you have it in front of you and you can actually set that intention to look through and like what’s going to be the right fit, what’s manageable for me and for your time now that’s actually realistic and just start it starts with one coffee, one lunch and let it grow from there. Just like our friendship blossomed. That’s right, you know? Thanks once again for joining us here today on the podcast. On the next episode of the Omaha podcast. Our guest is Omaha motivational speaker, author and expert on all things sales, Van Diem, who will show us the foundation of networking, investing in relationships.