Schmoozing for Success

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2008

Sarasota-based power networking pro Ben Turpin has a message about cultivating business contacts: It’s not about you.

“You have to work like you’re not the most important person in the world,” Turpin says. In other words, in uncharted business or personal settings, it’s appropriate to get to know people and even to tell them why you’re passionate about what you do. But don’t sell. “That’s the biggest mistake people make,” Turpin says. “People don’t invest the time and energy. It’s called networking because it’s work.”

Turpin and his partner, Glen Gould, founded Inspiration Agents after hosting their first motivational goals workshop in 2003. They have since created Power Networking Lunch and Leads to Business programs for chambers of commerce, and the Sarasota, Manatee, Brandon and St. John’s chambers have all participated. They consult for the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce, their largest client, on small-business networking events, and they have just completed a pilot networking program for Allstate Insurance agents. Their compact books, Meet Me at Starbucks and 100 Networking Nuggets, are filled with tips for the tentative.

Aware that the mere idea of networking can engender anxiety, Turpin and Gould like to keep their counsel light—and manageable. They’ve identified four types of networkers: the Socialites, who hang out with the people they know and are comfortable with; Johnny Shotguns, who hand out business cards but fail to make a lasting impression; Big Game Hunters, who stalk the person they want to meet but are afraid to approach; and Power Networkers. “I’ve been them all,” Turpin says with a laugh. “I’ve stalked, I’ve collected business cards, I’ve hung out with people I knew were safe. The Power Networkers decide to have a five-minute conversation with three to five people they don’t know.”

Over coffee at Starbucks, Turpin shared tips on choosing the path of the Power Networker.

1. Turn off the “you” switch. Have business cards on hand, but don’t hand them out unless asked.

2. Spend 80 percent of your time finding out about the other person. “Everybody has a personal story. Most people are real and genuine once you find out their story,” Turpin says.

3. At the end of the conversation, ask them what their perfect customer looks like. Write that information on the back of their business card. “Their mouths will gape open,” says Turpin. “They’re not used to ‘how can I help you?’”

4. Follow up. “Nine times out of 10, people have an opportunity to make a windfall and they don’t follow up. They are afraid of doing to the work, afraid of goofing up, afraid they’re not sincere,” Turpin explains. “If you meet the president of IBM, don’t go back to the office and say you met the president of IBM and then never call.”

5. Have integrity. “If you can’t do something for the person, be honest and say you can’t do it,” says Turpin. “Each of our businesses has a sweet spot, something we do better than everything else.” You can even refer someone else in your network.

6. Invite them for coffee at Starbucks. Bring them a contact and see how they do. Ask, “Who do you know that might be a good connection for me?”

7. When asked, express why you do what you do—briefly tell your story. “When people understand what you’re about, they will want to help. We believe that has the power to change networking,” Turpin says.

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