Getting Connected

By Hannah Wallace August 31, 2008

Newcomers to the business scene in Sarasota and Manatee quickly discover phone calls aren’t the best way to pick up clients or land a job. Business here still thrives on old-fashioned face-to-face contact. Here’s some advice from some of the region’s best networkers.

Matt Orr

Real estate agent, Michael Saunders & Company; co-founder, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Group; founder,

Favorite networking spots: Every time I go to the Asolo, Sarasota Ballet or Sarasota Opera, I end up going somewhere with interesting people for drinks after. Zac Ross, an attorney at Kirk-Pinkerton, has started a happy hour that’s the hottest, hippest happy hour you can go to. And Ceviche right now is the bar where everybody’s at. It’s a great place to meet people, but it’s an impossible place to talk. If I meet somebody [there], then we walk next door to Arosa, where we can actually talk.

Breaking the ice: I always ask where people are from. If they’re from here, that’s somewhat unusual. If they’re not from here, chances are I’ve traveled there.


How to keep the conversation going: Answer a question with a question. It makes people feel comfortable and at ease; it makes them feel like you’re interested in what they have to say.

What not to say: “Who are you voting for?” I stay away from politics and religion.

To drink or not to drink? Alcohol makes my brain a little numb. A lot of times, if I go to a networking event, I'll ask for a weak drink. Then when I go back to the bar I get water.

Dress to impress: I don’t want to dress like everyone else in the room. I want to stand out a little; I want people to remember me. Keep a little edge to yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to go topless, but make people talk.

Why networking is important: If you meet and hang out with a bank president one night and you need to give them a call later that week about something, they’re very likely to pick up the phone because you’re not some Joe off the street. No matter what you do in life, networking is all about who you know. And who you know gets you 80 percent there. The rest is up to you and your talent as a professional.

Jeanne Corcoran

Director, Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office

I like to network at: The monthly [Sarasota County] EDC breakfasts, where many movers and shakers are present and lots of conversation happens before, during and after. Also, the Hotel Indigo’s Friday after-work events, the Women with Moxie mixers and Marina Jack to catch up with the downtown work crowd. I like the people I’ve met and mingled with at Blasé Café on Siesta Key, and I’ve enjoyed some great conversation and martinis at Fleming’s after work.

Best opening lines: “So, what have you been up to lately?” Or, “What’s new and exciting in your world?”

What not to say: Without any warm-up preliminaries or chitchat, without a show of interest in the other person, say, “Hi, I’m selling…” or “Hi, would you like to buy…”

To drink or not to drink? I stick with club soda and a lime wedge unless we’ve met at a place where you’re expected to try a signature drink or specialty beverage. Then just one for me, and I sip it long, long, long. But I have no problem with others enjoying whatever/however many beverages they want, as long as they’re not overindulging and then driving! Being comfortable, conversational, relaxed and pleasant is the key. If drinking makes you feisty and cantankerous, don’t!

What not to wear: Avoid heavy colognes or perfumes, and make sure your breath is fresh.

Best closing line: “It was great to see you; guess I’ll be moving on to meet and mingle. Enjoy the event, and please let me know if I can ever be of any help to you.”

If you’re introverted: Be a sponsor. Get your name on materials; that way you are introduced to the crowd at large. Or, in addition to wearing a good readable nametag, wear a separate button that reads “Ask me about…” People will!

I always: Bring lots of business cards, strive to ask questions and learn about the other person first, smile, avoid heavy discussions (politics, religion, etc.), and stay upbeat and positive no matter where the conversation goes.

Elsie Gilmore

Owner of True Green Studios and co-founder of Women with Moxie

Best opening line: “Hi, I’m Elsie Gilmore” always works for me.


What not to say: Pretty much anything negative, especially about your competition. Anything negative you say, no matter what it is about, is going to stick with the person you are speaking to.

To drink or not to drink? Having a drink is a great idea. A drink, not five.

Dress to impress: Wear whatever you wear to conduct business. If you’re an artist and you show up in a suit, you are going to leave a confusing impression. Don’t wear your painting smock, but if you normally dress casually, do so in a neat, clean way. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

I always: Try to go with someone I know. It makes it a bit less scary.

Tips for introverts: You will be required to actually network or you will get nothing from the experience. Set a goal to talk to a set number of people (perhaps five) and, even if it’s painful, do not leave until you have introduced yourself to at least five people.

Why I do it: I work from home, so there’s not a lot of networking going on in my daily life. Meeting people is getting clients, even if it’s not getting the client right that second. I’m forming relationships so that down the road, when I need a service, I can say I know that person.

Christopher Pennewill Jr.

Manatee County president of Superior Bank

Favorite networking spots: Any Manatee Chamber event. They always allow networking time before and after the programs, and people are there to connect with potential customers or clients. Leadership Manatee alumni events are also great networking opportunities. Lunch venues that are good are Ezra Café, Mattison’s Riverside and Gecko’s Grill & Pub on S.R. 64. Good happy hour venues are Zio’s, Lost Kangaroo and Mattison’s Riverside.


Best opening line: I simply introduce myself and ask if they have had a problem finding where banks are in the area. One good thing about being a banker is that everyone uses a bank; the flip side is that people view switching banks as difficult, which is not the case.

Avoid saying: “Come here often?” I also believe that you should never talk down your competition. If you cannot get customers based on your own merits, then something is wrong.

How to keep the conversation going: I usually ask about their business or what they are seeing in the economy. Everyone is talking about the local economy now.

How to make a graceful exit: Act like your cell phone is vibrating and walk off to take the call.

I always: Have plenty of business cards. It’s hard to make a good professional impression when you’re writing your contact information on a napkin.

If you’re introverted: Find someone you know or someone from the organization sponsoring the event. If you start out talking with them, you usually will get introduced to more people.

Brian Ehrlich

Founder of


Favorite networking spots: Some great local planned networking events, like Leads to Business, are especially helpful if you’re new to professional networking and want more structure. However, online communities like LinkedIn and even allow greater transparency into other people’s networks, making it easier for people to connect. The online networking phenomenon is fundamentally changing how people network with one another.

Getting the conversation started: The foundation of great networking is taking a keen interest in what others do and trying to help them first, before thinking about how they can help you. Ask them how they got into the business they’re in, what do they enjoy when they’re not working.

What to avoid: If you’re meeting someone for the first time, never ask for their help in introducing you to someone they might know, give them your resume (unless asked for it), or any make any other solicitations. You come off as too greedy and eager. You need to give before you can get. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them. Understand you can’t always help someone right away, but by making the gesture or offer, it enhances your credibility.

Dress to impress: It is acceptable to wear business casual. But let’s define business casual: clean, pressed pants and a pressed button-down or possibly a well-ironed short-sleeve shirt. Keep the worn golf shirts and wrinkled pants for the driving range. And don’t forget to wear shoes that you can actually polish—and polish them!

I always: Write down key points on the back of cards about the people I meet—common interests, places they’re from, any connection you made that you can reiterate in further discussion or bring up as a common interest when you speak again.

Tips for introverts: One of the keys to going into any meeting is to be prepared. Just like selling; prepare your pitch and have a set of questions to ask others.

DeWanda Smith-Soeder

President, Smith-Soeder Enterprises; founder, Black Business Professional Network


Favorite places to network: Metro Café used to be my favorite. Now I vacillate between Word of Mouth (in Metro’s former location) and the Serving Spoon. If I’m doing something in the evening, I meet at the Hillview Grill, which is a quiet place to connect with people. And I think it’s important to connect with the various networking groups in the city.

How to keep the conversation going: Ask a question, like “Can you tell me a bit about what your company does?” or “When is the best time to give you a call?”

To drink or not to drink? It is permissible to have a drink. Sip, talk, sip, talk, but never overindulge.

Dress to impress: Wear business dress. You can never be too overdressed, but being underdressed can be the kiss of death for your professional image.

I always: Prepare beforehand what my networking objective will be for the event.

How to become a master networker: Practice, practice, practice.

Why networking is important: As a small business, when the economy starts to shrink, so do your options in terms of budgeting for advertising and other things. Networking is one of the least expensive ways of gaining business.

George Mendez

Owner, George’s Disc Jockey and Karaoke Service


Favorite networking spots: I go to every one of the Manatee Chamber’s power luncheons and Business after Business events. And any time I’m out at a restaurant, I look for young people who aren’t wearing wedding rings. I tell them that when they get married they’ll need a DJ, and I introduce myself and give them my card.

What not to say: Anything negative about your competition.

Dress to impress: I always wear whatever makes me comfortable. Of course, you have to dress for the event, but I always dress in what I feel comfortable in.

I always: Go through events with a smile on my face, no matter how I’m feeling. Having a really pleasant attitude makes a big difference. I’m an extrovert. I don’t stand in the corner and wait for people to come to me. I’m out there handing out cards and shaking hands.

If you’re introverted: Practice. When I go to a chamber networking event and I see people standing by themselves, I walk up and introduce myself, and then I will introduce them to other people. That gets the ball going. But you’ve got to work on getting that ability to walk up to strangers and introduce yourself.

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