After 28 years as a highly-skilled employee, David was told that his job was over. Despite the immediate trauma and fear, he knew that as his next step, he’d rather work for himself and have more control over his destiny. That was in 2006.
Today, David is a thriving community builder, podcaster, and speaker. He helps high-achieving professionals, who have had a late-career job loss, build their consulting or coaching business, so they can do what they love and get paid what they’re worth.
How did you learn to network and develop business relationships?
As I was thinking about our discussion today, I reflected on the 28 years in my career that I was an employee, before I started my own business in 2006. I always was involved in building relationships outside of my job and outside of my organization so I would always find opportunities to network with colleagues. I would join associations of people that were doing something similar to what I was doing, I would take advantage of opportunities to learn and to get some professional development. When I started my business, one of the things that I realized within the first year is that the network that I had, as an employee, was not necessarily the network that was going to help me build my business. And, although I did maintain the relationships that I had, with, with colleagues and friends that I had built up over the years as an employee, and in fact, those relationships helped me get some of my first consulting clients. I had kind of an eye-opening experience, with a friend of mine, who also went from being a longtime employee to being self-employed. About a year before, I was having dinner one night, and she said to me, "I'm part of this organization and I think you might find it interesting to come to a meeting." It was a BNI meeting, and I'd never heard of BNI or knew anything about business networking. I immediately realized the power of being in a room with other entrepreneurs, not just with professional colleagues and so I ended up joining. I have to say that not only do you get to network in networking organizations like BNI, but they also teach you networking. That's one of their goals as an organization is to try to help everybody do better at business networking, as well as build relationships as they do that. Even though I'm not currently a BNI member, I have relationships and still have clients that emerged from BNI. Some of my best friends as entrepreneurs also came out of that BNI experience and so that was sort of my first foray into business networking, and I got to be pretty good at it. I would not only do networking in my chapter, but I got to know a lot of people in other BNI chapters. The next thing for me in terms of networking, and building relationships, as an entrepreneur emerged from content creation, and in particular podcasting. I'm sure you know, as a podcaster that if you're doing interview-based shows, you get this opportunity to have in-depth conversations. Often they feel like intimate conversations with someone new on a regular basis and you get to build relationships with those people and you get to share your mutual knowledge with your audiences. I found that since I started podcasting seven years ago, it has enabled me to build relationships with new groups of people that I didn't know before. And I'm based in New York and even though I'm pretty well networked in the New York metropolitan area, podcasting enabled me to develop a whole new network that was international, which is great.
What is the connection between your relationships and the evolution of your business?
Well, for one thing, as far as the relationships themselves are concerned. One of the things that I've learned to do over the years, and I encourage other people to do when they're trying to build relationships, is focus on the relationship. So that means being curious, asking open-ended questions and I recently learned a framework for questions that I love from a podcast guest, Rock Robinson which he calls his Fab Five. The first one is about geography so asking where someone is from because it's not a threatening question so people automatically will start to think of who they might know in common based on geography. The second one is family, which is just asking someone to tell you about your family and that will allow you to learn something about that person. The same thing with school because pretty much everybody has some kind of school experience and there's usually something interesting to share about that. I like to ask people about their career journey because no matter where you are in the stage of your career, everybody's career is different. Then the last question is what excites you which then can start to get to something that may be closer to what it is you do in your business. So being curious and asking open-ended questions is key. The other thing is in the world, there are givers, there are takers, and there are exchangers and people that are best at relationship building are exchangers. I like to ask how I can help somebody else first. I try to be a generous person, I think that kind of sets the stage for how I like to be known, and then the last thing that I will usually end with, particularly if it's been a fruitful conversation, is asking if there is anyone else I should talk to and maybe for an introduction. If you get an introduction to somebody, they're much more likely to respond. The most important thing is also when there's some call to action or some action plan that you have as a result of a discussion with somebody else, make sure you follow up. So I try to be systematic about following up and make sure that I do if I offer to help somebody in some way. Relationships do take time and the good relationships are what has led to most of my long term clients, which is great and also opportunities.
How is social capital integral to the impact you are trying to have in the world?
So there's one thing that I have noticed with high achieving professionals when they go from being in an organization to being independent, is that the social infrastructure has vanished. So you have this formal structure that when you're part of an organization, that of course disappears when you walk out the door. But also, the informal structure follows it often. It may not disappear completely, but all of a sudden, your quote-unquote friends from work, you may find that they're they've ghosted you for a whole variety of reasons and you spend a lot of time alone, and the loneliness and the isolation, combined with the fear of doing all these new things. If you have gone from being an employee to being a consultant, when your job was terminated then there can also be shame associated with the job loss. It's not something people talk about a whole lot and so being able to connect with other people that have some of these similar challenges, that you're facing similar issues, people that are also building a consulting business. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, but if you connect with other people you'll learn things from them and they'll learn things from you. Connecting with other people, I think is important to be being to your ability to be able to overcome that and for me, I like to be a connector and so for me, yes, I do know a lot about how to build a successful consulting business, but I feel great when I'm able to connect people.
Can you share with our listeners your most successful or favorite networking experience that you've had?
I'm going to reflect back on my first visit to a BNI meeting when I was terrified about the idea of getting up and giving a 60 second commercial about myself, and my business was pretty new at that time. I did have clients, but didn't have a huge track record so I was pretty insecure about what I was selling, and to be able to get up in front of 30 plus strangers at seven o'clock in the morning and to give a coherent 60 second commercial was pretty terrifying. I have to say, the people in the room couldn't have been nicer to me and more supportive and people came up to me afterwards and just tried to be nice and helpful. When you're with people, I had a podcast guest who actually is an expert on networking, and one of the things he said was that we all know this the phrase, people do business with people they know, like and trust and he added another line to that, which is people do business with people they know, like, trust and care about them and at that meeting I felt like there there was genuine caring in the room and it made a huge difference.
How do you stay in front of and best nurture your network in your community?
I think it's important to actually have a process for keeping track of who you're connecting with, and having a process for follow up. So one of the things that I do is, I make notes after I speak to people and I keep the notes and I keep them organized. I also make notes on my calendar of when I'm supposed to follow up with somebody. So if you and I are speaking today and we decide to keep in touch, three months from now, I'll make a note in my calendar three months from now to reach out and add notes in my calendar as to some of my notes from our conversation so I can go back and look at it in case I don't remember all the details.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
Follow your heart. I studied engineering for 7 years and I worked as an engineer for 4 years, and then I went into the nonprofit sector. And honestly, when I was in school, I had thought about whether this was really the right thing to study. I did well in school and in my career, but my heart wasn't really in it. So for every pivot I've made, mtt career has ended up moving me in a direction where I'm actually doing things that I'm happier doing. I will admit that each of the pivots usually came with not just me moving forward, but somebody pushing me to do it!
What final word do you have to share with our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
If you're feeling uncomfortable in anything you're doing with regard to relationship building. Pay attention to the discomfort and if you believe that the step that you are about to take, which is making you uncomfortable, is a good step, take it. Because if you're feeling uncomfortable means you're probably in a state of growth and that you're doing something that's going to help you grow and relationship building can really help you grow quite a bit, as you've heard from our conversation today so take that step.
Connect with David
Smashing The Plateau Podcast: https://smashingtheplateau.com/episodes/
Going Solo Podcast: https://smashingtheplateau.com/goingsolo/