Expert Advice On Business Networking And Tips On Developing Your Networking Skills

Rex Hammock interview – founder & CEO of Hammock Inc.

I’m pleased to bring you the following interview with Rex Hammock, founder and CEO of the custom media firm, Hammock Inc. — Rex blogs at rexblog.com. You may also recognize him from SmallBusiness.com.

Josh: How do you define Business Networking and why do you feel it is important?

Rex Hammock: First, thanks for asking me to participate in this Josh. How long have we known each other “online”? Almost ten years — hard to believe.

Business networking is a little more focused and deliberate than the kinds of networking one does in other aspects of life. In other words, as I believe people should have well-rounded and balanced lives, I hope their “networking” is not just about building business relationships.

That said, business networking is all about creating work-related connections — and understanding how those connections touch one-another. These connections provide us with the ability to better do our jobs by helping us find new clients or vendors, identify best practices or market intelligence, keeping us abreast of developments in our marketplaces, find new employees or partners, etc.

Before technology enabled visual representations of those networks of connections, it was hard for some people to understand the geometry of connections — they would simply say, “He or she has a thick Rolodex.” Now, with services like LinkedIn, one can see that “networks of connections” are not necessarily about the “thickness” of a rolodex, but the way in which we are probably closer to others than we knew we were. We all know lots of people who know lots of people. We just never knew who the intermediary was.

Josh: Can you share one or two ideas that someone could put into practice that would help them to improve their business networking skills?

Rex Hammock: As with any relationship, building a business network starts with “getting involved” and “giving back.”

When I look back over three decades of business, I can tell you that my most valuable connections came from serving on trade association or civic-related committees or boards. I was fortunate (it seems odd to say) to start out knowing no-one in the city or industry I found myself in right out of college. As I knew no one, I joined a local business-oriented civic group and volunteered for a few committees.

The same is true for the trade association related to my industry. I was young and didn’t know I could say “no” when someone asked me to serve on a committee. Looking back, any investment of my time in those extra-work activities have had a dramatic return-on-investment in terms of the people I met and got to work with.

That’s sort of a broad statement, so here are a couple of specific ideas: Comment on people’s blogs with helpful or insightful information. Help someone find a job. Write a recommendation on a contact’s LinkedIn page. Call the person who will serve as next year’s president of your trade association and volunteer for a specific committee.

Josh: What events, places, or resources (online or offline) have you found to be especially good for networking? And based on your experience what makes them stand out?

Rex Hammock: People often tell you about opportunities that have come from left-field — meeting someone on a plane, for example. (That would never work for me as I fly with my head buried in an ebook.) However, I think those serendipitous encounters are exceptions.

I think the obvious networking strategies are obvious for a reason: they are tried and true and are, to use a sports analogy, lay-ups rather than half-court shots. Local Chamber of Commerce functions, trade-associations, civic-groups are what I’ve found to work best overtime.

Getting involved in community, school and church activities are things I greatly encourage for lots of reasons, but I discourage people from doing so for “business” reasons. That said, when you are involved in such activities, there are countless conversations that begin with the question, “So what do you do for a living?”

Online, I’m probably not a good role-model because I have some “professional” reasons for studying and participating in networking services. I would never encourage people to register on everything I’m registered as I’m registered everywhere.

Right now, I think LinkedIn, Plaxo and the identity-management related features of FaceBook are worth spending time with — I keep up with them. However, there are other professions that have specialized networks and forums that would be required if I worked in those areas.

The geometry of online networks are fascinating, however there’s a common sense foundation to them that most business people understand: You want to be where your customers are. If you like Plaxo but all your customers are using LinkedIn, well, use LinkedIn.

My “identity” online, however, is not with any one service. My professional identity online is my business-oriented website, Rexblog.com, and my company’s website, Hammock.com. Even though I “host” SmallBusiness.com and you can probably find a lot about me there, I don’t consider my userpage there my “identity.” However, it will lead you to me.

All of the online activities related to business that I may participate in online (be they commenting on blogs, participating in forums, editing a wiki, posting something on Flickr or YouTube) are anchored back to those two anchors of my identity online.

Josh: Can you share a personal “networking” success story with us?

Rex Hammock: I can say that pretty much any success I’ve had professionally has come as a result of networking. There is a story that accompanies every client I have that begins with, “I met a person several years ago when we were on a panel together and she later ran into someone who explained that she needed a company to provide such-and-such a service — did they know someone who did that?”

It’s hard for even me to believe, but my company has a rather significant portion of its revenue that can be attributed to contacts I have made from blogging about my industry. I find it hard to believe because I rarely blog about my company.

*brought to you by BusinessNetworkingAdvice.com

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