Brother, Can You Spare Some Time?

One of my first engagements as a new entrepreneur in 2009 was designing and delivering a program for a huge swath of recently unemployed workers in the Richmond area – first at the Greater Richmond Chamber with Stephanie Kirksey, and then at St. Michael's Catholic Church with Eleanor Rouse.

St. Mike's has been running its Jobs Assistance Ministry since the fall of 2008, and has cycled as many a 1,000 people through an intensive series of networking lunches, workshops and coaching sessions – all designed to help displaced workers land a job, set a new course or adjust to the abrupt changes in their circumstances.

I'm excited to be returning to St. Mike's on Wednesday, Septembe r 29, for their weekly JAM lunch session. The focus of my conversation will be all about the importance of networking – or really, the importance of human relationships in networking.

During my own journey from unemployment to self-employment, I had three things working in my favor – luck, discipline and time.

Luck: The day after I was unexpectedly laid off from Luck Stone in November of 2008, I happened to have coffee scheduled with James Ukrop of the supermarket and banking fame. While I'd worked for Ukrop's through high school and college, I had never met Jim. We scheduled coffee months earlier after a mutual friend suggested me meet to talk about community efforts in the Richmond region. And while we did have that discussion, we also talked about life after Luck. He was encouraging, and he helped connect me with a small handful of people in town who have been equally supportive of my work with Floricane.

Discipline: During the first eight weeks after leaving Luck Stone, I met with almost 250 people – former colleagues, old friends, friends of former colleagues, colleagues of old friends and an assortment of connections established through social media tools like LinkedIn and Twitter. Taking weekends and holidays out of the mix, I averaged five meetings a day through the middle of January. None of them resulted in work. None of them were designed to land work. Almost every conversation was focused on building relationships, building confidence in my ability to start a business, and learning from the successes and mistakes of others. I had to force myself to keep pushing, keep scheduling, keep showing up in a positive, curious light. Most of those 250 people remain part of my business and personal network almost two years later.

Time: While my intent in all of my early networking was to connect, not to sell, I certainly knew even in those early months that selling was going to be an important success factor. The only one, initially! In effect, I spent all of 2009 networking and connecting and doing far more pro bono work than I had anticipated. I netted 20% of my take home salary from Luck Stone during that first year; my family lived off of my 401(k). But a funny thing happened as the calendar flipped into 2010 – the phone started to ring, and I began to do paying work for clients. More than half of them were connections established through the networking I did a year ago, or longer. In fact, almost every single piece of business that Floricane has generated since the beginning of this year – five times the business, paid or pro bono, done last year – has been the result of a personal relationship.

Luck. Discipline. Time. Relationships.

Those will be at the heart of my discussion with the St. Mike's JAM attendees on September 29. You can find out more about St. Mike's Job Assistance Ministry on LinkedIn.