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March 15, 2017

Connect and Grow: Networking Tips from a Local Pro 

By Tampa Bay Parenting

Since creating Elevate, Inc. five years ago, I have learned how welcoming and friendly our Tampa Bay business community is. When I moved here 10 years ago, I didn’t know many people but was very fortunate to have mentors who guided me along the way. When looking for my next venture, I asked several of these friends for guidance. They believed in me and gave me the confidence to start my business consulting firm Elevate, Inc. Since then, I have tried to instill the motto of helping others in all 30 clients we have today, as well as our seven team members.  When we work with a company that just moved here and they ask us to help make a connection to a local CEO, it takes very little time for us to help them achieve their goal. I’ve learned that we live in a very business-friendly environment where people genuinely want to help others, and I am fortunate to be part of the community.

If you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, try to start building your network by reconnecting with friends in the business community. Remind them that you are looking to volunteer and get involved in an organization. I suggest going to your local Chamber of Commerce networking lunch and making sure you meet at least five new people.

Have an action plan to follow up: Once you meet new people, try to connect with them on LinkedIn and e-mail them within 24 hours. I also suggest you set up phone call or coffee meeting to learn more ways you can help each other.

Where to begin? Besides the Chamber of Commerce, I suggest you network with local dining clubs like Tampa Club or Centre Club, as well as your kids’ schools. A lot of them have parent groups that you can volunteer for and support. Other parents in the group could become great assets to your business.

If you are painfully shy, my suggestion is to find a networking buddy. Ask a friend to attend an event with you, but not to hang out with you the entire time. You may arrive together, but you don’t chat during the event. After the event, debrief with each other on whom you met and encourage each other to follow up. Most people don’t follow up so having a buddy to help you means you are one step ahead!

As far encouraging your kids to network, share with them personal stories of how networking has helped them. For example, discuss with them the process of obtaining a loan for your home. If your banker has since referred to you a connection that translated into business, make sure your children understand the importance of that connection. Also ask them to make a list of 3-4 people they consider close friends. Once you go over that list with them, they will understand the value of relationships and it will open up an important dialogue which will help them in the future.

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