Have you heard of Mary West? I wouldn’t be surprised if you had. She tells me her friends like to play a game called Six Degrees to Mary West – she’s that connected! OK, quite honestly, she’s probably only a local celebrity, but she could be a household name anytime now. At the very least, the things she’s done to earn the nickname “The Queen of Networking” could help you connect with better quantity and quality too.
I used to think of networking as something only business folks need be concerned with. After exchanging a few emails with Mary, I’m pretty excited to say I think it’s about so much more! Maybe that’s how she got to be the Queen – by spreading this passion of hers and making connections to better the world around her.
In case you’re like me and think networking is only a functional tool for those with a business to grow, let me share with you Mary’s answer to my first question, “What is networking.” It seemed like a good place to start in our interview, even though I thought it might be a bit silly because I thought the answer was obvious. But it wasn’t. Mary’s definition is pretty amazing.
“Business Networking is business people helping each other. It is meeting other business people and getting to know them and what they do well. It is making it a point to get to know them and what they do so that you can determine if you feel comfortable referring them to other people you know that are looking for their product or service.
You want to be sure to only refer people you know well, like, and respect. When you refer people you want to be sure they give excellent service because you care about the people you are referring them to. Also, it reflects back on you if they got good or bad service.
Networking can be for anyone who wants to meet wonderful people. They don’t have to have a business. People have come and ended up getting a job. People come and get great resources.
Networking is connecting people you know that the people you are connecting them to don’t know yet. You connecting them helps a lot because you may have connected some people who may have never met each other otherwise.
Networking is being a resource.
Networking is people helping people.
Networking is being a positive influence for people.
You meet the most awesome people by networking!”
See what I mean? She’s got your attention, doesn’t she? And do you see what it boils down to? Mary is paying it forward. She was doing so before it was the cool thing to do. She takes the relationships that she tends to and shares the talents of those she now knows with others who will benefit from those talents. That’s a mouthful. It’s so much easier to say connecting or networking. And, for Mary, those networks aren’t only about business. She’s making friends and so are others. She’s helping to build a community.
Over a decade ago, Mary started Celebrations Networking. She delights in celebrating each day and spread her joy for life easily with others, sometimes just grabbing business cards off the bulletin board and calling someone to introduce herself. Celebrations Networking changed to Master Mind Mondays, a group Mary and three others ran together that did focus on business networking. After a few years Mary took some time off and then, along with a previous member, brought the transitioning group back under a new name: Connect-Relate-Network Group. This meeting allowed business men and women to display products and samples, speak about their services or products, hear speakers on business topics or from non-profit organizations, and more. Of course, there was also time to simply chat with others, to establish even greater relationships.
Mary transitioned Connect-Relate-Network into an event on the first Tuesday of each month called “Networking Tuesdays!” During this monthly meeting she encourages people to come and hear a different author that inspires them and hear great business tips. Plus, they have some perfect networking time aimed at making new connections and building lasting relationships. It’s been a fun and successful evolution of the original group.
About five years ago, Mary started another meet up group called Friends of Facebook. There are currently eleven different locations, with more in the works! Most of these gatherings get together twice a month. This less structured group has a question of the week, to serve as an ice breaker and give everyone something to talk about, networking time, and much more. One of the things I noticed when learning about all these groups is the co-hosts. I think it’s great to have more than one person “in charge” so that it doesn’t become a burden for any one person. Plus, by having two or more people, you’re reinforcing the relationships that are what make the groups what they are.
Friends of Facebook takes on projects that help local non-profits organizations. Remember how I said she was paying it forward before it was cool? One example of this is how they help local homeless teens. Volunteers from Friends of Facebook serve food, mostly donated, and help decorate for holiday gatherings for this group of beneficiaries several times a year. Homeless teens in Kitsap County, WA are currently one of ten not-for-profit groups that benefit from the generosity of the many Friends of Facebook groups in the area. And that number is growing. See? Mary’s brand of connecting is about so much more than business. I love that!
Maybe the reason that networking is seems more personal with Mary than what I’ve always thought of it as is because when she started it was about meeting people. She’d lived in Spokane, WA raising their four children, working some part-time jobs, but mostly being a mother and wife. During her years there she volunteered in ways that involved her children. She ran scouting groups, helped organize carnivals, and more. She also got involved in direct sales, intrigued by the ability to make her own hours and still be available to her kids. This is where she was at when her family moved across the state to Poulsbo, WA. She wanted to meet new people in this new place and make connections for her direct sales business. So, she started a networking group – she thought it was a new idea, but found out “there are 100’s of business networking groups available and this kind of thing has been going on for years and years. Here I thought I was so smart for starting something like this!” I still think she was pretty smart. Her groups are more about people networking, I think. And by the success they’ve seen I think that subtle difference in focus makes a big impact on her community.
As, Mary says, “Each networking group has its own kind of flavor.” So, if you’re looking for a way to grow your business, strengthen your community, get the word out about your non-profit – give a few a try and see what you feel most connected to. After all, it’s about the people, the friendships, the referrals you can give and get. Networking is about connecting, about relationships. And, if you can’t find a group that fits you the way you’d like it to, maybe you can touch base with Mary and learn about starting your own group in your own area.
Do you remember that Mary’s earliest networking group was started as a way to meet people and to find others that could benefit from her direct sales business – to increase her income? We’ve talked a lot about how the first goal has been realized, but how about the second? Well, Mary has added a few more money making ventures to her repertoire and (no surprise here) they’re all about helping others do the same. She does networking coaching and spreads her messages in person and in written form. Mary was a contributing author to a book called Your Ultimate Sales Force – 159 Strategies to Generate Referrals and Be Worthy of Them and is working on a second book, Networking Your Way to Wealth: A Referral Road Map for Small Business Owners. It’s worth noting that wealth means more than money to Mary. “It is also the people you meet, the friends you make, the resources you gather and more.” With the way Mary grows the meanings of words – maybe her next book writing venture will be an expanded dictionary!
Back when Mary started her first networking group, years ago, she met Patrick Snow, a best-selling author, speaker, and publishing coach. She found his business card on a bulletin board and called him! Back then she started working with him and still does to this day. If you contact Mary, you should ask her about it. This story truly illustrates connecting with the power of networking.
“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar