When I say “networking”, whether you get a feeling of dread or excitement probably depends on whether it is something you like doing. How much we enjoy anything depends of course on our natural inclinations, but also on how confident we feel at that particular skill. Personally, I have always marveled at people for whom networking seems to come naturally. Kim Stapleton of the law firm Ice Miller is one of those people, and on today’s episode she breaks down her approach and best practices to make networking not only more effective – but more rewarding.
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When I say networking, whether you get a feeling of excitement or dread, probably depends on whether it's something you like doing. How much we enjoy doing anything depends, of course on our natural inclinations, but usually also on how confident we feel at that particular scale. Personally, I've always marveled at people for whom networking seems to just come naturally. Kim Stapleton of the law firm, Ice Miller is absolutely one of those people. And on today's episode, she breaks down her approach and her best practices to make networking not only more effective, but more fun. Welcome to Right in the Middle Market, a podcast about pragmatic perspectives on running, growing and selling your business. We talk about the challenges, decisions, and most importantly, the actions business owners can take to create long term value in their companies. Welcome to Right in the Middle Market. I am Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin. And I'm thrilled today to have Kim Stapleton of the law firm, Ice Miller here with me today. Many of us in this crazy year of 2020 are having to figure out new ways to do okay, let's admit it, we're having to figure out new ways to do just about everything. And one of those is definitely to figure out new ways to reach out and to network and to connect, whether it's ways that we are finding resources for our clients or bringing in new leads. But when I say networking, my guess is that there's probably a couple of you out there who hear that word of maybe react like I do, which is a little bit of an "Uhh", do I really have to network? We all know those people for whom this seems to come absolutely naturally. And if you're like me at all, you look at them and you say, "Gosh, how did they do it? What exactly is it? And is there anything that I can do? Can they teach me how to do that?" Kim is absolutely one of those people. And I'm so excited to have her here today to talk to us about networking, and some very tactical and tangible tips. So Kim, welcome. We're so excited to have you.Kim Stapleton:
Thanks so much, Stephanie.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
So can we start with, I always like to start with kind of the obvious questions. When you think about networking. We all hear networking, sometimes we think about, you know, the the cocktail party or we think about, "I'm reaching out to touch base with people." How do you think about it? How do you even define networking?Kim Stapleton:
Well, I do know a lot of people hate the word. And so I have oftentimes told people to think of it as more of a consultative approach. You're going to be meeting someone new or multiple people, and see what you could do to help them. Don't go in with a selfish thought of what's in it for me? It's more of, what can I do? What can I learn about this person that ultimately will lead to a way to help them and I love making the world a smaller place. And that's what it comes down to. Who do you know in common, and get to a common ground that makes you feel comfortable together?Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
So what if I'm walking into something and I think I have nothing to offer?Kim Stapleton:
Right? Well, I love listening to someone's story as if it's a book, and you want to ask them questions. So you can keep learning more about them and turn the pages in that book until you find something that's really of interest that you share in common. So that you have something that you hit it off on. And it's not really about what you have to offer. It's finding them interesting, they love talking about themselves. And being a listening ear and hearing their story. Maybe they're practicing their elevator speech for the first time at a new company or firm. And maybe you give them some tips of different organizations that might be beneficial to them. So I think ultimately, there's always something you have to offer.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
Okay, so I think you started to talk about this. But why do we need networking? Again, for those who hear the word networking and it has that reaction of, "Oh, I just I don't want to do it." Why do we need it?Kim Stapleton:
Well, you and I are both trusted advisors, right? It couldn't be more crucial when someone has a legal issue that they want to get settled. It's concerning to them. When they potentially want to sell their business or buy a business. These are very big things in a company, in a person's life. And so those are also things that you typically ask for referral for. They are ones that you're going to ask who else has used someone. Just like you ask for a new hairdresser. And when you move to a new neighborhood, you start asking where do you get your good meat and things like that. It's 10 times more important in these business situations, but that's how you learn who likes their hairdresser. And where's the best place to shop, those kind of things. So we all know people get jobs that way. And on and on of how a network has helped people in their life in so many ways. So it is something that stays with you and forever in your career. And the sooner you start it, the better building that network.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
You know, it's really interesting, Kim, I had, I think, a pivot in how I think about networking a couple of years ago. So for the majority of my career, I worked in healthcare on the administrative side, and I worked in hospitals and health systems. And then I was always part of fairly large organizations that were serving these large health systems. And so I always thought of, if you were out networking, there was always a little bit of this shame of the only reason you're out networking is if you're looking for a new job. And that was what got ingrained in me very early. And so you would go to these networking events and yeah, occasionally, you'd meet people doing similar things in other places and have different stories to share. But, you'd get back to your organizations and you either competitors, or you were far away enough that you would have to travel to see these folks. And so networking was always very complicated and really was quite frankly, tied to you go network, when you're looking for a job was what came a lot of it.Kim Stapleton:
Or there's other stereotypes too, of that extremely cheesy salesperson. You don't want to walk into a room and be bombarded by people just saying, "This is what I do, can I help you do serve you in that way?" It's the wrong way to lead. So there have been bad stereotypes about networking made. But even if you're the most introverted person, and you train yourself, to think about the other person and gather details about them, and you're not selling anything, that first time you meet, you're building a relationship that eventually could lead to something and it might not be directly through that person. It might be through someone else that they know. And they just say this person made a great first impression. They were kind and caring and not in it for themselves.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
It's funny, one of my favorite things to do is I'll take a topic that we're going to talk about in a podcast and do a Google search. And, of course, I'll also look for memes. And just to see, you know, what are the first kinds of things that come up. And when I put in networking and look for networking memes, one of the first ones was a picture of Oprah saying, "You get a business card, and you get a business card, and you get a business card." And we all know those funny Oprah memes. But it is one of those, how do you- I think you're exactly right. How do we avoid that? How do you try to figure out how you can help somebody without it sounding cheesy? How do you go into that, and as you said, I think particularly for those that are more introverted, and it's interesting when I made the transition a few years ago to owning my own business, and to being in a consulting and investment banking field, where all of a sudden, I really do have exactly what you're talking about, I have a client who we're working with on one issue, and because they have come to know us and to trust us, they said, "Hey, by the way, we're trying to figure out a tax issue. We really could use a tax accountant that we could trust. Do you know anyone?" And it's wonderful for me to be able to say yes, actually, I do. And let me make a couple of introductions for you. So that that way, I feel like I can help provide them a solution because I want to help. And you're exactly right. When I would first meet a tax accountant at a networking event, would I necessarily think oh my gosh, I have, you know, something I can do to help them or they have something they can- well, not necessarily, but then give six months later, here we go.Kim Stapleton:
Right. And that's also part of it. It's not going to be instantaneous. And so for everyone to realize that and understand that, but a referral just came in my inbox this morning that came from an accountant. I gave an accountant a referral last week. But these were months ago, right? These are relationships that happened and I'm glad that they thought about us at the appropriate time. And part of it comes down to timing, and how you can be remembered then, and it takes effort though. It's not a one and done. You met this person one time. We all have met a gazillion people in our lifetime. So how do you show up in their inbox, or use social media platforms to have your name and company come across at the right time because chances are they have probably met others in your industry. In the meantime, since since you are meeting together.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
So I want to dive into that. And before we do because I think that's a really meaty topic. Let's take just a moment for a word from our sponsor, and we'll be right back. Right in the Middle Market is brought to you by The Gaffin Group, a full service business consulting firm. The Gaffin Group works closely with middle market companies tackling the big challenges of today's environment and capturing the value enhancing growth opportunities of tomorrow. Too often, dogma platitudes or wishlists get confused with strategy, then it's no small wonder that execution can be muddeled. The Gaffin Group principles work closely with company boards, executives and their teams to seek pragmatic, tangible results. They provide comprehensive advisory services across strategic, financial, operational and merger and acquisition capabilities. All framed by the fundamental belief that real strategy drives real results. The Gaffin Group is focused on delivering robust practical insights and fact based pragmatic solutions. Their services are designed to support their clients profitable growth, and sustainable long term value creation. Go to gaffingroup.com to learn more about how The Gaffin Group can help you and your company. Welcome back. We are here today with Kim Stapleton of the law firm, Ice Miller and we are talking about networking and the networking effect. And Kim, the point that you brought up just before we went to break, I think is a really important one. We all know conceptually, yes, meeting someone once is not going to be enough to build a relationship. But I think this is one of those things where for somebody who isn't wired to do this, naturally, they look at it and it it might as well be hieroglyphics, right, of thinking about how do I actually do this? Can you help us and help our listeners break this down? You mentioned emails, you mentioned social media, you mentioned, but can you help break it down for us? How do you actually think about this from a tactical perspective? From who you're meeting and outreaching to? How do you say what platforms do you use? Let's talk about this.Kim Stapleton:
Yes, plenty of topics to cover within that question. But, going back to when you initially met that person, and maybe multiple meetings, I take notes, and then I get those notes also into my phone. And those notes, say something about their family, where they grew up, where they live currently, these kind of details that you capture, where they golf and things like this, and then you know that they're a golfer. So when there's a golf outing coming up, easy for me to search through all my contacts very quickly, of the appropriate people for that.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
Okay, so brass tacks question. Do you literally put this in the contacts note in your phone?Kim Stapleton:
Yes. And it syncs with Outlook also. And then easy to refresh my memory. Before we get together again, if six months have passed, I don't really want to spend the first 10 minutes of our meeting, rehashing things we already went over. I remember. I might need a little refresher, quite honestly. But I do remember that we've already talked about these items. And we can kind of be more efficient and get right to new topics. So that is one area that helps me to think of what might be most beneficial to them. If I knew certain business topics that are their focus, then those are going to be articles that I send to them. And even the process of writing the notes and typing them, it is a process, but it kind of reiterates it into my mind about that person. And it starts becoming more second nature where I know those details about the person.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
So do you have a discipline thenm it sounds like you have a process. And again, I'm really breaking this down. So do you have a process of, you meet with someone and- I'm acctually just take a side tangent, this opportunity for this podcast today, came out of you and I meeting, right? That it was a mutual friend, you know, a mutual connection, you were going to be in our area. And we got together for a lovely outdoor lunch here in the COVID era. And I saw you do exactly what you're talking about. You had your notebook, you had looked up ahead of time, the connections that we had in common on LinkedIn. And you were taking notes and asking questions. And then, all right, so let's be tactical. So it sounds like you have a process and then what do you do with that?Kim Stapleton:
And then I want to reach out again, and it really has to be applicable though. So right now when COVID first happened, of course, it was an easy time to reach out to so many people in your network, see what was going on with them personally and professionally. But each time something changes, and there's new regulations out there, there's something new going on, you think about which businesses in your network would be affected, and then you share those details with them. Also, on the outside of email, and voicemail, I mean, people forget to pick up the phone right now. And a lot of times you do get voicemail, but it's a great thing to have a conversation too and get us all pulled away from email, which is the majority of everyone's day. But also LinkedIn is a platform that I use a lot, because it is a great way to share information with the multitude of people at the same time. And then that information easily gets spread into other people's networks when they like it or share it or comment. So what we do and networking, LinkedIn was created to help make even easier. To help make the world smaller by saying, who do we already know in common? And giving us some of those, it really does allow you to ask for referrals. And with knowing who the right person is that has a contact there, when you're looking at a certain company. But it's a great way to also share information. I know it's a news source for a lot of people. And it's, you know, can be very particular by industry by region.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
If we come back to how do you keep it all organized. So you've talked about, you put it in the contacts of your phone, which syncs to Outlook, and then it's searchable, right? So you have key phrases that you can search for. What are some of your other tactics because I know that even when you and I were talking, and you brought up a name of somebody, I thought, Oh, my gosh, yeah, I haven't talked to her, she was a great attorney and I should reach out to her again. How do you keep track of that, to who you should reach out to?Kim Stapleton:
Yeah, well, sometimes it comes down to, there's great events out there going on. And even though they're virtual right now, thinking of sharing those invites, and when we were in person, then you might have a handful of different people that you invited that all come together, and you're introducing them to others in your network. And that's a great thing, too. You're killing two birds with one stone, you want to see each of those people, plus you're introducing them to additional new people, as well as everyone else in the room. And you may feel more comfortable at an event when you have multiple people there. So inviting people to events is a really easy thing where you're offering something versus asking for something. So that's one of my big tactics too.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
Okay, and how are you adapting that in the COVID environment?Kim Stapleton:
Yeah, I have been really pleasantly surprised at how well people have been running virtual events. And the days, since you're not dealing with commuting time to these events, there's actually more time to get these calls into people or attend a virtual event. And maybe it's easier to drop off before it ends. Instead of walking out of the room physically, as well. I was able to check out an event that I thought might be smaller sized businesses then I typically deal with. But I'd heard of it for years, and I've been meaning to want to do that but it required driving to it and it didn't happen. So the virtual atmosphere was like a perfect way to say I can jump on this and if it's not for me, I can be off of it in 10 minutes. But it answered that question that's kind of been in my mind for a little while.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
What do you think, I mean, not like, I'm guessing you don't have a crystal ball, if you do, gosh, please share. How do you think this is going to change someday, God willing, someday, we are going to be past COVID. Right? We're going to be able to do those in person events again. But you know, I keep thinking about how is this going to change? The fact that we've all had to spend a pretty significant amount of time being primarily virtual, whether we like it or not, we've had to figure out how to get good at these virtual events. And so what is the Kim Stapleton prognostication about what'll happen long term?Kim Stapleton:
Well, is it easier to join boards of companies and organizations that aren't in your state now, because maybe they're now more comfortable with the virtual board meeting, which I've been doing as well. And it'll be nice to have a mix of both where you can squeeze more in in the virtual atmospheric time without jumping on a plane and so, if we keep some of the positives and are able to go back to the in person at the same time, I think that it could be a nice blend of both worlds.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
I think that's been my hope as well what I keep saying my my hypothesis, at least is that if you think about the way we used to do communication, then there was a certain percentage we did by phone and a certain percentage that we did in person. And very few people, very small amount in the middle that we did by video, it was very atypical. You know, you try it and a lot of times, the other person didn't have the capability or they weren't comfortable. Well, we've all had to get comfortable. And so, you know, my personal hypothesis is that over the long term, there will be some things that previously were just phone calls, that now will more and more be videos, I still think there's a role for just a phone call, especially as we'll get some fatigue and everything else. And there will be a place for some things that were in person but, as you're saying, there really was significant logistics or other challenges that you actually find you can accomplish the objective, you can get just as much out of it or nearly as much out of it. And with significantly less cost in either the expense of traveling or the time of traveling to that event, whether it's local or regional.Kim Stapleton:
Even outside of events, I think we've all appreciated doing an initial video with someone and just seeing if there's some synergies there that are going to play well that warrant an in person meeting, because that takes more time. And prior, when we would do those over the phone, they didn't quite stick as much in my mind. Because a lot of times when you're on a phone, you do tend to start multitasking. And you don't do that as much on a first time video with someone. And so I think that's a great benefit, you start to get to know them. And then you're like, great, we should meet in person next. But I think that will be something that will stay. Gather those details and that initial, virtual and then go from there.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
Yeah, it's interesting, we have a client who lives in a different part of the country. And we actually have never met him in person. And we started the engagement several months before COVID. But there just had never really been a reason that we needed to be together in person. And so when all of this started, and we started to get on video chats, it was interesting, even though we developed a very, I think, a very good relationship over the phone. It's added another dimension. Now I know the facial expressions, right? This is a client I talked to pretty frequently. And before where it would have just been a pause in the conversation. And now I can see the facial expression and say, "Oh, okay, he's thinking." You can tell and so it does add a depth to that, which is really interesting.Kim Stapleton:
Yeah, and the larger virtual events, it is helpful when people share their cameras. I also think that, I don't know the statistics from all different organizations, if they've seen an increase in number of attendees virtual versus in person, because I have a group for CFOs VPS of finance and controllers. And we have double the number of attendees virtually than we did in person, because we start at 8am. So it's much easier to just jump on a video at a 8am versus driving somewhere. And it's shorter. There's not that 20 minutes beforehand for networking and 20 minutes afterwards for networking, things like that. We are making up for that by having just a separate event where you have time outside of a guest speaker to just network with the other members. Because we know that's lacking. So I think people are building it in. And I do assume that the numbers should probably be better and increased for virtual events.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
It's been interesting. And I know there are some organizations that really have been playing with different formats for the networking, that's an interesting idea to just say, "Look, just separate them," whether it's the you know, the education as the education and the networking as the networking and you know, the ones where it pops you into the small breakout room, which then I always find- here, I'll ask you one of my favorite questions. It used to be we would trade business cards, I think you and I had this conversation at lunch. We would all trade business cards as you met somebody, you'd have a quick conversation say, "Ah, great. Yep, this is somebody I have some things in common with definitely someone to follow up." And my personal process was than I would bring home the stack of business cards, make sure that that person got entered into our CRM, I usually would have written down a quick little note about I don't think I'm quite as good as you are at writing down the notes, but I would at least try to enter where I met them and you know, sometimes even a visual trigger about, they were wearing a blue jacket or you know, something that would help me with that kind of visual reminder. And then I would email you know, get connected to them on LinkedIn, sent them an email, set up a phone call or maybe a coffee and I have found that it's from their virtual breakout rooms, I'm not as good. And maybe it's just my discipline, but I'm not as good at then taking that and doing that individual follow up.Kim Stapleton:
The numbers may be a little less of those that are happening. Maybe we're all doing too much electronically. It's not happening with as many follow ups. But definitely from the events that I've been at people have sent chats and sent their information and said, Let's connect and we have, and I'm okay with it not being maybe five people, maybe it's just really selectively only two. But people are really using those chat rooms asking the the moderator or the person driving it to send them to a breakout room with one specific person. I thought that was really neat seeing how well people were maneuvering as if you were in a conference room.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
Sure. All right. Before we get to the end of the episode, today, I have to ask, what are the worst practices? So if you think about, we've talked about, there are a lot of people who hate networking. So, I'm sure that throughout your career, I know this has been a big focus for you and things that you have done throughout your career. What are the worst practices? What are the worst things that somebody can do?Kim Stapleton:
Well, showing up late, which does happen occasionally, but just showing no interest of having looked up background information. If you're gonna commit the time to meet someone, then do just a little bit of due diligence. And I guess the part about fear, I guess, people just need to retrain their mind to not be scared of these situations. So that the first initial meeting happens. And then if you're going to take that time to get to know someone, then there really should be some follow up if it's warranted, because why waste their time? Because then you're leaving a bad impression. And so don't go through those initial meetings for there not to be an opportunity at that second, but make sure that you do follow up with them again.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
Yeah, for sure. All right, Kim, you know that we always end with two pragmatic tips. And, you know, these are intended to be things that are very simple, tactical, pragmatic, but if somebody, they've been listening to this, and they're like, "Okay, okay, I need to do a better job of networking." I do know that that's, you know, particularly right now. You know, maybe it's reconnecting with the people that you know. Maybe it's meeting some new people or as you were talking about, it's identifying a group that you always kind of thought about getting involved with, and it just never worked out. But yeah, so they're thinking about it, if they were going to do to pragmatic things, what would be your two pragmatic tips?Kim Stapleton:
Yeah, pick up the phone and reach out to someone that you have now made an effort and thought about. Here are some people that I haven't talked to in a while. Worst case scenario, they don't call you back, or there's nothing there, but you never know where it's gonna lead to. And it's really not that painful once you start doing it. And then the second point would really be, teach yourself to make it all about them, so that they enjoy the conversation and constantly thinking, how can I help them? And it might be outside of your own services, but how can I help them that they'll want to pick up your phone call next time because you've been helpful.Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin:
Two great tips. And with that, I'm Stephanie Chambliss Gaffin. And you've been listening to Right in the Middle Market, a podcast about running, growing and selling your middle market business. We'd love to hear your comments about today's episode or ideas you'd most like to hear in the future. Send me a message on LinkedIn or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and don't forget to subscribe to make sure that you're able to hear all of our upcoming pragmatic tips. Until next time, be well and be connected.