Sunday, June 3, 2018

How Alumni Networking Changed My Lifetime Goals

My professional life started off like most college graduates.  I started my career after college with a great job at a local insurance company in IT. My career and social life revolved around my job. I really had no outside interests that would support any goals besides what I received from my boss at my annual performance appraisal. Outside of work, my evenings would consist of either going out with friends from work or watching TV, but there was not much to fulfill and inspire me to change my life.

Fast forward to 2007, I was getting the sense my longest tenure at a professional company, a large retailer, was coming to an end. There was low morale and a lot of negativity. I did not feel as negative as my colleagues, but I was getting consumed by my surroundings and I started to think that there needed to be something different out there.

Then one day, I received an email from my alma mater Northeastern University about a Boston Alumni Networking Event at the Alumni Center.   I was thinking, networking?  Is this an IT thing working with switches and routers?   Yes, I was that out of touch with the outside world.

The day of the networking event was one of my worst days at the large retailer corporate job.  There was a round of layoffs and the tension was high.   I stayed in my office with my door shut thinking about how I can get out of the place.   Even though I was a shy introvert, I thought to myself, I need to go to this networking event.

So that evening, I went to Northeastern University for the first time in a long time and arrived at the event.   I looked around and noticed all of the well-dressed happy personable professionals and thought I was on a different planet.   Why was everyone so friendly and wanting to help me?  This is not Corporate America.  I am scared, so I pretended to go to the rest room a few times.

My first networking event ended up being a great experience.  I met some fellow Huskies and was intrigued about the next event where they were going to have a speaker about starting your own business and being an entrepreneur.   I felt a new affiliation with my alma mater and was looking forward to the next event.

For the second event, I saw some of the same professionals I met at the first event and had some amazing conversations about careers and business.  When the speaker went up to give his presentation, I noticed that I felt happy and was lock step listening to what he had to say.   One thing that stood out was the option to start a business while still working a corporate job. 

Later that evening, I ended up meeting a fellow Husky, Sue, who introduced me to her health/wellness business and I mentioned how I would love doing the same.    What? Little old me running my own business?   I was sensing that my lifetime goals were starting to change on that warm April evening in 2008.  So I went for it and started my own business.

The networking bug started to catch on.   I started looking into events all over Boston and even Providence, my hometown.   I got myself some business cards with my new side-business company name, AIMC Websites, and started to meet professionals.   I did not have a Linkedin Account before I started networking, but after only one year I achieved the milestone of 500 connections.

With networking, I also noticed my former introverted self was becoming an extroverted connector.   I was no longer shy and would go up to people, introduce myself, and I would always ask what brought them to the event and asked them about their business and what they liked the most about networking.  Meanwhile, even with a new corporate job, my "side-business" started to grow and I was enjoying the extra income.

After a few years, and going to hundreds of events, I cracked 2500 connections on Linkedin.   I learned the art of going to an event, connecting to professionals, following up and helping each other out.   I was thinking, "why not start my own networking group"?

My side business AIMC Websites was now called AIMC Business Solutions and I was providing social media services and website solutions for my clients.   I was getting pretty good at the social media thing too alongside my networking skills so why not promote my own networking events?

On January 16, 2013, Mass Professional Networking was born at Uno's Bar in Framingham, MA.   I use social media to promote the event and over 100 professionals attended.  I was psyched!   I starting doing monthly events in the Metrowest area outside of Boston but then eventually gravitated to downtown Boston to run monthly events starting in 2014.   I was still going to other events, including the Northeastern Alumni Networking Events.  I was the connector and the entrepreneur, which I loved.   

Networking has changed my outlook on life. It got me out of my shell and has introduced me to positive entrepreneurial professionals that has led me to believe that I can do anything. I am working to achieve financial independence by 2023 by growing the revenue of my businesses to a point that I will no longer need to work in corporate America. If I did not attend that first Northeastern Alumni Networking Event back in 2007, I do not think I would be running my own networking group with over 2000 members and I doubt that I would be talking about early retirement from corporate America.

I recommend that you get more involved with your alma mater and if they have a networking or social event, attend it and see what happens. It could change your lifetime goals like it changed mine.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Spring is a New Beginning to Get Into Better Health - Some Tips

Just like New Years, the Spring Season is always looked at as a time for new beginnings.  The last of the cold snowy weather is in the rear view and the days, especially the evenings are nice and bright.

When it comes to your health, you should always be consistent every day to ensure you maintain a great balance of exercise, diet, mindset and of course take a great supplement.   You need to work all sectors of health in tandem to ensure great health.    The old saying, you can eat an amazing healthy diet but it doesn't mean much if you are a couch potato.   On the contrary, you can be a gym rat, but if you indulge in fried food, it would be exactly a pinnacle of great health.   Finally, your attitude toward life and how positive you are is the cherry on the sundae.   OK, maybe the cherry on a nutrition bar.

As mentioned, your health maintenance is broken down into your fitness activities, diet, mindset and supplements.  What I like to do is offer some tips for each that are very basic.

Fitness - 
I can just simply say join your local gym and hire a trainer to put you through hell at the gym.  Instead, I like offer some easy exercises you can do in place of going to the gym if you have a busy productive lifestyle.

  • If you work in the office, take the stairs whenever possible and get up and walk around. or at a minimum stretch, every 15-20 minutes, so you maintain great blood flow and digestion of any food you eat.    Sitting in your office for hours on end is worse than smoking a pack of cigarettes.
  • Always take a walk after eating, breakfast, lunch and dinner.   By walking, you will be able to easily digest your food and burn off any unhealthy calories.   Do not do any strenuous exercise right after eating.
  • If you don't go to a gym, pick up a pair of dumbbell weights and do about 10-15 minutes of exercise daily.   Here is a great video on a full body workout using a pair of dumbbells.
Diet -
I wanted to first mention that when you mention that you are on a diet, it does not mean you are working to lose weight.   You can always be on a bad diet full of fried foods and bad carbs.

  • Water is the single most important beverage in your diet.  Water helps you digest, provides energy and even helps you maintain a great weight.   Your body is 60% water, so simply if you are thirsty, drink water.
  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and lunch is the second most important.   I know this sounds backward, but think about it, when are you the most active during the day.  The worst thing to do is have a huge dinner then relax.   There are basic like avoiding sugar, especially white sugar, too much dairy and processed foods, but if you eat small portions and exercise regularly, it is OK to treat yourself once in a while.
  • Never ever skip a meal.  Any weight loss program that recommends to skip a meal, or drink this shake or even wear this wrap around your waist, is not a worthy weight loss program.  The key to maintaining a great lifestyle is eating small nutritious meals.

Positive Mindset - 
It is how you feel about yourself and your life that will determine how focused you are on your fitness and diet.    Always visualize yourself at your goal, looking and feeling great.   There will be tough days but always know there are great days to look forward too.

  • Avoid negative people.   I know you hear this a million times, but really, what does a complainer do for you?  Nothing.   Hang out with people better than you.
  • Find the root cause of your health issues.  Is it stress?  If so, find ways to relieve your stress.   if needed, contact a professional to help you especially if stress is effecting your weight and your well-being.
  • There will be traffic, there will be issues at your home, or you may lose your job.   Everyone has bad days, but the difference is, is how they handle adversity.  A positive mindset, great diet and exercise will help you get through those rough stretches.

Supplements -
Yes, supplements.   Face it, our food is not as healthy as it was 30 or 40 years ago,  We are always in a rush and the supermarkets are full of canned goods and processed cereal that is not very good for you.   Walk around the supermarket and look at labels.  I bet 70-80% of food you buy either has sugar,salt or pesticides on them.   Do you really think that apple in the fruit stand has no chemicals on it?  Think again.   This is why supplements are more important than ever.

  • Make sure your vitamins are liquid based and are biodegradable so you are able to absorb the nutrients within five minutes.   A pill will need to be digested and broken down in your stomach.  Your stomach breaks down food and anything else you eat, so why not take a supplement that goes to your small intestine and absorb the nutrients instantly?
  • Be leery of any sugar snack such as cereal, pop tarts or even soda that claim that have extra vitamins and minerals.   Think about it, sugar is evil so why eat or drink something that claims it is healthy for you and it has a lot of sugar in it?
  • Milk does not do a body good.   This may fall under diet, but I wanted to make something clear.  The calcium in milk is not the pure calcium that your body needs to maintain good bone health.  The supplement needs to also have magnesium in it to absorb the calcium.   Does milk have real magnesium in it?  I think not.
So hopefully our blog provided you some simple steps toward great health.  Spring is all about new beginnings so why not start today on your healthy journey!

Introducing the NAMI Walk Boston 2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

I am at a Networking Event, so How Do I Start a Conversation?

So you made an executive decision and decided to start going to business networking events, since that is what everyone is recommending for you to get ahead in your career and in business.  So you check the latest Meetups and Eventbrite listings and start scheduling some dates to get out there and meet some successful professionals and start building up that old Rolodex of contacts.

OK, you got through step one, but now when you get to the event, what do you do next?

I always like to start slow at an event and observe my surroundings, maybe get a drink and look for the extroverts and even if I know anyone, just to break the ice.   The next step when you introduce yourself to the first person you met, what do you ask.   Honestly, everyone dreads that ol' question, "So What Do You Do?".   The recipient may also dread that question, since it may open the door to a long winded answer, you know, the one that can go on and on until you are begging and pleading for your phone to ring or the fire alarm to go off to break free.

I have been networking for quite a few years now and I do not like asking someone simply what they do.   It is like opening the door to, why don't you give me that paper resume in your hand or just talk about your life story for the next three hours.

Here are some questions I like to ask in no particular order.   Hopefully, they can help you engage in more meaningful conversation at your next business networking event.

- What is your biggest professional accomplishment and how did you achieve it?

- Who is your favorite business mentor, whether it is a colleague or a celebrity?

- What is your favorite business book, show or podcast?

- What is your biggest challenge in business?

- Who is your perfect client and who can I introduce you to, that will help your business?

- What is your top marketing and networking strategy?  What social media platform do you use the most to market your business?

- What is your favorite business networking group?  Hint Hint, Mass Professional Networking!

- What other talents do you have?  For example, do you play a musical instrument?

- What is your recommended follow-up strategy after you meet someone at an event and in what setting?  Phone call or over a coffee/ drink?

There are many other questions you can ask to engage in conversation, but chances are is if you pick four or five of the above questions, you are well on your way to a very engaging conversation and the start of a great business relationship.   You are probably wondering how you can remember all of the answers to your question.  What I recommend is to write some key words on the person's business card or take notes on a small pad, so it is easier to follow-up.

So now you know how to look for events and know how to break the ice at an event, so go ahead and start networking.  It is the one and only way to get ahead in this fast paced digital world.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Business Networking is About Relationships and Not Transactions

I have been networking for over ten years now and have run my own group for the past five years, however even with my experience, I feel like I am always in learning mode when it comes to the right way to network at business events.    Going to a business networking event can be awkward especially if you are not a natural extrovert or have been through vigorous sales training where they teach you how to talk to people.

Business Networking is a profession and the correct way to network is a skill that you develop over time.   The correct way to look at networking is that is it one of ways that you can help build your personal brand and expand your career or business opportunities.   It is important to have a plan and make the most of the time that you spend at events.   After all, you need time for follow-ups and client work, right?

There is of course the wrong approach to networking and the correct approach.

Here is an example of what not to do.   I will use a recent experience I had with a fellow networker.

I was at an event in Boston and briefly met a young professional who appeared nervous and was giving out his business cards faster than a blackjack dealer at the casino, hoping he can close some deals that night and report back to his boss the next day.    I received a Linkedin connection request from him at 11:55pm that night.    Of course, I was still up doing work and connected to him right away.   At the stroke of midnight, I received a length follow-up message from him explaining to me everything about his company and asking me for a meeting so I can buy his service right away.    His service?  Digital Marketing.  What is my business?  Digital Marketing.    How about, it was nice to meet you Jeff and I enjoyed learning about you and your goals.   You can see dollar signs in his message and no personal references whatsoever.

If you go to business networking events with the sole purpose of closing deals, it is not going to work, plain and simple.    Savvy networkers can sense this a mile away.   It is like a bad cold call.

Instead of the "all about me" approach, when you meet someone at an event or even on social media, build a personal relationship first.   Ask how they are doing?  What brings them to the event that night?  What are YOUR goals?    This will immediately build trust and make the person think, you genuinely care.   At some point, they might even be the one to follow-up and ask to meet for coffee before you even mention to them what you do.   

When you build a professional relationship with someone, over time, the transaction (i.e. the potential to do business) is easier and less forced.  You would feel more comfortable asking for the sale and in return you help them with their business.

I will close with some quick tips to complement what I mentioned earlier:

  • Only talk to between 4-6 people at a networking event.   Don't be a mayor and shake everyone's hand at the event.    You want people to remember you for good reasons.
  • Do not, I repeat DO NOT send a Linkedin request to someone and then immediately send a sales pitch.   Instead, simply say Hi and How you can help without mentioning what you do.
  • Go to a networking event with a plan.  Your plan can be to make between 4-6 new friends that evening and that is it.  Your plan can be to simply help 3 people tonight with their business.
  • Become the one people gravitate to, not run away from.  If you are a magnet, the business will come with less effort.
  • Understand second level networking.    That person that you build a great personal relationship may know someone that can be an ideal client for you.  Powerful stuff!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How does Business Networking and Relationship Building compare in 1985 to 2018?

Even though, my family has had its fair share of sales professionals and entrepreneurs over time, it is interesting that I originally took the route of a Corporate Information Technology career after I graduated college.  I eventually "smarten up" and have since ventured into business ownership and am proud to have carried the torch held by my entrepreneurial family.

One grandfather was an insurance salesman and my dad was a food salesman.  My other grandfather was part owner of a jewelry company in the what was the at one time the Jewelry Capital of the World, Providence, RI.   I also had cousins that owned businesses and others that simply did not take the typical route through Corporate America.   Entrepreneurship was alive and well back in 1985 but it was how you built your business that was different than today.

I remembered growing up in the 1980s and how both my dad and grandfather had a gift of gab and the ability to relate to all types of people.  My Dad was a food salesman, so he frequently the many restaurants in Rhode Island and it seems every time we went somewhere, he would engage in multiple conversations with just about anyone that was within three feet of him.  He was the ultimate extrovert.  He demonstrated networking before there was networking.   Back in 1985, there was no such thing as social media or formal business networking.  I think BNI was around, but that was about it.    When you were in sales, you had to really hustle like my Dad did or go door-to-door selling insurance like my grandfather did.

The difference today is that we have so many tools available from social media and email campaigns that even the introvert can venture into sales.  Imagine what my dad or grandfather could have done with a smartphone?

So how does 1985 compare to 2018 when it comes to business networking?

In 1985,  door-to-door sales and cold calling were king.  The local newspaper was your main method of mass advertising and your networking event was your local church group or soccer field.   I think it was a better time to network since there were no smartphones and people actually had to get out of their shell and talk to people.   Another networking scene that was pretty prevalent back in 1985 was your local pub or restaurant.   Case in point with my dad, he closed a lot of his deals over a scotch and made more of his connections meeting people that led to more people that would match anyone today with tools available.   In 1985, there was no Facebook, Twitter or texting.   You had to pick up a phone with a cord and call people.  Relationship building was easier since you really got to know someone and understood their reaction right away.  Today, you can never know the tone from an email or a text message.   Thinking back to 1985, the world was more social and interactive.  Relationship building was happening in places that today would not be thought of.    You mean, I need to pick up a phone?

Fast forward to today, you have everything I mentioned that we had in 1985, plus social media and formal business networking.   So why does it seem things are harder today?   Yes, there is relationship building like back in 1985, but it is now normally done through a screen.  The cold call simply does not work and the pub scene is not like it was in 1985.  The soccer field is a big click.  The culprit seems to be that damn smart phone.  Go to any bar or sports event today, what do you see?   Everyone's hand is glued to some device.  Relationship building is harder despite the many options to meet people and potential business prospects but because of all the technology, everyone seems to be introverted and simply afraid to pick up the phone, go door-to-door or go to a business event.

So in summary, the difference between 1985 and 2018 is simple.    1985 was all about personal interaction and instant reaction.  Networking was not know as networking.  It was socializing.    2018 was all about using technology to cover up the fear of interaction and people's reaction to your inquiry.   There are a lot more business networking events today, but it is forced.   You can tell by all of the elevator pitches you hear at an event and LinkedIn requests you get after the event.  One way communication, no interaction and immediate reaction.   Now does LinkedIn help you pick up the phone and call someone?   Not really.     Sometimes, I think, take me back to 1985.

How Alumni Networking Changed My Lifetime Goals

My professional life started off like most college graduates.  I started my career after college with a great job at a local insurance comp...