Some of the many work-life aspects that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted were the opportunities to network and build professional relationships. Talking to us today about his professional journey and how he made it through the pandemic is Thom Singer, professional speaker, coach, podcast host, and networking expert. Thom started his career in marketing and sales; however, he grew into a networking expert through his skill at building relationships. We find out what Thom did to be noticed (it’s as simple as being nice!) and how he advises others to make an effort. Intent is not action, and the two minutes it takes to connect people can pay dividends exponentially. We dive into why a “link, like, and share” is not enough to build meaningful relationships and what you can do instead to ensure a shared experience. Tune in to discover the unexpected benefits of referring business to your competitors and how Thom has continued to grow his own network using this very technique. Thom also breaks down how to use associations to their full potential, why asking questions is the key to an elevator pitch, and where he sees networking going in a post-COVID- world.
Key Points From This Episode:
- How Thom grew into a networking expert, from marketing and sales to public speaking.
- Why being good at networking ensured Thom was never unemployed for long.
- Intent is not action: how taking two minutes to connect people will make all the difference.
- Why it’s important not to get caught up in your own busyness.
- How a shared experience makes all the difference in building a relationship.
- Thom’s advice on why being nice to everyone (regardless of whether they are “useful”) is crucial.
- Why referring to your competitors is so beneficial: building relationships, keeping abreast of developments, and gaining business.
- The benefits of associations and conferences in building your network.
- How Thom makes associations work for him.
- The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on networking and Thom’s business.
- Why you should start conversations with those around you.
- How to do elevator pitches well: ask questions!
- Where networking is going in a post-COVID world.
- The benefits of altruism and where you can get hold of Thom.
Thom Singer on LinkedIn
Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition
Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You’ll Ever Need
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builder’s podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:21] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, we welcome Thom Singer to the show. Thom is a professional speaker, coach, podcast host and networking expert. Thom and I discuss connecting the dots in your network, why it’s critical to make building meaningful connections a priority, and all the reasons you shouldn’t keep score when it comes to networking. I hope you all enjoy.
[00:00:44] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.
[00:00:51] AD: Thom, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. Excited to have you here today.
[00:00:55] TS: Hey, Alex. Thank you for having me on your show.
[00:00:58] AD: Talk to our listeners for a minute here. I’m really excited to welcome Thom to the show and to have a conversation today. Thom is someone that I’ve met through networking over the last couple years, through COVID. One of the great joys of being in a virtual world, you can meet people that live thousands of miles away from you and have conversations with them. I’m excited to have Thom share a little bit about himself and some of the work he does. Then, we’ll dive into some of what you do for a living here, Thom. Why don’t I turn the mic over to you and just share a little bit about yourself?
[00:01:24] TS: Well, thank you. My background was in my career, I did marketing and sales for professional services firms. So law firms, banks and consulting firms. Along the way, they started having me do training for the lawyers, and then later, the bankers and the consultants on how to network and build your personal brand. I still remember the first time I ever gave a talk, I thought “They’re going to hate this”. They really liked it. I started doing more and more of that inside the company.
Then the lawyers started giving me to their clients to speak at their company meetings and things like that. Somebody came up to me one time and said, “Why do you work for the law firm, or later on, the bank? Why don’t you just speak for a living?” 13 years ago, I became a professional speaker and corporate trainer on this topic of how do you build uncommon connections in a world that was moving much more digital? My belief is social media is great. All these digital tools are awesome. A like, a link, a share and a follow is not really a business relationship. You have to have some sort of a dialogue, or conversation behind it. That’s what I teach to lawyers and bankers and really, across industry lines is how do you build that network and make it work for you?
[00:02:33] AD: What made you see that? Where did that jump out? What were trends that highlighted the need for uncommon connections?
[00:02:39] TS: Well, it was probably my own career. Early on in my career, before I got to that law firm, in that marketing business development role. I had had several jobs in sales where the company had closed down. Never because of me. It wasn’t because I wasn’t meeting quota, but the company either pulled out of Austin, Texas where I live, or they had shut down entirely.
Every time it happened, I had a new job within two weeks. I barely made outbound calls. People would see I was laid off, and they would create a position for me, or they would hire me into an open position. My friends started to say, “Thom, you’re the only person I know who gets laid off up. How do you do that?” I started talking about it. I mean, that’s how I started speaking and training inside the firm was about, how do you build the type of business relationships where people will bring you opportunities, both in good times, and when you’re struggling? I lived it. Then I started speaking about it.
[00:03:34] AD: What helped you do that? How do you find yourself in a place where you can be laid off and then find an opportunity right away?
[00:03:40] TS: Early on, I was a disciple of some of the great business leaders and teachers of the 1990s. One of the most specific ones was a guy named Harvey Mackay. He’s most famous for the book, How to Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. I became friends with him. I read a book that he wrote called Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty. I make the joke with him and with everybody else, that that 350-page book could have been entirely blank inside, because the title sums up everything he talked about in the book. I just started living by it. My theory was, go out there when you’re in sales, be active in the community, be nice to people and try to connect the dots when you see that, wow, Alex should know Becky, because their companies could do business together. Make the call and make the introductions.
So often, people see a connection, but don’t ever follow through and do it. My thing was, I went out and just tried to help people. I wanted to see, when I worked for the law firm, I wanted to see all our accounting friends who were our referral sources. I wanted to see their companies succeed. While I was networking for me and my firm, I was also networking for the people in my network. When I would meet somebody, I would just connect the dots. I didn’t know this was rare.
[00:04:51] AD: Why do you think it’s so rare? Why do you think there’s a lack of that typically in the marketplace?
[00:04:56] TS: Well, we all know we’re supposed to do it. I talk to people all the time who go, “Oh, yeah. I do that, too.” My follow up is, “When is the last time you made a connection where it led to actual business being done, either someone bought from the other person, or the two companies partnered together, or something? When’s the last time you made an introduction that led the business?” So often, people look like doe in the headlights and they can’t think of. They go, “Oh, I do it all the time.” They never know either that anything became of it, or what happens a lot.
People want to be givers. I don’t think people are selfish. I think most — yeah, there’s asses out there. I think, most people are good people who want to see everybody succeed. We get busy. We get caught up in our own stuff. We have deadlines. We have things. We think about, “Oh, I’m going to totally introduce Alex to Becky.” Then we get busy and we never do it. For some people, I think the intent is good enough. They think, “Oh, yeah. I did that.” Or they feel like, just thinking about it was equal. I remind people that when it comes to networking, and connecting the dots and serving your community, intent is not action.
[00:06:00] AD: I want to ask you a question on that. Because I completely agree with you. I see this a lot in people I talk to and work with it, that I don’t think people are naturally assholes. There are certainly people out there that exist.
[00:06:10] TS: There are a few.
[00:06:11] AD: I think, in general, most of us have a good nature, good intentions. We say, we want to be a giver. We want to do these things. We want to add value to other people. Oftentimes, it seems like, the overwhelm of the day-to-day grind of life, of work demands gets in the way of actually following through on it. Do you see that? If so, how do you advise someone to think through that?
[00:06:32] TS: Well, I totally see that. The other thing is, is that don’t make up in your mind that it’s going to take more time than it does. Most of the things that I do when I try to introduce people together, literally takes me seconds to be able to do it. Maybe minutes to be able to do it. So often, people think everything is just going to be so hard to do, that they keep putting it off and putting it off. Then three weeks later, it’s a dumb thing to say, “Oh, I met this person, Becky, three weeks ago.” It’s like dating. If you don’t make that first call for that first date soon enough, then it becomes awkward. People put things off, because they think it’s going to take a long time. Then they don’t do it.
The other thing is, is people get so busy. They get caught up in their own busyness. When you run into somebody on the street, and you say, “Hey, how have you been?” First words out of their mouth is like, “Oh, my God. I’m so busy.” Then they just start reciting it, like it’s some sort of a competition. Like, “If I can prove to everybody I’m busy, somehow I’m just better.” I had a conversation with somebody else who said, “I hate it when people who want to become —” They also are a professional speaker, “Because I get all these calls from people who want to learn about the speaking industry. I just turn everybody down.
Everybody wants to buy me coffee”, this was before the pandemic. “Everybody wants to take me to Starbucks and buy me coffee. Oh, my God, it’s just overwhelming”. I’m thinking, I always say yes to those calls. Now, they’re usually on Zoom. I’m like, “Wow, how many do you get a month?” She said, “One or two.” I’m like, “One or two calls a month, and you can’t spend 45 minutes having a cup of coffee?” What I always did was I used to drive if I was home, I would take my kids to school. There was a Starbucks down the street. I would tell people, “Yeah, if you want to pick my brain, 7:30 to 8:30 at the Starbucks near my house.”
Now, I live on the outskirts of the city that I live in. I’m still in the city limits, but I’m at the bottom of the city. Some people were like, “Oh, that’s too far away. Could you meet me halfway?” Well, no. Because then, I’d have to fight traffic. You want free consulting, you want to pick my brain, that’s awesome, but you got to come to me. It weeded out half the people who wouldn’t come at 7:30 in the morning on the outskirts of town. This person was like, “Oh, my God. I get one or two calls a month.” I’m like, “You can’t do one or two coffees a month?”
People just think, “Oh, I’m so overwhelmed.” When we look at it, we’re really not as busy as we think. I mean, sometimes we are. Usually, it’s like, we can carve time out for people, if you make other people a priority.
[00:08:55] AD: I think what you said there’s really important. It’s making other people a priority. It’s saying, if it’s important to me to build relationships, to make connections with other people that the end of the day, I’m going to have to put time into it. It’s not going to happen on its own. I’m going to have to carve out and make it a priority above other things. Because my experience in life is there’s always more things to do, right? The to-do list never ends. There’s always a list of stuff you could do. It’s prioritizing the stuff that matters, right?
[00:09:19] TS: Well, Alex, if you make your networking and building that series of connections that will lead to more opportunities, if you make it a second-tier priority, you’re going to have second tier results. You have to make your network a priority. Because if you really look at the people who are the most successful, you’re going to find, they have really good connections who bring them opportunities.
Now, they built those networks in a lot of different ways. There’s not go to coffee, send a handwritten note. There’s not a series of steps. People build relationships in different ways. The thing about human connection is relationships are built through shared experiences. If we think “Well, we’re connected on LinkedIn, that’s good enough”. That’s not a shared experience. A billion people are probably on LinkedIn. I don’t know how many people are on it, but that’s not a shared experience. A shared experience is going to the same conference. It’s sitting down, like we’ve done via Zoom, because we live in different parts of the country. We’ve done this three or four times. It’s having conversations. The more you do it, the more you become top of mind, and eventually, friendship, or at least a business friendship occurs. That’s when the magic starts to happen. There’s no magic fairy dust that makes a network appear.
[00:10:28] AD: You said top of mind there. I think, that’s a really important element. When I look at professional services in particular, it’s a business, it’s very top of mind. It’s who are you thinking about at the time that you need to refer someone, or if you’re looking for a certain resource. If you’re top of mind, you get that opportunity. All that said, the reality is top of mind is something that takes a lot of time and effort to build that relationship to remain top of mind. You don’t know when it’s going to materialize, and it may never materialize. What do you say to that?
[00:10:55] TS: Well, that’s the whole thing. If you’re trying to keep score, when you build a network, you’re going to be disappointed, and you’re going to say “None of this ever works”. If you go out there, and you’re nice to people, and you help people when you can, and you try to make those connections, eventually, what happens is, people are always watching and judging.
Sometimes people say, “Well, that’s not fair that people are judging me from a distance.” Well, I didn’t invent society. It’s just the way it works. What happens is, there are people out there who see that you’re a giver and they think, “Wow, I want to be on Alex’s radar. I know somebody who’s looking to hire someone like him,” and it’s sometimes not the people who you’ve helped to return the favor. It’s someone adjacent, who sees that happening, who says, “You’re a giver.”
I always tell people, look, the real givers out there are getting sick and tired of the takers. They’re watching, and they’re looking for people. Like, “Oh, yeah. That’s a good soul”. In all professional services, I do training inside companies to get their teams better at this, and I speak at conferences. Most of my business, 90% of my business comes from word of mouth, either from someone who saw me speak, and hires me into their firm, or their association, or once removed; someone they know connects the dots. 90% of my business is that way.
I do a little bit of business development coaching for mainly, lawyers and accountants. Same thing is true. I just yesterday, got off the phone with somebody and I’m like, “How did you hear me?” She goes, “I put it out on this legal forum saying, I’m looking for a coach who’s easy to work with.” She goes, “And somebody gave me your name, so I went to your website.” Well, that’s word of mouth. That’s how it works. You have to be realizing that, I never knew that person would do that. I don’t even know who the person was who gave them my name. She didn’t remember. That’s how it works. You only do it by doing it consistently over time.
[00:12:41] AD: I wholeheartedly agree, consistency over time. I love the idea, don’t keep score. If you start trying to keep score, you’re going to find yourself sadly disappointed, in terms of how your networking progresses.
[00:12:52] TS: One more thing, not only don’t keep score, don’t try to pre-judge people before you get into a conversation with them, or start a relationship. Every now and then, I run into these people who are always trying to prejudge everybody, or after they get to know you a little bit, they’re like, “Well, she’s not exactly my best referral source.” Then, they dump the person. It’s like, they look for the shiny, new popular people in their industry. They cycle through their business friends, always social climbing up the ladder. They never are looking side to side, or down.
In order to make your network thrive, if we only looked to build relationships with people above us, in that metaphorical way, and those people only looked above them and looked above them, nobody would have relationships, because everybody would be sizing up, “Well, you can’t do enough for me, so I’m not going to give you the time of day.” You have to look up, sideways and down in order to have a network, because you never know who you meet today, who five years from now is going to be the key person in your community. If you’re a jerk to them, when they’re just starting out, or they’re new to town, or they don’t have the right job title, they’re not going to forget.
[00:13:55] AD: I completely agree with that. I want to ask you a specific question. I’m going to use a lawyer as an example in this. I’ve often heard from attorneys who say, “Well, I don’t need to network with other attorneys, because they’re not going to refer any business to me. They do the same work I do, so they’re never going to refer me business.” What do you say to that?
[00:14:10] TS: Well, part of that depends on what is your practice area, because certain practice areas get all of their referrals from other lawyers. I mean, it’s just the way it works. Even within the realm of some groups that maybe are a little more competitive with each other, the reality of it is very clear that sometimes there’s a conflict. If you have a client who comes to you with a piece of work and you have a conflict, you don’t want them just to go out and find anybody. You want to be able to make a referral to somebody who’s not going to try to steal all the business.
If you have a good friendship and you say, “Look, we’re conflicted out this time.” A good friend will do the work and not totally tried to sell their whole firm and take the business. I have seen great relationships between law firms who have a conflict, who call their friend and say, “I’m going to give you this, but don’t try to steal the client.” They do it back and forth.
The other story I love to tell is, I was doing some coaching with a family law attorney. He had young children. He said, “Yeah, there’s this networking group of lawyers who went to a certain college.” I go, “I didn’t know that college had a law school.” He goes, “They don’t, but it’s undergrads from that school who are now lawyers in the city, who went to different law schools.” He’s like, “They want me to be involved, but I don’t know.” I’m like, “Wait a minute. As a family law attorney, you told me most of your referrals comes from other lawyers. You’ve got a club of lawyers that you can join.” He ended up joining. A couple years later, he was head of that group. About 20% of his business started to come from that little association. Lawyers get business from lawyers all the time. Now, again, depends on practice area, but it can be super lucrative.
[00:15:49] AD: I want to go to the association route. I know you speak to associations. I know your you spend a lot of time in associations. Give us a little thought on why associations matter when it comes to networking and how to ultimately maximize your involvement in one.
[00:16:00] TS: There’s been a lot of talk in the last decade, since the Internet has gotten more active and all this digital networking was coming on. Of course, more so during the pandemic. Well, associations and things like chambers of commerce, those were grandpa’s organizations. They’re going to die. Well, first of all, I don’t believe that, because we’re starting to see a resurgence of people coming into them. Second of all, is that really smart people, younger people who are joining these organizations are starting to prove they’re getting more opportunities, because they’re involved in their industry.
Out there in society, even before the pandemic hit, there was an epidemic of loneliness. That’s what our Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called it, was an epidemic of loneliness. I call it disconnectedness. There is a lot of disconnectedness out there. The answer to disconnectedness is belonging. Membership organizations like trade associations, they really in today’s world, can serve a major thing of bringing people together and make them feel they’re a part of something.
I think, it’s more important. We’re seeing it in the meetings business right now as the world is opening up, and we don’t have to wear masks and certain places are saying now, if you’re vaccinated, you don’t even have to take a test to come to a conference. As that is starting to happen, people are so excited to be there. Every conference that I’ve spoken at, the first speaker, or the emcee gets up there and ask the question, “How many of you, this is your first conference back in the last two years?” Third, or half or more of the room raises their hand. They go, “How many people are thrilled to be here?” It erupts in applause.
The people who are coming want to be there. The people who don’t want to come are making excuses, because the numbers aren’t back yet. I think that associations are playing a role and should be embracing that role as being a conduit for community and collaboration in their industries. The ones that are doing it right are going to thrive over the next few years.
[00:17:51] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders Podcast.
[00:17:58] AD: I completely agree with that. What do you say to the individual that wants to get involved in an association? How do they approach it? How are they successful in it?
[00:18:05] TS: Well, the first thing is, don’t think that membership alone — having your name in the membership directory, which I don’t even know if anybody prints those anymore. Having your name on the member list doesn’t do you any good. You have to show up and you have to get involved. The thing is, you have to get involved and realize, it might take a few years to be recognized as part of the association.
I’m super active in the National Speakers Association, NSA, which is the premier organization for people who make their living using the spoken word. I got really involved when I first got into the business. I joined 13 years ago. Now, I host their podcast. It’s called Speakernomics, where a lot of people know who I am, because for a little over a year, I’ve been the one who’s been creating this new show for them. People in the industry hear my voice every week, whether that’s good or bad, they know who I am.
I have served on committees. I’ve been a conference chair for a thing called The Certified Speaking Professional Conference that they do. People know me. Lots of people say, “Well, you’re on the inside.” Well, I wasn’t 13 years ago. It took three or four years of showing up, hanging out, making friends, trying to help people, making referrals to other people in the organization when I could. It took three or four years to start building the friendships. Then, it took another three or four years to start to establish my brand and my reputation.
Now, people look at me and they go, “Well, everybody knows who you are. You’re so lucky you’re on the inside.” Well, no. I’m not on the inside. I’m trying to open the door for more people to get in. If you go to one conference and say, “Well, I didn’t make any friends.” You’re shooting yourself in the foot. You’ve got to make a commitment that I’m going to get involved. I’m going to volunteer and I’m going to be here for a few years.
I’ve seen people who were in organizations, who were outsiders, maybe they were a little alternative in how they show up, who for a few years were like, “I don’t have my people. I’m probably going to drop out of this organization.” Then one year, something happens and they suddenly become super popular and connected in the organization. They’re like, “Wow, I finally found my people.” Well, what if they had quit the year before? You got to show up. You got to do it, and you got to be a giver. If you show up expecting people to help you, you’re never going to succeed in an association.
[00:20:12] AD: When you’re talking about your experience in spending those first couple of years in being active, being involved and really building your community and your relationships and your goodwill within that organization, you’re not getting any direct benefit out of any of that, right? It’s very similar to networking as a whole, where you may go out and do a lot of stuff and help a lot of people give a lot of good, make a lot of goodwill out there, but you’re not going to actually get paid on it. There’s nothing converting for you. You just have to do it with the mindset of, this is for the long run, right?
[00:20:41] TS: Absolutely. That’s the thing about all networking, whether it’s at your Chamber of Commerce level, your trade association, in your industry, wherever you go, if you expect to walk into a room and think everybody there is going to be — nobody went to that event saying, “I hope I meet someone like Alex.” They don’t know who Alex is. If you’re famous, that might be different. “I want to meet Alex.” Nobody goes in saying, “Wow, I hope I meet a vendor who sells to me, or whatever.” They go to an event for their own reasons. People show up for their own reasons.
I tell people, when you go into a networking event, whether it’s an association conference, or whether it’s just drinks at your Chamber of Commerce, after hours, when you show up, don’t go in thinking, “Who can I meet who’s going to help me?” Go in thinking, “What if I could meet one person, where I was the conduit to help them?” It changes the way you talk to people. It changes the questions you ask. The funny part is, when you do that, people take more of an interest in you and you get more benefit.
[00:21:35] AD: What if I could meet one person that I was a conduit to help them? What a damn good question to ask yourself. I like that a lot. Let’s shift gears for a minute here. Again, COVID. COVID happened. We’re two years into it. How has it affected networking? How has it affected the world of building relationships with other people?
[00:21:53] TS: Well, I think I mentioned that I made my living at the time, two years ago, solely as a keynote speaker and corporate trainer. I had what I call the traditional speaker business. There were all kinds of people saying, “You should diversify. You should do more coaching. You should have a part-time job working for a company. You’re so good at sales, you should have a business development job”. I was like, “Why would I do that?” I would show up. I’d speak. I’d get a check and I’d go home and I’d go to the next one. It worked for almost 10 years. It was all I wanted. I don’t need to build a billion-dollar business. I needed a great lifestyle business that could keep my family doing what it wanted to do, where I was really passionate and having fun and meeting awesome people. That’s what it was.
Then March 13th, 2020, I had the biggest amount of things on the books that I’ve ever had in a decade. 2020 was my breakout year. I won’t say numbers, but I had really good numbers on the books for company events and association events, all the way through December of that year. On the 13th, I had three events canceled. Then for the next three weeks, for two months, everything on my calendar for the year cancelled.
I went from having a pretty successful business to zero income. Everybody goes, “Well, everything pivoted to online.” That’s not actually true. Not every association and every company pivoted. Some of them did and there were some, so it wasn’t zero income. Most of my clients didn’t hold events, or they weren’t going to pay the same amount that they were going to pay for the other. There was a lot of shake up for me personally in my career.
We heard a lot about restaurants and airlines and hotels. We didn’t hear about the small person, small independent business people who dealt with live events, or other things where people gathered. It was devastating for millions and millions of people. I did have to deal through that. What it caused me to do was two things. I had to get scrappy. I had to get creative. What I did is I made a point, I was going to talk to one smart person every day during the COVID crisis. You were one of those people. That’s how we met. We met in the thing, and I set up a time to have a call. I would tell people, here’s my situation. I’d asked for ideas. People want to help.
Now, I talked to hundreds of people. Most of them didn’t have an idea for me. They didn’t know my industry. They didn’t know my topic. About five or six people over the course of that year, gave me ideas that I was able to say “That works for me”, and implement. That was able to keep me alive. It was talking to people. I had to talk to a lot of people to find those specific ideas. That was my experience. I think in general, to answer your question, I think that for some people, online networking worked great. You’re an example of somebody who embraced it, and really grew their network and found advantages to it.
For a large number of people, and I don’t know if it’s half for most, or whatever, there was a lot more disconnectedness for people. They kept relationships alive. Thank God, we had Zoom and social media and things like that. If this had happened in 1997, it would have been a disaster, because there would have been no way to keep your network alive. For a lot of people, networking just plopped along. What I heard from a lot of people about networking events were, “It was fine”. I’m glad we had Zoom, and Zoom Breakout Rooms were fine.
Unless, you really worked it and you really did. Unless you really worked it and understood it, and grabbed hold, it was fine. I think, as we come back, the digital world’s here to stay. We’re still going to have meetings using Zoom and other online platforms. A lot of meetings that used to take place in person, both sales meetings, and team meetings and things like that, a lot of things will continue forever to be done digitally. Other things are coming back.
I’m seeing associations having large conferences later this year, or next year, who are saying, “We are not doing a hybrid. We don’t want people to be able to have the option to stay at home. They can either come or not. They’re creating FOMO.” In addition to that, they’re doing other events online. They’re not saying, “Oh, we’re doing nothing online.” They’re just not doing two different shows simultaneously. I think, that there’s a place for online networking that will be with us forever. I like it. I’ve met a lot of good people. I also think, the place for people who will harness sharing experiences with people in their industry will go out and invest that time. I know we’re busy, and it’s easy to say, “I’m too busy to go.”
The people who will invest are going to have the advantage. I tell everybody, especially lawyers and accountants, “What if your competitor is doing a better job at cultivating human connection with their clients and prospects than your team is?” Then I remind them, “Your clients are their prospects. What if they’re doing a better job at human connection? Are you willing to risk that?” The smart ones say, “No, we’re not willing to risk the human connection side of a people business.”
[00:26:47] AD: You’d pointed out that during this time, and the time was your business was turned on its head, you use this time to network with a lot of different people. Through that, through networking, came up and talked to people that they came up with ideas for you. They came up with things that helped you. You were able to leverage in and help yourself be able to ultimately come up with creative ways to pivot and to adapt and to continue to grow your business. That is networking 101 in many ways, where none of those people directly necessarily were giving you revenue. You weren’t necessarily doing direct business with them. Just the simple fact of having connections, talking to people, spending the time, giving the time to talk to someone, you’re able to learn so much.
Through doing that, you hear enough different ideas. Eventually, the good ideas start to boil to the surface, right? Eventually, the good ideas start to become very clear. Is that a fair statement?
[00:27:38] TS: Without question. That’s absolutely right.
[00:27:40] AD: I think, that’s a really important element here. Obviously, you’re talking about this from a virtual element. I think, networking in general is recognizing that, that it’s so much more than just trying to find that business conversion. It’s really in many times, at least I speak from my own experience. I’m going to tie this into a little what you said about me during COVID and leveraging virtual.
When you talk to people, you tend to come up with ideas. In speaking for my own perspective around this, my business, my entire business is built around creating it, network training programs and how to help professionals understand how to do it. Similar to what you’re doing, Thom, just a different angle of it and how we approach it.
Everything I have done, everything we have created, I mean, mind you, I started this business in October of ‘19. About the time that I had some good ideas, they all got turned upside down. Everything we have done has been built off of the conversations I’ve had through networking, through talking to people, through saying, “Well, what’s working? What’s not? What are your pain points?” Just asking questions and learning things from other people. That is the pinnacle of networking, that truly is the root of why you should be spending time building relationships and talking to people and exchanging ideas. Because sooner or later, you’re going to come up with some darn good ideas from those conversations.
[00:28:53] TS: Absolutely. We have to remember this also isn’t just external. These conversations can be inside your firm. I talk about internal networking and why it’s so important. One of the things, I was coaching a young attorney and business development scared him. He couldn’t believe how important it was to his firm that he have a book of business, if he was going to make partner. He couldn’t believe that nobody in law school ever told him this.
I told him, start having conversations with the best rainmakers in your firm, whether they’re in your practice group, your physical office, or around the country. This was a big firm. He’s like, “Well, that would be weird. I can’t just go up to a partner and say, ‘Hey, I admire the way you’ve built your practice. Could we go to lunch and talk about it?’ Because they’d think I was weird.” I said, “I disagree. I think they would think you were smart.” I worked with him several times. He finally broke down and said, “Okay.” He started calling all the rainmakers in the firm.
A couple of them didn’t give him that much attention, but a couple of them became his mentors during the pandemic. They had to meet by Zoom. For these older attorneys, who were really rainmakers, who were doing it, they liked being — Not all of them did. Nobody was like, “How dare you call me.” Some of them were like, “I’m too busy, or yeah, we’ll get together,” and never followed up. Several of them were like, they wanted to share their expertise. They loved that someone noticed it.
He told me, he goes, “It was worth everything we did to teach me to talk to my co-workers about business development,” because he started talking to other associates who had ideas, or who tried something. They started sharing. He said, that was the single best piece of advice was just to talk to other lawyers, who were doing it, about how do you do it? He said, now, he’s the guy who’s known as being hungry in his firm.
[00:30:31] AD: Such a good point there. I think, many people like to share their knowledge. I know, I’m someone who, if someone asked me, I’d like to share. I think, we all in our own ways, like to share our own experiences and what we’ve learned. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to give you the time of day, or everyone’s going to have a good piece of knowledge for you, necessarily. If you’re going out there hungry to learn, hungry to just simply ask questions. I see this a lot, especially to younger folks that are just starting out in networking. You’re not trying to sell anything. You’re not trying to convert any business. All you need to do is ask people, ask questions. Tell me about this. Tell me about your career. Tell me about the challenges you’ve had. Tell me what you think about this topic, or that topic.
Through all of that, you can absorb an immense amount of knowledge that’s going to make you personally a better professional and equip you better for your future career, and build that relationship, create that connection and help you build the confidence and the relationship around it.
[00:31:23] TS: Well, you bring up a great point, and that is when you meet people, ask a lot of questions. The mistake we make is we teach everybody to make an elevator pitch. Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, to know how to clearly and concisely tell people who you are and what you do so well. That’s great. You should know that. However, people, because we spend so much time teaching people to craft an elevator pitch, and for everybody, if somebody listening isn’t sure what an elevator pitch is, the idea is if we got on the elevator on the 30th floor, and I realized that Alex hired speakers, and I was like, “Oh, my God. He could hire me.” I just started talking, “Hey, my name is Thom Singer. I’ve written 12 books. I speak for law firms. Blah, blah, blah, just verbal vomit all over you, Alex, and we got to the lobby, what would you do?”
[00:32:02] AD: I’d probably be ready to get out of the elevator and get away from you.
[00:32:06] TS: Run. Right. The answer to that question is always, run away. We’re teaching people in a way to repel people. Instead, save your elevator pitch, save the part about you, and ask a lot of questions. Then people are drawn to you. Eventually, they’ll ask and then they’ll be interested.
[00:32:22] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations, with leading middle-market professionals.
[00:32:28] AD: I like that point. The whole elevator pitch. I don’t necessarily like that term. I do think it’s very important to be able to clearly and concisely communicate what you do and how you add value. That doesn’t mean you need to lead with that, in terms of talking to someone else. To your point, you ask them questions.
Here’s a networking trick that that has worked really effectively for me. If you ask someone a question, the odds are they’re going to answer and ask you the same question back, especially if you’re newer in a relationship and trying to get to know someone. If you say, “Thom, tell me what you do.” Well, Thom’s probably going to answer and tell me what he does. Then he’s going to say, “What do you do?” Knowing that and leading with, just ask questions to someone else, and wait till that opportunity comes back to you, and then be prepared to concisely explain what you do. You don’t need to lead with that. You don’t need to lead with trying to get it in front of them and make sure they know who you are. All is it will do is repel them.
[00:33:20] TS: Yeah, I agree.
[00:33:21] AD: Last question here, Thom. We’re in a post-COVID world. Where does networking go from here? What does networking look like?
[00:33:28] TS: Well, I hope it’s a post-COVID world.
[00:33:30] AD: Fair enough.
[00:33:31] TS: Networking has changed because of the pandemic. I think, networking is the same, despite the pandemic. What I mean by that is, I think the digital tools that some people might have been weird about, “I want to have a Zoom call”. I don’t think there’s anybody now who bats an eyeball about having a call by Zoom. For a lot of people, that might be the best, even if you live in the same city. It might be the best way to do a first call, because then you don’t have to comb your hair. You don’t have to drive downtown, find a parking place, stand in line at Starbucks and then spend your time together. You can get on.
I also think that we need to find ways to share experiences. Now, like I said, you and I have talked several times. We live in different places, but we have a lot of similarities that really don’t even cross-overlap competitively. We have a lot of similarities in what we do for a living. We jump on a call and we talk and you can get to know somebody. However, when the day comes that you and I are at the same conference or whatever, we’re going to build that friendship even more, because then getting together makes it even better. I think it’s a combination. I think, networking shares those tools. I think, we’re more comfortable with the online tools.
I think, the secret weapon is the people who want to take a shortcut, the people who think a like, a link, a share and a follow is good enough, those people are going to just spam people on LinkedIn. Those people are just going to do that. Your secret weapon is, get where the people are in your industry, and this includes your competitors. This includes the vendors. People often think, “Oh, I don’t want to go to that conference, because there’s so many vendors who sell into my industry.” You know the best friends to network with are? Vendors who sell to your type of company, because they also sell to your competitors. Vendors know what’s going on in your industry better than anybody else.
If you have a great relationship with you, they’ll tell you. I don’t mean they’ll tell secrets. They’ll tell tales out of school about your competitors. Friends talk, and friends have theories and friends have observations. Some of the best friends you can have are vendors who sell in the industry, because they’ll say, “Well, this firm over here is doing this.” They don’t mean to be giving away secrets. But people talk. It’s just what people do with their friends.
Go to conferences in your industry. Also, remember that you want to show up. You want to participate. Make sure you go to that networking happy hour at the conference, or if there’s a party off site at a museum. Even if you’re a little more introverted, and you don’t like that stuff, tell yourself, “I’ll go for an hour.”
What most of my clients say is, “All right, I went for an hour, and I stayed for three”, because they started having fun. Got to get where the people are, and you got to share those experiences over the long haul. Because that’s what will build your reputation. Remember, find ways to connect the dots, because whether it’s virtually, or in-person, or whatever, if you’re a connector, if you’re a person who’s helping other people get business done, smart people don’t kill the golden goose. They want to turn around and refer you.
Real quick story. There was another professional speaker, wanted to speak for a certain association that has a lot of clout in our industry as speakers. I had spoken for them. I called the meeting planner, because they don’t want the same speaker next year. I referred this person. She looked into him. He was a good fit. I only made the referral, because I knew it was a good fit. She hired him. He spent the next year referring me to everyone he met, because he wanted to return the favor. Now not everybody does that. I ended up getting a great deal that led to three more deals, because he wanted to pay me back.
Now, not everybody does that. The really good people are like, “Wow, he helped me. I’m going to help him again.” Sometimes, people say, “Well, Thom. You made this referral. Can I give you a 5% referral fee?” Why would I want $500? I’d rather they refer me to my own gig, where I get a whole a whole bit. I turn down little referral fees. I say, just refer me to somebody. Most of those people never do. A couple of people go out of their way to refer me and it’s worth more than that little trinket.
[00:37:23] AD: Your point there around, not everyone’s going to do it. If one person returns the favor threefold, you only have to have, in that case mathematically, one out of three people that has to happen for you. Ultimately, that if you’re out there, you’re doing good things, you’re helping people out, you’re looking to connect the dots, you’re looking to add value to other people, it will come back to you. It may not come back overnight. You may not be able to draw the exact line of where it came back, but it will come back to you.
[00:37:49] TS: I agree.
[00:37:50] AD: Thom, this has been a great conversation. Really appreciate you coming on here. For our listeners, where can they get a hold of you at?
[00:37:56] TS: Thomsinger.com. That’s T-H-O-M, like Thomas, without the as. [email protected]. T-H-O-M-S-I-N-G-E-R.com. By the way, my wife would probably tell you that joke wasn’t totally true.
[00:38:09] AD: Well, we’ll make sure that you are linked in the show notes below and again, appreciate you coming on here to our listeners. Make sure to reach out to Thom and appreciate you being on here today.
[00:38:19] TS: Thank you. It’s great being here, Alex. Thanks.
[00:38:21] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning in this week. Share this podcast with your professional network to help others connect, grow and excel. Like what you hear? Leave us a review and don’t forget to subscribe now.