Networking: Connect the Dots
| Umberto P. Fedeli
Networking is the exchange of information, ideas and resources between people. You don’t have to be the expert in everything if you can engage others who are.
When you play to your strengths, hone those talents, and build a network of individuals who are experts in what they do, you create a powerful, knowledgeable “hub.” You become a go-to because you can help others.
This is one of the ways that The Fedeli Group has grown to be successful: serving as a trusted resource for clients by using our resources to help them manage risk, protect assets and maximize human resources. And by engaging and building a network, I have become a richer person with rewarding relationships. I don’t have all the answers, but I can connect the dots for others to guide them to solutions.
Reporters and colleagues have asked me, “How do you build such a large network? What is the secret to networking? You seem to have lots of connections—how do you get to know all these people?”
There’s no secret. There are no shortcuts to networking either. Building a network takes time. You meet people in different areas of business, in politics and in the community. You get to know them. Gradually, you share information and grow trust in each other. You share ideas, information and resources, you receive, and then you share more. You ask how you can help them, and you introduce them to others you know who may benefit their interests. You may be very different in your views, your profession or your station in life, but you share common values and an appreciation for each other.
When I first started in business, I had virtually no network. I had mentors from John Carroll University I turned to for advice. I also had my family—you always have family. That’s a different kind of network that is perhaps even more valuable than the network you build in business. Family is your support network.
I had a growing client base as I worked tirelessly to build our business. That’s really how the networking began for me—by getting to know my clients, understanding their pains, listening to their stories and lessons learned, and then sharing those bits of knowledge with others I met who I thought could benefit from what I learned. With a client roster of business owners who lived and breathed their industries, I gained information and resources from them—and passed them on.
Throughout the years, I built a robust network—I’m not writing this to measure or quantify the number of individuals I know. What I am focused on is meeting the needs of others; clients, business associates, friends, family and peers in the community. I can be a better resource for all these people by engaging them with others. I discovered how powerful the law of reciprocity is…it’s only in giving that you ultimately receive.
So, to answer the question, “How do you network?”: You build relationships. At the same time, you do some reflection and ask yourself: “Who am I as a parent, a friend, a businessperson, an investor, a community member?” Consider every aspect of your life and determine your strengths. What value do you bring? Why do people rely on you? You begin to make intersections—for example, individuals in the community may have a skill that a business associate could use. We don’t live our lives in silos. Truly valuable networking can be fluid, crossing all these boundaries between life and business.
A Network Effect is when increased numbers of participants improve the value of a good or service. When more of your family and friends are on Facebook, it increases the value of Facebook to you. Similarly, if you are someone who connects dots, when you continue to expand your network you become more valuable to each person within your network.
Eventually, as your network grows, you’ll realize that people may come to you because of your relationships. They know right off the bat you don’t have the answer, but you may know the person who does. A business colleague who calls me about a serious heart condition is not expecting me to solve that problem. This colleague knows I have someone in my network at The Cleveland Clinic; I can guide him to a trusted contact who can help. Networking is ultimately about helping.
I often take stock of my relationships and think about how I can connect the dots. How can I make a difference for people and get results? Who can I engage to improve a situation? How can I add value to create value and make a meaningful difference in each relationship? If you grow a network, you should use it to benefit others. Otherwise, it’s like having a nice home and never inviting guests to visit. It’s like having a grand, delicious dinner but no one to share it with. You can’t eat it all yourself! No one benefits when you stockpile relationships, money and power.
I have fallen short with networking countless times. I have learned the hard way the opportunity cost of not leveraging possible connections. For example, I delivered a keynote speech to 600 financial professionals. I gave the talk, then returned to my office to take care of business before I attended an event scheduled for later that evening. I didn’t stick around after the keynote to talk with the audience, and I neglected to ask the organizer for a roster of who was in the audience so I could connect the dots later. I missed an opportunity. There have been plenty of other times where, after the fact, I realized that I did not follow up as I should have. If you take the time and spend the energy to meet with others, then take the extra step to build relationships that might benefit you and others. Often the errors of omission are worse than the errors of commission.
So, how do you begin to connect the dots and engage others—to share the networking wealth? I might start a conversation like this: “What challenges are you experiencing?” I ask others about their lives and businesses, and I respond, “Let me see if I can help you. I reflect, my mind flipping through a mental Rolodex of people I know, like and trust.
I like to share information I find, including my reading. I dedicate about four hours every morning to reading a whole range of topics that I want to pursue. I maintain a list of subjects I’d like to learn more about, and I go after that information in my quest for continuous learning. I’ll never finish studying, which keeps me engaged and makes me a more valuable resource for others. I found that having to make a commitment to lifelong learning is essential. I share the information I read with others. Sometimes I compile reports that explain the takeaways I found valuable. Other times, I suggest a book, article, or video I thought was particularly impactful. I’m giving, and that’s integral in maintaining a network. You must always give—and then give more.
Networking is one of the ways in which we built The Fedeli Group into a highly successful insurance and risk advisory firm. Our knowledge and expertise are why clients depend on us. Our Team of specialists is how we are able to strive be the best in everything we do. Not because one person—the CEO—has the answers. It’s because we are a valuable network and we focus on helping first.