By Diane M. Calabrese / Published September 2018
Could a power outage be a force for good? Yes, it could be. An outage that takes down all systems—lights, HVAC, computers, ISP—may nudge people together in the real world. Seeking solutions, creating workarounds, and simply exiting from dark work spaces puts a premium on talking directly to colleagues.
Being thrown together with others who are looking for information and answers reminds us how much we can learn from one another. It can be exhilarating, and we should not have to wait for a grid failure to engage. There’s far too much to be gained by networking in the real-world and in the virtual world.
“For me, networking is about new information and also reinforcing information or debunking preconceived notions or processes that may be faulty,” says Jim O’Connell, president of Hotsy Pacific in Modesto, CA. The clarity that derives from talking to others with similar concerns has a way of fortifying us.
There’s also the dimension of getting to know more people. “New contacts in our industry are very valuable, not necessarily for selling to, but for future networking and to develop future relationships,” says O’Connell.
Opportunities to connect to others exist everywhere. “Anywhere that you have a gathering of industry professionals is a good place to network,” says O’Connell. “I like manufacturers’ summits or trade show mixer events where there is a more relaxed atmosphere. Also, a central location where there are no major competitors who may be competing with each other seems to work best to share ideas.”
We began with a note that a virtual-world suspension, even if involuntary, may catalyze real-world interaction. Is virtual- or real-world actually a binary choice? In large part, it is a matter of preference.
“I think real-world networking is much more valuable to be able to meet with someone on an individual basis,” says O’Connell. “It is also much more personal at that point. I am still old school and a fan of a face-to-face event rather than web events.”
Networking takes many forms. When contractors buy from distributors, the interaction constitutes networking. “That is a great form of networking and a way to develop relationships and help each other out,” says O’Connell.
There is concurrence with O’Connell’s sentiment from the contractor side of the equation. “The relationship you build with a distributor is very important to your business,” says Andy Reinsel, the owner of A2Z Pressure Washing LLC in Bellevue, OH, and the president of the Pressure Washers of North America (PWNA).
“Distributors provide your service of equipment after the sale and supply routes, and as they talk to many of your fellow contractors and even your competitors, they are an invaluable source of information on industry trends, new developments, new technologies, and issues that end users and other contractors are facing in our industry,” explains Reinsel.
Fortunately for all, there are as many good places to network as there are good places to be. “I believe conventions are an excellent venue to network,” says Reinsel. “You have an opportunity to talk and interact with vendors, contractors, and suppliers all in a relaxed and comfortable setting. Social settings are a great place to develop and nurture relationships in any industry.”
Reinsel likes meeting in person. “I believe that any interaction that is face-to-face or real-world is the best,” he says.
“Social media—or virtual-world—is good for making initial contact and for keeping in touch, but true relationships are developed over a meeting, a drink, or dinner,” says Reinsel. “Social media doesn’t relay true feelings or intent and can often be misinterpreted.”
Any interaction can result in misinterpretation. Yet even with emoji and video links, reading another person’s reaction is more difficult in the virtual world.
“Lasting and valuable relationships can take time and need work to remain solid,” says Reinsel. “While social media is a valuable tool in networking, it can’t replace one-on-one networking and the relationships that come from that.”
“Any networking venue can be valuable, but I believe that the best venues are those specifically designed to bring people together,” says Chad Rasmussen, CFO of Royce Industries L.C. in West Jordan, UT. “My favorite industry networking event is the opening reception at CETA’s annual convention.”
As it happens, the CETA annual convention is nearly upon us. Power-Clean 2018 takes place in Orlando, FL, October 19–21. And because it will officially bring together CETA and PWNA for the first time, it will offer attendees more opportunities to make connections.
“PowerClean brings together a wide variety of people who make, support, sell, and use cleaning equipment,” says Rasmussen. “Discussing issues, working to provide solutions, and laughing together creates great camaraderie, and I always leave excited and thankful to be associated with such great people.”
(For more information on PowerClean 2018, visit the CETA website, www.ceta.org, or contact CETA via email@example.com.)
“I believe that real-world networking is far superior to virtual-world marketing,” says Rasmussen. “I think that the personal connection you gain as you visit with people and look them in the eyes cannot be duplicated over the internet. That being said, I still find virtual networking a valuable thing.”
One of the biggest advantages to the virtual world is its extraordinary reach, explains Rasmussen. “Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to see connections between your contacts and people you want to connect with. Social networking sites also allow you to reach out to a wide group of people simultaneously for help or answers to questions.”
Networking is about much more than identifying new B2B contacts. Above all, it’s a good way to learn—or just learn which questions to ask to move forward with solutions.
“Aside from friendships, the most valuable thing that comes from networking is information,” says Rasmussen. “Networking opportunities can lead to discussions on how to identify and deal with problems, better communicate your value to customers, learn about trends, develop strategies, and many other things. I have come back from many networking events with ways to better the business I work in.”
From his current vantage as president of CETA, Rasmussen has had the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between distributors and contractors. As Reinsel, his leadership counterpart in PWNA, points out, the connection between contractor and distributor is significant.
“I would count any place where two or more people are talking in a positive way as a form of networking,” says Rasmussen. “A contractor buying from a distributor leads to valuable benefits.”
The pluses that accrue are several, explains Rasmussen. “Contractors who buy from distributors are able to pull from the cleaning experience the distributor has. Distributors talking with contractors get to hear how the items they are selling are performing so the distributor can work with suppliers or manufacturers to make them better. All parties benefit from this networking.”
The short of it is, one should not wait to interact until compelled by need for either a flashlight or a referral to the nearest functioning charging station. We can learn a lot from one another in real and virtual worlds.