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Connecting Business Episode 2: The Importance of Building Professional Networks

Thursday, November 12, 2020

In episode 2 of Connecting Business, host Christina Munoz interviews Alana Muller entrepreneur and author of the book “Coffee Lunch Coffee.” Muller explains the importance of professional networking and how connecting with others is a critical part of building a business.

Here are some highlights:

Munoz: I want to show everybody your book, your expertise is networking. And we have talked about this a lot here. And so I love that it's something that you are considered an expert in, because we all have to do it, but whether or not we're an expert in, who knows. So “Coffee Lunch Coffee: a Practical Field Guide for Master Networking.” So I want to know, this whole "you had a real job", Corporate America, tell us your path. How did you get from there, to being this entrepreneur?

Muller: It's so funny when I think back, even just when I was a little girl, when people would say, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I always said I wanted to own my own business. And I didn't know the word entrepreneur, although if I had, maybe I would have used that, so I liked that as a concept. But it's funny, as we grow up, we get ideas in our head about what our career is supposed to be like, or what people expect of us and I ended up taking the corporate job. […]

And for a little girl from Kansas, I thought that was just the coolest thing ever. And it never really occurred to me to leave. And what happened was, I went to a professional development event back at the University of Chicago, my alma mater. […] And it was interesting, there were two speakers that year that just lit me up. The first was a woman I had gone to business school with, a woman named Daphne. […]

She quit her job and she quit her job because she now understood the dairy industry and she started a yogurt business. I was like, "Oh my gosh, she did it. She became the entrepreneur we all said we wanted to be." And I was still sitting behind a desk for somebody else's company.

The second speaker was this woman named Lisa. Lisa ironically was from Kansas City as well, I'd never met her before. She talked about, if we leverage the relationships in our lives, not only can we expand economies around the world, but we can improve human welfare. And I thought, "This is really important and I'm pimping music on a phone and yet there's got to be an opportunity where I can do something that improves human welfare, that expands economies around the world."

So I got back on a plane that night from Chicago, flew home to Kansas City. I woke up my poor, at that time, sleeping husband and I said, "Hey. I've decided to quit my job." […]

I started thinking about people that I did know, who I knew to be in business. Not necessarily people I'd ever spoken with about business, but people I knew from my not-for-profit world, my community service world. And I asked these five people, "Would you meet with me to share a cup of coffee or to have lunch? Because I've made this crazy decision to quit my job."

All five said yes and what happened next is, we got together, I told them my story, four of the five told me it was a brilliant idea, I should have thought of it sooner. One person told me I was out of my mind. But I have to say, even the guy who told me I was crazy, they all said, "Yes, go do this." And their partying remarks were, "What can I do to help you?" And Christina, it's interesting and I know you've heard the same thing. That was such a basic, simple question, but for me it was life-changing. It was altering because I thought, what do I need? Well, I don't know who else should I go meet with? I don't know what I'm going to do, I don't have a plan, I don't have a business idea. Who else should I meet?

And so those five people gave me the names of three to five more people each. […]

What I want to make sure people understand is, this is not something to get stressed out about. People don't have to be doing coffee, lunch, coffee. What they should do though, is they should carve out regular, dedicated time to intentionally connect with people. That this should be something that they welcome into their lives, that they embrace, that they make a regular part of their routine on an everyday basis, if possible.

Munoz: Okay, I love that so much. And I think clearly I'm going to guess, we are extroverts. So I want to start with some really basic advice for those that maybe aren't like us. For us to pick up the phone, okay let's go to lunch, coffee, kind of comes easy just to be honest. So those people that sit here right now and are going, "Oh my goodness, I could never do that. That freaks me out." How do we help them take that first baby step to getting into this networking world?

Muller: So I always say the very first step is to have the right attitude. To decide you're great networker, and you suddenly are. Introvert, extrovert, it does not matter. But to decide you're a great networker. [ …]

Often the most difficult part of connecting with people, is doing that initial outreach. It feels scary, we make ourselves a little bit vulnerable. And so, if we're the ones willing to reach out and to reach out, not just to say, "Hey, do you want to get together?" But to reach out with an actual date, time and location, even if that location is virtual, people, again, are more open to that connection.

I know it can feel a little bit awkward to be in a virtual room for too long, so maybe scheduled 20 minutes or 30 minutes instead of an hour or two hours. Because we do get some of that Zoom fatigue, or video conferencing fatigue and bring your own coffee, there's not a reason... Or tea in my case.

Watch the entire episode:

 

You can also check out previous episodes of Connecting Business