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Casting a Wider Net

by Missy Sheehan + photos by Chris Jackson

Networking

Expand your reach by developing new relationships through networking.

We’ve all heard the adage it’s not what you know, but who you know that lands you that coveted job or business client. In reality, though, it often takes more than just knowing the right people to get ahead in your career; it takes building a network of valuable relationships and trust with those people.

Brien Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, says people like to do business with those they already know. “You’re much more comfortable doing business with someone you played a round of golf with or sat beside at a dinner than some stranger in a directory,” he says, “because you share some sort of personal connection.”

Developing successful business relationships can help professionals sell products, land jobs, find potential customers and more. And there are plenty of opportunities locally for professionals to expand their networks.

Build Friendships

Business Networking International (BNI) is one of the most well-known professional networking organizations in the world, and Area Director Jackie Lamothe coordinates nine local chapters —seven in Frederick and two in Hagerstown — whose members meet weekly to share referrals that could turn into a new customer or job. BNI groups allow only one representative per specific business field in each chapter, and members are expected to commit to attending weekly meetings. “A lot of deep friendships are made in BNI, and that’s where comfort and trust come in,” Jackie says. “You’re not likely to refer someone you don’t have rapport with or don’t trust.”

Like BNI, Professionals Networking Together (PNT) allows only one member to represent a particular field in each networking group. With two separate chapters, PNT and PNT2, which meet weekly, the groups strive to help business owners build reciprocal relationships with each other. “We share best practices for what’s working as well as what’s not working, and we help each other become better business owners to increase our business,” says Toni Sandridge, co-chair of PNT2.

TriNet Group, a social networking group that prides itself on being informal, fun, free and relationship driven, more relaxed than other networking groups, says Anna Bowers, who is part of the group’s management team. “I’d equate it with a big happy hour,” she adds. TriNet Group meets the second Tuesday of each month at different restaurants, and invites anyone to attend.

Help Others Grow

Other local organizations also offer chances for professionals to connect, usually even if they aren’t members. The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, for example, hosts more than 70 events each year, and each of these includes time for networking. The Chamber’s Business After Hours Mixers, structured like a big cocktail hour and held the third Thursday of each month, are particularly popular and normally draw around 125 people. The Hagerstown chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small businesses grow or get off the ground, also offers networking time during its business roundtable forums, which are held the third Thursday of every other month.

The Hagerstown chapter of the Business and Professional Women of Maryland (BPW/MD) hosts a networking event the first Monday of each month as part of its mission to promote women’s equality in the workplace. “We focus on helping women with their businesses with encouragement and wisdom from women who have been there and done that,” says Granis Dixon, the group’s president.

The Blue Ridge chapter of AIGA — a national professional association for graphic design — hosts a variety of educational and social events that give local design professionals and students the chance to mingle. AIGA Blue Ridge also partners with the American Advertising Federation of Greater Frederick (AAF-GF) each year to host Winter Holidaze, a casual, holiday social event where members and non-members can connect.

A regional organization for individuals who work in advertising, marketing and related fields, AAF-GF also offers many opportunities for networking, including meetings featuring industry-related speakers, professional development workshops, social events and more. Laura Wallace, AAF-GF vice president, says building connections and relationships with like-minded professionals is invaluable. “If you focus on helping others grow their business, in time your business will grow as well,” she advises.