Merchants Cast A Net Of Cards, Calls To Troll For Business

Working The Crowd Makes Many A Deal

August 15, 1991|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

It's part of Harry Lee Smith's job to make an impression at county business gatherings. So he wears pants embroidered with Blue Crabs andhands out shoehorns that double as bottle openers.

"When you meetme, you will remember me," says Smith, owner of Maryland Promotions,an Annapolis-based specialty advertising company.

They'll remember Rod Minami, too -- especially if they've been chosen as subjects when he shows off his trade. The acupressure masseuse demonstrated on a real estate agent at a recent Anne Arundel Trade Council breakfast. The agent got looser shoulder muscles.

Minami got five new clients.

They call it "doing lunch" in the movie industry. But in the business world, it's networking, a way of business for some county firms, a matter of survival for others.

Business people who rely on word-of-mouth advertising say it's crucial to actively build relationships, placing themselves with people they might do business with someday.

They attend mixers, breakfasts, trade shows and charity fund-raisers, exchange business cards, job leads, tips and advice and follow up with phone calls and thank-you notes.

When Minami came to Annapolis 2 1/2 years ago, he knew virtually no one. He got no response from ads for "A Healthier You." Now, half his clients come from trade council contacts and referrals, he says.

Likewise, Second Set of Hands, an Annapolis special events planning and design firm, rarely advertises and gets 75 percent of its clients through networking, said co-owner Francene Cucinello.

Advertising also has proven unsuccessful for Steve Middleton, who started Utility Cost Management -- a utility bill auditing service in Millersville -- lessthan a year ago.

"In my business, it's tough to do an ad that gets the point across," Middleton said, adding that he has won a major, new client from each of three trade council breakfasts he has attended.

Though local networkers vary in their backgrounds, they have one common trait. They're not shy.

"It doesn't phase me in the leastto walk up to a group of strangers and start up a conversation," said Carol Katz, co-owner with her husband, Bernard, of the Paper Mill in Severna Park.

"If you don't know how to do that, it makes it a little harder. The trick is to talk to everyone (at a function.) You don't know what they might want until you talk to them," she said.

"It's amazing the number of people who remember they need something,"said Smith, who attends monthly trade council mixers as well as those sponsored by the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce.

While Smith usually hands out promotional items to break the ice, others simply smile or just start talking.

Elaine D. Lipczenko circulates constantly at mixers, telling people what she does, leaving her card, then following up with a call.

It has paid off. Referrals from two trade council breakfasts havebrought in seven new job contracts for disabled workers at Baldwin Industries, a sheltered workshop in Arnold where Lipczenko works. And a pitch to Loew's Annapolis Hotel has sealed a deal for the disabled workers to make crab mallets.

Another trick is collecting business cards. Cucinello says she picks up 10 newcards at each mixer and follows up with notes to each person.

That has lead to luncheons, business relationships and friendships.

Then there's advice from Joe Conte, a trade council board member:

"Start talking," he says.

"You talk and shoot the bull and have a drink, and sooner orlater, you meet someone who needs an office," saidConte, president of J & A Builders Inc. of Annapolis, a builder of commercial, residential and industrial properties to lease or sell. "Idon't think I've ever left one without a lead. Anyone who goes to a mixer and doesn't get a lead is not networking."

Which could explain why Katz bypasses the hors d'oeuvres at the gatherings. She is much too busy networking.

"I do find that networking does work," saidKatz, who has run her printing shop for 15 years.

"They get to know who you are and feel more comfortable with you. They think of people they deal with as friends. That makes a difference in the businessworld."

It goes both ways, experienced networkers say.

"You don't only network for referrals. You network to give referrals out," Smith said. "If people call me, I know where to tell them to find something."

In that way, new business or clients often come indirectly, said Jay Philon, vice president of Barton Ceiling and Commercial Interiors in Severn. Even if someone doesn't need a particular service,he might pass the tip along to someone who does.

Katz cautions, though, that any good network requires time and practice.

"Some young salespeople think you meet people and call them back and they'll buy your product. That's not always true," Katz said.

"You have to work at networking. It takes a long time of meeting people over and over and over."

While businesses often can't track just where new business comes from, "the overall effect is it grows and it grows," Katz said.

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