The best business networking should be a form of branding, a way to express your values and your authentic self. I learned about the effectiveness of combining personal passions and business in California and I affectionately call my education “the Hoppin John Agenda,” after the warm, southern New Year’s tradition that is such an antithesis to the usual way Americans ring in the New Year.
In California, (first LA, then San Francisco) most friends held traditional New Year’s Eve events where we stayed up until midnight, sharing appetizers and champagne. My late husband Tim and I joined them – it was great fun, after all — but then got up early to host our Hoppin John event on New Year’s Day (or the first weekend day afterwards). This afternoon event was a celebration of good, healthy southern food (black-eyed peas and rice with greens), friendship and sharing our hopes for the coming year. We encouraged friends to bring their kids and their guitars. Tim was from Alabama and he loved to share his southern traditions and play southern blues on the piano. By the time we left the west coast, our event had become rather legendary and had spawned other regionally themed events among our friends.
Amazingly, lots of our best client leads came from the friends who shared the good cheer of Hoppin John or tasted some of the southern Green Top bar-b-que we had flown in as a summer treat. I continue Hoppin John celebrations in my Brooklyn neighborhood primarily as a way to introduce my friends from the Flatbush Food Coop board to friends in my coop building and it still works magic.
Networking authentically actually doesn’t have to involve food or entertaining, if that is not your passion – but it should involve sharing your genuine passions with everyone you meet, whether it’s your family, sports, music, or anything else that connects you to others. And if you start the conversation by finding out what they are passionate about, you are really on the right track to a friendship.
Hoppin John, anyone?
For great networking, check out these groups (listed alphabetically):
Kate Gaffin’s Connecting to Greatness, www.connectingtogreatness.com.
National Association of Women Business Owners, New York City, www.nawbonyc.org
TeamWomen, New York Chapter, www.teamwomennyc.com