What do you think of when you hear the word “networking?” Passing out business cards — or shaking a lot of hands (at least in pre-COVID days)? In reality, networking can be so much more than that. When done well, networking can be beneficial for everyone involved.
Chad Diller, director of client success for the green industry sales and marketing agency Landscape Leadership, says that these days, there is both traditional, in-person networking as well as digital networking — and participating in both can be beneficial.
For traditional networking, Diller says that peer groups are an opportunity to connect with industry peers who can be a sounding board. These can be formally structured or happen organically.
Diller says that a few years ago, Landscape Leadership hosted a behind-the-scenes type of event at Oasis Turf & Tree in Loveland, Ohio, where their lawn care clients could meet one another. The event focused on specific sales and marketing challenges — but what really made the event special was the professional friendships that were formed.
“Those who stayed in touch continue to bounce ideas off of each other and troubleshoot challenges,” Diller says. “I’ve seen our clients learn about everything from equipment purchases to developing processes to hiring advice.”
Diller says that NALP-sponsored events present another opportunity for peers to meet and connect over topics and discussions at the event. But keeping that friendship alive with regular check-ins allows that value to continue on.
When it comes to industry events, Diller adds that it’s a missed opportunity if only the business owners attend.
“Your sales team, your production staff, and others at the company also stand to gain from networking opportunities and connecting with peers in their specific areas,” he says. “Value can be lost if just one person from the team is trying to disseminate information to everyone.”
While attending industry-wide events is a great way to network with peers, Diller says it’s also important to be actively networking within the local community and other professional groups. Joining referral groups or the local chamber of commerce organizations can help you to make valuable connections with amazing business leaders in your community that could offer you a fresh perspective and ideas from outside of the industry.
“The key,” says Diller, “is not to make it all about you. Instead of having the mindset of “what will I get out of this?” you should think about what you can contribute. This still leads to connections but in a more genuine and authentic way.”
When attending any networking events, Diller says to spend some time thinking about meaningful conversations that you can have and initiate.
“People often default to talking about typical topics like the weather or vague business-related questions when they can’t think of anything else to say. But that’s not useful to anyone,” he says. “Instead, think about some really good questions that could provoke thoughtful conversations.”
For example, Diller suggests: “What are the three main problems you’re trying to solve in business right now? How have you tackled them so far?”
When you’re genuinely curious about how other businesses are operating, you stand to learn a lot for your own company.
In addition to traditional, in-person networking opportunities, Diller says that today’s landscape professionals should also be taking advantage of digital networking. He says that LinkedIn is a powerful professional networking tool — and most of its important features are free.
“If you’re going to be active on LinkedIn, give a lot of thought to your approach to unique, thoughtful content and valuable discussions,” Diller adds. “Don’t just replicate the typical approaches you may see. This is your chance to stand out and be remembered for the right reasons.”
Diller says that creating valuable relationships on LinkedIn establishes rapport that leads to even more connection at in-person events.
“People get a glimpse of who you are and what you do via LinkedIn, and that’s a starting point for a conversation at an in-person event,” Diller says. “It’s a great way to share something valuable, unique, and interesting — and then help you make deeper connections you might otherwise not have been able to make.”