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Facility Manager's Guide to Networking


Today, host Lindsay Young, a strategic marketing consultant at Nu Marketing, and Tim Pile, the Western Regional Sales Manager at Metal Fab Inc., discuss the essentials of effective networking. They offer practical tips for both extroverts and introverts stressing the importance of intentional planning, leveraging platforms like LinkedIn, and maintaining professional etiquette.

Editor's Note: The following is an edited transcript from an episode of IFMA's Connected FM podcast called, "Networking Doesn't Have to Suck."  


Highlights from this Article 


Lindsay Young: Hello, this is Lindsay Young with Nu Marketing. I am an AEC architecture, engineering and construction marketing consultant in the Midwest. I am involved in the IFMA Chapter in Wichita and have helped them for about 10 years with their marketing and business development specifically events and social media.

Tim Pile: Tim Pile with MetalFab. I'm a Western Regional Sales Manager, but prior to that, I've been in several different business development roles, marketing roles and client relations roles in the AEC industry for the last seven or eight years. So, I have a little bit of experience in networking and got to hang out with Lindsay networking and meeting people at networking events.

It really is a natural conversation for both of us. It's something we both really enjoy doing, but also understand it's something we have to be very intentional at. Even if it's something that comes natural to us, you've got to be planning ahead and thinking about it. I'm looking forward to the conversation.

Lindsay Young: Well, thanks, Tim. Networking is typically a naughty word or people get scared talking about it. So, Tim, let's talk about what networking really is or what we think networking is, or what it can be.

How Can Facility Managers Benefit From Networking?

Tim Pile: For me, networking really boils down to relationships. The purpose of it is to build relationships with those in your industry. Those that are potential connections or existing connections, a place to be able to have another touch point with them. The goal of any networking event that I go to is to build relationships—not to sell, not to land that deal, not to even necessarily talk too much about projects, but really to build relationships with people.

Lindsay Young: Well, and I think networking—I'm going to expand on what you said—is not about selling. It's building that trust and building those relationships. I think as facility managers, you're building relationships every single day, and you need to continue to build relationships because of what you do. You work with so many different types of people, suppliers and subcontractors who are helping you manage facilities because you can't do it all yourself.

By making those connections and building those relationships, you've got a plethora of resources or connections that are going to help you. The traditional networking is okay, but it's also okay to ask, "Who do I know that knows somebody that I need to know?"

You're putting those referral partners or referral connections together as well. I think we need to think of it from that perspective as well. IFMA is a great place for you to do that. It's a great place to meet those people as a facility manager and make those connections for resources or people that are going to help you in your position and help you with your facility.

Tim Pile: In another role I did work for a building controls contractor, and part of that was I wanted to build relationships with the facilities managers, not for a sale point, but to have that relationship with them where they knew they could call us.

When stuff hit the fan and they were in an emergency or dire situation, they knew who had their back, and I wanted to build that relationship with them. I think about facility managers, and like we said, it's not necessarily just a sales thing,  they want to build relationships with the HVAC guy, with the electrical guy, with the plumbing guy. Because when you need a plumber, you need a plumber fast. You want to know who you can call and who you can count on.

I think that's the importance of networking for facilities managers: knowing who has their back when it's time for them to make that call.

How to Use LinkedIn to Network Effectively

Lindsay Young: One component to networking that businesses or business people miss is LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is a platform. I know, Tim, you and I both use LinkedIn heavily. That's a great place to, not only connect but learn about our industry. IFMA is very active and so is IFMA Wichita on the social media platforms with sharing those resources. That's another component to networking is thinking, "Okay, how can this information help my network?"

Think about sharing articles or different things on LinkedIn and connecting with suppliers or other facility managers around the country and even around the world. Maybe they're encountering a problem that you're encountering, and now you're connected with them.

You can call or reach out and say, "Hey, I'm having this issue. Can you help me out? I know you've dealt with the same thing."

You're building that network to help you in your position and your career.

Tim Pile: It's not necessarily like a strong part of it is going to be the subcontractors or the people that they're working with, but a huge part of it is other facility managers.

I'm the president of an HOA right now, and we're fighting algae in the water. I wish I had another HOA that I could call that's been around longer and say, "What did you guys do to deal with this?"

It's huge because everybody, every facility manager, their whiteboard, their issues, their concerns are all the same. It's going to be on different levels and scales. It helps to have somebody who has been through that so they can support you, and then mutually support them if you solved a problem that they are currently dealing with. Maybe that something that we're able to connect about on LinkedIn.

I think that peer-to-peer relationships are just as important as it is going to be with the people that's working for you.

Navigating Networking with Introverts vs Extroverts 

Lindsay Young: Tim and I talk a lot about introverts and extroverts, and both Tim and I are extroverts.

He's probably more extroverted than I am, but we are both extroverts by nature. I want to talk about that because most people are actually introverted versus extroverted. From a networking perspective, it is a little bit easier for extroverts to network. I'm going to talk about introverts, and let Tim talk a little bit about extroverts.

As an introvert, you're a better listener than us extroverts. You ask better questions and you remember more things. You build deeper connections with people, versus Tim and I who want to be friends with everybody. Take advantage of being an introvert.

Maybe when you go to these events, work at the registration table. That's an easy way to meet a lot of people and get to know people because they're coming to you. They're checking in and you can call them by name. You can put a face with the name.

From the extrovert standpoint, Tim, why don't you give us some examples on that?

Tim Pile: The biggest thing with being an extrovert is setting realistic expectations.

You're not going to go to an event with a hundred people and walk away knowing a hundred people. It has to be realistic that you're going to meet seven to eight people. It's important to not only have a realistic expectation of going in what you're going to accomplish but also go in knowing that of those one hundred people the majority might be introverted. Let's not dominate the conversation.

Let's not control the room. Let's allow and give a space for introverts to be in the room and for them to be a part of the conversation. I know I have to be very intentional as an extrovert in a networking situation where there is a lot of people. I'm looking for opportunities to bring an introvert that I know into the circle and introduce them. I'm making that introduction for them and making sure that I'm asking them specific questions to get them involved in the conversation.

But again, it's also not oversharing or trying to one-up anybody but to add to the conversation. I think, the same thing for introverts, extroverts have to be intentional. They've got to have realistic expectations, and they have to be intentional in thinking: I'm going to put myself out there; I'm going to have these conversations.

Lindsay Young: It's an easy follow-up after an event when you're an introvert to connect with that person on LinkedIn. 

Then you see each other posting different things and you can start to build that relationship online. From the standpoint of LinkedIn, that's a component of networking that does not replace networking and building relationships.

That's just another tool in your toolbox. But from an introvert standpoint, that is definitely a great place to help you be more comfortable and practice networking and building relationships with those people.

Don't Wing It. Be Intentional and Have a Plan. 

Tim Pile: Absolutely. I think one of the keys whenever you're looking at an event, is just a lot of it's planning.

It's not just showing up and winging it. This is for both introverts and extroverts. You don't want to show up to something and just wing it. If you're going to an IFMA event, a lot of times you can find out ahead of time who registered for that. You're going to know maybe what contractors are going to be there and what other facility managers are going to be there.

So you can kind of game plan and think, "These are some of the people I may want to connect with or I work for this hotel chain or this restaurant or this hospital. I know that this other hospital or this other same trade facility manager is going to be there. I want to connect with them because I heard that they had these issues at their facility and I want to know how they dealt with them because, at some point, I'm probably going to deal with that."

The key is game planning ahead of time and not just showing up and trying to wing it.

Lindsay Young: One of my, early career lessons learned: I didn't know what it was or what networking was even though I've done it for 20 years in 2010. If you were in the industry, that was the first recession that we had and unfortunately, I was laid off from my job.

The previous four years, I had a position where I was networking and building relationships and making those connections. When I got laid off, I had a whole host of people that I could tap into and say, "Hey, I'm looking for a job and this is what I'm looking for."

I was fortunate enough that I got several different offers and had several conversations with those employers. My network has helped me get my jobs. Now being a business owner, my network has also helped me. But I think you've got to think of those types of things too. It's not just work-related. It could also help you in a personal situation like this. Seventy-five percent of jobs are not posted on LinkedIn or Career Builder or even somebody's website.

Having that network helps you get, maybe lands you your next job or your promotion, too.

Tim Pile: That's the thing. It all comes from relationships, because whatever your reputation was in that space, and then the reputation and relationship that those people had with you.

Lindsay Young: It's what you were talking about earlier, Tim, about your HOA. That's not really business related, but I'm sure you're using your network to reach out to like, "Hey, somebody else has got to have the same problem that you're connected with and you'll figure it out."

We're going to do a real-world example here, Tim. I have a client that does mostly work in HOAs. So, I'm thinking to myself, when you said that, I can hook up Tim with some people to help him with his algae problem.

Tim Pile: Yeah. It's funny. You use that network and the key is trying to keep those relationships active too. Because a lot of times when I'm going to a networking event, it may be, for me, when I was in a sales role thinking well, I need to find two to three people that have potential future work.

But I'm not going to talk to them about the future work at that networking event, even if I want to. I'm going to set up a follow-up meeting. But I also know there's going to be five to ten people that I see at these networking events on a regular basis that I just want to keep that existing relationship. So some of the conversations are to keep and manage the existing relationships and some of it's going to be to build new ones.

Because you need or want the full gamut of both sides.

Lindsay Young: I think that's another key and you and I struggle with this. I think they say it's about a hundred people that you can have a consistent touch base. I know you and I probably have 2000 contacts or connections on LinkedIn.

It's also what you're saying at those physical events. You're trying to connect with new people and maintain those existing relationships. It's hard especially when you are in a market where you're well-known or have a great network. It's hard to pull yourself away from existing connections to meet those new people.

Networking Etiquette: What to Avoid and What To Do

Tim Pile: I would love to hear some of your insight on when you're at a networking event. What's some of the etiquette and some of the things that we want to keep in mind? Because I think sometimes we take it for granted.

Imagine I'm going to a networking event. I'm gonna hang out with people, but there's etiquette. There's rules that people break. There's rules that you and I might break if we're not thinking about it. What are some things that come to mind when I say that?

Lindsay Young: I think the first thing is, if you see somebody standing by themselves, go up and talk to them. Another thing is not interrupting, which I'm working on this.

I'm guilty of interrupting people and not listening. That kind of goes hand in hand. Ask a question and really listen with the intent not to respond, but to really listen to them. I think those are a few things that regardless of whether you're an introvert or extrovert are best practices in networking.

Another thing is be aware of how much you drink. I know a lot of times these are happy hours or at a golf tournament, where you are drinking all day. But, unfortunately, I have been at several events where there's heavy drinking and you need to be aware of that. Just be aware of your alcohol intake.

What are some things that you've seen are good or bad?

Tim Pile: I like the alcohol one because I can specifically remember times when there was somebody who drank too much.

The thing is, I'll always remember that. For me, it's interesting to do a little bit of people-watching when I'm walking the space or walking the room. I want to be looking around and checking to see who's all here and what circles are there.

But with circles, what's always interesting to me is I think people are always nervous to try to enter a circle. They think, "How do I get into a circle?"

I think that shouldn't be an issue at a networking event. Everybody is there to meet people. So anybody in a circle, if you see anyone hovering around your circle, you should immediately be opening it up and inviting them into the circle.

That's one of the things I'm trying to be intentional about. That's part of etiquette. If I'm in a circle and I can tell someone's wanting in, I love to say, "Hey guys, let's make room for this person to be able to join our conversation."

So part of the etiquette is just keeping that flow of people coming in and out, and some of it is also when to leave a conversation. One of the things I used to be really guilty of was I would find one or two people that I knew at that event, and I'd spend the entire 45 minutes or hour with them.

It didn't do me any good to spend that entire time with them. It would have been better for me to either introduce them to people or have them do the same for me. You're going to see a lot of the same people that you're going to spend time with on a regular basis at these events.

But at the same time, if you're with those same people, and you see somebody new, ask them if they know them. And if they do, have them introduce you. If you know them, but you don't think they do, introduce them. It's trying not to just spend all of your time with one individual or two individuals. 

Using the Buddy System to Expand Your Network

Lindsay Young: You touched a little bit on this and I want to give an example. I call it the buddy system. I moved to Northwest Arkansas about 8 years ago. So I had to start over in terms of building my network when I moved from Wichita, Kansas. I had to meet everybody.

I knew five people when I moved to Northwest Arkansas. One of the things that I did was immediately figured out who was well-connected in my circle. Her name's Kelly, and  I figured out she knew a lot of people in the industry and a lot of people in the market.

I would, not every event, but I would be strategic at events that I knew her and I were going to and I would say, "Hey, will you take me around and introduce me to some people that I need to know in our market and in our network?"

Having a buddy system, whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, helps you because that person has a well-established network. They can introduce you to people that you need to be introduced to, and you can be strategic about who you ask to do that with. I've met a lot of people through Kelly because I'll call her or text her and ask, "Hey, do you know such and such? Yeah. Okay. Can you introduce me?"

Tim, I feel like you're one of those people too, because you're usually at the top of my list to reach out to because he might know this person.

So find those people in your market or in your industry and ask them, "Hey, will you be my buddy at some of these events that you're going to and introduce me to some of these people?" 

Questions to Ask at a Networking Event

Tim Pile: It's really good to have your ammunition of what questions you want to ask whenever you're going to a networking event. I was at an event this last weekend, and the guy walked over to me and says, "Weather, right?"

It just made me laugh because he didn't know what to talk about. He was almost making fun of the fact that so often we will go to the topic of weather. So have questions prepared about what somesone does, what's their role with their company and what are some of the struggles with their role.

Then just ask about their families and their hobbies, because everybody likes talking about themselves. Everybody has a hobby that they love talking about, whether it's concerts, sports, golf. Bourbon is a big one for me that I enjoy talking about it.

It's important to have that list of questions in your head before so you can be intentional. What are the goals that you're setting for it? How many people are you hoping to maybe meet?

Look ahead of time for who might be there and determine who you want to spend a little bit of time with. Be intentional as an introvert that you're going to put yourself out there and that you're going to force yourself to join the conversation. Be intentional that as an extrovert, you're going to allow the introvert to have the space as well, not dominate the questions, not one up.

Final Thoughts on Building Relationships

Lindsay Young: Networking has been a big component of the success of my career and I can't speak enough about it. But again, it's really about building relationships.

I always say it's helping, sharing, giving. That's really what networking is about. In closing, there's a resource and I know it'll be in the show notes. It's called the GoGiver and it talks about networking and what that looks like. It has nothing to do with selling.

It's about helping, sharing, giving, building relationships and building trust. Even if networking is part of your job or not part of your job, you need to be doing it regardless. It's an important component to your personal and professional life and career path.