Making Connections: An Introverts Guide to Networking

Jessica Piatt

Many professionals find networking to be a daunting, treacherous endeavor.  It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and at times, painful. There will always be those who have a natural talent for working a room, namely extroverts who thrive in social interactions, but for others networking in a room of strangers can make one feel phony or inauthentic.

As an introvert, I find it all a little overwhelming but in the last year I have found ways to make networking not only successful ventures but enjoyable ones! Here are some ideas on how any north country professional (introvert or not) can embrace networking just as I have:

Change Your Attitude

Networking events are an opportunity for growth and discovery. Treat them that way! All too often we set ourselves up for failure by approaching networking with dread and pessimism.  Now, if you’re an introvert, you can’t simply will yourself to be extroverted. But when you shift your perspective from viewing it as a chore to seeing the near infinite possibilities, you take control of the narrative and attain the opportunities networking offers.

Be Purposeful

Now that you’ve changed your attitude, set an intention for the event.  Sure, expanding your professional network is a great start but it can be broad and a bit scary. Try simplifying your intention.  Replace “expand professional network” with “make a meaningful connection.” By clarifying your intent you’ll enable yourself to have more natural interactions with those around you. Start small, find a familiar face, perhaps someone you have met before, but only briefly, and work on further establishing your professional relationship.

Find Common Ground

Okay, so you’ve changed your attitude and you’ve set your intention for the event. Now what? Find a common interest! This tiny trick might seem simple but, trust me, it can go a long way. Think about how your interests and goals align with those of people you meet. This can help you forge meaningful connections that yield collaborative initiatives and long-lasting working relationships.  When your networking is driven with intention and forged over common interests it will feel more authentic and meaningful. Bonus, it will also make you more memorable to others in attendance!

Bring a Friend

The next time you register for an upcoming social/networking event, invite a friend to tag along. You don’t always have to go at it alone. Having a friend or coworker by your side can make large networking events less intimidating.  You might just find you have a connection in attendance worth introducing your friend to

Networking is a necessary component of success in any career. It can lead to career opportunities, a broader knowledge of your surrounding community, improve the scope for innovation, professional advancement, and so much more. When you change your perspective, begin to have purposeful interactions, find common ground with others, and use the resources already available to you, you will find networking isn’t so daunting after all. Perhaps you’ll even come to embrace it.

JESSICA PIATT is the marketing director at the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. You can contact her by calling 315-788-4400 or by emailing jpiatt@watertownny.com.

The Business of Small Business

KRISTEN AUCTER

President Calvin Coolidge stated that “the business of America is business” and although the statement was made in the 1920’s it still rings true today. The encouragement of entrepreneurship across the country idealizes our willingness to take risks and reach for the stars. The successful businesses that run through our small towns and communities provide the nourishment to keep that enthusiasm and those dreams alive.

    Small businesses create a strong middle class, give back exponentially to the community and have been, throughout the nation’s history, the primary source of job creation in the country. It is our job as consumers to continuously provide support to perpetuate the cycle of success to the business owner and the communities we live in.

    According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 99.7% of US employer firms. Since the last recession they have accounted for 67% of the new jobs created! Those statistics alone should make people want to identify how to continue our small business revolution. Here are some ideas on how you, as a consumer or business, can do just that:

  1. Shop there! This one shouldn’t need much of an explanation. Visit their businesses. Use their services. Make it a habit to check what they have available before going to larger box stores.
  2. Participate in “Small Business Saturday”. Since 2010 American Express has been encouraging consumers to skip Black Friday shopping and support their local small businesses. The campaign was launched in an effort to aid small businesses in gaining exposure and to change the way consumers shop in their own community. Many Chambers of Commerce, including Lewis County’s, open their doors on that day as a welcome station. Providing lists of business open for the day, reusable shopping bags and goodies for kids or pets who may be tagging along!
  3. Encourage your friends and family to shop local. Everyone hates the dreaded question “what do you want for your birthday/Christmas/graduation etc”. Let them know you love what the local shops have to offer. It not only gets you what you want but introduces a new customer to those businesses.
  4. Look into community gift certificates. Many local Chambers offer gift certificates that can be used at multiple participating businesses in the area. Lewis County will have Chamber Ca$h available as of June 1st. It is a dollar for dollar match that will allow the recipient to purchase goods and services locally!
  5. Organize a community event. Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be the only day of the year to step foot in the doors of these businesses. Be creative and host an event that encourages people to become aware of what hidden treasures your community has.
  6. If you enjoy your experience provide a good review. Yelp, Google and Foursquare are all review sites that other people use when making decisions where to shop. It is the new “word of mouth”. It will increase their visibility in search results and continues to foster that sense of trust in small businesses.
  7. Network. Network. Network. Business After Hours are a great way to know what is new in the community. Most small businesses start out of someone’s home. While these businesses might not have a store front to visit this doesn’t mean they aren’t exactly what you are looking for and you can help them grow. As a Chamber we encourage these new, up and coming businesses to come to Chamber events to let people know what they have to offer.
  8. Collaboration. Do you own a small business? Do you have skills or insight that might be a benefit to someone just starting out? Reach out to your Chamber to host a speaking event in a local speaker series at a free or discounted price.

   Beyond creating jobs, investing in locally owned small businesses keeps money in your community to support other important initiatives through the local sales tax earned. Education, law enforcement and emergency services, parks, and other publically funded programs all benefit immensely.

And, of course, shopping at local small businesses creates a unique experience you can’t have online. Small businesses tend to provide a more personal customer experience and offer special things you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

Kristen Aucter is the president and CEO of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by emailing kristen@lewiscountychamber.org.

What Exactly Does Your Chamber of Commerce Do?

Kristen Aucter

The number of times I have heard this from business owners in my short time at the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce has been surprising, though, in a way, it shouldn’t be. I found myself asking this question when branching out into the business world and wanting to be more involved in the community as well.

    Previous experience across the country had provided me with the insight that if you were interested in a particular geographical area, that the chamber of commerce was the place to find information. But these experiences did not necessarily delve into the details of what they did.

    Breaking it down to bare bones, it’s all about supporting the business community. Not only should chambers be a spokesperson for local businesses, but they should also provide services and benefits to increase the success of the business community. The combination of these work to create a connected environment in which businesses, and in turn the community, flourish.

    It is true that all businesses go through stages of growth. The plateaus are nice, when a business and its people can rest and enjoy the rewards of a job well done; however, most business owners aren’t willing to sit for long before seeking the next challenge. A primary function of a chamber of commerce is to support and promote businesses regardless of their stage in the game; not only with membership benefits, but with networking opportunities. In small communities like ours, there are other local businesses and experts who can help you to your next stage.

    Finding these connections at a chamber networking event is one of the greatest opportunities that a chamber of commerce offers. Think of it as joining a private club, where all members are willing to help one another. Success for one encourages success for the others. Networking leads to stronger businesses and stronger businesses lead to a more stable economic foundation in the community.

    The most successful business owners are willing to give back, because years ago someone paid it forward to them. Paying it forward is good for business. While many studies show that chamber members rank networking as number one on their list of benefits from the chamber, that is not the only thing of value that they have found.

    According a study done by The Shapiro Group Inc. in 2012, if a customer knows that a small business is a member of the chamber of commerce, they are 44 percent more likely to think positively of it and 80 percent more likely to purchase goods or services from the company in the future. More or less, businesses that are chamber members get more customers simply because of their association with the chamber.

    Getting your information out can be a costly venture for any business. Marketing services offered by chambers provide a great return on investment for your membership fee. In addition to thousands of referrals made by chamber staff each year they also have website, community events, print advertising and last, but not least, social media to assist in your marketing needs.

    In a way, a chamber of commerce works for the population as a whole, encouraging the development of infrastructure, recreational areas, innovations for established and new industries. These advancements also encourage population growth. The increase in residents leads to an increase in demand for services like real estate, insurance companies and construction jobs, improving the economy of an area. And who connects these people with the businesses who can meet their needs? You guessed it: a chamber of commerce.

                While chamber benefits do vary from region to region, I think you will find the advantages of being part of your local chamber community far outweigh the cost. At the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce we are always searching for ways to help our businesses succeed and encourage our members to come talk to us with new ideas. Because at the end of the day the question shouldn’t be “what does a chamber of commerce do?” but “what doesn’t a chamber of commerce do?” 

Kristen Aucter is the president and CEO of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by emailing kristen@lewiscountychamber.org.

Focus for a Vibrant Future

Kylie Peck

I often find myself ringing in the New Year by reflecting on the past twelve months both personally and professionally and categorizing what worked and what didn’t, how fortunate I am and how I can make improvements for the future. For the sake of this column, I will leave the personal reflections out and focus on the efforts put into the future of the Chamber of Commerce.

    At the chamber office we regularly discuss the importance of our members and how to best serve the needs of businesses in the Greater Watertown region. For 2018 we are focused on strengthening the value of our organization to promote and support business and industry and enhance the community in which we live, work and do business. Plans are in place to educate members on the tools and programs available to them through the chamber. We will focus on retaining the interest and involvement of our existing members and want an even better understanding of each of the businesses we serve. What are your wants and needs? How can we fulfill them? I look forward to having these questions answered by getting to know each of our member businesses better, and continuing to build upon our success while attracting new members, focusing on young professionals and enhancing our overall communication.  

    With changes to the horizon on many levels – federal, state, local – the chamber looks to establish partnerships more than ever. There are many entities in the region that can broaden opportunities to our membership base. We look forward to strengthening partnerships in the areas of business development, education and networking and continue to foster our relationship with Fort Drum. If you are a business or organization that would like to partner with the chamber, or if you have thoughts on a partnership that you feel would benefit the business community, please share them with us. We are always accepting of suggestions from the community we serve.

    As we take on 2018 and focus on our goals established for the upcoming years, we are excited to have two new team members on staff. We welcome Director of Events Kayla Perry and Director of Marketing Jessica Piatt. Each of these women bring vibrancy and enthusiasm to our organization and will help us reach our goals of connecting with young professionals in the region and enhancing our utilization of social media among many others. Kayla and Jessica join us with skill sets that complement each other and enhance the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce team.

    As you continue to map out your year and implement established plans, I encourage you to visit our office to see how we can play a part in a successful 2018. The GWNC Chamber office is located at 1241 Coffeen Street, Watertown, and meetings can be scheduled by calling (315) 788-4400.

Kylie Peck is the president and CEO of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. She lives in Clayton with her husband and two young boys. Contact her at kpeck@watertownny.com or 315-788-4400.

Your PTAC Counselor and Their Services

Amber Stevens

Before taking you on a journey through a typical day as a PTAC counselor, I’d like to preface this with a brief explanation of what “PTAC” stands for, and why, if you’re a business owner, you may want to consider giving your local PTAC office a call.  PTAC, the first of many acronyms you’ll find throughout this article, stands for Procurement Technical Assistance Center.  It is a designation given to over 3oo offices nationwide that provide cost-free assistance to U.S. businesses who participate, or have the potential to participate in the government marketplace.

    Something that is crucial to keep in mind here is that the government buys just about everything!  Are you a small business selling a product or service?  If so, chances are high that some form of government, whether on the federal, state or local level, could potentially have a need to buy what you’re selling some day. They just don’t know it yet.  According to USASpending.gov, a Department of Treasury website that tracks federal spending and contracts, more than $9 billion in federal contracts were awarded to New York state companies or organizations throughout fiscal year 2016 alone.  An additional $1.4 billion were awarded to subcontractors in the same year.  These are significant dollar figures representing a market that simply should not be ignored due to the perceived complexity of doing business with the government.

    With the continual expansion of Fort Drum’s infrastructure over nine years ago, came the apparent need for a regional PTAC in the north country, and with the help of organizations such as New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC) and Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization (FDRLO), a PTAC program was established at the Greater Watertown-North Country (GWNC) Chamber of Commerce in Watertown.  North Country PTAC is now one of eight regional centers located in the state, and assists close to 600 clients across 11 of the most northern counties in the state.  Federal funds awarded to firms located within this 11-county territory have reached just over $3 billion year-to-date in  fiscal year 2017 making up for just 3 percent of the $99 billion in federal funds awarded across New York state so far this year.

    All PTAC programs are unique in their own way and ours is no exception, as it is one of few in the country whose host organization is a Chamber of Commerce.  Not only is the GWNC Chamber the largest business association in the north country, but its close proximity to a military installation makes it an ideal host for the North Country PTAC program and a one-stop shop for all your business needs.  It Is important to note that although there are many benefits to becoming a member of your local Chamber of Commerce, there is no membership requirement to receive the free and confidential services provided by the North Country PTAC program.

    A PTAC counselor’s job is to act as a resource to businesses in pursuit of government contracts at federal, state and local government levels.  On any given day, this could mean conducting one-on-one counseling sessions where they are assisting clients with registrations and certifications, determining their company’s readiness to sell to the government, or advising businesses how to go about finding, pursuing and managing government contracts. Clients are also encouraged to sign up for the PTAC’s Bid-Match service, an electronic tool available to all businesses that will help them identify bid opportunities by sending email notifications when the client’s products and/or services match requests for proposals (RFP’s) posted on online bid board sites.

    In addition to one-on-one sessions, North Country PTAC coordinates and provides classes, training seminars and online webinars to provide the critical training and in-depth assistance our local businesses need to compete and succeed in defense and other government contracting.  Throughout 2016 the program sponsored 35 networking and educational events with a focus on a variety of contracting topics including, but not limited to Veteran Owned Business Certifications, MWBE Certifications, new acquisition procedures, specialized solicitations, federal contracting and many more.

    Although assistance is targeted toward small businesses, especially veteran-owned, and woman- and minority-owned enterprises, large businesses can benefit from PTAC services as well by participating in trainings, and with help identifying qualified subcontractors and suppliers.

    Your local PTAC Counselor is not only meeting new people and learning new things every day, but is required to be an expert on all things related to government procurement.  Although it is a challenging role that requires a solid understanding of stringent government standards and complex contract requirements, it’s fulfilling to know that the efforts put forth by the North Country PTAC program do, and will continue to, boost economic activity in the north country by helping local businesses navigate contracting processes.

    North Country PTAC helps create jobs and drive economic benefits in our community.  In 2016 alone, North Country PTAC increased its broad base of capable suppliers and enhanced competition by providing over 500 hours of counseling time, created or retained over 9,000 jobs, and added 92 new clients to its database.  The overall database stands at 591 active clients.

    If you own and operate an established business located in the north country, you are eligible to become a client of North Country PTAC.  To do this, you can go to www.northcountryptac.com, click PTAC SINGUP at the bottom of the page, then complete and submit the online application form. 

                Feel free stop by or call the PTAC office located within the GWNC Chamber of Commerce between 8a.m. and 4:30p.m. Monday through Friday at 1241 Coffeen St., Watertown, NY 13601 or 315-788-4400.

The Power of Mentorship

Brooke Rouse

Mentorship in professional development is especially beneficial to women leaders, whether those mentors are male or female.  Some women are hesitant to ask for help, others crave constant feedback;  finding a balanced support system of mentors and mentees allows you to continue learning from other perspectives.

                A circle of mentors should include some diversity in experience, age, gender and other defining characteristics. It should include people within your industry and outside your industry, people you know well, and people who are just acquaintances. In some cases a mentor may be a paid coach, lawyer or advisor of another sort. The key to establishing a truly productive mentorship balance is engaging people who will tell you what you need to hear, and what you want to hear…not always at the same time. Personal, emotional, and professional feedback can come in many forms and it is good to have someone on speed-dial for the variety of scenarios you face as a businesswoman and leader.

                The power of mentorship between women of different ages and experience levels has been gaining momentum in the Canton-Potsdam college towns of St. Lawrence County. In 2014 the Young Women’s Leadership Institute of the North Country (YWLI) formed as a partnership between the four colleges and the local chapter of the American Association for University Women (AAUW) and has quickly recruited a number of active and diverse professionals from the county. According to their website (http://ncywli.weebly.com ), the group notes their vision as being “… a membership institute providing opportunities for women to come together from the area colleges and engage with each other, with mentors and other resources in the community, enhancing the leadership development options for young women”.  Professional women in the area mentor college students and the college students have teamed up with middle and high school women. An annual conference and special speaker and networking events throughout the year have helped the board realize that there is a critical role to be played in developing young women leaders.

                Listening and learning, that is what mentorship is; age does not define a mentor. As many professionals in the YWLI have found, they are learning so much from college students, as well as connecting with each other as mentors. Likewise, college students are finding great value in their conversations with older and younger women. A study by LinkedIn in 2014 found that only one in five women have mentors, yet business success, poverty reduction, fair pay and higher GDP have all been identified as impacts of female mentorship.

                Finding the time to be a mentor or seek out mentors often takes a back seat to being a mom, a business leader, a wife, sister or daughter. Making a goal of one hour per month is a great start. It does not always have to be in person, as Google hangouts, Skype and a variety of online networks allow you to connect at any time of day or night. Mentorship does not have to be formal; it can happen over a cup of coffee or a walk (good self-care!) In addition to making a difference in someone else’s life, leaving a legacy, and helping to shape the next generation, you too will benefit from a growing network, a reduced feeling of isolation, fresh ideas, and the opportunity to further your own leadership skills.

BROOKE ROUSE is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at brouse@stlawrencecountychamber.org or 315-386-4000.

Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner

For event photos of award recipients, visit our Facebook page:

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