Advice to good ol’ boys and girls: network

Rich Emerson, right, owner of Johnson’s House of Flowers in Grand Junction, discusses his experiences with service clubs and networking, while Greg Schaefer, far left, and Ken Richards listen in during a breakfast presentation at the Business Incubator Center. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle).

It’s easy to connect with a pronounced network of good ol’ boys and girls in the Grand Valley: volunteer for community service.

But business owners and managers who do so had better be more interested in doing good than doing well and in making friends rather than sales.

“Do it for the right reason,” said Jamie Hamilton, chairman and chief executive officer of Home Loan & Investment Co. in Grand Junction.

Hamilton was among four members of a panel who shared their experiences with community service and networking during a breakfast presentation at the Business Incubator Center. Rich Emerson, Ken Richards and Greg Schaefer agreed with Hamilton that networking plays an important role in bolstering business, but only as a result of establishing and maintaining long-term relationships.

Hamilton quoted Jeffrey Gitomer, author of the “Little Red Book of Selling,” in advising: “Make a sale and earn a commission. Make a friend and earn a fortune.”

Richards, the owner of a State Farm Insurance agency in Grand Junction, put it this way: “People do business with people they know, like and trust.”

Emerson, owner of Johnson’s House of Flowers in Grand Junction, and Schaefer, a retired real estate agent,  said they both joined the Kiwanis Club shortly after moving to the Grand Valley and membership in the service club helped them meet others. They subsequently joined other organizations and boards. Hamilton counts the Lions Club among the numerous organizations with which he’s involved.

Richards said people who are nervous about meeting and talking with people should start with small groups and have three or four questions in mind when they engage in conversation. “If you’re nervous about networking, get the other person to talk.”

Hamilton said community service long has been a part of the culture at Home Loan, one that has helped keep the company in business for more than a century. The 57 employees there are involved in nearly 100 different organizations, he said. Employees are are expected to join community organizations and receive paid time off to do so, he added.

That kind of involvement with nonprofit organizations has helped make Home Loan a leading insurer of such groups, Hamilton said, adding that his personal involvement has given him a better perspective on running the business.

Contrary to the stereotype, the four said they don’t conduct business on the golf course. But it is important to network outside of a business setting, they said. “If you really want to get to know somebody, get out of the office,” Richards said.

A new form of networking — social media — dramatically has changed the way business people connect. In addition to participating in Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, though, Richards said business people still should strive to meet in person. “You still have to be visible in the community or what’s online doesn’t matter.”

The payoff from networking comes in many forms.

Hamilton said his service as an athletic director at Mesa State College in Grand Junction for just $1 a year introduced him to students he hired as insurance agents. That’s added youth to an industry with an aging workforce.

Networking also promotes sales, although it’s important not to keep score, the four advised. “I’ve never given it a thought. And maybe that’s a good thing,” Schaefer said.