In 2006, long before vandwelling was a popular “gap year” rite of passage for college kids, Becky Blanton was 50 years old, homeless, and living in a 30-year old Chevy van. She parked her van in a Walmart Parking lot with her Rottweiler and a cat, worked two jobs, and networked like there was no tomorrow. It paid off.
Three years later Seth Godin “broke one of his own rules” and asked his readers to vote for her in a contest hosted by Dan Pink (a best selling author, and the former head speechwriter for former United States Vice President Al Gore). Becky not only won Dan’s contest, she also won a trip to TED Global, and then won another writing contest to be selected as one of the speakers there.
Five years later she began working with me on a variety of ghostwriting projects for Fortune 500 CEOs, national business speakers, and international clients. How does one go from homelessness to a world stage in three years? Networking. Along the way to TED Global, Becky interacted with William Novak, ghostwriter for the late Tim Russert, who referred her to her agent, Colleen Mohyde, a Nazi treasure hunter, and a series of fascinating and well-connected professionals in a variety of industries.
Novak has co-written or ghostwritten numerous celebrity memoirs for people including Lee Iacocca, Nancy Reagan, and Magic Johnson. He is also the editor, with Moshe Waldoks, of The Big Book of Jewish Humor. With each new client, Becky’s network has expanded, and continues to expand – because of the networking secrets, she incorporates into every interaction she has with everyone she meets, client or not. Mike Michalowicz wrote about her in his book, Surge, and she’s also been included in half-a-dozen other books about business, entrepreneurship and networking.
In fact, our collaboration began after she was introduced to me by one of my clients. It was one of those “God-wink” moments that makes me excited about how networking opportunities can change a life in minutes. I think it’s similar to opening a present as a kid — you never know whether you’re going to get socks and sweaters (okay, but nothing exciting), or a new puppy, or that toy you’ve wanted FOREVER, or even something unexpected and mindblowing. To me, that part of networking, the unwrapping of the relationship, is one of the best parts of networking. And that’s what it’s been like working with Becky, and the hundreds of other authors, entrepreneurs, and businesses I’ve enjoyed meeting over the last 20 years.
I knew the first book on Networking that Jocelyn Carter Miller, the first Chief Marketing Officer of Motorola, and I wrote and launched in 2000 would be popular. But I had no idea it would become a bestselling book, and change the lives of so many people, myself included, over the next two decades.
Jocelyn and I wrote Networlding to teach people how to network because it’s an ability we both naturally possessed. We realized soon enough that while some people are natural networkers, some people need to learn how to develop those skills.
I learned that natural networkers have a different approach and mindset when connecting with others. They use creative approaches that make them experts and matchmakers – helping others connect with the people and resources they need. Natural networkers, like Becky, Jocelyn, and myself, developed our skills for the same reason anyone does – in order to survive and thrive in a challenging world, work environment, or setting. For some people, the challenges they overcome may range from poverty, lack of education, abuse, trauma, a change in life circumstances, or moving into a new environment or job. For others, like Billy Dexter, a Managing Partner at Heidrick & Struggles, a global leadership advisory search firm, his networking skills began to deepen after being thrust into a college where he was one of only a handful of people of color learning to get along in a not-so-diverse university.
You may have gotten a job opportunity where you need to find a way to fit in to survive within a different company culture. That’s the power of true Networking. Not convinced? Five of my books have been bestsellers, one was a #10 Amazon book for an entire year. My recent book, Networking is Dead hit #1 on Barnes and Noble and #5 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. My clients include a three-time, Inc. 500 CEO and more than 100 thought leaders from Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies. I never would have done what I’ve done, or met who I’ve met, without networking.
Yet, it never fails. When I mention networking the first image that always comes to people’s minds is swapping business cards, or digital contact information, at a conference. People go home, look at the names they’ve collected, and think, “Now who is this?” That’s not networking. Networking is, “building mutually beneficial relationships to create transformational opportunities.” In other words, “building community that benefits everyone involved.” Better yet, networking is one of the best and biggest opportunities for people in all industries to develop those connections and opportunities with diverse people all over the world.
That brings me back to getting discovered, and becoming an in-demand author, expert, or speaker. A lot of people focus on marketing, branding, launches, SEO and all the technical, scientific tools and technology to get discovered or followed. The reality is, the world runs on community, connections, and networking.
When Jocelyn Carter Miller and I launched our book, Networlding. the book changed our lives – not just because of the book sales, but because the book and the shift in how people thought about and did networking changed other people’s lives. Those people went out and changed the world. Since that first launch almost 20 years ago, we’ve been watching the way how people and networking have changed. We noticed that while technology changes, people remain the same. People still look for referrals, for help from people they trust and are engaged with, and whom they like. That’s networking in a nutshell. It’s what gets you invited to participate on Boards, to sponsor events, to be a keynote speaker, to engage with thought leaders and national figures.
In 2002 I decided to run a contest to locate the 10 best networkers in the world. Those participants didn’t just get some media attention and a story to tell. They transformed their lives, work, and even careers. Many of those brave souls who risked entering the contest also went on to do greater things in the world as a result. They benefited themselves and those around them by creating “networking communities,” which are the foundation of successful networking.
To celebrate almost two decades of amazing stories and behind the scenes events that happened as a result of people networking, I’ve decided to launch another contest. From those entries, I’ll write my 18th book, Ripple: Secrets of the Best Networkers in the World.
Ripple will share the tips, insights and yes, even the secrets of how networking has changed people, and how people have changed networking. I’m collaborating with Becky Blanton, who is also a former journalist as well as ghostwriter, to create this book. We want to find, interview and share the top networking secrets of the most giving, unique, creative, and successful (because of all of these great attributes) networkers around the world.
Are you that networker we are seeking? Have people often said to you, “Wow! You are the best networker I know? Do you know someone else who is? Have you benefited from an amazing networking experience – maybe something where you found your dream job, or met your future spouse, or launched a business as a result? We just love networking stories that amaze, surprise, delight, and even make us laugh. We hope you will take the time to share your insights and/or experiences around networking with us. You don’t have to personally know the nominee(although that helps because you know the real story), but you can nominate authors, coaches, speakers, and people you’ve observed who you think are great networkers. Just reach out to me through my contact form: I’ll be searching all Summer and Fall for those best networkers or Networlders as I refer to them! Thank you for participating!