How we use the power of connections to drive our business, and how you can too

How we use the power of connections to drive our business, and how you can tooCan a handshake mean the difference between your company prospering or flailing? I certainly think so. In this all-over-the-place economy, a company’s connections are its lifeblood. If you disagree, then you’re just not recognizing the power that knowing the right people brings to your forest products business, because it’s there in a very big way.

I see the strength of connections every day in my own consulting business and company, Forest Business Network. We take the word “network” in our name very seriously. We connect businesses and associations all the time — many who need that extra, vital nudge that one or two key people can give their great idea or start-up business and make it viable. We do business with the idea that every great deal is made through connections. And every great partnership is formed from the right people meeting at the right time through a common connection.

So, with that groundwork laid, let’s talk about connections, and specifically how they’ve helped my company. I’ll also be talking about my event — the Small Log Conference — since this is very much applicable to the theme of building strong networks. Look for key networking takeaways from my examples.

Invest in face time

I’ve been directly involved with the Small Log Conference since its inception in 2004. (My company took ownership in 2007.) The event’s mission is to address small diameter timber usage and how it affects lumber mills, machinery manufacturers, conservationists, forest restoration, pellets, biomass use, and technology. In reality, we’re doing something quite simple — connecting the right associations, companies and people to move the industry dialogue and action to a higher level.

Think about it this way. We formed the Small Log Conference to help companies eliminate cold calls and voice messages. We wanted an event that would pair large companies at the top of their competitive game like Idaho Forest Group and Collins Companies with very small to mid-sized companies (and associations and agencies) in a pleasant, informal environment that allowed them to shake hands, share a drink, trade ideas, and develop meaningful relationships that lead to new business. In fact, at one of the earliest Small Log Conferences, a pair of entrepreneurially-minded attendees created an eight figure company from the ideas and contacts they made at the event. This is the simple power of meeting someone face-to-face at its very best. It’s about strategically investing a little time and money to meet the right people at the right time.

Key networking takeaways and tips:

  1. Invest the time and money it takes to build a strong network. When you attend events (and you should), trade business cards, shake hands and take notes to remind yourself of any promises you make to new contacts.
  2. Reconnect from time to time with those you meet to keep the connection alive.
  3. Add new contacts to your professional social media networking sites, such as LinkedIn. When a contact is part of your social professional network, you’ll be more apt to know when they receive a promotion, for example, allowing you to send a congratulatory note. These sites also provide an easy venue for sending links to articles and resources you feel would be of interest to a contact. This helps them, reminds them who you are, and allows you to reconnect with those in your network.
  4. Be sure to ask your contacts to introduce you to people they think you should know. This helps your network grow exponentially, giving your circle a better mix of education levels, financial success, experience, and knowledge than you might otherwise cultivate in a self-selected network.

Put your network to work

What good is a network if you don’t use it? Here at Forest Business Network we’re constantly looking for ways to benefit our connections and realize they can help us as well. Here’s an example from earlier this year. Having been involved with Western Montana economic growth efforts for some time, we built on an existing relationship with the Montana World Trade Center who was working to create wood export opportunities for Western Montana wood product manufacturers — businesses, mind you, that subscribe to our email newsletter and that are part of our very own network. To assist the Trade Center’s efforts, we introduced them to the Softwood Export Council. This one referral set off a chain of positive events we had not originally anticipated. (One of which was developing a nice, working relationship with Paul Owen and his very competent wood export team at Vanport International, which helped us put on a successful webinar on export opportunities for U.S. forest product manufacturers.)

How we use the power of connections to drive our business and how you can tooA membership with the Softwood Export Council has allowed the Montana World Trade Center to receive matched funding that aids their Western Montana export goals. They are now hosting a reverse trade mission comprised of international wood products buyers that will be present at both our 2013 Small Log Conference and in Western Montana after the event. This is how businesses evolve and flourish. We lent a hand to the Montana World Trade Center and they in turn helped us and our network. Now that’s powerful.

By the way, if you haven’t put two and two together, this reverse trade mission at our 2013 Small Log Conference will be one powerful connection opportunity for those companies saavy enough to see it as just that — a unique opportunity to get their foot in the door with overseas companies (located in high-growth markets) who value North American wood products. All without having the inconveniences of finding the right companies overseas, travel and customs, dealing with cultural barriers and more. Once again, this is about connections. So by attending the Small Log Conference, companies will find an ideal venue to shake hands, develop new international relationships, and talk business with the people that can bring them new business. We’ll even have skilled translators on hand that are knowledgeable in the forest products industry and that can ease any cultural and language barriers.

Key networking takeaway:

  1. Networking and building connections is both a give and take. If it’s only ever about yourself, your connections will quickly sour. Sometimes you know what you want in return for lending a hand. However, sometimes you give knowing that helping others builds on itself in ways you can’t foresee. Fortunately, positive efforts tend to yield positive results, which is good for everyone.

The power of people coming to you

It was our strong network that brought us together with the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) last year to partner with them in their work to create a viable, wood-based jet biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest from USDA-NIFA funds. They wanted us to be on the ground floor of their outreach efforts because we have the capability of getting the word out to  a very broad audience within the industry. That partnership has grown and matured, with NARA contributing toward the content of our 2013 Conference in a substantial way. We’ll be introducing our Small Log Conference attendees to a new, exciting industry that has the potential of literally re-shaping the forest products industry. I don’t know about you, but these are the kinds of people and organizations I want to know better. And who doesn’t want to be on the ground floor of an effort like this?

Key networking takeaways:

  1. When you build a large list of connections, others seek you out — no traditional advertising required.
  2. Better still, ground floor opportunities seem to pop up more often to those with thriving networks.

And there you have it. Building a solid network takes time and commitment. But it can be oh so simple as well. Just hold out your hand and smile to start. If I’ve never met you personally, I look forward to shaking hands and chatting some day and seeing how we might help each other out.

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Make your connections that much more meaningful

By the way, if you’re interested in the Small Log Conference and what it can do for your company, you can play a direct role in helping change our industry and receive a nice return on investment at the same time by sponsoring the event today. We offer sponsorship packages to meet a variety of marketing budgets — Bronze sponsorships are just $3,000 (we also offer Silver and Gold sponsorships at $5,000 and $10,000, respectively). Click here to view a complete list of benefits.

Now, imagine how an exhibit booth at the Small Log Conference can fortify your company’s brand awareness to the power players that regularly attend. And when you consider that many international forest product companies judge a company’s fitness and reputation by their display presence, a booth at the Small Log Conference becomes a significant aid to your networking and business-building efforts. Learn more about exhibiting at the Conference.

Make your connections that much more meaningful by signing on as a sponsor and/or exhibitor today!

Craig Rawlings

Craig Rawlings is the president & CEO of Forest Business Network and has 30 years experience in the forest products industry as an entrepreneur and technical consultant. He can be reached by calling 406.240.0300 or by using our contact form.

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