Networking is a contact sport, so be sure to bring your A game

Joe Sweeney, author of "Networking is a Contact Sport," offers advice for making and maintaining connections.

SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS HARVEY MACKAY

I'm known as something of an expert on networking, having written books on the subject and spoken about it to Fortune 1000 companies all over the world. I can recognize a winner from a mile away.

Such is the case with "Networking is a Contact Sport," a new book by Joe Sweeney, who built his career by "combining his love of business and his passion for sports." The title doesn't refer to hard hits or banging bodies -- it's about staying in contact with folks whose paths cross yours throughout a career.

Joe is eminently qualified to write this book. During his career he has owned four manufacturing companies, served as president of the Wisconsin Sports Authority, and founded a sports marketing agency that specializes in assisting and representing coaches and athletes. He is now a managing director of an investment banking firm that brokers business transactions and raises capital for middle-market businesses.

But Joe claims his networking abilities were developed long before he got his start in business, while he was being raised in a family of nine boys and one girl. At age 8 he met with then-Notre Dame football great, coach Ara Parseghian. He was hoping the coach would provide a football scholarship for his older brother, a walk-on at Notre Dame. (For the record, his brother was awarded a football scholarship for the following year.)

Another insightful chapter tells about how Joe "drafted" Bob Costas to speak at the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1995. He didn't know Costas, didn't even know how to contact him (this was pre-Google, after all).

But working his network, and shipping bratwurst and Secret Stadium Sauce from Milwaukee's County Stadium to Costas, a ballpark food aficionado, scored big points.

Joe encourages readers from the beginning to take this approach to networking: "When you truly give to others without any expectations or strings attached, you will receive much more than you ever could have expected."

Among his advice for effective networking:

•Be clear about your objectives and outcomes.

•Do your research.

•Don't be afraid to ask.

•Try, try, try -- and then try again in a creative way.

•Seek out in-person contact -- there's no substitute for the personal touch.

•Treat others as you would want to be treated.

•Present an offer to help others before you ask for anything.

Joe also has advice for networking to find a job, especially timely advice in this economic climate.

He also shows you how to choose the best approach to connect productively with many kinds of people. "Business is not about managing money," Joe says. "It's about managing relationships and personalities."

Mackay's Moral: If networking is a contact sport, make sure you get in the game.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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