April 2019 Featured Carousel Features

Ready, Set, Network!

Written By: Tracy Wright

With more demands on people’s time both in and out of the office, the time for career development is often extremely limited. Although networking isn’t always a priority for many professionals, having a strong professional network can significantly bolster career success and also provide a support system of people that can spark ideas, collaborations or just offer advice.

Locally, there are several area professional groups that are putting their own spin on networking.

The Gainesville Black Professionals Group hosts quarterly Movers and Shakers mixers.

“They are greeted by our ambassadors at the registration table with smiles, compliments and often hugs. This warm welcome sets the stage for the rest of the night,” said Virginia Grant, who leads the Gainesville Black Professionals. “Our ambassador team continues this momentum and energy the rest of the night by making an effort to meet every guest. For instance, if I meet a new Realtor, I will make sure that I introduce her to a mortgage broker, bank representative, cleaning service or potential home buyer before the night is over. Eventually the entire room is full of positive energy, networking and connections.”

Erin Sapienza, interim chair and registrar of the Gainesville Area Women’s Network (GAWN), said that the main mission of the Gainesville Area Women’s Network (GAWN) is to bring women out of their work silos and spark a fresh perspective by learning and talking with other professional women.

It can be easy to get sucked into working in your business, so networking and communication are extremely important to professional and personal growth, members said. They added that having a networking work specifically for women in business can be beneficial.

Experts stress that there is no perfect style of networking. Different people are successful using different networking tactics. That is what fueled Virginia Mackoul of Avison Young (formerly Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group) and Sara Emmanuel of Scherer Construction when they created Talking Heads, a local group focused on offering a new “networking” format — one that’s based on personal connection, learning and relationship-building above anything else, even over business generation.

“Sara and I found ourselves meeting regularly for lunch or coffee, just brainstorming ideas on how to get everything done,” Mackoul said. “We found ourselves in the constant situation of ‘wearing many hats’ for our organizations. We knew there were other peers in our community facing the same issues and challenges, and we thought: what better way to make an impact than by starting our own group? It’s not a networking group, per se, but more of a support group — a #ideaclub if you will — one filled with friends, and peers, all helping each other grow and be better.”

According to a 2016 LinkedIn report, 70 percent of people were hired at a company where they had a connection, and 80 percent of professionals consider networking to be important to career success. This kind of success followed a young member of the Gainesville Black Professionals group.

“Most recently, we were hosting a dinner for the nominees of our Men of Vision and Purpose Award,” Grant said. “Dr. Tarielle Jones assisted me with organizing the event and was introducing herself to the nominees and sharing with them that she recently graduated from UF and was looking for a job but so far hadn’t found one. Our sponsor, Matt Bowman of Micanopy Winery, was listening and suggested that she attend the Women of Color in Technology STEM Conference and offered to cover her $1,500 registration fee if she could get to the conference in Detroit.

“One of our nominees, Adrian Harper, stepped in and agreed to cover the expenses of her trip to Detroit so that she could attend the conference. Tarielle attended the conference, was interviewed by several companies and presented with three job offers on the spot. This was a life-changing moment for her and truly a success story for us.”

In addition to making business and personal connections, many networking groups benefit their members by celebrating accomplishments. GAWN takes time at each meeting to congratulate and highlight members’ endeavors.

GAWN’s tagline is “the friendliest networking in town.” The group tries to promote and encourage a positive, friendly and supportive environment at its events. It has time at its meetings for members to share their own recent accomplishments or the accomplishments of someone they know.

Talking Heads prides itself on helping to encourage dialogue and nurture ideas for all its members.

“We aim to foster an environment of open communication where our members can share their trials, tribulations and challenges and learn tactics, strategies and tools to help overcome those obstacles,” Mackoul said. “We also get to know our members and offer them an opportunity to share what they know and topics they feel they’re an expert on to further encourage that sharing and learning.”

The mission of Talking Heads is to create a thriving local network of forward-thinking professionals who join together in pursuit of growth, learning and development.

“Together, we can create solutions to problems, think big and generate new creative ideas to better one another. We have testimony from our members that has really reinforced that what we’re aiming for is working,” Mackoul said. “We have received such support from the great city of Gainesville, and we only hope to continue to grow together and for the betterment of our great city.”  

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