A photo of two business people talking with text growing your professional network

How to Grow your Professional Network

May 30, 2017

An Interview with Hayley Foster, owner of Foster Inc., and networking extraordinaire

Here at Magnet Marketers, we had the opportunity to sit down with Hayley Foster to get her tips and tricks for online and offline networking. Since 2002, Hayley co-owned and operated Verge Marketing Inc – a bag and accessory design and manufacturing Hayley Foster, owner of Foster Inc., and networking extraordinairewith offices located in New York City and Shenzhen, China. From building the infrastructure from the ground up to managing all aspects of the business, Verge grew to more than $5 million in revenue, earning accolades from Entrepreneur magazine as a fastest growing company and landing on the Inc. 5000 list for three years.

Prior to Verge, Hayley spent 10 years in Client Services at Organic Inc. and previous to that at Wells Rich Green and Grey Advertising, building online and offline marketing campaigns for some of the largest brands in the world.

In January 2015, Hayley felt it was time to take her 20 years of experience in growing businesses and give back to the community by launching her new business, Foster Inc. Through peer-to-peer advisory groups, one-on-one Fostering sessions, bootcamp workshops, masterminds, and value-added networking events, Hayley works with women-owned businesses to help them either get started or take their businesses to the next level.

When Hayley isn’t Fostering the women in her group, you can find her mentoring and mothering her two young girls, skiing out west or training for a Tough Mudder or Crossfit event.

That’s a description of what you do, can you fill in the gaps?

I did make a major shift in my career in a late stage in my life, after 40. I decided I didn’t want to do what I was doing anymore. I got sick of the commute to the city and entrepreneurialism is just in my blood. And so is networking and connecting. I like to put myself in the category of people that … I love connecting with other people. Before I left Verge and started Foster, Inc., I was helping these two women in my town start a networking group. I was very much in love with social media at the time, we’re going back five years ago, and I was self-teaching myself all the fun things to know about Twitter and Facebook. I was really putting myself out there socially. So they came to me and said you’re very social online, you’re very connected, can you help us start this group. And so I started the Facebook page for them, I started marketing it and invited all the local working women that I knew. It was all working women that were going to be part of this group. And so because I was the one leading the Facebook group and writing the posts, at one point I started leading meetings and putting the content together for it, people started to see me as the face of the group. People would come up to me and ask for help with their businesses or their marketing plans. So I was doing it, and I was doing it for free and people loved it. I loved checking back in with those women and seeing what they were up to. For years I was a part of peer-to-peer advisory groups and different networking groups all over the city, and I loved the networking. What I really wanted my focus to be was those women out there. The women who were really trying to recreate themselves and find a new passion, to push forward in their lives. I wanted to give them lessons of what I learned over the 12 years of building a business to $5 million.

So before we talk about the how to build a professional network to strengthen your brand, let’s discuss the “why.” Why build an awesome professional network?

You never know where you are going to meet the person who can take your business to the next level. They could be disguised or come to you through this sweet little older woman next to you. The importance, or the why behind networking and connecting, you know if you are looking to grow a business, you are always looking for your next client or your next vendor or your next somebody. So it’s really important to put yourself out there and be connected to those people. I used to go to lunch with competitors. I call it co-opetition instead of competition. Let’s cooperate with each other. I’m not trying to steal your business, I have a different competitive advantage than you do, and you have a different one than I do, but let’s try to share strategies and insights. You can help me get from here to here a lot quicker and I can help you also.

What should someone know before joining one?

The first place they should go is LinkedIn, in terms of online networking. I actually do a great deal of networking on LinkedIn. It’s one of the first places I go to check somebody’s credentials and see how valid and relevant they are. There are a lot of companies that are out know that are helping people really perfect their LinkedIn profiles. Meet-ups are also great, if you can find local meet-ups, like I did individuals. I think that’s really the key. Find like-minded people. They don’t all have to be in your industry, diversity is huge.

How do you know a networking group is right for you?

Make sure you read about the people who are running those groups and modifying them, look at the content in the groups as well, and make sure the content is something that you are really interested in. Look how many members are in there. Some of the large groups are great to be a part of, but even some of the smaller ones where they are more specific. If you’re going to post something within the group, it’s a great way to get your voice really heard.

What are some rules to live by when in a networking group?

While I don’t ever call myself a coach, because I’ve never taken a coaching class and I don’t have a coaching background, I think it’s really important to listen to people and be interested in what they have to say. As opposed to always being the person that talks. People want to be heard, people want to talk, they want to share their stories. And, as much as you want to share yours also, let the other person do some of the sharing.

Follow up is important in any situation, not just networking. I never come home from an event and don’t go back and follow up with the people that I’ve met. I play this little trick with myself where when I meet somebody I try to think of one quality or something they said so I can recall that in the follow up with them. That’s really important too, because they are meeting with a hundred people that day also. If you can throw something like that back at them, it sets you apart from all the other people.

How can you get the most out of an in-person meet-up or networking group?

In terms of topics, I would say pick topics for networking that you are interested in. Even if you go and you don’t meet anybody who is interesting, at least you leave with one nugget. I say if I can leave a networking session with at least one really good nugget of information, it was worth my time. And as far as figuring out which ones to go to, or how often to go, we are all so strapped for time, we are all super busy, obviously don’t go to ones that aren’t interesting to you. If you are going to go, make sure they are ones that are inline with what it is – whether it’s your business or whether it’s the people that are attending – make sure there is a really good reason for you to be there.

To follow Hayley check out her Facebook page, her Twitter, or visit her website.

Want to watch the whole conversation? Check out our Facebook Live. Click here to watch Mike Gingerich and Hayley Foster.

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