284: Networking Authentically and Honestly - with Elzie Flenard & Lorry Rifkin
Change your perspective and he'll lead you down another path, maybe without you even realizing it. He's a creative dude, an entrepreneur, a family man, a business owner, no box fits, it doesn't even exist. He's a man of original thoughts, all products of unique thinking. Above all else, he is a storyteller he unpacks topics from unexpected directions, weaving influences into the music speaking and podcasting. Society, business current events, you can never predict his take. Suffice to say, it's probably different than you've encountered. Why do things happen? How do they drive behavior?
He has a CPA, has 40 years of business experience ranging from accounting operations, sales, and marketing. He specializes in returning companies to profitability. He owns four businesses in Milwaukee, a business turnaround and profit improvement firm, a bookkeeping and accounting service company, a networking training and event company, and residential rental units on Milwaukee's East Side. A core introvert he wanted a large network, but there was one problem: networking terrified him.
How did the two of you get connected?
Elzie: Well, it was funny, because I met Lorry at a networking event, of course. I'm very sensitive to my gut when my gut tells me that this is a person that I need to connect with or deepen a relationship with. So I had seen him on LinkedIn with lunch with Lorry stuff. I said to him that I'd like to do lunch with Lorry and we just couldn't find a time that works, because everybody wants to have lunch with Lorry. So we ended up doing breakfast and very long story short, he would ask me these questions that a person that you were just meeting shouldn't be asking. I thought to myself, "Why is this guy asking me these types of questions?" But it was intriguing, and it made me open my perspective to deepening relationships and being curious and open to other people's perspectives. So that's kind of how it all got started in terms of our relationship. This was a little bit before COVID happened and we couldn't you couldn't do lunch with Lorry in person so I said do it virtually. Nine sessions later, in lunch with Laurie virtual is still around.
For those that are not familiar with Lunch with Lorry, why would someone want to attend?
Lorry: Because we don't get to tell the story of our lives, it's usually your rush to business or getting something networking. Lunch with Lorry is about telling some aspect of your life story and the stories are compelling. There had been lunches when people have cried because the stories are sad and there have been lots of stories and we can stop laughing. But one thing people learn they're not alone, because there's a lot of common themes from the Lunch with Lorry.
Elzie: I think I've learned things about people that I would have never learned in a zillion years in a business setting so it's refreshing to be able to see that side of people without even really knowing what they do for a business. It's cool to be able to genuinely meet people and have those authentic conversations.
What are some of these common themes and are there a couple of stories you can share?
Lorry: Well, I think some of the stories are amazing, there was a woman who I asked what her favorite charity was and why. But there have been people who have funny stories. We had a gentleman who drove a train. He's wasn't an engineer, he just drove a train. People have had cars going ditches when they're chasing people, it's just amazing stories. But one thing about it is it is equal opportunity networking because I don't let you say what you do for a living. I don't let you do your elevator pitch. That's probably the most unique part of it. I've had CEOs next to the unemployed, and everyone is equal and on a second part are equal. Every single person has to participate. Elzie and I call every single person to explain one of their answers.
You've got this phrase that you use, which is "Stop having zoom fatigue," and can you share a little bit about how you get around it?
Lorry: Most people come to zoom meetings and in my experience so far, this is not 100% to show up, they want to tell their boss or participating and when you do that, it becomes a routine you go I gotta go another zoom meeting. I have developed systems that supercharge your networking when you go to a zoom meeting. I have pre-built templates that have connection requests, they have a spot for pictures, a spot for me to write down who I want to connect to, the outline of a post for an event. So when I go to a zoom event, it's like networking in person for me because I come prepared. What usually happens is after an event, I do a post about an event's organization before they even think about doing it. So for me, the zoom meetings are refreshing because it gives me a competitive edge. I'm the first post, I put a plugin for my company and it's given me 1000s of new connections. So it's not fatigue-free. I've sort of gamed the system, using simple ideas to build a system that allows me to get a giant multiplier effect from a zoom meeting.
Can you share from your personal experiences your most successful or favorite networking story that you've had?
Elzie: When I look at networking, I'm a farmer, right in terms of how I approach business and how I approach giving value to people. I like to cultivate and water the seed and build relationships. But I think it's extremely important to be authentic and genuine in that relationship as well. You're not looking for a sale or looking for what you can get, you're truly and authentically looking for how you can help and how you can add value, and how you can connect. When you go into any environment with that perspective and that mindset, amazing things happen. So I think a lot of the opportunities that I've had in business and life have come from and as a result of those relationships that have been cultivated. So I think for me, the key is being authentic and open minded and adding value to people, and being that connector.
How do you stay in front of and best nurture your network?
Lorry: There's two things that go hand in hand: Having interesting content that people want to look for and engaging them by responding to their posts. I had to slow down because I got busy at work and one of my former bosses, who never comments or likes on anything, says, "I noticed you slowed down." I hear that a lot from people who watch what I'm doing, enjoy reading it, but they never like or comment. So that's the true gauge of your engagement. There are always the people who like and comment, but the ones who don't are your real audience, because there are probably three of those to everyone who engages so you have to have interesting content. So I write Lunch with Lorry stories about people I met, and I find amazing connections. My last one, I network in Florida now of all places. I meet our gentlemen, Ed Katz, who tells me his favorite hobby is baseball. He tells me a story about how he took a picture with Willie Mays. Willie Mays was my idol growing up. When I lived in Chicago, I would go to Cub games and cheer against the Cubs because I like the giants and here he's showing me a picture of Willie Mays. Those connections you just find with people from talking to them or would drive engagement. I have a connection to him going forward, he will always remember that. He actually after that call, introduced me to a real high-end networking group in New York City. So that's the thing if you engage people, and they love what you're engaged on your content stories you share, they refer you on.
What advice would you offer that business professional who is looking to grow their network?
Lorry: It depends on the purpose. So Lunch with Laurie is a general networking company. So I will connect with everybody, I want a very broad network. But I mine that network, the people I meet who might not be a connection for my business part of my network, I mine their second and third-level connections to find potential business out there. So I'm a general networker who hones in on specific people who can help me in my accounting solutions and clarity business. So I have a hybrid strat strategy. Some people might be very focused and only want to talk to people who could give them business and there are others that it is meet anybody with no other purpose. It depends on what your goals are in life.
Elzie: I think in addition to what Lorry shared is being organized as is super important. My CRM is my best friend, to tag different contacts and what they might be looking for because I meet a lot of people. Sometimes even though I'm good with faces, I will forget your name. So my CRM helps keep me in alignment with who I've met, what we talked about, what they're looking for at the time, and ways that I can have those touchpoints that if I were relying on my memory, it will fail me, catastrophically. Having it organized helps me focus on those relationships and maintain them.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
Elzie: I would just tell myself to stay focussed, stay steady, and be open. I think that that would be the guiding principles that would still allow me to get those experiences because my experiences have made me who and what I am today. But I think understanding the focus and steady, right, because sometimes young people, they go really, really fast, but they're everywhere, they're not focused. So one of the things I tell my son is, you know, be steady and focused because when you're setting and focused you gain a lot of ground at a pace that's sustainable and allows you to grow.
Lorry: I was more of an analytical introvert, and I didn't like failure. I would go back and embrace failure. Every time I fail it reinvigorates me to do something different and come up with answers. I wish I would have learned failure is the cost of goods sold of success at a younger age.
Any final word of advice to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
Lorry: If you're an introvert, come to a Lunch of Lorry networking event because you will feel comfortable doing it because you're talking about yourself not asking other people to stop. Even though it might scare you up first, almost every introvert who's come I've got a note after that said, "Thank you, I didn't want to come but it was a great environment and I felt comfortable talking and participating." So just take that first step, it's a great way to start networking.
Elzie: I would just add that I happen to believe that it exists on a spectrum. There are people who are extreme introverts, and there are people who have extreme extroverts. I happen to be an ambivert, which is somewhere on that spectrum. So I think this lunch with Laurie is a cool event because whether you're on one side of either of the spectrums, you'll still get a ton out of it. So if you're an extreme extrovert, you'll love laughing at the people's stories and if you're an extreme introvert, you'll, you know, come out of your shell a bit and understand that it's okay, and if you're in the middle like me, you'll laugh at both the introvert and the extrovert.
Connect with Elzie and Lorry:
Elzie’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elziedflenardiii/
Lorry’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lunchwithlorry/