I recently sat down with the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce’s Judy Braatz, membership development director and networking rock star, to discuss the value of business relationships and their influence on building strong communities and enhancing professional development. As caffeinated as the coffee was, it did not energize me like the jolt of anecdotal advice shared by one of Rochester’s finest networkers. Sit on the edge of your seat, get excited and enjoy some café Braatz:
What type of education do you have? How has this shaped your professional career?
My educational background has not stopped me from having several amazing careers. I graduated from RCTC with a two-year Executive Assistant degree and, after one job in between, began selling Mary Kay cosmetics part time while working as a secretary at the YMCA. I eventually decided to sell Mary Kay Cosmetics full time and built a new home in my early 20s with my Mary Kay business. Often times, I was asked if I had majored in marketing and I would say, ‘no, I went to RCTC for a two-year secretarial program.’
I was also a news broadcaster on the KWEB/KRCH radio stations and I was asked by many people if I had gone to Brown Institute, and, again, I would say, ‘no, I went to RCC for a secretarial program.’
I was also a stock broker at Dain Bosworth because of my sales experience, which went okay. People would ask me if I majored in economics, and, again, I would reply, ‘no, I graduated from RCTC’s secretarial program.’ After three years, I changed careers and managed Rochester’s Manpower Temporary Services branch and grew business from $500,000 to $4.5 million in annual sales over a six-year span. Again, people would ask me if I had majored in business management and I would say…(ok, you know what I would tell them!).
Currently, I am the membership development director at the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce and have been here for 18 years. And that’s how my past experience brought me to this point of my life.
Speaking of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, it has been a wonderful conduit for Minnesota School of Business-Rochester’s business connections with the Chamber’s nearly 1,400 members, which makes it the largest Chamber membership in Minnesota. What makes Rochester’s Chamber so special?
I think we are good at bringing our Chamber members together. We offer networking events after work and some are before work. Lunch time is another popular time that we host lunches with elected officials, educational opportunities, and legislative updates. I also think our work with workforce issues and bringing business into our schools’ classrooms has elevated our involvement with our members.
MSB rates the value of its Chamber membership against the number of successful networking relationships we’ve built with Chamber members that have led to job opportunities for our graduates. Why is building relationships so important in the networking world? What makes you excel at it, because you are very good at it? (that was both a question and unsolicited compliment!)
I try to make each Chamber member feel important – no matter the size of their business. This is still a “hand-shaking” community. Don’t forget about the value and impact that a face-to-face introduction holds. People like to shake hands with people they are going to do business with. If you are looking for a job or for a new customer, and you can meet these people in an informal networking event, when you follow up with contacts it is no longer a “cold-call” because now they have seen your personality and your business style, which may get you that appointment before others who are calling or sending in a resume. The moral: first impressions are very important.
Imagine you’re speaking directly to a recent class of college graduates. How should these graduates increase their job prospects with the help of the Chamber? What direction would you give them to make all employers, large and small, take a serious look at them?
I would strongly suggest trying to do an internship in a business that interests you. Don’t be so concerned about what they are going to pay you, as most internships can be short term or involve a specific project. As an intern, you can demonstrate your reliability, team player skills, asking what else needs to be done, etc. I have seen many interns get hired after completing their internship but when they started there were no openings in the business. You may have to start at the bottom, but it’s a great way to work your way up to the job you really want. Also, ask business people that you know if you could attend a meeting or networking event with them (maybe a neighbor, relative, mother or father’s jobs). Again: meeting face to face can be powerful for getting that meeting/interview set up.