How to Network Effectively – An Encounter That Changed My Life

Last Updated: January 1, 2021

In every meeting there is a seed of possibility and potential. Business networking is about making it break through and blossom. To find out why, read this story of the unexpected and entirely positive consequences that flowed from a chance encounter between two strangers on a train.

how to network effectively
Image Source: Pixabay // Photography: Sasin Tipchai

What can be said about how to network effectively in business that hasn’t already been said? Personally, I think that the importance of learning how to network effectively cannot be overstated. It’s crucial. In fact, I have no doubt that networking is the way to do business. Anyone who has not consciously used networking in their business or career should make it an emergency New Year’s resolution to do so.

Whether the encounters you have with people are casual or formal; whether planned or otherwise; in every meeting is located a seed of unlimited potential. Business networking is about making the seed break through and blossom.


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Even with the digital age in full bloom, networking in business is vital. I also believe that learning how to network effectively is just as important as it ever was, and will remain so into the future. Done properly, networking is a ‘pattern-interrupter’ that can distinguish you and your business in a positive way. Done badly, it also sets you apart from the herd but with entirely the opposite effect, causing prospects to avoid your advances like the plague.


How to Network Effectively – Strangers on a Train

To illustrate the power of networking in business and the potential that’s inherent in any encounter, I’m sharing with you an actual experience that I refer to as ‘The Man on the Train’. I met The Man on the Train just as the Bewley’s Café franchise that I had taken over in Limerick city in 1998 was headed for the rocks (and would eventually lumber to a slow, painful death in 2005).

I knew we were in trouble since the turn of the century. The warning signs included falling sales due to new customer eating habits; a 20 percent freefall in sales during the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak of 2001; and the post 9/11 environment, which, due to the wiping out of American tourism traffic to the Irish Mid-West, ruled out any chance of recovery that year. Our solution was to rebrand our cafe from Bewley’s and to export the new brand to Dublin.

The day I met the Man on the Train, there were two fateful factors at play. Firstly, I had to go to a meeting in Dublin, but I hate driving because I think it’s a waste of time. Secondly, despite outward appearances and an inner belief that all would be well, I was worried about the future, and open to new ideas.

On the train, I was planning on doing my usual—thinking, drinking coffee, working on my laptop, reading, drinking coffee, snoozing, drink coffee, thinking—but fate decreed that I ended up sitting beside a man, both of us facing forward, he by the window and me in the aisle seat. We exchanged pleasantries and got on with our respective train journey stuff. However, at some point we got chatting, and we decided to swap business cards.

The Man on the Train’s name was O’Brien too, so that was a good start. Gary O’Brien was working with Paul Partnership, a not-for-profit organisation in Limerick. I, as you know, was a budding capitalist.

On my business card, there’s a tagline that reads: ‘How can I help?’ and the Man on the Train was curious as to what it meant.

“That’ll mean something different to everybody I meet,” I told him. “It’s my offer to the universe. You might need a ladder some day, or an electrician, or anything, and perhaps you’ll call me. If I can help, I will. If I can’t, I might know of someone who can. Simple.”

‘Okay.’ He smiled as he pocketed my business card.

To explain where I was at the time, our new brand was beginning to grow legs. It looked like we were going to make it, and it was because I was feeling rather blessed with prospective opportunity that I had included my “offer to the Universe” on my card. As it turned out, it was this “offer”, coupled with the fateful meeting with the Man on the Train, which created the thread that led to the lifeline, which led me into the school lunches business.

I never again heard from the Man on the Train, but three months after our meeting, his boss rang me.

“You met a man on the train,” the boss began. “He has left Paul Partnership, but he left me your card. I see you are in the food business. Are you interested in tendering for a Healthy School Lunch pilot project in a school in Limerick?”

“Am I WHAT? Er…YEAH!” I thought. The Limerick cafe business was dying! But instead I keep cool, and responded: “Yes. We could probably look at something like that.”

As a result of that one meeting with a stranger on a train, was born. Over a decade later, Carambola it is a multi-million-euro business that employs over 100 people.

To sum up, learning how to network effectively can result in some amazing outcomes. So for 2021, never forget the possibilities and potentials inherent in every encounter.

If you’re interested in reading more about networking in business and how to network effectively, and the kinds of first-hand experiences that arose from the early days of a successful business, there is more extensive reading in my 2015 book, Feeding Johnny: How to Build a Business Despite the Roadblocks.


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