Our Networking pro of the month is Stephanie Phillips, director of member value and engagement for the Greater Richmond Chamber.
She jokes that it’s a good thing her first career choice — being “the social worker who saves the world” — didn’t pan out. “I ended up instead in an entry-level job with the Greater Richmond Chamber, where I found my calling,” she shares.
During her 22 years with the Greater Richmond Chamber, Phillips has focused on maximizing strategic partnerships, being a resource to thousands of members, and creating dynamic events and volunteer programs.
“The bottom line,” she says, “is that my job is about providing a positive and thoughtful experience with everyone I work with.”
With decades of experience helping business leaders network, what are Phillips’ top tips for networking success? Scroll down for our Q&A.
Be Inkandescent: Tell us about the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce, and how it has grown in the last few years.
Stephanie Phillips: As a regional Chamber, our goal is to help move the Richmond, VA, region (RVA region, for short) forward through our leadership, community, and brand initiatives. We are not a traditional chamber, as our philosophy is one of quality, not quantity. This means no membership drives, campaigns, golf outings, etc. Our philosophy has proven successful, as seen by our retention rate and our approach in engaging our members.
Be Inkandescent: What is your mission, and how has it changed to keep up with the times?
Stephanie Phillips: Our mission is to support the success of our members, provide a strong business voice, and develop leaders and entrepreneurs. As times change, so do the areas of focus not only for businesses, but also for nonprofits. We always keep our fingers on the pulse of what our members and the RVA region is experiencing. By working together, the business community plays a powerful role in determining how this community looks and feels. Our mission helps support that very sense of place.
Be Inkandescent: You host regular networking events, which are really fabulous. What makes them work? And what do you think is the secret to networking success?
Stephanie Phillips: Many people go into a networking event without planning ahead. One should always have a game plan going into a business networking event. Find out who is going to be there and/or get there early and review the nametags on the table. The best networkers use the “pay it forward” approach. Introduce someone you know to a person they could possibly do business with. The more you do this, the more people will see you as genuine and you’ll be remembered. Developing sustainable relationships is the key to making quality connections.
Our goal is to make sure we provide the platform for our members to come together, gain information on a topic of interest, and have the opportunity to connect. I’m not sure there is one secret to networking.
Here’s what I’ve learned from observing many different types of events:
- I use the word “networking” as little as possible. It’s about connections and having a plan in place so your efforts are effective.
- The Chamber has an “on-boarding” process for every new member who joins. We sit down with them and develop an Engagement Plan, which considers what their business is, who they want to have access to, and how much opportunity they have to participate.
- Using that information, we help them build their Chamber membership into their business plan. Again, quality not quantity.
Be Inkandescent: What is so important about networking?
Stephanie Phillips: That’s a difficult question to answer as it depends on what one wants to accomplish. Aside from the obvious goal of business growth and development, networking can be an effective way for something as simple as letting the community know who you are and what your business stands for. Some businesses are simply interested in letting folks know they are here or solidifying their brand. Connecting with others and developing sustainable relationships in a strategic way is important to any business that is in growth mode.
Be Inkandescent: What are your top 3 secrets to networking well?
- Know what you want to accomplish and have a plan in place.
- Help others connect (pay it forward).
- Be yourself, be genuine, and keep integrity at the forefront of all you do.
Be Inkandescent: You have a strong program for women. Tell us about that.
Stephanie Phillips: Our Extraordinary Women’s Exchange provides a platform for RVA professional women to grow as leaders, create relationships, and feel personally empowered. We focus on fresh, relevant topics through a series of fun, authentic, energizing programs. And be sure to click on our sizzle reel, or click the arrow on the YouTube screen below:
Be Inkandescent: What advice do you have for the women in your network about being successful in business?
Stephanie Phillips: Since I do not own my own business, all I can say is that I’m fortunate to know so many successful business owners and C-level ladies who are doing fantastic things in their business and in the RVA region. Getting to know them and learning about their strategies and thought processes is a wonderful experience.
Surrounding myself with women who are smart, empowered, thoughtful, and genuine is an important element to my job here at the Chamber. RVA women who have “been there and done that” are always happy to share. For EWX, it’s all about having those “real conversations.”
Be Inkandescent: What is your top leadership lesson for business leaders? Do you live by that lesson?
Stephanie Phillips: In my case, participating in a leadership program helped to enlighten me to the fact that while we may think we know what type of leader we are, we should never assume that others necessarily have the same perspective. We all have moments and interactions where the opportunity to learn, be inspired, or be enlightened can happen. We should open ourselves up and welcome those moments.