Jessica Rivelli can stand in a ballroom filled with 400 women entrepreneurs and business leaders and, seemingly, know them all.
It’s a reflection of how the Working Women of Tampa Bay founder has built her organization into one of the state’s fastest growing women’s business groups. In nine years, Rivelli’s group has risen to include nearly 1,000 members, and she’s expanded with a second chapter in the Orlando area.
Through monthly events, periodic seminars and annual conferences, Rivelli has managed to foster an atmosphere of motivation, education and inspiration.
Yet it’s Rivelli’s natural ability to enter an event teeming with people and emerge with new friendships that serves her so well.
Rivelli knows all too well the importance of networking, and she encourages those to engage with fellow businessmen and businesswomen, even when it can be daunting.
For the shy, the introverted and the increasing number of young people more accustom to communicating via emails, texts and social media, the idea of stepping into an organization’s luncheon or happy hour can be an intimidating challenge.
“If you’re new to the networking world, no need to be nervous,” Rivelli says. “Just remember everyone in the room is there for the same reason you are: to make new connections.
“One tip to make connecting easier is to ask people about the things they are passionate about like family, food and what they do for fun.”
Rivelli identifies approaching every opportunity with a genuine and authentic attitude as an important tenet, and the networker must go beyond what they can gain from the connection.
“Caring about others and creating value for them is the key,” Rivelli said. “Ask them how you can help them. Offer to make a connection for them or send them a referral. When those kinds of relationships are cultivated over the long term, you now have a network of people to draw upon when you have a need.”
But with so many networking options in Tampa Bay, and so little time to invest in events, how does one go about choosing the best opportunities?
Kyle Parks, principle and co-founder of B2 Communications in St. Petersburg, said he aims to go macro and micro. He frequents chamber of commerce events on both sides of the bay to connect with a diverse group of businesses. However, he also targets smaller events that focus on his specific interests.
“We stress to our clients to go narrow and deep with their involvements,” Parks said. “Don’t obsess about how many events you go to in a week. Instead, think about picking groups that match your interests, and also will help your business.
“Get on a committee, get involved,” Parks added. “That will get you a lot further than just going to events and hoping you meet the right people.”
Whether you’re looking for an organization that features broad collections of professionals, or smaller groups that target folks with similar interests, here are six great networking recommendations (in no particular order of preference).
No. 1: Rising Tide Innovation Center
Founded by the attorneys of the Fletcher and Fischer law firm, the cowork space burst onto the scene earlier this year and quickly established itself as a go-to for those looking to connect with a supportive community.
But it also hosts a multiple networking events including a monthly gathering staged by Rivelli.
The center’s other monthly events range from learning events to guest speakers. It also serves as a gathering spot for specific groups. Located in downtown St. Petersburg, the center sits in the heart of the business district and offers a smartly appointed environment in a convenient location.
Says Rivelli: “I admire what the founders of Rising Tide are doing by creating a gathering space for entrepreneurs and executives to connect and create together.”
No. 2: St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce
The chamber continues to reinvent its traditional role as a networking organization. Executive director Chris Steinocher says innovation is key.
“We’ve learned our members want unconventional opportunities to collide,” Steinocher said.
The chamber’s efforts include a weekly “Million Cups” event staged every Wednesday morning where it offers Kahwa coffee and two 9-minute presentations from local entrepreneurs.
At its “Member Appreciation Nights,” the chamber spotlights a new hotspot foodie/beverage place to check out. “Now Trending” is the lunchtime opportunity to network, eat and learn about the next hot topic in the burg.
Of course, the chamber still maintains one traditional approach: ribbon cuttings are a weekly if not daily occurrence. It introduces new entrepreneurs/businesses to the community, maintaining a mission it first started as the Board of Trade in 1899.
Steinocher, however, says the chamber has made a concerted effort to move into the 21st Century with an emphasis on diverse events and times.
“We’ve learned some want to connect in the morning, some at lunch and some after work – so we offer it all,” Steinocher said.
Learn more at www.stpete.com.
No. 3: Network Professionals Inc., South Pinellas County
This group provides a platform for small businesses to expand their salesforce by networking with a diverse group of professionals. It’s on the micro level, with one person exclusively representing a specific professional category. The group maintains a reputation of being friendly and outgoing, but it’s focus is definitely on business.
The strategy? Members refer business to each other, effectively becoming each other’s sales force. Meetings are weekly and structured for maximum results. Members join to grow their business, cultivate business resources and expand their networking sphere of influence.
In South Pinellas, the organization maintains a number of geographic chapters with some meeting in the morning and others gathering for lunch. For more information, visit https://www.npiflorida.com/chapters/?chapter=4
No. 4: Keystone Mastermind Alliance
Co-founded by small business owners Liz M. Lopez and Tracie Thompson, the Keystone Mastermind Alliance touts itself as an organization that provides a high-quality and active networking environment. It’s particularly focused on helping professionals of all backgrounds.
The KMA Network offers a variety of events that combine networking opportunities with marketing information, access to business leaders and educational workshops. It strives to replicate a corporate support system for small business owners.
“Big companies don’t just have one person making decisions,” Thompson wrote on the KMA site. “They have an executive leadership team and a board of directors. Together they make healthy decisions for the growth of the company, bring new ideas to the table, and join forces to overcome challenges.
“Through our … events, we offer business owners a trustworthy and effective source of guidance and support that actively contributes to their growth and development.”
The networks stages events throughout Pinellas and routinely holds gatherings in St. Petersburg on Fridays. For more information, visit https://kmanetwork.com.
No. 5: LinkedIn
Okay, this isn’t a macro group or micro interest organization, but for those seeking the convenience of a targeted audience, this social medium can prove valuable. It’s not the face-to-face encounter of a traditional networking event, but LinkedIn often gives entrepreneurs the chance to make a direct connection with someone in their field.
“Social media can be incredibly helpful throughout the networking process,” Rivelli said. “I especially love LinkedIn. I consider it my digital Rolodex. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be helpful as well especially for small businesses with small marketing budgets.”
If a specific person could serve as a cog with a major business goal, bid to link with them, but remain open to a future face-to-face meeting.
No. 6: Working Women of Tampa Bay
We end where we started. Rivelli continues to offer varied meetups in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. The former television producer prides herself on the geographic diversity of her meetings as well as the size and scope. Working Women may offer a simple morning coffee or a luncheon with 200 people and a well-known speaker all in the same month.
It helps that Rivelli strives to make the group all-inclusive.
“It embraces everyone, every woman is welcomed,” she said. “There aren’t criteria on how much you make; you don’t have to be at an executive level. It’s all women who work. That’s what makes it special.”
Yet it’s the supportive nature of the group that helps it thrives. In a world where women can, at times, be their own worst enemy, Working Women fight against the broad-brush assertion and genuinely fosters strong relationships between its members.
“I’ve experienced situations where a woman wasn’t always my best advocate in the workplace,” said Rivelli. “We want Working Women to be a place where women can be each other’s best ambassadors.”
We second that sentiment at Rising Tide Innovation Center. We’re striving to create a team of ambassadors for those who join our cowork collaborative. Every successful entrepreneur and business person rises with the aid of a community, and we enhance our community every day at Rising Tide.