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A Video Conversation with Kelly Leonard, CEO of Taylor-Leonard, Part 2, The Golden Rules of Networking

Click here for Part 1 Empowering customers with the tools and training to achieve operational efficiency Kelly LeonardKelly Leonard is the CEO of Taylor-Leonard Corporation. Headquartered in Montgomery County, MD, Taylor-Leonard offers training, business development, and technology consulting that helps customers leverage their networks, reduce ambiguities, and increase operational performance. The company engages in a number of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, giving back to Montgomery College ACES, the Nehemiah Project, the Montgomery Business Development Corporation, and more. In 2014, Kelly received a Minerva Entrepreneur Women-Owned Business of the Year Award. Kelly Leonard spoke with citybizlist founder Edwin Warfield for this interview. EDWIN WARFIELD: What made you decide to leave GE and start your own company? KELLY LEONARD: It was a bit scary leaving GE and having the comfort of that “good job,” but because my husband and I had already planned to be business owners, we saw, unlike a lot of our peers, where they were starting families and immediately a spouse was coming home to take care of children, we sort of did the reverse of that. We decided that we wanted to be in a position to have greater flexibility in our life once our children reached middle to high school age. That was about the time I left GE, was when our son was in middle school. So, it was a planned exit, trust me, I’m a planner! [Laughter] My husband left Price Waterhouse, not by choice, in 2001, just after the events of 9/11. Unfortunately, he was laid off by Price Waterhouse Coopers—he and several thousand of his peers, as a result of just the turn in the economy. He had set out to just start his own company, to not be beholden to the corporate challenges, to be in a position to start his own company to manage that process and to grow the business the way he desired. He was able to leverage a lot of the connections and clients that he had built through Price Waterhouse, and because he had great relationships with a lot of the partners, there was a willingness for them to help him to get his consultancy up off the ground. Can you tell us about your husband and his role in the company? Yes, Jerome, his background as a technologist is CRM—customer relationship management—and he has over 20 years of familiarity with really large, complex customer relation management systems like Siebel, Oracle, SalesForce. So, as he was growing our practice, a lot of our clients—while they understood the dynamics around how to use technology from a sales marketing service perspective to connect with their clients and prospects—when social media came on the scene, there was this confusion, or even apprehension of them using social media, and so the industry termed it “social CRM.” Because I have a corporate training background, we spent a lot of time and resources learning LinkedIn because we saw it as being probably the most reputable platform in the social media space, and the most widely accepted platform in the business-to-business, business-to-government space. So, we focused our energy on learning everything that we could about that platform. What is it like working alongside your spouse? Working with my spouse can at times pose a challenge. It’s always funny because, in addition to working with my husband, we serve our local church as marriage mentors. We have these conversations with husband and wife teams all the time. They’ll come to us and say, “Oh my gosh! How could you work with your spouse? I could never work with my spouse.” And we just sort of laugh at that because we’re thinking, “But you married that person, right?” I think it’s this healthy approach to making sure that you have this understanding and this a EDWIN WARFIELD: Tell us about the ebook you just published. KELLY LEONARD: My ebook has been a labor of love, because I’ve always had a desire to write but as a small business owner and an entrepreneur. It’s a time challenge right? We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and really, the book was created because for more than five years now, I’ve been the host and executive producer of an event called The Small Business University, the purpose of which on this event was to really bring the business community together to network, collaborate, and share best practices in an effort to stimulate local economic development. What I was seeing in those venues was a lot of discomfort. A lot of people didn’t really have the capacity or the awareness, or the skill set, or the comfort level to effectively network. So, this book was designed to really help those individuals to develop the capacity to be able to be an effective networker, to address some of the challenges that they may be having, and some of the things that I believe were roadblocks to them really being successful in those environments. Because, at the end of the day, so much of what we do starts with networking and building relationships. Oftentimes, we only have one time to make a positive first impression and so if you blow it in that networking event it could really be detrimental to your business growth and expansion.   What would you consider the “golden rules” of networking? The golden rules of networking are near and dear to my heart. I would say one of my favorite golden rules is the fact that we need to first give in order to receive. Often I’m in these networking environments, or I personally experience, where you extend your hand just to say a simple hello, and they immediately burst into their sales pitch. And you’re like, “Wait a second! Slow down, I’m not here to be sold.” I think so often as entrepreneurs or just as business people, we’re so excited and so passionate about what we do that we just want to share it with everyone that we come into contact with. I think there is a time and a place and an effective strategy to do that, and I think the way to most effectively share your message is to first allow people to share their message, to be a really good listener.   The golden rules—that’s just one—being in a position to really listen first before you just sort of blurt out what your sales strategy or how you might be able to serve in that business relationship. The emotional bank account—that’s something that I love, and that’s something that dates back to the late, great Stephen Covey who, in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about this notion of having an emotional bank account. It all goes back to when you think about just practically having a bank account. None of us are in a position to make a withdrawal from our banker if we haven’t first deposited. It’s the same premise. It’s being in a position to deposit first before you receive. What makes for a good networking event? There’s certainly no shortage of networking events here in the Washington Metropolitan D.C. area, or around the country for that matter. Prioritizing those events becomes very important. I know for me, as a mother, as a spouse, it’s important to me that I manage my time very well. So I often will give higher priority to events that take place in the morning for example, when I know my children are already off to school, or during the actual workday. The other reason why I prioritize in that way is that oftentimes I find that, as I go through the course of my workday, something inevitably happens where it makes it difficult for me to attend an event that may take place in the evening because I need to address a client concern, or something that happened in school that day. So, I prioritize first based on the time, but I also take a look at “well, who are the folks that I expect to be at those events? Are they my ideal clients, my ideal prospects? Are there great strategic partners and people that I believe I can build positive, mutually beneficial working relationships with?” If those types of folks are at those events, then those get a priority in my opinion as well.   I tend to focus on smaller networking events because I place a lot of relevance and I weight on quality over quantity. There are a lot of very large networking events that take place, and oftentimes I will see people walk around and it’s like they’ve got a wad of business cards. It’s almost like they’re just there to be able to pound their chest and collect business cards, as opposed to being in an environment where it’s a smaller, more intimate setting, where you really have the opportunity to dig deeper, to learn more about the people that are there, what their needs are, and how you might be in a position to help them. In my opinion, the next best thing to me winning a new client is being in a position to help my clients win new clients.

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