STEVE BARBER OF SUPPORTING STRATEGIES HAD NO IDEA HOW LEARNING TO NETWORK COULD SO POSITIVELY IMPACT HIS PROFESSIONAL LIFE AND EVEN HIS PERSONAL LIFE.
“I wasn’t always great at networking,” says Steve. “I was the guy who would stand off in the corner.”
Steve’s journey from a wallflower to a successful networker began in 2018 when the company he was working for decided to go in a different direction.
“I loved the company I had worked for, so I was disappointed about having to find other work. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was the best thing that could have happened to me. Following the layoff, I took some time off, which led me to realize that I never want to retire,” says Steve, laughing.
With 30 years of executive-level corporate finance and accounting experience under his belt, he was confident that there was an opportunity out there for him. He just needed to find it.
“I started doing outsource consulting for a nonprofit in Frederick while continuing to look for a job,” says Steve. “I live in Damascus and knew I didn’t want a two-hour drive into D.C. to get the salary I was used to. So, I blasted my resume out to 2,000 people, and a franchise broker contacted me. He asked if I had any interest in owning my own business and my response was to say absolutely not. However, without expectation, I agreed to talk with him. Surprisingly, he presented a few attractive opportunities, one of which was Supporting Strategies. I really enjoyed the outsource bookkeeping I was doing for the nonprofit, so it seemed like a perfect fit for me to sign on with them as a part of a larger franchise. Now I own Supporting Strategies Northwest Maryland, serving Frederick, Montgomery and Carroll counties,” Steve says.
What Steve was surprised to learn about his new business was that networking was required—and not only that, but he was required to attend two networking groups per week.
“I thought, ‘Oh no! I don’t want to network! I’m not a networker.’ Seriously, I didn't have much of a LinkedIn presence. And the thought of it scared me. I was worried about it because I had zero experience,” he says.
Knowing that Supporting Strategies had a successful formula that included networking as part of the plan, “I said to myself, ‘I am going to learn this thing.’ And so, my networking journey began. I joined these networking groups that were recommended to me by a few colleagues and made just about every mistake you can make,” Steve says. “I spent more time talking about myself than asking about the other person; I spent time selling— you don’t sell at these events; I lacked confidence; I wondered who’s going to want to talk to me and who is going to want to spend time with me? What do I have to offer?”
“I know that being good at something doesn’t happen overnight, and I was not going to give up. My direction was changed the evening I went to a networking happy hour in Howard County. I was standing in the corner of the room feeling very awkward,” he says.
“This is where I met Doug Donaldson of U.S. Health Advisors. He is so natural at networking and did so much for me to open the doors on the networking front. He educated me on how to do it and introduced me to people. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. He took me under his wing and helped me learn to be successful at it. He taught me that it’s a givers’ game. You have to give to get. I spent the next 18 months networking and learning and growing. Because of Doug, my skills improved and people started to come to me. And my business grew.
“Through networking, I get my business by giving other people value by connecting them to others, giving them referrals and helping them in some fashion. That is the key to networking. When I have a one-to-one with someone, I always ask: How can I help? What can I do for you? What connections do you need? Everyone needs a referral. People want to do business with those they know, like and trust,” he says. “I look for ways to give back to the community. I’m all about giving back.”
“Here’s a guy that three years ago had no networking experience and who was scared to death,” says Steve. “But through helping others, following up with contacts and treating everyone equally— whether a key referral partner or a one-time meeting—I have grown to love networking.”
"In networking, it's important to build trust and there is great benefit in holding a leadership role," says Steve. "I have recently begun serving as President of the Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce."
Steve entered the networking world to gain business, but he was surprised at how naturally friendships formed from it. He started his own group under Team Network called the Frederick Area Network that meets every other Friday morning at 7:30. The members look forward to the early morning gathering and greatly appreciate Steve’s enthusiasm and creative leadership.
“We have the best dynamic! We are busy passing referrals, doing business but what is so great is we all really care about one another. I did not realize that this would bring so much more than business to my life. There is a camaraderie we feel being a part of this group. Our wives are friends, we go out to dinner and spend time together. Some of my best friends now are those I have met through networking and other associations, such as Frederick Lifestyle," Steve says.
"Here's a perfect example. Everyone in these photos are partners of Frederick Lifestyle, and all the connections to this magazine were made through networking. It has given us a sense of community.”
Steve’s company, Supporting Strategies, is a partner for outsource bookkeeping and controller level services. “We do the bookkeeping side of accounting, helping businesses with their day-to-day transactional accounting. Beyond closing their books monthly and reconciling their balances, we provide value by giving the owner or executive the financial insights and tools needed to run the business,” Steve says.
Steve Barber's Top Networking Tips:
- Be bold. Introduce yourself and your business. Get over your fears.
- Utilize the resources in your community to grow your business.
- Pass it on. Purpose to be a connector and open doors for others whenever you can.