How To Work a Room®: SAVVY Networking Revisited

There are so many misfires under the guise of “Networking”, referrals and recommendations that I decided to share an updated version of Chapter 6 of The Secrets of SAVVY Networking. It was originally published in 1993 by Warner Books and is still available via POD and on Audio. I updated stories, items and language but the basics are the same. Rather than post the “TIDBIT/Soundbite” version I’ve read and even been asked to write, I wanted you to have the information in its entirety.
These are strange times in the Corona Crisis. So I’ve provided Chapter Six of my favorite of my “offspring”.

CHAPTER SIX Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Match or Leads, Referrals or Contacts

Yenta, The Networker

In 1989, the silver anniversary tour of Fiddler on the Roof played in San Francisco. In 2019 I saw the Yiddish version in New York. Even though the all-Yiddish version had English sub-titles…after 54 years as a play, I knew the story…and words. And they ring true for that process we call “connecting”, referring, recommending. Yenta was a networker!

During the play, I expected Tevye’s three daughters to sing an updated version: “Networker, networker, make me a match!” Wouldn’t it be great to have “Yenta* the Networker” to fill all our business needs, goals and wishes?

“Oh, you need a florist? Have I got a florist for you! ”

“A graphic designer? No problem! Sadie’s son is such a talent!”

“Oh, you want a job as a financial analyst? My former mentor’s cousin works for ______________. (Use your imagination and fill in the blank). I’ll send him a text.

By the way, in my vision, this Yenta the Networker resembles the late Bea Arthur who was the original Yenta on Broadway before she was a Golden Girl. Don’t be cranky or she’ll call Shady Pines and reserve you a room!

In essence, the best of networkers are matchmakers; now known as super-connectors, because they:

1) Listen to your needs.

2) Hear what you are and are not saying.

3) Know many people, either directly or indirectly.

4) Share their resources.

5) Offer to make the match directly or allow you to use their name.

Yenta did her good works for a finder’s fee, which in some professions is expected. In others it’s appropriate, although not required. You know your industry and the legal and ethical parameters. Yenta the Networker gets as much satisfaction from making a match as Yenta the Matchmaker did. And She knew “how to work a room”!

Proof Positive

The respondents to a book survey, who “put people together successfully,” enjoyed the results of making a match. Donna Bernstein takes pride in having introduced her dear friend, a very successful entrepreneur desiring to sell her business, to a contact. The result: Donna’s friend sold her business.

Several respondents wrote: “All of my business is by word-of-mouth, and I assist others who do keep me apprised of their progress. One consultant in the food industry wrote: “I am always proud that I had a little to do with their success which increases my stock as a good human resource source.”

The survey respondents, who indicated that they were apprised of results when they assisted others, all felt good. Mortgage broker, Bill Johnston, has sometimes been surprised with the recognition he has received. “I often feel I am just doing my job. Buying a house is stressful enough, but going through the process of financing the loan is additional stress. So I try to be more calm, helpful and generous with my praise. When people respond positively and appreciatively, I feel terrific! Whether the expression of gratitude is a note, a bottle of wine, or another referral, I feel great and am always willing to be of more assistance!”

Risk of Referrals

Yes, there is always the risk that the “match” is not made in heaven. Perhaps the chef had an off-night at your favorite restaurant, one you enthusiastically recommended to your best client; the movers were careless; the marketing professional who decided to market professional speakers did not know he was in the “meetings industry” or the word processor did not like the words that had to be processed. There’s that inexplicable thing called chemistry, as well as personality conflicts. Referrals and recommendations are always a risk

Yenta, the Head Hunter

Today many people use LinkedIn as a resource for career opportunities. But executive recruiters and employment agencies still exist to recruit, screen and recommend qualified candidates for appropriate employment positions. They provide a formal process of interviewing, resumé reviewing, testing, reference checking, and placement of the most appropriate, qualified candidate for a predetermined fee. Recruiters are networkers whose successful matches determine their business success.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Most of us have had a job that we heard about through a friend, acquaintance or relative—whether it was babysitting for the Smith children, interning for the summer at LucasFilm’s Skywalker Ranch, selling computer software to libraries, teaching in an experimental program for special children, or editing manuscripts for that publishing house. We didn’t get these jobs through an online job board or want ad. Someone told someone who told someone.

Aplomb Dumb

We have told our buddies about openings that we hear of through the grapevine. The process is ancient. There are people who standout because they manage the process with great aplomb. And there are those who standout because they do not; they are “plum dumb.” This next section will give you a guideline for giving and getting leads and referrals.

Formal networking organizations have their own rules like BNI does, founded by dear friend, Dr. Ivan Misner. Leads clubs may differ from BNI, which may differ from other business alliance clubs. Before you join a formal lead-sharing group, read the literature, attend a meeting, observe and assess the process. Decide if that process works for you. (In these days of corona virus many groups are meeting on Zoom which gives us an opportunity to make contacts, stay in touch, build relationships from our very own “rooms where it happens” (With apologies and appreciation to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alexander Hamilton).


There are many ways to introduce people. When we can safely be face-to-face again, that’s very effective. We also can do an email or text intro of two people we think ought to meet. I’ve done that many times. My rule: I only introduce people I “like”, respect, admire. Life is too short and too long.
A caveat: before you make the e-intro, make sure to get permission. I wanted to introduce a Canadian colleague of mine to someone who invited me as a guest on his podcast. My friend did some “due diligence” and politely thanked me for thinking of him but said the person was not the right contact for him. I learned a lot that day!

Humble Beginnings

An attorney-mediator I knew early on was writing wills as a public service. “A client recommended a couple who came to me for a fifty dollar will. A while later the wife came to my office with her best friend’s husband. Her best friend had been hit by a car and, to this day, is still in a nursing home. We settled the suit for $1.5 million! The victim is the mother of five children who were little at the time. So I met with an officer of the trust department of Bank of America and arranged for him to manage the money as an investment so that the settlement would make money. The $65,000 per year interest income allows my client to have a private nurse in addition to placement in an excellent nursing facility. My other goal was to have the principal untouched so she could bequeath it to her children.”

The attorney did more for her client than file suit; she has seen to it that this woman is cared for as are her children. It was a lucrative case that all began from an unsolicited client referral for a $50.00 will and a subsequent, unexpected referral.

So, let us not judge people based solely on our perceptions of a good referral, potential, well-connected lead, or who dresses well, or lives in the right neighborhood. Some of the most lucrative leads come from surprising sources.

The “Misjudge” Mistake

This is a perfect place to reiterate that old adage we heard growing up: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” If we do, we risk the error of misjudging.

The late Irv Spivak, a founder of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s Business Alliance, reminds us, “Don’t discount someone because they are starting a small business and may be a sole practitioner. You never know who that individual knows, to whom she is related, or with whom she is friends. It is wise to treat each person with respect.” AMEN!!!!

We never know who will grow up and turn out well! The “C” students do, so be nice to them, especially if they are your children. They’re the ones who’ll support you in your old age.

Contacts In Context

And, on the other hand, referrals are gifts that we are given, not a God-given right. How do you get referrals?

Some people have said that we should be straightforward, honest and just ask for what we want. Be clear with yourself about what you want and need. Be careful about asking for ideas and referrals from someone with whom you have no established communication, rapport or relationship. It may be better if you let your needs be known, rather than ask directly. That allows the other person time to think without being put on the spot.

Sherris Goodwin is one of the most generous people I know. Over dinner we were discussing some of the societal changes we had observed in our decades-long friendship, and the lack of manners and/or savvy that seems to be prevalent in business. “The other night a young woman (“Rhonda”) attended our local N.A.W.B.O. (National Association of Women Business Owners) meeting, and heard me talk about my work, the institute and my business trip to Russia. I had barely exchanged words with her when she said, `I’d love to have lunch with you and get your contacts’.”

I was stunned. “GET YOUR CONTACTS”??? Talk about entitlement. Have decorum and delicacy disappeared? But Sherris is generous and patient and offered to give this person “the names of four contacts with the stipulation that she call me in three months with a follow-up report.” Sherris told Rhonda she would then give her more information and leads, when she hears from her. I was still stunned. “It’s my experience that ninety percent of these people do not follow-up with leads they are given. That’s why I stopped making the pre-lead call to warm up the contact. IF and When Rhonda has proven her metal, then I’ll assist her further,” explains Sherris. (Update 2020: Rhonda NEVER followed up on the golden leads she was given).

I asked her why she thought this bright woman could be so lacking in savvy as to assume that she deserved Sherris’ leads. “Somewhere these young (and dumb) people, who may have book smarts, heard that networking meant they get to have everyone’s contacts.” We all know people like that; even those who are old and dumb and presumptuous.

Networking is not an entitlement program, it is an enrichment program.

Hard and Smart Work. . .Works

Most of the people I surveyed are referred by clients because their work is superb. Hogh school pal and consultant, Rich Gold, explained that, as a strategic planning and management consultant, his clients approach him. “For me, to advertise or solicit business would be a problem for the clients that I serve.”

A writer I met at a business event told me that he gets most of his business through referrals. I gave him the name of someone who could use his services and made it clear we were pals. In a subsequent conversation, he made some negative comments about my friend in relation to the time he invested in their exploratory conversation: “My time is too valuable to be wasted by people who aren’t ready to commit to hiring me.” Yet this man thought nothing of wasting my time! And he wanted more leads from me that were more clearly qualified. But to me, he wasn’t. His attitude was so self-indulgent and his behavior so lacking in savvy, that I decided I would not refer any more clients to him. It would be a “match made in hell.”

Family Matters: Matchmaking

Extended networks are like extended family. My “Femtor” who coined the word, Sally Livingston, was so important to my career and business. When I asked what I could do to return the support, she said, “Have lunch with my daughter.” I did.

Sally was so pleased her network helped her daughter .

A Network Noodge

Another speaker, Barbie the Bully, called me a number of years ago after I gave a presentation that was highly-promoted. “Susan, I want to speak for that group. Could I have your contact’s name and number?” This was a woman I hardly knew and we barely had exchanged words. In the Unwritten rules of referrals and recommendations, she was in no position to ask. But she had nerve! When I gently stammered that this was not a good idea, she persisted in virtually demanding the information. I was taken aback, felt bullied, and capitulated. Was I ever angry at myself for being such a pushover!

Fortunately, after writing The Secrets of SAVVY Networking and giving keynote presentations on the subject I embraced my own words!

There is a better way to encourage people to give us leads and contacts and to avoid putting them on the spot. People who are backed into corners often come out fighting.

Instant Replay/A Better Wa

“Susan, I read that you spoke to the Wheeler Dealers Association. That’s a group I would really like to address. If you think there is a fit, I’d love the name and number of the meeting planner for a future conference.”

Yes, this is a soft sell; Barbie the Bully could be Barbie the Better-Behaved. Yet she taught me a special lesson. Just because someone else wants a lead, a donation, a lunch appointment, doesn’t mean I am obligated to say yes. Neither are you.

Contact Closure

When Barbie the Bully called the lead, she misused my name, implying I was endorsing her with my referral. But life has an “amusing” way of providing interesting opportunities. When the conference planner called to talk with me about Barbie, I made it clear that I merely complied with Barbie’s request to give her the name and number, and that I could not recommend Barbie as I had never heard her give a speech. That’s the truth . . . which can come back to haunt the untruthful.

Don’t Forget Old Friends

Susan Witkin-Tandler, who was a reporter for KGO Radio in San Francisco when I met her, shared her career path story. Her friend from Hebrew school bumped into her mother and asked about Susan. “When my Mom said I was going to school in Durango, he was thrilled. He worked at a radio station that was covering a murder trial and the venue was changed to Durango. He arranged for me to cover the trial. I called United Press International and a big Denver radio station, figuring they’d be interested, too, and they were. The rest is history.” Susan is back in Denver on the radio.

Referrals can happen on the golf course, in the health club, at the barber shop, at the non-profit agency’s board meeting, in the bleachers at Wrigley Field, or at a bridal shower. Networking is now about the exchange of ideas, information and leads . . . a rare recipe.

RoAne’s Rules for Matchmaking/Referring/Recommending

We need to:

1) Let people know what we are looking for.

2) Do it in a way that allows them to respond comfortably.

3) Keep our “matchmakers” apprised of the progress and outcome of their efforts.

4) Acknowledge appropriately and in a timely fashion. (Thank-yous must be commensurate with the value of the result).

5) Reciprocate whenever possible.

Maybe in the 60th anniversary revival of Fiddler, they will sing “Networker, Networker, cast out your net . . . match me a match, that I won’t forget. . . .”

And we must never forget to acknowledge those networkers who have made referrals and matches for us.


*Referrals are made through:

· Formal lead-generating organizations which have their own rules.

· Semi-formal professional associations and trade shows.

· Informally—as a matter of due course.

* Networking is match making, listening for a need and arranging for a crony, colleague or client to fill it.

* A job done well is the best advertisement.

* No matter how many organizations we join, direct mail pieces we send, cold calls we place—we must have an excellent personal as well as professional reputation.

* Recommendations should be tracked, acknowledged and followed with progress reports.

* Extended networks are an important resource.

* People enjoy assisting others in their endeavors.

* The people who stand out either do so because of their gracious manner or lack thereof.

* The networking nuisance who demands leads is mislead.

* Don’t forget old friends; they are more than part of your network, they are part of your history.

Networking is an enrichment program, not an entitlement program.

About Susan RoAne

Susan RoAne leads a double life as a sought-after professional keynote speaker and a bestselling author. Known as The Mingling Maven®, she gives diverse audiences the required tools, techniques and strategies they need to connect and communicate in today’s global business world. The San Francisco Chronicle says she has a “dynamite sense of humor.” To hire Susan to speak for your company, association or college, 1.415.461.3915