The Art of Networking with Mel Fergenbaum

By: Roberta Binder


Mel Fergenbaum has a natural curiosity about life and people. This curiosity has helped him to easily slip into the world of networking and develop it into a fine art. Along with hard work, he credits networking for his successful REDIRECT YOUR LIFE seminars, his business based in Western North Carolina and spanning the United States and into Canada.


“Networking is an art! It’s very effective no matter what business you are in. If you are an entrepreneur you must network. Actually, to run any business you must network.”  The people Mel networks with come from all manner of life and each has enriched his life and built community. He also has a genuine desire to be of service to others.


“People don’t know how to network. Just showing up is not networking; it takes: Consistency – Consistency – Consistency!” In the Western North Carolina area, Mel has identified four networking gatherings that fit his criteria. These are business specific groups that meet his specific business goals. “My choices are based on: having the opportunity to hand out business cards, make a 60-second personal/business introduction, and arrange follow-up one-on-one meetings,” Mel explains.


One of the most important pieces of networking in person is providing clear information in two key areas: your business card is a critical tool – it is your ambassador when you are not there in person; your 60-second personal introduction (infomercial) must be clean and clear to attract people who want to schedule a one-on-one to learn more about you and your business. Mel suggests becoming comfortable with that process by writing a 150-word speech. “You want to include: your name, company name, and highlight what you do and how people will benefit. Make it so interesting people will want to meet with you. You will lose people’s attention after 60 seconds.”


“Do not include all the details such as testimonials or how your product or service has helped someone, your ideal client or who you would like to be referred to [this is for the one-on-one meeting]. In closing, repeat your name and company. It is also good to provide a tag line; create one that people will remember and identify with you. When you have your speech written, practice saying it aloud and timing it; practice, practice, practice—until you have become one and comfortable with what you want to relay and be remembered by.”


It is through the one-on-one opportunities that Mel has built relationships. “When I get in touch with people’s passion and purpose, now I can be supportive. My initial questions (at an in-person meeting) are: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What brought you to Asheville?’ ‘How did you get involved in your business?’ I have their business card, I’ve heard them stand up and in 60 seconds tell me what they do. So I don’t lack their general information—but what I do lack is going deeper than that… [so] I can be supportive.”


Since he has been here in Western North Carolina, Mel figures he has had one-on-one meetings with somewhere between 750 to 1000 people. Most weeks he schedules three to five individual meetings, preferably over one to two days. He prefers to meet in a centrally located neighborhood coffee shop, which has become another source of networking, “If you continue to appear in the same small business over and over again both the owners and staff become familiar with you and are soon friends,” he notes.


He always arrives with his business card case which holds a 2 ½ inch binder divided into 25-30 categories with well over 1000 different cards on file. With this book of resources, he comes to every networking meeting prepared to be of assistance to the individual he is meeting with. He recently met with a person who was new to the area and had a plumbing problem… Mel was quickly able to provide several cards as options. That is building relationships, out of relationships come referral partners, out of referral partnerships trust is built and recommendations for his personal business services follows.


I was curious why this course of action—which is obviously much more labor intensive than just placing advertisements in several publications—has been his choice for building his business community. “My goal is not entirely about gaining attendees for my seminars, it is about building trust and community, and establishing relationships. More than once, I’ve met with someone who is new to the area; I’m the first person they have met on a personal level and I’m quick to invite them to dinner. My wife Linda has learned to expect guests and we all enjoy learning more about each other!”


He went on to say, “I’m not saying that advertising isn’t important. It is very important. It is just not the medium that has worked for my business. Look, I’ve built a network across the country of people who have moved out of the area, they tell others who live in other locales about the seminars I present and soon there is a group inviting me to come to Minnesota, Long Island, California, or Nashville. For me, that can’t happen through advertising, it comes through building a network.”


Mel noted that he tried networking formats other than the ones he regularly attends in Asheville and suggests looking at all that could possibly fit your criteria: Business Network International, Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis and any number of individual professional organizations. The selections that have worked best here for Mel have been professional meet-up groups with diverse communities.

“When you find your networking community, you need to be responsible to attend every meeting. This doesn’t mean now and again; if the group meets monthly or weekly, be there each and every time. Consistency is important on many levels: it shows interest in the community you are meeting with, honors the meeting organizer(s), gives people the opportunity to get to know you, identifies that you are reliable in keeping a regular commitment and that the individuals who are at that meeting are important to you and you want to learn from them and more about what their business provides.”


Once Mel has briefly met people at a professional gathering, he identifies whom he wants to meet with more personally. He gives them a call and opens with, “‘We met this morning; I’d very much like to get together with you so we can both find out more about each other so we can form a referral partnership. If you are willing, what is your availability?’”


And, what if a voicemail is not returned? “I don’t pursue them. I trust the process. I don’t because that would be pressure,” he responds. The goal for Mel is all about creating positive intention. This is something that has to happen through its own means, not through force. “Intention – Intention – Intention. The critical piece is having a true intention to create a community.”


To go back to the beginning, the most important message that Mel delivers regarding networking is consistency. He notes that it takes a minimum of, “six months of showing up each and every month, giving my 60-second presentation, hanging around and talking with people, doing one-on-ones, then I begin to see results in my business. When I attend a networking meeting, I’m there to schedule person-to-person meetings… I’m not there for anything other than that.” And through this process and positive intention, Mel sees the results in the business he has built through referrals in a little over two years.


The bottom line, if you want to do networking, you have to network. Mel’s business card file comes with him to every meeting, every one-on-one and invariably during an in-person meeting he says, “What can I do to help you?” Most likely, he has a card and personal referral for that!


For more information on networking Mel Fergenbaum will be happy to schedule a one-on-one with you – he can be reached at:  Roberta Binder is an editor who enjoys working with authors to bring their words to life: She is also a writer and photo-journalist who enjoys all her writing adventures with WNC Woman – Women Nurturing Change


Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker