The Breakfast Meeting that Changed My Life
When I was just starting out in business, I was desperate for someone to talk too. I had a million questions and nobody to answer them.
Sure, there were plenty of books out there filled with advice for entrepreneurs. And I could have just Googled everything. But I’ve always thought that it was crucial to find a person in your industry who can answer your questions and figure out a way to connect with them.
That’s when I decided to ask Joe Connolly.
If you’re running a small business, you know the name Joe Connolly. Instead of the same handful of headlines everyone seems to use, he focuses on providing useful information. Looking for a deal on office space? Putting together a sales strategy? Thinking about charging for your content for the first time? He’s covered all these topics and more on his radio show Small Business Report with Joe Connelly, and to this day I never miss his informative broadcasts on New York’s WCBS Newsradio 880.
He also hosts frequent events, including his extremely popular WCBS Business Breakfasts. They’re online these days because of the pandemic, but you can’t beat the excitement of one of his in-person events. I encourage you to sign up for one of them the minute they’re offered.
When he was mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg said one of the secrets to success is to always get there early and stay late. (He also said to go to the bathroom less frequently, advice that wasn’t as well received.) I never forgot those words of wisdom, so when I attended my first breakfast event, I got there an hour early. I staked out a seat in the middle of the front row and waited.
In no time, more than 1,000 people had packed into the room. Lots of them were in suits, clearly business executives who were ready to head to the office just as soon as they finished their plate of bacon and eggs from the buffet. But there were plenty of us who were clearly just starting out.
Several brilliant entrepreneurs offered advice on building small businesses during the presentation, and I soaked it all up like a sponge. The people around me seemed to be doing the same. Then Joe Connolly took the microphone. I don’t mind admitting that I was a little bit starstruck.
He announced that there was only time for about four questions, and I was adamant that one of them was going to be from me. I would have stood on the table if that’s what I needed to do to catch his attention. After what seemed like an eternity he pointed at me.
“What should I do if a company wants to hire me and I am already booked?” I asked.
“Never say no to work,” he replied. He went on, patiently explaining how to build up a clientele, but it’s those five words that have stuck with me all this time. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Joe Connolly started me on my way.
People seemed reluctant to leave after the presentation was over. They milled about the room, sharing about their own experiences and exchanging business cards. Networking meetings can feel fake and forced, but this was one where everybody seemed to really let down their guard.
As I was gathering up my things, John Brady, a professional trainer from a large candy manufacturer, came up to me. “I want to work with you,” he said. At that point he didn’t know anything about what I did because I didn't share that when I asked my question. He just liked my energy and knew that we would make great colleagues.
And he was right. If Joe Connolly showed me the way forward, John Brady gave me the confidence to keep going.
If there’s a takeaway from all this, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to people who can offer you good advice about your career. You might be surprised at how willing they are to help you out. Send them an email or reach out on social media. (A CEO I know who has a policy of never replying to people on LinkedIn recently responded to a young entrepreneur because his pitch was just that good.)
I happen to be the type of person who loves to make one-on-one connections, so an in-person event was right for me. I think a lot of us are like that. Like Joe Connolly often says, “people still want and need personal contact.”
Whatever you do, don’t overthink things. When something seems right, go for it. If I overthought everything, I wouldn't have hired John Brady. I didn't know him, and I didn't check his references. I just felt like working together was the right move. And we’re still working together today.
I’m thankful for Joe Connolly for answering my question that morning. Sometimes I think it wasn’t necessarily the question, or even the answer, that was important. It was the gratification of being listened to and answered at the moment when I needed it most. Moments like that can change an entrepreneur's career – it changed mine.
But here’s the thing, it’s often not just one person who makes a difference along the way…it’s several. Joe Connolly may be one of the greatest influences to help kickstart my career, but he wasn’t the only one. Stay tuned for the next chapter in my story: How a woman at a luxury brand became my mentor and taught me lessons about cost negotiation I’d never forget.