The network builder

MaryAnn D. Rivers’ business entered into a major IT overhaul, instead of trying to figure everything out herself, she placed a phone call to someone she had met in a previous job whose company had just been through a similar situation and spent an hour getting the skinny on what to expect and look for in the process.

As president and CEO of Entertainment Publications LLC, a promotions and discounts provider, she was able to do this because she had kept in touch with him as part of her professional network, and if there’s anything you can do to up your game, she says it’s to network and continuously challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone.

“Just stay active,” she says. “It’s easy to get into a comfort zone of internal focus and sort of be in the same group of people that you always come with, so make sure you are exposing yourself to new circles, new experiences, new places, new industries that are actually going to round out your area of expertise and skills or just the circle of influence that you might have in places you may not have spent much time before.”

If you’re not the type that enjoys meeting and chatting with new people, then approach an event with a plan.

“Find out about the group before you go,” Rivers says. “Do a little research and investigating on who is part of the group and understand and learn more about individuals that are of interest to you or have something in common with you or have similar customers or clients that you’ve worked with in the past.”

Also have someone help you with the process.

“Go with someone,” she says. “Take someone with you and hold each other accountable so you don’t spend time with each other the whole event.

If going to a larger event isn’t your cup of tea, then try reaching out to people individually.

“If you’re a (shy) person and prefer one-on-one and would rather have that opportunity, then connect through a series of people and try to set up a coffee,” Rivers says.

Use the people already in your circle to help you in this process. With the use of social media tools, often it’s easier to find people who can connect you to contacts you’d like to meet.

“Figure out somebody who knows somebody and then call that person and say, ‘Hey, I’d really like to get to know this person. Would you mind making a phone call or sending an e-mail or I can even draft a letter so that I can call this person and they know I’m calling because I know you or I know somebody who knows you?’” she says. “That will open the door so much easier than if you just pick up the phone or you just try to introduce yourself at an event.”

Also realize that people are busy, so you’re going to have to be patient. Rivers gets calls all the time from people who are just starting their careers or share her alma mater, and she’s happy to give them her time, but sometimes you have to schedule a couple of months out.

Then, as you build your network, be sure to maintain it so that when you get into those situations where you want to call upon someone, you don’t have a problem finding that person and he or she remembers who you are.

“Pick your top five, six, 10, whatever you think is manageable, and put it in your Outlook calendar that you’re reaching out and sending a quick e-mail,” Rivers says. “It doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s just, ‘I wanted to stay in touch; how have you been?’ Or if I’m traveling, and that person is in Los Angeles, I try to schedule ahead if I’m going to be in that area. Even if we can’t get together physically, I’ve reached out and made the attempt. … Say, ‘I’m going to touch base with three people that I haven’t talked with in the last six months or a year this month.’ It’s the classic set goals. If it’s a priority and will help your career, you have to make sure you hold yourself accountable.”

How to reach: Entertainment Publications LLC, (888) 231-7283 or