Sources and Networking for Writers, Investigators and Sales People

“Where do you get your ideas for articles? How do you develop and retain dependable sources? How do you sell more? Increase business? Obtain information?”

These are common questions I have received over the years as a “Jack of All Trades” being an investigative reporter, insurance salesman, business executive, trade organization president, writer, detective and corporate facilities manager. The simple answer is to be a good networker.

Personal Connections

After making any connection, I always tried to build on it. Sometimes it takes creativity and thoughtfulness, but those are wonderful traits for life anyway. At HEB Food/Drugs, my division had thousands of employees (Partners), service providers, vendors and other resources to keep our stores, offices, warehouses, manufacturing plants and other real estate safe, lawful and in welcoming conditions.

H-E-B calls employees ‘Partners’

Early on, I would use Rolodex files (labeled: “Sources,” “Engineers,” “Partners,” “Designers,” Electricians,” and others) for individual information on people in each category.

For example, when I visited Austin, Houston, Dallas, the Rio Grande Valley, the Coastal Bend and other regions of Texas, the file for that area would include more than just names, phone numbers, and emails. It was critical to have personal notes to connect and care with individuals I may come in contact with. Examples might be:

Birthplace, Birthday, Anniversaries, Spouse, Children, Other Family, Connections, Hobbies, Interests, Education, and Accomplishments.

Others items to note might include Affiliations, Career and Work History, Goals, Prides, and other interests.

“Is Bobby, Jr. still playing baseball this year? How’s Nancy doing in track? Here’s an autograph of Tim Duncan for your brother. I know he’s big on Spurs basketball,” were some ways to build rapport.

The key was to capture the bits and pieces of hot, vital information
about people I met. These appear as phrases such as “Texas State alum,” “loves to fish,” “never eats lunch,” and so on.

Many times I kept a pocket recorder to help remember for when I jotted it down in the hotel room or plane ride later. As technology developed, I kept computer files and spreadsheets instead of manual Rolodexes.

Note: Even today, I do not include confidential information and confidential names on a computer or internet file. My reputation and ability to gather data and news depends on sources trusting me.

Resources You Can Count On

It’s all a lot of work, but worth every minute of it. What does all this
have to do with resolving an emergency, mitigating a problem, gathering resources, or closing the sale? Just about everything when it’s
used at the moment it’s needed.

Who can you depend on for help when your dealing with a hurricane, a sales proposal or news article?

I don’t subscribe to the saying “Networking is a numbers game.” The success doesn’t come from how many people you can meet. What you actually need is to have a list of people and resources you can count on.

One of my greatest mentors was a senior vice president of Facility Alliance at H-E-B, Ralph G. Mehringer. I watched and learned. When he met someone for the first time–a food server, janitor, visitor, new partner, whoever— Ralph was consistent about making them feel like the most important person in the room.

When I lived in an apartment above the Majestic Theater in downtown San Antonio, a neighbor, Walter Stovell, known as the “Godfather of Houston Street,” totally made eye contact with others–and he kept it. He smiled. He listened.

Majestic Theater

During conversations, Walter made comments and asked questions that showed he was hearing and listening. One day the current and two ex-mayors of the Alamo City walked by and Walter amazed me with his abilities to engage each one opportunities to express themselves without interruption.

What If You Need a Large List to Increase Sales or Potential Sales?

A sales person may mention to someone for whom has been a good customer, “I was just going through my checks, and I realized I spent over $2000 with you last year. I guess we’re really getting to depend on each other more than I knew.”

A typical question I receive is “where do you get your articles and story ideas?” They are all over, if you network properly.


You can expand networking by simply trading networks with someone else.
How big is your network? If you answered infinite, you’re
right. You’re only limited by the number of people on earth. Your network is potentially the size
of all your contacts, plus all your relatives’ contacts, your
friends’ contacts, your business associates’ contacts, and so on.

Suppose you want to introduce a new service you offer. Are you going to limit the list to the names you’ve been able to scrape together? Of course not. You’ll ask me for my list, and if I like the offer I might even ask a few other people for their lists. Instead of a few hundred names, you now have a few thousand.

Always treat anyone’s contacts with the utmost respect. Like tightrope walking, this is a system based on trust. A fall from grace, like a fall from the high wire, can be very hard to recover from.

3 Tips on Selling

🔹 Be Knowledgeable. If you want people to listen to you, you need to be an expert about the product you’re selling, about the market it exists in, and about the way it addresses the needs of your customer.

🔹Establish Rapport. Your primary responsibility is to establish a connection between the needs of the customer and the solutions that your product/service provides. It’s about them, not you. If you’re not paying attention to the customers’ needs, how could you ever accomplish that? Listen to what they’re saying. Ask questions to gain deeper understanding. Seek to build and demonstrate empathy.

🔹Build Relationships. Many people will go to online reviews to learn about your product or service. It’s amazing how much stronger leads are that come from customer referrals. Cultivating customer relationships will give you more leads, and when you listen to compliments and complaints about your offering, it will help you improve for future customers.

One final thought is to use the forever faith 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of your network likely provides 80 percent of the value. What have you done for them lately?

Jack Dennis

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

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