June 2008

When we were little, our parents warned us against talking to strangers. We warn our own children about the dangers of talking to strangers. And this is what parents are supposed to do to protect our children. But we’re all grown up now. While the world is still a scary place at times, we need to extend ourselves every day to meet new people who could help us in our careers.

I’ve been to countless networking events where groups of 3 or 4 familiar people stay at their own table and talk only to one another. The purpose of networking is to introduce yourself and build a relationship with the people you meet. Guess what, they are strangers. But by taking that step to introduce yourself, you are one step closer to not being strangers any more.

As you think of ways to advance your career, consider getting to know strangers. Try to attend one event per week and make it a point to get introduced to at least 5 people. It doesn’t stop there. Don’t just collect a business card and promise to keep in touch. Ask them for some calendar time. Schedule a time to chat via phone or over coffee (or tea if that’s your thing) and get to know the person. Don’t bring a friend with you to a networking event. That defeats the purpose. Naturally, you’ll be tempted to remain by that one person’s side throughout the event. Doing that, and you will miss out on many prime opportunities to network. Open your sphere of influence. Be that person who collects relationships, not business cards. Be that person who joins conversations, not the one who sits at the table alone or with one friend all night.

I realize it can be unnerving to insert yourself into conversations and break the ice. But you know what? If you don’t try, people won’t know your name (I just had a Norm from Cheers flashback). This practice should not be limited to networking events. I have made connections at bookstores, my son’s games, PTA meetings, trips to the doctor, on the plane, waiting at airports, and so on and so on. I wasn’t born a networker. It takes time to cultivate that skill. You need to practice and just go for it. Don’t think about it because you’ll overthink and talk yourself out of it.  It took a few years for me to build the courage to confidently work a room.

I usually go to events with my sister or a good friend of mines who is growing her new business (I can do that, I’m not new to networking and I’ve earned my battle scars). I tell them both not to look for me during the event. We came together, we’ll leave together, but we have totally different agendas. And they respect that. My sister came with me for the first time to a conference last month. She was amazed at how I worked the room. I was a little disappointed because she wasn’t as free flowing as I was. Later she explained that I had a few years head start on her and she wasn’t at the same level I was. She needs time to get used to a) striking up conversations, and b) setting her networking agenda. I told her I’ll take her under my wing. And I have. I’m happy to report that she is getting better. She’s still a little on the quiet side, but she is no longer fearful of networking…. just a little anxious.

I’ll share a secret with you. She said it really wasn’t my tutelage that made her decide to take the plunge. It was a 14 year old teenage boy! At the conference I mentioned above, a young man and his parents sat at our table for lunch. The boy and I struck up a conversation and he proceeded to tell me about his business and gave me a card. He then chatted with some of the others at my table. My sister said that inspired her most. She said “if a teenager can have the courage to do that, then I need to be ashamed of myself”. I agreed! LOL

So take the plunge. Talk to strangers. The best way to advance your career is to get to know people. And no, not online either! Get out and mingle.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham


There was an article written on the CNBC Nightly News website about the increase in Black Women Entreprenreurs.

Please check out this video and read the accompanying article and give your thoughts. Read more here

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

“Branding” is the big buzz word in career management these days.  Everywhere you turn, someone is referring to your professional or personal brand.  How many of us truly understand what our “brand” is or what it consists of?

A brand is the promise of the value that people receive when they interact with you. You are communicating a consistent message that conveys the authentic you.  It is important that you lay the foundation and define your brand before anyone else gets the chance to do it for you.  Over time, a brand can change, but the underlying original premise should remain the same.  In order to create your brand, you must start by discovering exactly what it is you bring to the table.  What are your skills?  Who do you know?  What are your areas of expertise?  What do you have to offer of yourself that people may find valuable?  Here are some components of identifying your brand.

  • Networking is part of your brand- It defines your brand when you are not there. People you associate with help to build your brand.  They pay tribute to what you do by promoting your expertise or knowledge. What other people say about you is what defines your brand.  This is known as your reputation.
  • Being a subject matter expert (SME)- Being a subject matter expert contributes to your brand. Tie yourself to something authentically you.  Move beyond your core skills and develop a reputation for being the most knowledgeable person in your field.  Continue your education, volunteer for the tough projects, immerse yourself in your area of expertise and share that knowledge with others through writing or speaking.
  • Your actions tie heavily into your brand- Keeping your actions consistent with your words is key. Your actions reflect your authenticity. Understand your messaging and make sure your actions are not causing you to have a negative reputation. Don’t be paralyzed, be aware.  And make sure to keep your actions in line with your words.
  • Tie yourself to something outside of yourself- Do something to help others and stay true to who you are. Aligning yourself with a volunteer or social project ties in to your authentic self. Giving back selflessly allows you to help others and showcase your expertise. Be selective, though, about how and with whom you associate yourself. Don’t be afraid to turn down opportunities that don’t feel right ot your spirit.  Stay true to who you are.

If you have no clue about your brand, how do you determine what it is?  If you are asking what your brand is or what you stand for, you don’t have one. Or, you may be at the beginning of developing or defining your purpose. “Consumers” of your brand will tell you the truth about yourself.

  • Start by asking at home.  What do your friends and family say about you?
  • What do your colleague say and think about you?
  • Look to your 360 degree feedback & performance reviews.
  • Go to a friend or accountability partner.
  • Ask former employers their opinion. Consistent positive feedback contributes to a positive brand.
  • Positive and negative feedback define your brand. You can set the tone for how you are perceived.
  • Be deliberate and consistent.
  • Focus on what kind of questions people ask you.
  • Examine the types of tasks people give to you.
  • Look at what people are asking you for advice.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

For quite some time, I have been talking about a global economy, global diversity, and preparing myself to compete in this global society. While working on the translations of my company’s new website, I’ve been learning a lot. I learned how having multi-lingual staff is as vitally important as having your website and other marketing material properly translated! ¡Qué usted no sabe puede lastímele! (I hope I said that right!)

Over the last few months, I’ve been diligently restructuring my company and strategically growing my staff to include bilingual and multilingual individuals. (More on that another time). If I am serious about remaining competitive and truly focusing on global diversity, I need to not only learn foreign languages myself, but also surround myself with a multilingual team. I will be unveiling a new Candidate Center on the website that will include the ability to learn new languages as part of professional development. I am very excited about this.

How are you remaining competitive? Are you truly exploring the global landscape? Push yourself to excel and learn another language. Whether you take a formal class at the local college, buy audio tapes, enroll in immersion courses or find online tutorials, it is in your best interest to become at least bilingual. Now, if you are only looking for work here at home in the US market in positions that don’t require multiple languages, then you need to decide if you want to make the effort to learn. But I guarantee you that if you want to remain competitive (read: BANKABLE) in the global markets, you must LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE! Your career may depend on it if international projects are in your future. At minimum, you should be learning basic conversational *insert language here*.

Fino alla volta prossima.

Adrienne Graham

Well, it has been 2-3 weeks since I’ve attended the 2008 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference.  I was impressed.  Now, I’m a little bit biased because I feel the Women of Power Summit was much better.  But I was pleasantly surprised.

My sister/business partner went with me to check it out.  If I had to make a criticism, I would say that the events needed to start on time.  A few of the events ran over and affected latter events and put a slight damper on the mood.  But BE made up for it in content.  First, the workshops were informative, entertaining and educational.  The panelists gave no hold barred advice and words of wisdom to the audience.  BE made sure to cover pressing topics that face today’s entrepreneur such as technology, finances, venture capital, disaster planning, supplier diversity/procurement, rebounding from disaster, and a host of other topics.  The keynote was Janice Bryant Howroyd.  She delivered the most inspirational session of the entire conference.  She shared with us her successes and thoughts on making it in the business environment.  She came down off the stage and wanted to engage with the audience on a personal level.  That was beautifully authentic of her.  Unfortunately I did not get to meet her one on one.  She is someone in the staffing industry that although we are on different paths, I admire her fiercely.

BUT, I did get to meet Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness fame).  Sonya Alleyne did the honors of a one on one chat with him during the luncheon.  He was honest, candid and shot straight from the hip.  Some people were  a little put off.  but you know what?  He spoke his mind and he has earned the right to be where he is.  Sure, there might have been the perception of arrogance.  But this man has given back in so many wonderful ways.  I gave him my card and I hope we can remain in touch.

Another bit of criticism I have actually doesn’t involve Black Enterprise.  Each year, they (BE) take the time to present to us the BE 100s.  These are the top black owned businesses in various categories such as automotive, advertising, financial services, etc.  Well this year’s BE 100 Company of the Year was none other than Harpo Productions (yes, my idol, Oprah Winfrey).  Now don’t get all worked up.  Ms. Winfrey couldn’t be there to accept her award as she was on her way to South Africa (allegedly) to participate in the process of selecting another head mistress for her leadership academy.  While I admire Oprah and I fully believe in her mission with this school, I couldn’t help feel like she might have taken the award lightly.  I was a bit disappointed that she could not be there to personally accept nor did she send a representative.  Instead, she sent a taped message.  Again, I can understand the circumstances, but a few people commented (and I somewhat agreed) that if this was Forbes or Fortune, she would have at least sent a representative.  Gail, Steadman, somebody!  I felt snubbed.  I will give Oprah the benefit of the doubt and believe that she would have been there had she been able to. Ms. Winfrey, if you by some small chance read this, please keep up the good work, but please try to “be there” for events like this.

But anywho, there were so many wonderful moments at this event, from meeting with some of the leaders of the BE 100s to making connections with other serious entrepreneurs like myself, to being inspired and re-energized to take my company to the next level.  But the ultimate moment for me was the one on one I got to experience with Mr. Earl Graves, Sr.  Yes, Mr. BE.  He came out to have lunch with the attendees (not one on one but you understand).  At first my sister and I didn’t want to bother him, as some rude chicks just interrupted his and his wife’s lunch to chit chat.  I could tell her was trying to be gracious.  I waited until everyone cleared away then asked his assistant if it was ok.  I sat down and initiated a conversation thanking him for putting together such a wonderful event.  I also let him know how BE was mandatory reading for me growing up and is in my own household now.  We chatted and he offered some very inspiring words of wisdom.  I followed up with letting him know I WILL be on the BE 100 some day.  And I meant it too! I thanked him for the exposure I have received through BE to which he commented “you are too young to have been in BE!”.  LOL  Thank you Mr. Graves!!!  🙂  I gave him my card and asked if I could take a picture.  My sister unfortunately, has very unsteady hands!!  He noted I was using my Blackberry and asked if I could really take pictures with it.  He asked me to send it to him.  Well, I’ve been sidetracked with a death in the family  since then, but I am sending it to him TODAY.  Please excuse the blurry picture.  Again, it’s my sister’s fault!

I’m so mad at her!  😦

So if you can make it next year, I highly recommend going.  It is an inspirational and motivational event where you can learn tons for starting, growing and running your business.  I have appointments with some BE100 leaders in the coming weeks.  I am so glad I went and look forward to building strong networking relationships with everyone I met.

Next up…BE Golf & Tennis Classic.  According to Mr. Graves, that is where the real house party is!  (His words…I swear).

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

In life, we are called upon to make decisions. As an entrepreneur, decision-making is a daily part of life’s agenda. I speak to so many women on a weekly basis. Many want to chat about their experiences, some want to express fear about moving forward with an idea. Some want to just have someone to bounce ideas off. I welcome it all.

I have always been one to take risks and go against the grain. Sometimes to a fault. I went home to New York last week to attend another funeral (twice in two months).  While speaking with my various cousins, I was amazed at how some of us had excelled, and some of us had remained stagnant.  One cousin, Debbie, is older than I am.  She was commenting how she had never been out of the Bronx and that she knew there was a whole world out there but never made an attempt to step out beyond the borders of New York.  It made me sad.  Here she is, a grown woman and a grown child and two teen granddaughters, and she had never ventured out of her comfort zone.  I told her “Debbie, there’s a whole world out there.  Live your life.  Do something you never thought of doing before.  Go to Atlantic City.  Take a trip up the coast.  Go to Disney World.  ANYTHING!”.

My point in sharing this story is simple.  There IS a whole world out there.  The sky is the limit if you believe so.  You’re not happy in your current job? Do something about it.  Build your skills so you can explore other career options, companies or departments.  Corporate isn’t your thing?  Take a leap of faith and start a business.  Do something today that you never imagined yourself doing.  Whatever you do, don’t remain still.  When you’re still, you’re stagnant.  When you’re stagnant, your trapped.

I don’t know about you, but I am compiling my “Bucket List” and I’m going for broke.  I plan to do things to push my intellectual limits.  To stretch my skills.  To expand my horizons.  Not sure what you want to do, consult a coach.  So do your thing.  I know I’m doing mine.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham