The Art of Networking
An Interview with Stacy Musho
Hi Stacy! Thanks for being here. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up on Honeoye Lake which is one of the Finger Lakes, and is about 40 minutes outside of Rochester, New York. It was, and still is, a small town, but it’s a beautiful place. It’s in the heart of the wine country and is still the only place I know where you can get a grape pie.
What’s one quality your parents instilled in you?
My parents were small business owners. They were "restauranteurs" before the Food Network made that a glamorous profession. They were both very active in the community, and two of the hardest working people I have ever met. Working alongside my parents, I saw them take a genuine interest in people. People live the most fascinating lives and you can learn so many things from them; if you are willing to invest the time to do so. I try to draw from those experiences in my relationships with others.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A senator – so that could still happen (laugh). I’ve just always wanted to be in a position where I could collaborate with people on initiatives that would have a positive and lasting impact.
Name something that has improved your quality of life.
Laugh – It’s why I surround myself with funny people and watch a lot of stand-up comedy. People are too serious. We need more fun in our lives.
Tell us a fond memory from your childhood!
I started my first business when I was 13. I answered an ad from a large, local farm to set up my own roadside stand selling fresh corn by the baker’s dozen.
I quickly learned that I could sell a lot more corn if I had some ready to eat. So, I set up shop outside my parent’s restaurant. I would cook a couple dozen inside. Then I would give my customers a hot ear of corn to eat, right there, when they bought a dozen to take home and cook later. The corn was really sweet, so once they tried it, they always bought a dozen or two to take home.
According to the farm I worked for, I moved more corn that summer than any other seller. It was a proud moment for me. I only sold corn that summer. A year later I started working in my parent’s restaurant where I stayed until I went to college. But I had a lot of fun, and believe it or not, I learned a lot about business that summer.
How did you go from selling corn to being a leader at a professional services firm?
After college, I took a risk and got involved with a little start up; which we grew to a $1M company in less than a year. Working in that type of environment really catapulted my confidence and taught me so much about looking at every challenge from multiple angles. It was such a fantastic experience, but I had gotten to a point where I had done what I wanted to do there and I was ready for the next chapter.
I had interviewed with several companies and had multiple offers on the table when I interviewed with my current organization. It made no sense at the time. I remember talking to my husband and saying to him:
It makes no sense on paper, but there is something about this guy. I just feel like this is where I should be.
I took the job and it was the best decision I ever made.
Fifteen years later, I have never lived the same day twice. Every day I get to bring my expertise and apply it to things I feel make a difference. I get to work with the most amazing people. The whole experience has taught me to trust that inner voice. If something feels right, pursue it. Even if it doesn’t always make sense. Conversely, if something is holding you back, close the door and move on.
Tell me about your business.
I oversee the global procurement of leadership and professional development programs for a large professional services organization. We're on the cutting edge of finding the latest and most innovative technology to ensure our practitioners are not just well trained, but are happy and growing as individuals as they progress in their careers.
I am also the founder of McKinney Women Entrepreneurs; which is a networking community for women entrepreneurs and business leaders in North Texas. I speak on topics such as leadership, relationship building and the power of networking.
What do you think is one of the biggest challenges women in business face today?
I think one of the biggest challenges facing all women, not just business women, is getting themselves to a place where they are so overscheduled, exhausted and disconnected that they think they need to make radical changes in their lives to be happy. The truth is, in most cases, they just need to make a few shifts here and there. Two years ago, I was at a place in my career where I felt like I wasn’t progressing anymore. I was leading a successful global team. We were making a significant impact. I was able to work from home and not commute into the office every day. I was living the dream. However, I remember thinking to myself:
Why am I so stressed? Why am I not as fulfilled as I once was? I should be happier.
"I tried to answer those questions, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what wasn’t working."
On a personal level, I was working all of the time. I was working through lunch. I was working late. I wasn’t taking much time off. I was trying to be the perfect wife and mom to my three boys, who at the time, were 6, 9, and 10. They were involved in everything and we were somewhere every night of the week. We were eating healthy, which meant I was making breakfast, lunch. and dinner. And trying to fit in yoga and a personal trainer, and I was failing. I felt like I had no meaningful friendships. I was tired and distracted, and I couldn’t figure out why. I laugh now because it is so obvious to me, but in that moment, I just didn’t see it.
Everything hit a breaking point when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer.
A year earlier, my father-in-law had passed away from lung cancer. So she opted out of traditional cancer treatment and we focused on holistic medicine. We moved her in with us. We did everything we could think to do, but within a few months, she had passed away. And again, I felt like I had failed.
The reason I share all of this is because I think there are a lot of women in the same situation. We are holding everything together sometimes by a string and then wondering why we don’t feel passionate about our lives anymore. You don’t feel passionate about anything because you just don’t feel anything anymore. So you think you need to make a radical change – quit your job and move to Alaska or buy a RV and travel the world- kind of radical.
The truth is we just need to remember our mission, return to our source, and that is what I did. At work, I empowered my team to be the leaders they were. I refocused at home. I took some time off and took my family to the desert. I reconnected with my life. I reconnected with things I loved. I climbed rocks just to watch the sunset. I ate rattlesnake with cactus fries, and when I came back, I was recharged and went back to what mattered most to me: collaborating with people to move ideas into action. From that moment on, I really focused on being a resource to people by using my network to connect people with others that could help them achieve their goals.
You’re passionate about networking. Why is that so important?
Most people only think to network when they are looking for a job, if they are going into a sales position, or otherwise forced to. But we live in an idea economy. People need to collaborate and work together to advance new ideas and continue to innovate.
This applies to everyone: whether you are an entrepreneur or you work in a corporate environment. If you want to succeed, if you want to provide a meaningful contribution, if you want to live an inspired and impactful life you need to be connecting and supporting other people. When most people start their career they are often focused on building their technical skills and expertise.
But as you progress in your career you begin to realize that collaborating with others is what will drive the next phase of your success. When you are able to connect the dots the results can be transformational. As a result, I am always out there championing the benefits of making meaningful relationships and collaborating with people.
Give me an example.
Well, when I started networking in the North Dallas area, I really wasn’t sure where I was going with it. I had gotten to a point in my career where I was ready for more. But for the first time I was starting to feel like the ideas I had weren’t as innovative as they once were. I knew I needed to expand my circle. I knew I needed to reignite my creativity but I really wasn’t sure where to start. I remember thinking: meeting new people can only be good for me.
Through those networking opportunities, I started meeting the most amazing women. I was learning so much about social media and what other people were doing with video. One night, I thought to myself: “This is the answer.” I had been trying to come up with a way to better onboard new team members and it occurred to me to make a few short videos. They weren’t anything fancy. They were like what you would see on Facebook or Instagram stories. Within days of sharing them, I was already getting positive feedback from my team. Within a week, a team member who had planned to take a job transfer, withdrew the request.
My team was re-engaging. They were excited and sharing their ideas with me. That one simple action changed the way my team was working. Now, we are taking that a step further with a larger, broader initiative.
I wouldn’t have thought to do that had I not been involved with MWE (Mckinney Women Entrepreneurs). I believe sometimes people come into our lives at the right time, giving us that breakthrough idea or prepare us for the next step in our career. It’s hard for that to happen if you aren’t engaging with new people who think differently than you do.
Is this what led you start McKinney Women Entrepreneurs?
Absolutely – your breakthrough idea may be one conversation away from where you are right now.
What makes the MWE community unique?
It’s very different from other BNIs or networking groups because it was specifically designed for women who don’t want to, or can’t, participate in those types of organizations. When I started MWE, I had four objectives:
1) It had to be an inclusive community. Most networking groups limit the number of people from a particular business or industry. MWE encourages all people to participate: such as business leaders, entrepreneurs, and students. It allows up to three people from the same company or industry to join. In addition, if we find those three people aren’t coming to events regularly, we allow more representatives from that company or industry to join.
2) It had to be flexible. These are new business owners, busy professionals, and students wanting to start their own businesses. They can’t always get away from their schedule at the same time every week. So we don’t have any attendance requirements. You come when you can. You can come to the events that truly resonate with you.
3) It had to be fun. With so many things competing for your time, I wanted to create a community that people wanted to attend; something that they could look forward to.
4) It had to be free. Networking groups can be very expensive. I wanted to create a community that was free to join.
I want our members to be able to spend, the money they would have spent on membership dues, supporting each other’s business.
This way you could pick and choose what events you wanted to attend based on your interest and budget. I wanted our members to be able to spend the money they would have spent on their membership dues at each other’s business. MWE is free to join. Our newsletter is free. Our virtual training in the FB group is free. Almost all of our events and workshops are free. If we have a guest speaker or we are having a special event, then we charge for that one event and our members can choose if it is worth the investment or not.
Over the past year and half, we’ve kept these objectives front and center with every meetup, workshop, and event. The group has grown tremendously over that time. We’ve gone from 12 people at our first event to almost 700 active community members. On average we have anywhere from 6-10 new members at every event. Our members are communicating that they are seeing an increase in their revenue, followership and engagement on social media and their overall satisfaction with their business since they have joined the group. So, I think this approach works for women looking for a community like this one.
Any tips for professionals and entrepreneurs who want to fit networking into their busy schedules?
"We each have only 168 hours in a week and everyone has a lot they are trying to squeeze into those hours. My mantra is never eat lunch alone. I attend networking meetings, schedule one-on-one meetings, and follow up with people during my lunch hour at least three times a week."
Every Sunday night, I make a list of at least five people I have been thinking about to make sure I connect with them that week. I put it on my calendar and schedule it just like I would any other meeting. If you value your relationships, you have to prioritize them.
Name one thing people can do to be more memorable at networking events.
People ask me that question all of the time. Most people will tell you to wear a signature color or a distinctive scarf or something and I’m sure that doesn’t hurt. However, my advice for anyone who wants to be remembered at an event would be to be present in the moment. What I have found, after attending a lot of events, is that people who are genuine and engaged really stand out. I’ve been at a lot of conferences and meetups where people are so focused on “working the room,” or collecting business cards, that they don’t end up making any meaningful connections.
In fact, I don’t even bring business cards to events anymore.
If we are making a connection, I will find you on social media right then and we will connect. In our high volume world, I think the best way to be remembered is add value to the conversation you’re having in that moment.
What do you think is the biggest barrier to networking?
Social media. It has created an environment where people think everything can be done virtually. Don’t get me wrong social media is great for a lot of things. For example, Facebook Live, IGTV, and video are excellent ways for people to make an initial connection and for you to build trust with people before you ever meet them. That said, you can’t underestimate the power of putting a bunch of leaders in a room and watching the synergy that is created.
There is a lot of science behind this. When you physically shake someone’s hand, your body releases a hormone known as Oxytocin. It’s a hormone that you both need to build trust. If you've ever researched quantum physics then you know about Entanglement. Once we make a physical connection, energetically we are always connected. Science hasn’t been able to virtually replicate that yet. So until that happens we need to make the effort show up and connect with people in real life.
How do you balance a career, a thriving networking community, and a family?
I try to be very intentional in how I show up. I don’t squeeze in events or go to parties anymore if I am not genuinely excited to do so. I think people see through that and know if you really want to be there or just feel obligated to go. I have also been focused on managing my personal energy by surrounding myself with positive people and working on projects that inspire me. I’ve learned that time is a precious commodity so I don’t want to waste it on things that won’t matter to me a year from now.
What would you do if you had more time?
One of my favorite things to do is meet with people one-on-one or get a small focus group together. We meet to brainstorm and strategize about how to take our business or career to the next level. I absolutely love doing that. It’s so energizing. I recently met with the general manager of a local business who had been charged with coming up with new ways to market the organization. By the time we were done with our meeting, we had multiple events lined up for her. That night she connected with others whose business aligned with her company’s brand and image.
They were already starting to collaborate on things they could do together. There is so much value in getting connected to the right people at the right time. You can avoid wasting money on things that aren’t effective, and time you don’t have. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback from the people that I have been able to have those conversations with, and it always gives me so many new ideas to incorporate into what I do.
What's your life motto?
I live by the motto 'I do what I want' (laugh) and I think everyone else should too. Seriously: write it on a post-it note and stick it to your phone or your computer. The next time someone asks you to do something, remember you only have 168 hours this week. Do you want to do that something or not? As Stephen Covey said, “Don’t prioritize your schedule, schedule your Priorities.”
What's next for you?
I used to be a woman with clear cut goals and a clear cut timeline. Over the last five years, I’ve learned to embrace the journey more. I like pursuing things I find interesting or fulfilling and just seeing where they go.
I am currently writing a book (to be released this summer) and plan to continue to offering fun networking opportunities to the members of the Mckinney Women Entrepreneurs community. Including a women’s conference and a collaboration project with TedTalks.
On a personal note, my family is my real focus. Every summer we plan a family vacation and I am excited about getting away and making some new memories with them.
What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals/entrepreneurs?
If you want to be successful, invest in people and consistently show up for them. A mentor of mine once said to me: "You’re always going to be busy. You are always going to have too many commitments and not enough time. But when people need you how are you going to show up? Are you going to shoot off an email, send a card, or show up at their door with a casserole?" Are you going to shoot off an email, send a card, or show up at their door with a casserole?
I’ve made a commitment that I am going to be the girl at your door with the casserole.