By Paul Sorgule, M.S., AAC
Success rarely happens by accident. Success may be defined in various terms, but the common thread is that success is determined, to a great extent, by the people with whom you work, play, and communicate. The key to reaching your individual goals lies in selecting and nurturing those connections that best suit your desire to reach career, financial, or personal benchmarks.
LinkedIn built a business model on facilitating networks of influence. However, the appropriate management of those networks still lies in the hands of the individual.
It is up to you to define life goals and then build and maintain the network that will help you along the way.
Networks are only effective if a few individual characteristics are viewed as essential. These characteristics include: trust, honesty, respect, commonality, dependability, and others that may be unique to who you are and want to be.
Cooks build their skill sets by identifying, working with, working for, and communicating with those individuals who have something important to offer and are willing to do so. Chefs gain opportunities certainly through demonstration of exceptional skills as a cook and leader, but also through open doors created by their network of influence.
Cooks are hired in great restaurants through the recommendation of others, and chefs are hired in the same manner. This process of connection is, by far, the most effective way for a restaurant, hotel, resort, or other food business to build a team.
From the first day that an individual chooses to enter the field of food, he or she should begin the process of building a network of influence. So, how do you begin? A great starting point is to identify your benchmarks of excellence.
- Who do you admire – personally and/or professionally?
- What characteristics do these individuals possess that you want to incorporate in your own personal brand?
Make your list and begin the process of determining how you may develop a line of communication. Although this may sound formal and even a bit contrived, this is how most people begin friendships. You may not actually prepare your list of characteristics, but in your mind and your heart, you know that there is something about another individual that just clicks. A network of influence is no more complicated than this. However, the challenge is defining the best way to build this connection.
For the cook, the process is not as daunting as it may sound. The following suggestions are realistic and proven:
Join and Participate:
- Every serious cook should belong to the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and other organizations, such as Chef’s Collaborative, Slow Food, Women’s Chefs and Restaurateurs, and the Bread Baker’s Guild, depending on your culinary discipline.
- Become actively involved in a local chapter of the American Culinary Federation, including any fundraising events that they sponsor.
- When creating your benchmark list, make sure that you define ways that you might formalize a connection with that individual. This should include making a point to dine in his or her restaurant, sending a letter of introduction with a resume, or offering to participate in a stage if there is an opening.
- Make sure that you have a business card with contact information. If your employer does not offer these, have your own professionally made. (Use Vistaprint; for less than $25, you can end up with a few hundred professional cards).
- When given the opportunity to meet a chef, business owner, restaurateur, vendor, food consultant, food writer, etc., make sure that you go out of your way to introduce yourself and pass on that business card. Trade cards with them if possible.
- The next day, prepare a short personal note stating how much you enjoyed meeting the individual, thank them for the opportunity, and include one of those resumes.
- Without becoming a nuisance, invite these individuals to your LinkedIn or Facebook page. Start your line of communication.
- Spend a few dollars with companies like networksolutions.com or www.wordpress.com to build a website and/or blog site. Prepare a professional impression on these sites. If you are uncomfortable with writing, ask one of your network contacts for assistance, making sure that all content is representative of how you want to be perceived. YES, this is important for the entry-level cook as well as the established chef.
- Make sure that all of your social media info and communication is kept professional. Your social media presence is your modern signature; make sure that anyone would be proud to associate with your media image.
- Finally, select only those individuals who could realistically offer something to build your brand and who might, in some way, benefit themselves from a connection with you. Keep the initial list small and manageable. Too many contacts without any ongoing communication will have very little positive impact on your brand.
Throughout your career, this network of influence will grow in size and importance; contacts will become advocates and ambassadors; and, providing you work equally hard at demonstrating your competence as a cook or chef, doors will begin to open. Make sure that when you are able, you return the favor to others seeking to define their own brands and work hard to create opportunities through networking.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Paul Sorgule has been a chef and educator for more than four decades holding positions as hotel executive chef, food and beverage director, faculty member, dean of culinary arts and provost at a prominent culinary college. Sorgule is president of Harvest America Ventures, a restaurant and culinary school consulting and training company he formed in 2012. He blogs about culinary issues and finding that work/life balance at www.harvestamericaventures.com.