Glasses clink, conversation buzzes, and business cards are swapped as businessmen and women swarm around each other in their finest attire, grappling with deals and potential LinkedIn connections. This is the world of networking, where relationships are forged and opportunities abound.
For loan officers, this can be both intimidating and humdrum. Oftentimes, networking and catching up with a referral partner over coffee isn’t fruitful or a solid way to enforce a connection. Bridging the gap between potential connections and new leads or colleagues is a tough one to close, but it’s not impossible.
Katrina Cole, Guild Mortgage’s business development and production manager, says that when she started out as a young woman in the industry — not being old enough to even afford a mortgage — attending networking events became a stressor for her.
“I started in the industry right out of high school in 2002 and as a young woman in a then male-dominated space, I had to force myself to be willing to make connections. I once attended an event where there were five women in the entire room,” Cole said. “But in a sales-based industry, it’s important to be able to put yourself out there. It’s not all about having the most followers or likes. It’s about making organic connections.”
Although her educational background is in marketing and human resources management, Cole says that both fields have positively impacted the way that she networks.
Prepping for Networking
It’s not all about self-promotion, though. Cole explained that keynote speakers at conferences or even just someone sitting at your table can teach you something new about what they’re doing or about the industry. “All of these people from different parts of the business are showcasing their expertise,” she said. “It really allows us [the audience] to learn from them and build relationships with them, which drives business on both ends.”
“All of these people from different parts of the business are showcasing their expertise. It really allows us [the audience] to learn from them and build relationships with them, which drives business on both ends.”
Katrina Cole, business development and production manager, Guild Mortgage
Cole says that what helped her first navigate networking with industry bigwigs was focusing on her strong skills, but also recognizing the areas where she could learn more. She said that she focused on credit and database management — two topics she knew she could strike up a conversation about. “It’s important to show up and show off your best skills, but also acknowledge the things that you may not be an expert on,” she explained. “I used to do some research on who was coming to the conference or meeting that I was going to. Find those people — targets — that you’ve exchanged an email or two with or know from word of mouth, and make connections with them.
Adam P. Smith, a residential and commercial broker for the Colorado Real Estate Finance Group and owner of Just The Tips Coaching, says that while conference networking is a key piece of the puzzle, simply showing up isn’t the way to network. “There are two hard rules when it comes to being a loan originator attending conferences. The first is the content: who is speaking, what am I going to learn, is it content I’ve seen before?” he says. “The other [rule] is who are the other attendees. … There’s an idea that iron sharpens iron. So what can those other attendees teach me and what can I teach them.”
For Smith, the attendees are just as crucial as the content that comes out of the conference. “I want to be able to engage with others and discuss the content that was fed to us at the event,” he explained. “That way I can find out what those people are doing and how we can help each other. These kinds of conversations bleed into social networking when you ultimately exchange LinkedIn, connect on Facebook, follow on Twitter. But it all starts from the in-person networking.”
Connecting with new people is the first step, but implementing that connection into your day-to-day business is crucial. And, you want that connection to remember who you are. “Meeting people, you should be able to tell which long-term opportunities and byproducts can result from connecting with someone,” Smith said. “Are they perhaps licensed in an area where you aren’t? Or are you licensed where they aren’t? Engaging with those people provides endless referral opportunities on both ends.”
Shane Kidwell, CEO of Washington-based Dwell Mortgage and a founder and coach at Next Level Loan Officers, explained that the best way to tie the world of in-person networking to social media is by leveraging non-in-person items with in-person communication. “To network effectively you need to have built up your marketing and networking collateral, which is your digital business card [and] your social [media] presence,” he said. “There are a lot of things going into these conversations that can make them much more impactful. When great communicators and networkers strike a conversation, they have a call to action and something that they can give others that’s an effective, tangible item such as a virtual business card.”
“To network effectively you need to have built up your marketing and networking collateral, which is your digital business card [and] your social [media] presence.”
Shane Kidwell, CEO of Washington-based Dwell Mortgage and a founder and coach at Next Level Loan Officers
Kidwell also says that having a mobile-friendly website or a Linktree — a social media landing page — is crucial to further strengthen a potential connection. “It’s a simple and effective way to share your work and your contact information in a mobile way,” he said. His landing page has links to his calendar and his YouTube videos so people can network with him.
Mark Madsen, a mortgage technology and marketing consultant for MLO Tech Support, says that he prefers to utilize geofencing and digital links to make himself memorable — and recognizable — to event attendees. “Sometimes in-person events are the only time you may get with a client or colleague,” he said. “Ain’t nobody got time for coffee!”
Madsen makes himself memorable by putting out Facebook and Instagram promoted posts related to an event he’s attending so that when a conference-goer sees him, he’s easily recognizable. “You don’t want to spam people,” he said. “But, they will recognize you and come up to you and acknowledge that they saw your face on social media.”
Kidwell’s own schtick to make himself stand out — especially at an in-person event — is letting his personality shine by wearing a baseball hat backwards. “I’m always positioning myself in front of the people that matter in that room so they want to know who I am,” he said. “You need to have something about you that stands out from the noise. For me, it’s one of my many backwards hats. As silly as that is, it’s a part of my branding and I’m known as Shane the backward hat guy. It’s also something that creates conversation.”
Kidwell explained that his appearance also tells a part of his story to people who might consider networking or collaborating with him. “People often ask why I wear the hat. And I tell them it’s because I worked for a mortgage company that was super stuffy, suit and tie, and it didn’t feel authentic,” Kidwell said. “When I started wearing a backwards hat and hoodies, all of a sudden I was able to relax. So, the stories you tell are going to sell you.”
To propel conversations that lead to networking, Smith says that extroverted LOs and originators should take charge and use their social stamina to engage attendees in conversation. “You’re wasting your money if you sit alone quietly and don’t engage,” Smith said, shaking his head. “There’s a small chance that the notes that person takes are coming home with them. It’s not hard to ask someone where they’re from, where they work, what they think of the speakers, etc.”
For Madsen, intention while networking is key. “It’s important to be intentional about who you choose to contact,” he said. “It’s not just about exchanging numbers and maybe calling someone. It’s making yourself an asset. People can scan a QR code on my phone and have access to my contact information, calendar, webinar links, what have you. That way we actually forge the conversation.”
Kidwell says that the best way to take charge at an in-person event is to position yourself in front of the event’s “influencers,” meaning those in the room who can help you achieve success. “You need to get in front of the influencers in that room … for me, a social influencer isn’t the guy with the most friends. It’s somebody who influences my pocketbook,” Kidwell said. “Get a good seat at events, show up early. The other people who show up early are usually a sign that they’re influencers. And those who show up last-minute are probably people you don’t want to do business with anyways.”
This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine August 2023 issue.