Starting An Association with A Networking Feature
If you have ever considered starting an association, or a networking group, Verna Regler, co-owner of Maryland Construction Network, is the Maryland Construction Industry Connector. With her Business Partner, Rob Bertazon, they built Maryland Construction Network (MCN) – the one-stop source for construction industry news and information.
After attending one of MCN’s Direct Connect Networking Events, I saw first-hand that Verna was doing big things. Although MCN was only a year or two old, there were hundreds of men and women chatting the night away in hopes of connecting with others and bringing in new business.
I had to know how Verna and Rob built such a prominent construction industry association, with a premier networking component, in such a short amount of time. I reached out to Verna to share her story, some of her secrets and advice for women while networking.
1987 and $10 an hour
In 1987, I reentered the workforce as a working mom making $10 an hour as a Secretary for a General Contractor. I knew nothing about the industry, but I learned as much as I could. When I felt as though I learned as much as the job offered, I changed jobs, stepping up my hourly pay to $12 an hour and building my connections along the way. I continued to learn, hone my skills and upgrade my jobs over the next several years to provide for my two children.
What I didn’t realize as I was working to feed my children
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was creating and strengthening relationships in the construction industry. I looked at my job path as many single mothers would – as a way to feed my children. What I didn’t recognize was that I was building and developing strong relationships and professional contacts along the way.
Connections you make today will impact your life in the future
I never dreamt that those connections from almost 30 years ago would have such a powerful impact on my life today. You never know how the connections you make today are going to fit into your life 15 to 30 years from now.
55 years old and at a crossroads
At age 55, I was finally making great money, but the person I was working with did not share my core values. I looked in the mirror and knew what I had to do. For the first time in my life, I quit.
I did not have a plan. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was so sick over this (and ended up in the hospital). I take things to heart.
The emails and the outreach of love that I received when I left the Building Congress & Exchange were absolutely astounding. In my mind, I was just doing my job and working as hard as I could. To others, I was more than just a worker bee. I think that you don’t you ever see yourself in the same light as other people see you.
Rob had started MCN, and asked me to join him as a 50/50 Partner. I was very nervous about something so uncertain, but then I remember a friend telling me, Verna “sometimes you just have to stand on the end of the diving board, hold your nose and jump.” That is what I did. I jumped, took a chance and swam as hard as I could because I couldn’t afford to drown.
We started from nothing. We did not buy a franchise. We took our industry and association management experience and made it up as we went along. We had an idea, solid reputations, credibility, and great connections. It was helpful for us that people knew who we were and that we had knowledge and proven industry experience.
The first 2 years were brutal. Rob and I were working 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week. The hours we worked were incredible. But, we built MCN into an association that we are both extremely proud of.
What is your success secret?
A tireless commitment to what we were doing. If you don’t have the time, will or passion to make a serious commitment to your endeavor then don’t do it. So many people underestimate the amount of time and work it takes to make something successful.
You also must have a very thick skin and be very determined. You must have grit and passion.
For me, I had to make this work. I am a chronic overachiever.
I wish that I had the confidence earlier than I did to make the leap joining Rob at MCN. I analyze things too much. I am trying to be better at trusting my gut.
Advice to women who are networking and trying to make a name for themselves?
It is critical that people take you seriously. It is fine to be jovial and friendly, but above all you need to be professional first. It is better to be professional and respected than popular and noticed. You must gain respect first before you gain friendship. I believe that women are still held to a different standard, and unfortunately, we have to work harder at being professionally respected.
Also, be genuinely interested in the other person you meet at a networking event. Ask them questions outside of the standard, “So what do you do?” When you genuinely like people and enjoy talking with them, people feel that. When you are simply smoke and mirrors, people feel that too.
To learn more about Verna and the Maryland Construction Network, visit https://www.mdconstructionnet.net. MCN is constantly hosting powerful networking and educational events providing individuals and companies the opportunity to get involved and connected.
I personally learned of MCN a few years ago after my colleague signed me up to attend a Direct Connect Networking Event. As you can read from my “about page,” being put in a large room with hundreds of strangers sends me into a small panic. Verna warmly welcomed me and introduced me to some other attendees. I made great professional connections and friendships. Thanks again Verna! I also sincerely appreciate the interview. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts and insight with The Female Force.