In the governnment contracting community there are arguably only a handful of networking events where there are a significant number of "power players" in one place at one time- senior executives from the top contractors, senior government officials, key press contacts and others.
One such event is the annual Deltek holiday party, now held at the Ritz in McLean. Due to Fire Marshall issues, it has become an invitation only (gotta be on the list) event.
This event was started byTom Hewitt when he ran Federal Sources. Of all the people I have ever met in the government market, Tom knew the value of networking and went out of his way to meet people, make introductions, create networking venues and help as many as he could. He is a truly gracious guy. On many occasions I was the recipient of introductions by and invitations from Tom, and I remain grateful for both.
Hewitt was the epitome of being connected. He was the LinkedIn of the 1990s.
He started the annual holiday party in the late 1980s and held it at the McLean Hilton as an open, anyone can attend event. There was no fee to attend and it remains so to this day, although you need to bring a $20+ toy for the US Marines "Toys for Tots" program.
When I attended this event for the first time (according to my old Day-Timer collection, 1991), I looked around the room and thought, "These are the people I read about in Federal Computer Week, Washington Technology and Government Executive - and here they are!"
My job that evening was to meet as many people as I could, gather as many business cards as possible, and see if I could develop some consulting business. I had some minor name recognition at the time through my newsletter (hardcopy, snail mail), from being on the Board of Advisors for FOSE, a little word-of-mouth, and a few speaking engagements. But I was far from being "well known" in the contracting community.
So I'd gather the business cards, drop people a note (snail mail), follow up with a phone call.
The results were not stellar, but they were OK.
Tom Hewitt may have known many or most of the people in that room but I certainly did not. But everyone in that room knew Tom Hewitt. His rolodex and influence was truly unparalleled in this market throughout the 1990s.
So 20 years later I find myself at the Ritz at the annual holiday party and I'm looking around and I am thinking - "These are the people I read about in the trade magazines, hear interviewed on Federal News Radio, see on LinkedIn - and here they are!" The attendance is around 1,200 of the most influential people in the contracting community.
While I have better name recognition and good overall market visibility, I still don't know everyone I'd like to know. So I still collect business cards.
So my goal with the business cards is to make certain that while I may not know everyone in the room, I want to have most of them in my "network" - so I invite the key players to connect with me on LinkedIn, making certain my business card collection pays some dividends.
There may be 1,200 people in that room, similar to the way it was in 1991. But the difference for me is by connecting to key players (by offering them a reason to connect with me), I have reduced the number of degrees between me and anyone in the room. My network now includes all top contractors, many senior government executives, much of the government trade press, and more.
I may never have the power or influence of Tom Hewitt, but my goal is to emulate certain of his behaviors so my reach in the market is as broad and deep as possible.
So far, so good.