When Debbie Rutter signs in at networking events, she doesn’t list a business or group she’s representing.
Instead, she writes “York City Enthusiast” or “York City Cheerleader.”
“Because that’s what I am – I’m enthusiastic about the growth of our town, and any time I can go into a place and meet people and help share information and my excitement about what is happening in York, I take advantage of those opportunities,” the outgoing Rutter said.
A York resident since age 6, Rutter is passionate about promoting the White Rose City, something she strives to accomplish through networking, or as she calls it, “connecting.”
“Some people look at networking as something that’s scary to them, but I look at it as an opportunity,” the former business owner said, “to gather information about things that are happening, and then to connect ideas, people and events to each other so that it benefits everyone.”
She estimates she attends over 50 business/community/social events i.e., networking, or “connecting” – a year.
“I jokingly say that I hug people and I eat out a lot,” she said, laughing.
Despite her joke, Rutter actually plays a key role in her hometown to help connect people or ideas.
It helps that she has a great memory for names and faces, said Rutter, who was Debbie Bailey when she graduated from York Catholic High School in 1989.
She owned her own direct-sales business as a director for Clever Container, selling organizing tools and techniques. In her first month she recorded the fourth-highest sales of any sales person in the country. She later grew a team of 31 people and become a director for Clever Container.
The list of local groups she’s involved with is lengthy.
She is a member of the Women’s Network of York, which connects women through networking events, and the York Women’s Giving Circle. She also is a Make-A-Wish volunteer and will be a member of the Leadership York class of 2017 leadership training program.
She also was an active member of the York Jaycees, the leadership training and civic organization for young adults. When her sons were in school she spent 14 years volunteering in their school district.
“My biggest assets are my people skills and sales, the sort of ‘soft skills’ you don’t necessarily learn in college,” said Rutter, who, with her husband, has two college-age sons.
And she urges women in business “not to discount the years you’ve spent volunteering or efforts like that, because those skills can translate into other areas.”
The veteran connector of people and ideas offers these networking tips when going to a business/social event:
1. Be approachable, “and smile, so people feel comfortable coming over and talking to you.”
2. Ask good questions, and don’t go into attack mode when you walk in: “Don’t start with who are you, what do you do, can I have your card, that sort of stuff, so it feels like a sales pitch,” she said. “Instead, ask them things like, what brought you to this event, do you know the host, have you been involved in this organization in the past?
3. If you start with easier, conversational, “soft” questions, then you can get into, “in a non-sales-pitch way, how you want to meet people who can help spread the word about your business or your job … do you know anyone I should meet, do you know of any events I should go to,’ and so on.”
4. Know that people like to be a resource: “In general, I think people like to help other people, and if you ask questions, you can tap into the information that other people have, and they’ll end up being a good resource for you.”
5. Listen to people. Everyone knows this, but “we live in a world where we’re very detached, so if you’re at an event and you can have a real conversation with a person, put your phone away and talk to them,” Rutter advised.
Practicing what she preaches
Rutter knows that in any business or organization, it’s more than a job to the person “whose dream is on the line, whether it’s behind the counter, in the kitchen or in the art-show gallery.
“Just talking to them and finding out why they opened that place, and getting to them and their story, for me that’s a great way to be able to share that passion they have with other people.”
There are few better feelings, she added, than to be able to later connect two or more people in a way that can help cause a ripple effect in the local business community.
And never discount the importance of building relationships in the business world, a top official at the York County Economic Alliance added.
Through networking, many alliance members have landed new clients and gotten personal introductions to other potential clients, said Kate Gaudet, manager of member services for the alliance, a frequent sponsor of networking events.
Karin Swartz, the president of York Young Professionals and communications director at York Country Day School, said she regularly sees the importance of networking events.
“Networking is not just about exchanging business cards any more, Swartz said, “it’s building your own personal community.”