Long before Julie Jenkins became a real estate agent, she recognized the value of community involvement in building her professional clout.  Although she is a life-long resident of Sarnia, Ontario, she seldom ventured beyond her circle until she recognized that expanding her network would benefit her job as a head-hunter for a large financial planning company.  “I started Women in Networking, a group of a few business-owner friends who met now and then for lunch,” she said.  The group grew by word-of-mouth and eventually their monthly activities included workshops and evening events where members would showcase their expertise on topics ranging from social media to financial planning.

To widen her reach, Julie started a networking group on LinkedIn open to all business professionals in the Sarnia-Lambton area.  Whereas Women in Networking attracts primarily grassroots business owners, the LinkedIn network has become a hub for community leaders, both men and women.

In 2011, Julie became licensed to sell real estate and the relationships she built through her networking groups launched and sustained her career. “Ninety-nine percent of my real estate business comes from those professional networks or referrals from their members,” she said.

In 2016, Julie had the opportunity to buy the EXIT Realty Twin Bridges, Brokerage franchise. “Because of the positive impact community involvement had on my own business, I wanted to take my entire team along for the ride.”  Julie leads by example and although many of her agents had no experience in community projects, many are now enjoying the benefits. “We’ve participated in McDonald’s McHappy Day® and we sponsor the annual gala for Rebound Sarnia-Lambton, an organization that works with youth. Getting my team involved helps to build morale, fosters a team atmosphere and also helps us to attract new agents to the brokerage because they see that it’s a fun place to work.”

A key affiliation for Julie and her team is with Habitat for Humanity.  “When I was first approached about participating in a Habitat build, I had some selfish reasons for saying yes. I thought that the exposure would help me to reach more prospective clients and help me to grow my business. Then one day while working on the build site alongside the partner-family, it dawned on me that because of our efforts, they would have a safe place to live. It was no longer about what I was getting out of it, it was all about them. It wasn’t just a building, it was their home; a new start, a new beginning.”

Julie’s top tips for optimizing your community involvement:

  1. Choose wisely – I’ve been asked to participate on many boards and I want to say yes to everything because I enjoy it but between juggling that and my real estate brokerage I was getting burned out. I had to learn to be strategic. When I consider a request, I take into consideration who is asking, what the cause is and the time commitment.  Of course, there’s always, “What’s in it for me?” I make sure the cause aligns with our values and provides an opportunity for exposure.
  2. Know your strengths – I’m better suited for leading people in activities rather than sitting in board meetings. I’m never afraid to get my hands dirty.
  3. Online / Offline – I started the mixed group on LinkedIn, but I found that people weren’t using it effectively. I wanted to get to know the members face-to-face so now we meet in person monthly and continue the conversation on LinkedIn.
  4. Support local businesses – Our networking meetings are held at various restaurants or at our members’ businesses.
  5. Find a need and fill it – There were networking and women’s groups in nearby London but nothing in our community, so we started our own. In 2015 my group and another merged, and together we founded the Sarnia Modern Women Show, a one-day trade show with speakers, almost 100 exhibitors and more.
  6. Don’t overlook the obvious – Join and support the Chamber of Commerce and attend their functions. Networking is not about collecting business cards; it’s about creating and nurturing relationships.
  7. Piggy-back on Corporate initiatives – If your franchisor supports a charitable initiative, you may be able to participate in matching programs for fundraising, additional marketing or branding support.
  8. Wear your brand – If it’s appropriate, dress your team alike in your company’s colours. I always have a pocketful of logo pins in case my agents forget theirs.
  9. Host free community events – On our 10th anniversary, we hosted a free “Movie in the Park” event and invited the entire community. Sponsors helped to cover the cost and hundreds of people attended.
  10. Promote, promote, promote and then promote some more – Whether it’s soliciting votes on social media for which Movie in the Park followers want to watch or inviting them to join us at a park clean up for Earth Day, promotion is key. Also, I’m not good at taking pictures and posting about our events on social media so I’ve enlisted the help of our millennial agents.

“Networking helps to build strong relationships in the community and builds brand awareness but beyond that, all of this community involvement has taught me that giving back is very rewarding. It teaches leadership skills and hones my ability to work with others.” Julie offers this word of caution to anyone wishing to ramp up their community involvement.  “Don’t spread yourself too thin.  A few years ago, I was spending too much time on community activities and not enough on my real estate business.  Even though most of my business comes from being a leader in the community, I had to remember to spend time on my business as well.”



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