Heidi Steele on a Three-Tiered Approach to Networking
CEO & Founder
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Heidi Steele, founder and managing member of Surface Resources, shares her three-tiered approach to networking, which highlights giving back to others on a personal, community and national level.
“Volunteer work has been absolutely critical to my network development. It shows that I support our customers’ larger community by collaborating on their missions of state or national advocacy education and large-scale community improvements.”
Alana Muller: Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank and Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire, and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank and Trust thank you for tuning into another episode.
Hello listeners. Welcome back to Enterprise.ing Podcast. Today, I'm so happy to welcome Heidi Steele. She's the founder of Surface Resources, a rising leader in sustainable solutions for design and construction professionals on a national scale with roots in the Southwest and Intermountain regions. Heidi, welcome to Enterprise.ing podcast.
Heidi Steele: Thank you Alana. I am super excited to be with you today. I love your podcast.
Alana Muller: Well, I'm super excited to have you. Tell our listeners about Surface Resources and your inspiration for launching the company?
Heidi Steele: Oh my gosh. Okay. Well, we focus on resilient flooring and tile solutions. And my wellspring for creating Surface Resources was years of struggling as a professional architect and interior designer to source not only sustainable materials, but materials that were readily available in the United States that were reasonably priced, that had good, solid local representation, that were real innovative problem solvers. And honestly you put all those things together and that's what makes a great product. So it's not just the product, it's the whole package. And I wanted to create a distribution and rep agency that actually was the whole package.
Alana Muller: That's so amazing. And I mean, I love how you addressed the problem that you were experiencing and obviously experiencing to some significance in that you said, you know what, if I can't find it, I'm going to create it. I just think that's amazing. And have you been able to address all the challenges that you've felt that you were facing?
Heidi Steele: Yes, I have. And it's funny. I have a very dear friend who always says be the change in the world that you want to see and,
Alana Muller: That's right.
Heidi Steele: Wow. We're doing it.
Alana Muller: So cool. I love that. Well, and I'm sure that it comes with the whole cast of characters too. So I want to hear about your network and how do you actively manage your own network? Who do you welcome in? How do you find the people that you're going to include in your relationship base?
Heidi Steele: Well, I rely on the usual professional networking channels of in person and virtual appointments, telephone calls and emails, industry events, trade shows, and my personal favorite one on one and formal connections where fun not work is the actual agenda.
Alana Muller: I love that.
Heidi Steele: Yeah, it's really important. I mean, you cannot overestimate how much having fun means to people really.
Alana Muller: Did that change for you? I mean, the way that you handled it during the pandemic, during the height of the pandemic, I guess we're still here, but maybe we're acting a little differently now.
Heidi Steele: We are. So it really pushed technology to the forefront. So things like this with virtual appointments, virtual recordings, and I've felt determined because Service Resources has been around for 12 years now, but there's still a lot of people out there that don't know about us. And I was just absolutely determined to make sure that we were consistently adding to our network and consistently developing a new customer base. So about 16 months ago, one of my employees and I co-created the SR weekly email blast. They're fun, they're educational, they're inspiring. And I'll just say that serving four states is a really big job that leaves me sometimes feeling exhausted. So we do our best each week to bring good humor and thought provoking, fresh ideas that people look forward to receiving.
Alana Muller: Oh, that's super fun. And I love that you're including the good humor nature of it. So I'm sure that there is good educational content too, but just looking forward to something to laugh at, to smile about. That's so great. I want to dig a little bit more into Surface Resources or I like how you said SR. That's fun. I want to talk about something about your mission that I was really inspired by. So I know that your mission is to amplify the sustainability movement and to help others embrace what you call effortless sustainability. Tell us what that means and how it factors into the way that you engage with prospective clients and others in the community.
Heidi Steele: So to me, there are five hurdles that have been identified to specifying sustainable materials. And these are well documented. Sometimes there's more than five. Sometimes it's less, but in general, it's about five different hurdles. And the differentiators that I outlined before that help define my agency are really those differentiators. So reasonable pricing, really great independent third party certifications on products, good distribution channels so that materials are always available. Good technical solutions, not just a quick answer, but a really good quality solutions. I mean, we work with manufacturing partners that have been well, gosh, our tile brand Mosa has been producing tiles consistently since 1883.
Alana Muller: Oh my goodness.
Heidi Steele: Yep. And our cork flooring manufacturer has been producing cork floors since 1868.
Alana Muller: Wow. Okay. Cork floors from the United States or from Portugal or from where?
Heidi Steele: Portugal.
Alana Muller: Okay, good. That's my place. That's one of my happy places. So I love that. That's cool. So that's amazing. How did you, I mean, talk about relationship building, how did you find these organizations?
Heidi Steele: Yeah. It was just a lot of in depth conversations with people around me. I have been blessed with a lot of role models and mentors in this industry. And I leaned into those relationships heavily to help discover products and manufacturers that I felt were worthy of representation.
Alana Muller: That's so cool. Well, and I want to know how do you make these interactions mutually beneficial?
Heidi Steele: Well, it's a tier, so there are three different levels to making a network mutually beneficial. The first is the personal level. So on the personal level, gift giving to my connections on special occasions, sending thank you cards, showing heartfelt gratitude for the relationship, singing their praises on social media, because that really matters in the professional world, treating them as good friends, not my next sale. On the personal level, that's sort of the core of how we treat connections.
Next is the local community level and I have a really soft spot for helping out local community nonprofits. I'm always quick to make sure our customers know that if they're working on projects that benefit their community and are scheduled to receive resilient flooring and or tile, we will definitely step up and offer donated or sometimes drastically reduced price materials plus our extensive professional knowledge and network to ensure that the products are installed correctly. And then I guess the last piece of that would be working at the state and national level. I volunteer for local chapters of national trade organizations, filling board of director positions and serving on committees. And honestly, this volunteer work has been absolutely critical to my network development. It shows in a broader way that I am giving considerate support to our customers’ larger community by collaborating on their missions of state or national advocacy education and large scale community improvements.
Alana Muller: Talk about, put your money where your mouth is, right? It's like you're walking the talk. You're not just in a nominal way, signing up to be part of an organization and you've got your membership card. And that's the thing that you're proud of, but it's really that involvement. It's showing up. It's showing up. And that's what you're describing. You're showing up, you're showing up both physically and purposefully and mentally and even the financial component to that. When you talk about supporting your customer, supporting their projects, supporting the community, I think that that's meaningful for people because it's authentic, it's real and it's not just lip service. You're actually doing the work.
Heidi Steele: Yeah. To me, it's really gratifying. It's very meaningful. I think I, in particular, but I think a lot of other people out there also spend a great deal of their life and their working hours on the job. And so for me, it can't just be impersonal on the job. It's always personal and I'm always looking to improve the world around me.
Alana Muller: Yeah. I always giggle and not in a very nice way when I hear people say, “oh, don't take it personally. It's just business or no offense. It's just business.” And I think to myself, there's nothing more personal than this because I'm spending an awful lot of hours, waking hours, sleeping hours on my business. So to say, it's not personal, it's just not true, not true. So I appreciate that. I appreciate that. What advice would you give to somebody who wanted to grow or cultivate their own professional network?
Heidi Steele: I would say be absolutely bold. Believe that you indeed have inherent knowledge, grace and experiences that can help others along their professional and personal paths. Maybe others help you and you do have something you can give back that will help others. So do it today, do it tomorrow, keep doing it.
Alana Muller: So great. So great. Tell us about an interaction that you've had with somebody that resulted in a breakthrough for you either personally or professionally.
Heidi Steele: Oh my gosh. This is one that I don't know that I've told this story before, but very early in my history with Surface Resources, I met the director for a large homeless 24, 7 shelter in Phoenix, Arizona. And she described a very specific need for anti injury flooring that needed to be ultra durable, but a cinch to maintain with their perennial limited efforts and funds. After our talk, I donated some specialty flooring materials to them and connected her facilities with a commercial flooring contractor that I knew had a good installation team already familiar with this product.
Well, flashed forward a few months, I called the director to schedule a site visit so I could see the floor installed and learn if it actually improved daily operations like they had hoped for. Well, while we were chatting away and admiring the newly installed floor, a personal question popped into my head from nowhere. So I asked if a family is living in their vehicle, does that mean they're homeless? Not surprising her answer was yes, but the reply left me stunned and honestly, unable to speak for a minute. Because in that moment I discovered I had been homeless as a child and why supporting homeless shelters and community food banks, regardless of their affiliations, is so critical to my personal mission and by extension that of my company.
Alana Muller: Okay. You just gave me such a chill. That's unbelievable. Unbelievable. Did you never think of yourself that way?
Heidi Steele: No, never. Never. Despite all the hardships that my family experienced growing up, we were for the most part always together. And so,
Alana Muller: Yeah.
Heidi Steele: It didn't feel homeless.
Alana Muller: Well, so your home was wherever your family was. I mean, first of all, you must have had some pretty amazing parents that made you feel safe and loved no matter where you were and whatever you called that, that you sort of bottled it up, but sort of acted on it is just an incredible story. That's really beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Really that's really meaningful and thank you for what you do for the community. I just think that's incredible. And so few of us can give a physical material or some kind of good that actually specifically improves the lives of other people in the way that you do. So the fact that you're able to use your resources, your knowledge, your expertise, and the products that you are espousing is very special. So thank you for that. I want to shift gears a little bit. Is most of the networking that you're doing, is it organic and unintentional in nature, or is it more deliberate whereby you're proactively asking for business and referrals?
Heidi Steele: I would say if you can be a diligent, deliberate networker, then it will also happen organically as time passes, but waiting for people you don't know to approach you is a losing game. The very best networking move I know is a warm introduction from a mutual professional peer. This strategy open doors significantly better than a cold call every time. It subconsciously reflects the trust from the original relationship onto the referral from the very beginning of the introduction. Now not every referral carries this magic, but when they do the networking ROI is apparent pretty quickly.
Alana Muller: Oh yeah. I could not agree with you more. I don't know anybody who really loves cold calling, first of all. Right. But the way you described that the inherent trust that one party is sort of extending to the next party is so true. And frankly, if somebody says in their subject line mutual introduction from Heidi and Heidi is my friend, I don't want to disappoint her. So I'm going to first, I'm going to open the message. Right. And then I'm going to say yes to meeting with that person or whatever I can do to be helpful because I don't want to disappoint my friend. And so I just think you're exactly right. And when you talk about kind of this deliberate approach, that also is organic in nature, I think what you're describing is being open and it's understanding that relationships can come from anywhere and that if you're open and ready for it, that it will present itself to you.
Heidi Steele: Yeah, it's true. And I look back at my networking and I'll say that some of my connections from my network that have had the most significant impact on me as a business owner, were not even within my industry segment, way in left field. So you just never know. So I always tell people, network, but don't stick to just your segment or your industry. Network as wide and far as you possibly can because you never know.
Alana Muller: Absolutely. That is so true. So true. I have a couple of fun questions I want to ask you. If you could meet with anybody for a cup of coffee, who would it be and why, living, not living, fictional, non fictional? Who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Heidi Steele: Okay, well, it's somebody that's living because I hope that someday I actually will get to meet her. Michelle Obama.
Alana Muller: Great answer. You won't be surprised. You're not the first person to tell me this. Talk about why. I'm right there with you. If you get to meet her, please bring me along.
Heidi Steele: I'll text you. We'll FaceTime. If I get to meet her, we'll FaceTime.
Alana Muller: Great.
Heidi Steele: I just think she's a phenomenal role model for women of all ages. And somehow despite all of the demands on her, she manages to check her ego at the door and achieve balance between her work and her personal life. Look, she co-raised two intelligent, thoughtful daughters in an incredibly stressful environment. She has an exceptionally close relationship with her husband and life partner. And she consistently devotes time to helping others recognize their life goals, strategize on how to reach them and how to have the courage to go after those goals. How can you not admire that?
Alana Muller: Yeah, totally agree. No, that's a great answer and I hope you get to meet her. I think that's fabulous. So what's currently on your nightstand, is it Michelle Obama's book? What's on there?
Heidi Steele: No, that was rotation. [inaudible 00:16:39].
Alana Muller: That was a few years ago.
Heidi Steele: No. Okay. Right now I have three books actually on my nightstand. Two, I just recently finished and one I'm in the middle of, and I can't wait to get to the end, but so first up is “Team of Rivals,” it's by Doris Kearns Goodwin and it's a biography of Abraham Lincoln and his entire cabinet.
Alana Muller: Wow.
Heidi Steele: Yep. “Happy-Go-Lucky,” the new release by David Sedaris.
Alana Muller: Oh, that's fun. Very fun.
Heidi Steele: And then the one I'm in the middle of right now is I've read more books by this author than any other single author, John le Carre. And it is “A Perfect Spy.”
Alana Muller: Okay, perfect. Yeah. Plenty to keep you busy. Right. So that's great.
Heidi Steele: Oh yes.
Alana Muller: That's great. Well, this has been so much fun to get to know you, to hear your story. I appreciate your candor and your ideas. You're clearly an amazing networker, wonderful role model yourself. So thank you for sharing with us. Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and about Surface Resources?
Heidi Steele: Well, I would definitely suggest they sign up for our weekly email flyers and that's [email protected]. They can also find us on the web on LinkedIn and on Instagram.
Alana Muller: Perfect. Well, I know that you will be getting many new followers and I really love meeting you. And I look forward to keeping in touch with you. Thanks for being on Enterprise.ing Podcast.
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