By Drew Olson Special to Published Aug 10, 2010 at 3:06 PM
With an election approaching, the news sites, pages and airwaves soon will be populated with politicians proclaiming that they have a solution for the unemployment crisis. They'll lay out their plans and offer virtual guarantees of success.

Joe Sweeney isn't running for office, but he has a plan. And, a guarantee.

Sweeney, a Milwaukee businessman, lays both out in his upcoming book, "Networking is a Contact Sport: How Staying Connected and Serving Others Will Help You Grow Your Business, Expand Your Influence -- or Even Land Your Next Job."

Sweeney, who now works in the financial services industry after serving stints as president of the Wisconsin Sports Authority and the marketing agent for several pro athletes including Brett Favre and LeRoy Butler, is a master when it comes to making contacts and networking.

In the book, co-written with Mike Yorkey, he shares some of the lessons he learned over the years, several of which were instilled during his childhood in Madison, where he grew up with eight older brothers and a younger sister.

"Growing up in a large family taught me the value of working things out," Sweeney writes. "You had to go along to get along. Whenever I sat down at our outsized table at dinnertime, there was a built-in audience to 'network' with."

It was during that time that Sweeney learned the lesson that forms the core of his book: you have to give in order to get.

"I think the whole premise of the book is really different than what most people think networking is," Sweeney said in a recent interview. "Most of us perceive networking as a place you go to get something. We say ‘I've got to get a business card ... I've got to get a lead. I've got to get a client ...'

"The whole purpose of our book is the complete opposite. Networking is a place to give, not get. If you approach business and life like that, magic will happen. This is what networking is about."

Sweeney uses his association with Favre, which forms only a small part of the book, as an example in Chapter 8, entitled "How to Network to land a Superstar or Super Deal." As president of the Wisconsin Sports Authority, Sweeney was charged with finding an honoree for an annual "Sports Person of the Year" luncheon.

"Usually, we'd get 200 or 300 people," he said. "But, we got a young quarterback from Green Bay and we had about 1,300. Brett was just starting to take off at that point. I got to know him a little bit and I asked a simple question: 'How can I help you?'"

"Brett had talked about Michael Jordan making millions of dollars off the field. His comment to me was ‘You seem to know a lot of people. You seem to know business. Could you get me a couple deals?'"

Sweeney took the idea and expanded it. He formed a company with Favre, agent Bus Cook and friend/businessman Craig Leipold. Favre was a shareholder and the main client, but soon Sweeney was cutting deals for several players.

"It started with a simple question: What can I do for you?," he said. "He went on to win three MVP awards and went to two Super Bowls. It was an exciting time in Wisconsin sports."

When Favre began to struggle with addictions to painkillers and alcohol, Sweeney used his networking skills to seek help from counselors and finally sent Favre a letter -- which is included in the book -- urging Favre to seek help.

"The whole reason I put that in the book is a teaching lesson," Sweeney said. "Working in the financial industry, I'm shocked at the onset of alcoholism and depression in middle-aged men. All of us have demons. How you manage your demons will ultimately determine how your life turns out.

"Whether you like him or not, I really respect how Brett overcame his demons and dark sides. If he didn't stop what he was doing, there wouldn't be a debate now about whether he was going to play or not. He wouldn't be alive."

In addition to relating these and examples of successful networking from his life and business career in the book, Sweeney reveals his "5-10-15" principle -- a system for making networking part of your daily life. It's worked for him and he's so certain that it will work for others that he is offering a unique guarantee.

"I'm so positive that this will work that I made a claim to all the 18 million unemployed and underemployed people in the country: if you read this book, buy the workbook and do the 5-10-15 plan for four months and don't get a job offer, I'll give you all your money back, plus I'll write you a personal check for $250 or give you $500 of free coaching.

"That's how confident I am in the system. Being unemployed is tough. It's easy to sit around and be miserable. Thoughts dictate behavior. If your thought is ‘There are no jobs out there,' that makes you feel dis-empowered. You don't want to get out of bed in the morning. You have to re-frame your thoughts from 'there are no jobs out there' to ‘I'm a free agent.'

"When you're unemployed, you've got to do some things that are counter-intuitive. The first thing you can do is volunteer. People ask -- 'Why would I do that? I need money.' But, it gets you out of the house and meeting people."

Those contacts, Sweeney says, can lead to more contacts, which could lead to another job.

"The major problem in this country is not Wall Street reform or health care reform," he said. "It's jobs and the economy. It's critical that we network with each other and make the contacts and make the deals that will help us out of this."

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.