Networking in the wrong places won’t help you or your career contacts. When deciding which networking groups to join, consider how much time is actually available to network. There are so many different types of networking events to choose from. Any place where people gather offers a potential networking opportunity. Chosen carefully, an effective networking group can generate business in ways traditional marketing and advertising alone cannot.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering a networking group.
• What are you trying to achieve through business networking?
• How long as the group been in existence?
• What is the depth of commitment at the leadership level?
• What is the format of the meeting?
• Is there a structure or are you just left to your own devices to introduce yourself to people?
• How often are the meetings?
• What steps have been taken to develop a structure that encourages the kind of business relationships necessary to build a successful business?
• Do you enjoy spending time with these people?
• Is there chemistry and opportunities to develop real friendships?
• Who else attends the group and will they be the right people for you to team up with?
• Are members obliged to pass Referrals at every meeting or is it a more relaxed affair?
• Are you required to attend every meeting?
• Does this networking group have a “community” presence?
Decide what time of day you are at your best! Are you a morning person? Or do you prefer to meet for lunch or an evening meeting? Most groups will allow you to attend at least one meeting before asking you to commit financially. When you visit for the first time, observe the level of comfort the group members have with each other. Loyalty within the group is very important.
Check out several groups to find the best chemistry and perceived value. You may have to pay a small fee for lunch or breakfast, but by attending these meetings it will give you an idea of what to expect and whether or not its members are those you can benefit from and whether they can benefit from your business.
Call the networking event leader and find out what businesses and professions have attended their business networking events in the past. Your goal is to identify the best ways to develop relationships with those who are in the best position to introduce you to potential customers.
I will often go to hear a speaker or topic which interests me or to catch up with a number of business associates and friends in one place. Sometimes trial and error works. You might begin by compiling a list of different networking groups that are currently in your area, or areas where you would like to do business. If the group has a Website, take a look.
Ask your friends what groups they attend and ask if they will invite you as a guest so that you can find out more about the group.
Some people thrive in a structured environment. Others of us find lots of rules to be a drag. Depending on the group you decide to join, make sure that you understand the rules. Some networking organizations are very strict and you can find yourself ousted if you don’t play by the book. My experience shows me that the more structure a group has the more seriously the members take their commitment to get to know each other better and the more “qualified” business leads are exchanged. By establishing this “formal” relationship with other business professionals, you will have the opportunity to substantially increase your business.
If you join a business networking group where you don’t already know the existing members, you have to allow some time for the membership to get to know you and trust that you are honest and capable before you can expect to receive any referrals.
Many groups fall under one of 4 main categories.
• Social Networking
• Business Networking
• Leads Groups
• Networking with a Program, speakers, training, etc.
I prefer the groups that have speakers on various business topics. Each has it’s own unique benefits and can help you with a well rounded presence in the business community. Often the speakers are members of the group given an opportunity to tell others about their business and the kind of business leads that work best for them. For me, education is a high priority.
I also have noticed that groups of between 30 and 40 members – only one member in each category – works best for me. I find it much better to have a lot of time to talk to people about my business rather than have a brief period to talk and then have to sit down and listen to a program. I want to get to know the members and have them get to know me. They will often know most of the others and can help to expand your network quickly. Your involvement in a networking group doesn’t necessarily mean quick returns. I strongly encourage you not to sit next to anyone you had met before.
That is difficult in larger groups because business does not always come in the first contact or meeting nor do they usually have speakers or programs. To me the very large groups are all about social networking and in many cases the people who attend know very little about the collaborative etiquette of networking. They are usually non-structured gatherings set in a social setting like a bar or party. The social business networking group is all about “mingling” or “schmoozing”, you “work the room” and meet various others that may or may not turn into business leads.
I stay away from speed networking events. This is where you have a rapid succession of three-minute one-to-one meetings during the course of a morning or afternoon. It’s fast-paced and usually you collect a lot of business cards but there is seldom much time to develop a real relationship. Collecting a large number of cards from people you can barely remember the next day (and who may well have forgotten you), may be far less valuable in the long run than taking time to get to know a few people better. Don’t waste your time on groups and connections that lack integrity or relevance.
A Chamber of Commerce can be a local, statewide, national, or international organization with separate memberships for each. They are also an opportunity to meet people. When looking for networking opportunities within a Chamber Of Commerce, most people think only of leads groups or the common after hours. The reality is that any function hosted by a Chamber Of Commerce holds opportunities for networking with other business owners and business leaders.
Finally, what is the policy about exclusivity to selected market sectors? Some groups will only allow one member from each market category therefore creating sense of exclusivity and again this has its pros and cons. On the one hand, having exclusivity will breed a sense of loyalty between your group members, conversely if there’s more than one of you in a particular market category then sometimes you can build on one another’s particular niche offerings.
Picking the right networking activities and groups and applying a few basic principles can lead to huge benefits for businesses. If you’re confused about what group you should share your expertise with, visit several groups. Ask lots of questions. Then make a decision. The hardest part is making the decision. Once you have made your choice, stick with it. Remember, building long-term business relationships takes time. Be patient. And most of all, be loyal to the group and give it and its members your very best.
Networking is all about reciprocity. No matter who you’re dealing with, you should always try to give more than you receive. Always remember, networking is also about building trust, and seeing how your relationship can genuinely help others.
You gotta “LOVE” what you do to be successful at it. The same applies to Networking. You gotta “LOVE” to Network to make it work for you. Download Gail Sussman Miller’s free article (pdf) called, “How to Love Networking.”
BONUS Articles: “Using Networking for your Business” by Jack Roberts
“Shop for a GREAT Networking Group… Then STOP!”
“Does Your Networking Group Have a “Community” Presence?”
Copyright © 2011 – Larry James. Larry James is a Professional Speaker, Author and Coach. Larry James presents networking seminars nationally and offers Networking coaching; one-on-one or for your Networking Group! His latest book is, Ten Commitments of Networking: Creative Ways to Maximize Your Personal Connections! Something NEW about Networking is posted on this Networking BLOG every 4th day! Visit Larry’s Networking Website at: “Networking HQ!”
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