Some people looking at this article will be thinking, “Not another article on networking!” Others will be saying, “Bring it on – the more networking tips I can get, the better.” Those in the first group will not have done much networking this past year, and even though they recognize its potential value, they never seem to make time for it, or make it a priority. They will likely have not received any business this last year from networking referrals. The second group will have taken advantage of every networking opportunity they could find, and their business has likely grown because of their expanding network. If you’re in the first group, you really need to read this article, so that you can network more strategically and make the most of your “face time” with potential customers, even if you don’t naturally enjoy it. If you’re in the second group, you’ve probably already jumped to the first tip!
Not every networking group is valuable for every business owner. Each type of group has a different purpose and will provide different value. A Chamber of Commerce network is different from a business networking group such as a BNI (Business Network International). Before you join a group, talk to existing and past members and find out what they get out of them – or didn’t! Some meetings are based more on business education, mixing with like-minded people, industry information, and/or volunteering, rather than on strictly making business connections that could lead to sales. Knowing what happens in each networking association and what value you might receive from those activities will help you to choose the right one for you.
Many groups will allow you to visit once or twice before joining. Notice the tone and attitude and “feel” of the group. Do the people sound supportive of one another? Does the leadership appear competent? Do you feel comfortable with the people attending? Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others, as well as to grow your own business.
Once you’ve decided which networking groups will give you the greatest advantage, make sure you show up – make a real commitment. Your presence on a regular basis means people will remember you. If they remember you, you will be on their mind when they, or people they know, need your product or service. Just dropping in from time to time does not often bring results.
The key to making the most of your professional networking is to keep the right attitude and use a series of techniques to connect with others and expand your circle of influence.