Networking is a must for any business owner. The relationships built as a result can make the difference between just keeping the doors open and becoming a household brand. However, there is an etiquette; one that many seem to forget or forgo.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the ‘drive-by’ networker – people who focus on building their database, not their relationships. Networking is important and it’s vital that, as a business owner, you attend as many functions as possible. It’s equally as important to join those groups where the specific purpose is networking.
Event Networking: 3 Key Points to Remember
Whether it’s a trade show, a seminar, a chamber or organizational event or a one time event geared specifically for networking, there are three key points to remember:
1. You don’t need to go to EVERY one. Yes, getting seen more is generally a good idea. Getting seen more by the right people, whether it be potential strategic partners, your competitors (think collaboration) or your customers is your ultimate goal.
2. Mix it up. Again, it’s great to connect with the same people at different events. It’s a great way to keep in touch and further build a relationship (or reinforce the ones you have) but attending several events too close together with the same core group means you’re not expanding your reach. You need a balance between meeting new people and building relationships.
3. Focus on meeting a few people. While you will get your name in front of fewer people, spending more time with fewer individuals means you’re taking to the time to get to know them and, hopefully, they’re getting to know you. Racing around an event trying to build a wad of business cards provides little value. This will give you more email addresses to follow up with after the event but what’s the point of following up if you never really connected at the event?
Good follow-up involves more than just an email saying, “It was great meeting you last night”. The lack of anything personal also means taking those connections online (i.e., connecting on LinkedIn) more difficult. If I can’t remember who you are, I’m not likely to connect.
Networking Groups – The Differences
There are generally two primary groups: Free and paid. Both do have their place and value.
1. Free Groups. The obvious appeal here is the cost. These groups can be advantageous and in some cases are better than those you’ll pay to join. It all comes down to the membership. While it doesn’t cost you, it also doesn’t cost others and while you may be committed to going to meetings on a regular basis that isn’t always the norm.
When people don’t have a vested interest or financial accountability, commitment levels tend to drop. If, as you attend these groups you see a pattern of people coming and going, not seeing the same faces on a consistent basis, you might be wasting your time – something that is far more valuable than money (at least we can get more of that).
2. Paid Groups. Most groups with a paid membership are more selective about who joins. Some cater to specific niches. Some limit your ability to join other groups. Make sure you take these into account when deciding where to spend your money.
I highly recommend you attend several events (as many as they allow) in a row prior to joining. This will give you a good idea of the membership base. You need to know who’ll be able to refer business and be referred but also to see their commitment level. Even though there is a financial cost, some people still don’t fully commit.
Does Exclusivity Matter?
That depends on you and your business. If you’re in a highly competitive field, being in a group with competitors could mean more selling. That’s not why you’re there. You have enough of that on the outside. For others it means collaboration. You’ll have to decide this one for yourself.
Does Joining A Larger Group Matter?
Not always. While a large group means a greater potential reach, smaller groups tend to be more personal and lend themselves to better relationships.
In either case, deciding which is the better option for you depends on your business, your personality and the group’s core membership. You need to spend some time networking with each group. Don’t be afraid to join and back out later if the fit isn’t right for you (just be sure you know the rules up front as I have found groups which require specific time commitments).
Relationships Drive Business
While I’m certainly not a fan of groups with policies restricting or limiting your ability to join others, there is a reason such policies exist. I’ve encountered a number of business owners and sales professionals over the years who will join every group (and attend every function) possible. I refer to these individuals as the ‘drive-by’ networkers.
Their sole intent is to get their name and brand in front of as many people as often as possible. As I mentioned above, the flaw with this thought process is a focus on building a database and not relationships. These individuals provide little value to the other members.
Relationships drive business. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” In the case of business, it’s he who builds the best relationships wins.
Quality or Quantity
When you’re looking for a group or groups to join, by all means, go to as many as possible. It’s the only way to know which ones will work best for you. From there, narrow it down to no more than two. Beyond that there is likely to be a significant overlap in categories and that can create loyalty issues, especially when referring potential customers.
My Best Networking Advice
Regardless of what events you attend or groups you join, focus on others. Find out more about them. Make them want to find out more about you.
Personally, I don’t hand out my cards (much to my printer’s chagrin). I’ll wait until someone asks for one. This way I know I’ve piqued their interest.
Your Turn: What’s your best piece of networking advice? How many groups have you joined? How often and what type of events do you attend and find successful? Do you have a great networking success story to share? Please post it in the comment section below because I’d love to hear from you. Thanks and here’s to your sweet success!
About guest blogger MJ Jensen: MJ is the Chief Idea Officer of IdeaMagic visionary marketing and social media – a full-service strategic marketing and idea company. She is a multi-dimensional professional with an extensive background in small business development and Fortune 50 corporate sales, strategic marketing and training. She has been a small business owner and entrepreneur since 1994 in Tucson, Arizona.