I have been trying to think about how I can talk about this subject and address it in a way that would be fair and balanced without injecting too much personal opinion and have decided to first talk about the types of groups and then later on be more specific. It is important to remember that you will have preferences that may not align with mine, but that each of us share a common goal in our networking. More business and possibly more friends.
So lets begin by analyzing the various types of groups. There are many different types of groups, but it is easier to categorize them by the meeting format rather than using individual categories like chambers of commerce or women’s groups.
Most groups fall under one of 4 main categories. These are Social Networking, Business Networking, Leads Groups and Networking with a Program.
Social networking is a part of our daily lives whether we realize it or not. Each time we attend any function that involves a group of people we are networking on a social level. Whether we are attending a charity event, going to a party at a friends house, going to a religious service, or attending an organized social networking event, we are in a networking environment.
In most cases a large part of participation in these groups is not related to business. However, there are always opportunities to meet people who could be or know prospective clients. When you attend these types of functions, it is advised to have some business cards in your pocket in case you meet someone else who is networking for their business, but remember that business networking is not the primary purpose of the function, so be very casual in the way you approach others about your business.
Social Networking Tip:
Never assume that any individual at these functions is not a good prospect for your business. You will find many opportunities there. It is just good to remember that people are there for many reasons and may not want to talk about business.
Believe it or not there are very few groups or organizations that are simply “business networking groups”. This category, for the purpose of our discussion is reserved for groups that do not have speakers or programs. An example of business networking would be similar to a chamber of commerce after hours. In business networking, you simply gather together with other business associates to talk about your businesses.
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. This format enables you to really get to know people in the allotted amount of time. In some cases you can even do business with someone who you have met for the first time.
This format allows you to get to know people very well and sometimes helps to jump-start the relationship without having to meet for lunch or coffee at a later time. The only thing that makes this format difficult is if you are shy. For the shy individual it is sometimes not easy to just walk into a room and start talking to people they do not know.
Business Networking Tip:
Build a core contact group of people that you see at several different meetings. This will give you a broad base of contacts through these people as they are building their networks. Always get to know the “most popular people” in the room. They will often know most of the others and can help to expand your network quickly
Leads groups are very structured. This is the largest segment of business networking. There are several formats to leads groups that vary in slightly different ways. In most cases the leads group involves sitting around a large table. Usually a leads group is limited to one person per industry. So if you wanted to be a part of a leads group that already has one of your type of industry, you could not join that group until there is an opening for you created by that person leaving.
Usually leads groups are about 5 to 20 persons in size. In most leads groups you are given a set amount of time to stand up and talk about your business ranging from 2 to five minutes depending on the size of the group. This is a dedicated time, no one else speaks and you take turns.
Leads groups are good for people who are shy or for those who have difficulty in a meeting with no structure. If you are a member of a good leads group, members are actively seeking referrals for other members. This can lead to a great deal of business if you consider the fact that everyone has a personal network of about 200 hundred people. This does not mean that it is the best format of meeting or not a good format, but rather it is good for you if you prefer structure.
Leads groups generally meet early in the morning or for lunch.
Leads Groups Tip:
Be sure to enable the members of your leads group to help you. Give them tools that they can carry to represent you when they encounter someone who needs your product or service. Be sure that everyone understands what you do and who your best prospects are.
Networking with a Program
A lot of trade associations and chambers of commerce follow this format. The meeting usually starts with open networking for a period of 15 minutes to an hour. It is then followed by a presentation by a guest speaker or a current member.
In this environment, you will not have much time to really get to know people unless you always attend the meetings. In most cases these meetings are best for initial contact followed up by meeting prospects for coffee or lunch. It is advised that you use a system of taking notes and qualifying prospects for later follow-up.
Generally these meetings end after the presentation and people linger for 15 to 30 minutes before clearing the room.
Networking with a Program Tip:
Get to know the leaders of the organization. In most cases they will know a great deal about the members as they work their way up the ranks into a leadership role. These individuals can be of the most help when seeking prospects or referrals.
As I said at the beginning of this article, your feelings on these definitions may vary from mine. It is important when seeking meetings to attend or groups to join that you have defined goals on what you are trying to accomplish. Be specific when setting these goals.
Remember business does not always come in the first contact or meeting. Be consistent for best results. Try to balance your networking with a combination of the types of groups and meetings that you attend. Each has it’s own unique benefits and can help you with a well rounded presence in the business community.