In a recent post, Are You in it for the Long Haul?, I mentioned several actions you can take to ensure the future success of your business, one of which was joining one or more networking groups. Many of the organizers I speak to who are struggling do not attend networking events, but if you ask several successful organizers where they find clients, the majority of them will tell you that live networking is their most important source of leads. When you provide a service, people are much more likely to do business with you or recommend you to others once they’ve had a chance to get to know you.
If you live in a small community, your networking options may be limited, unless you’re prepared to travel a little in order to attend networking events. On the other hand, in a larger city, your choices can be overwhelming! Whatever your situation, you will want to make sure you are getting the most for your time and your networking budget. Here are a few things to consider when deciding which networking events to attend and groups to join.
Is it restricted to one member per business category?
The BNI and many other networking groups are set up this way, so that there is no competition between members. Because ideally the other members will choose you over a competitor from outside the group, for many people, these groups become like an extended sales force. Others find this type of format too restricting, as they feel pressured to abandon the relationships they’ve already established in order to make referrals to other group members. Still others join these groups only to find that although they are giving lots of leads, they aren’t receiving any in return. Attending as a guest will allow you to assess the group and determine whether it will be worth your while.
How many times can you attend as a guest?
Most groups will allow you to attend at least once or twice before you must become a member. Take advantage of this to explore different groups and determine which ones are the best fit for your business.
What is the timing and frequency of the meetings?
Most groups meet once a month, but some meet every two weeks or even every week. In order to form stronger relationships with other members, you’ll want to attend regularly, especially if your membership fee covers meeting costs. If you’re unable to attend every meeting, it may still be worthwhile to become a member, as long as there are other benefits associated with your membership fee, such as a website profile or supplier discounts. In the case of some referral networking groups, you are expected to attend every meeting, and if you’re not available, you need to send someone to represent you.
How much does it cost?
Membership fees range from no cost to several hundreds of dollars per year. Typically you’ll find that people who join the more expensive groups have more money to spend and are therefore more likely to be able to afford your services than some of the new business owners you will often meet at the lower priced events – but that is not necessarily true. When deciding whether a group is worth the membership fee, be sure to consider all the benefits that are included and how useful those benefits are likely to be to you and your business. For example, a membership fee that includes monthly seminars which don’t interest you or fit into your schedule may not be a wise choice for you.
You’ll also want to factor in the cost of participating in the networking events when comparing groups. Some organizations may have a relatively high membership fee, but include free attendance at events, whereas others may have a lower membership fee or even no fee to join, but charge a high price at the door.
How many people attend the events?
The more people there are, the more likely there is going to be someone you will want to connect with. This is not to say that the larger the crowd, the more beneficial the event. If you are introverted or shy, you may find a large networking event to be overwhelming and end up not talking to anyone. In fact, the fewer the people, the better chance you have of getting to know all of them.
What is the format of the events?
Does each person get a chance to do a 30- or 60-second introduction? If you’re not a good mingler, this may be the only chance you have to get your message out and to find out what other people do.
Is there a presentation? If so, does the topic interest you? Is it an outside speaker, or do all members get a chance to speak at different meetings?
Is there a meal? Will the food that is served be suitable for your dietary needs? Some people find that sitting down to eat with people helps them to relax and interact more effectively. Others feel that they would rather spend all their time networking and not eating.
With so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to decide which events to attend and which groups to join! I recommend that you attend as many events as your schedule and your budget will allow, especially when you’re just starting your business and need to maximize your exposure. This experience will help you determine the type of events and groups that work best for you, and you can eliminate the others from your list of choices.
If you’re intimidated by networking events, because you don’t know what to say when it’s your turn to introduce yourself, you’ll find some great tips in Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert by Beth Buelow, The Introvert Entrepreneur. It’s perfect to pick up and read a chapter when you have a few minutes between activities, and it’s short enough to read in one or two sittings if that’s your preference.Photo Credit: Muriel Miralles de Sawicki