Why Join a Networking Group
In a previous article, I’ve discussed the advantages of in-person networking can do for your personally (See Networking Your Business in Person). To quickly reiterate some of the benefits:
- Networking is an important, no-cost marketing tool that can help put new startups or small businesses on the fast-track to success.
- In certain communities, traditional in-person marketing can be even more beneficial since it establishes credibility and trust as well as establishing a foundation for a lasting relationship.
- That in-person meet up provides a personal connection that cannot be achieved through social media and other online networking platforms.
Networking groups or other professional business membership based organizations are highly recommended to expand your network. These vary from your local Chamber of Commerce to groups that cater to a certain industry, to groups for women, men or minorities exclusively, or to non-profit groups and boards that focus on assisting those in need.
“I am just not getting anything out of it!”
But if you are currently in one or more of these groups and sympathize with the most common members’ complaint: “I am not getting anything out of it”, then this post is for you. If you have been a member for three or more months and you haven’t yet developed any new connections, haven’t received a referral or worse yet, haven’t had a meaningful conversation with other members in the group, then its time to sit down and analyze the source of the problem.
And if you take a real honest look, the problem may be you. I will provide a list of ways to utilize the resources that can be had at well-organized, member-driven groups so you cannot only promote your business, but make new connections, new friends and build that trust and credibility that every business needs to succeed. If after applying all of these points, and you still feel your membership is a waste of time and money, then it may be time to speak to the board of that group or find a group that is focused on the goals you are trying to achieve.
Making the Best Use of Your Membership
1. Know your Goals: Before you join a specific group, first determine your goals for networking.
- Are you looking for community outreach opportunities?
- Do you need professional development and support as a new business or startup?
- Do you simply want to give and receive referrals?
- Are you looking to networking with other business owners who understand the challenges of running their own business?
- Or are you looking for more connections with other professionals in your area?
Once determined, visit various groups and get to know their purpose and benefits so you feel comfortable they align with your goals.
2. Attend their Events: I know this sounds overly simplistic, but if you are regularly missing on their monthly meetings, their special events and their workshops, you are missing out on networking opportunities, new connections, announcements and news about the organization, and more than likely helpful information to build your business.
Showing up regularly also shows good character, trust, and integrity. You signed up to be a part of it, so live up to that commitment. And the more the other members see you, the more they will feel inclined to approach and learn more about you and your business.
3. Get Involved! This cannot be emphasized enough as the member who partakes in volunteering for the group’s events, committees and board of directors will get more out of the group. The time and effort you invest will be rewarded in several ways:
- You will be more visible in the group.
- You will have a chance to display leadership, organizational & marketing skills.
- You will have more contact with other members which will lead to opportunities for them to get to know you and your business and vice versa.
- You will have personal satisfaction of a job well done.
- When you promote the group, you are in essence promoting yourself (and your business).
- You may receive recognition which is the best form of marketing because it shows trust and credibility.
4. Take Advantage of Networking Opportunities. When the group’s events allow for time for networking, mingling and moving the room, avoid talking only to the ones you’ve already established contact. Talk to visitors, new members and the wallflowers, and take time to get to know them, ask questions about them, and find ways to help them. Avoid being known as cliquish or unapproachable as that would defeat the purpose of your participation.
5. Be Prepared to Network. Before you can do the above, you must be ready to describe your business clearly, succinctly and persuasively. Do you have your elevator speech (your 30 second commercial) prepared? Are you dressed to impress? Do you have business cards or brochures printed and accessible at a moment’s notice? Most importantly, smile, look them in the eye and be enthusiastic about your business. [For more networking advice: Mastering the Art of Networking via Good Conversations.]
6. Be a member, not a taker. As you get to know your fellow members, their businesses, their goals and their struggles, do what you can to provide assistance. Whether that be (1) providing a referral, (2) introducing them to colleagues and other professionals in your network, (3) sharing, recommending or promoting their social media content, (4) offering professional advice or experience, or (5) offering discounted services/products you sell at a discounted group rate, there are many ways to make yourself available. Soon, people will know you as a resource and will turn to you for advice, ideas, and suggestions.
7. Be Happy. Networking groups take time out of your busy schedule so it can be easy to carry the weight of your to-do list on your face and posture. People are more apt to approach happy people, so fake it until you make it, and put on your happy face. Make an impression that other members want to refer people to you. Remember, members refer people to you, NOT your business.
8. Be mindful, present and focused. This time at your group’s meeting is for you and your business, so check your current worries at the door so you can focus on your purpose for being there. Be engaged in the speaker, ask questions and be ready to give feedback.
9. When the meeting ends, the networking truly begins. If the group has a presence online, be an active participant and visitor of their website, blog and social media accounts. Read and share their content. Offer positive feedback and constructive suggestions if surveyed. Follow through on any referrals received or given. Contact members for one-on-one meetings over coffee or lunch to get to know them better.
In time, your networking group will be a resource for not only referrals but friends and mentors. If you put in the time and effort to truly be a team player, your business will reap the benefits.