As an entrepreneur who has been around the block a few times, I’m often asked a question that goes something like this… How do I choose the right networking opportunities for both myself and my business?
Great question! However, not so simple to answer unless we get clear on a few things first.
Why Networking / Why You / Why Now?
What do you want to have happen as a result of your networking activities?
The way I see it, your core reason for networking will fall into either one or both of the following two categories:
- To Grow Yourself
- To Grow Your Business
Let’s briefly explore each.
Networking Opportunities To Grow Yourself
I am a firm believer that a small business will only grow to the degree that its owner does. That being said, networking with people who know things you want to learn or attending educational events can have a huge impact on you.
Some ideas here might be:
- Attend industry specific seminars and trade shows;
- Join a trade organization related to your specialty or industry (e.g. if you’re a professional speaker maybe try the National Speakers Association or if you’re a Chiropractor consider joining The American Chiropractic Association);
- Join your local Church
- Join (or form) a mastermind;
- Simply do some 1-on-1 networking with a mentor willing to allow you to pick their brain over lunch.
And yes, if your intent is to grow you, you do need to participate.
Networking Opportunities To Grow Your Business
This one is about sales… plain and simple! My rule of thumb here is that the networking you are considering must either:
- Be directly with your target market
- Be with people who have influence over your target market
Whenever possible, I always prefer the direct route. I can control my efforts there. I cannot control what others do on my behalf.
Some ideas for direct networking opportunities may include:
- Events for charity or awards dinners if you’re marketing to the affluent;
- Chambers of Commerce if you’re marketing to small businesses;
- Forming a group of networking power partners that works more closely to drive each other business.
If getting in front of your target market presents a challenge for you though, you can approach it indirectly by networking with others who can ultimately influence or connect you with your target market. For example:
- Participate in lead exchange groups such as BNI or LeTip;
- Form joint venture relationship with someone who has great influence over your target market.
Networking to grow your business may or may not have to be you. It could be a member of your team. Just be sure they will play full-out!
Logistics To Consider Prior To Networking
Now that you are clear on what you want and why you want it, let’s cover some of the logistical stuff.
Networking events and memberships can get expensive so determine how much of your marketing budget you can afford to invest on it.
Networking is an investment. It takes time and resources to both connect and deepen relationships. Thankfully, technologies such as social media and marketing automation have made following-up and following through with networking contacts much quicker, easier and cost-effective.
Determine how much of your time each month you can afford to invest here on those efforts.
Your Comfort Zone…
Networking can be intimidating and quite frankly a waste of money and time if you are not ready to network in certain situations or circles. Yes, the coach in me will always try to get you to stretch your comfort zone a bit however, going from zero to sixty in six seconds flat is typically not the wisest choice to stretch you and position you for success. Patience is a virtue here.
Learn to trust it. Does a particular networking event or group feel good to you? Do you like the other attendees or members? Is there good chemistry amongst the group? This is critical because if you’re not excited about where you’re networking or who you will be networking with, your heart won’t be in it. And if your hearts not in it, fruitful relationships won’t happen.
Times, dates, and locations are critical; wherever you choose to network must make sense from a logistical standpoint.
So in closing, nothing happens in business without people… please get that. Some form of networking will always be necessary.
Just be sure that if you decide to use networking as a marketing tactic, that you are willing to play full-out. Whatever you are going to do, do it great or don’t do it!
Why? Because there are lots of other things you can do with your time and money, so be sure you both ‘like’ people (yes, I said it… some people, whether they are willing to admit it or not, really just don’t like and enjoy interacting with other people)… and are into relationship building prior to committing to using networking in this fashion.
For me though, I’m a firm believer that a person’s success can be determined by their ability to seize the right networking opportunities.
You got this!