Why Business networking groups matter
As an entrepreneur, one of your primary goals is to continue to feed your business with new contacts. One of the most cost-effective ways to do this, particularly for a smaller business is through networking at groups or events.
But the problem with these networking groups is that everyone there is looking for customers but no one is looking for contacts.
Another problem is that most business owners can’t think of many customers they’ve gotten through these groups. This means they are not getting a good return on their investment (ROI) for their time and money
However, there are always lots of additional opportunities most people overlook. When attending a business networking group remember to consider all possibilities including joint ventures, client leads, partnerships, speaking and writing opportunity. All this and more can come from networking groups if you approach them strategically.
Networking Strategy Plan
Failing to plan means planning to fail. Very few people take a strategic approach to networking, yet it’s a vital tool for your success. Before you jump in and join a bunch of networking groups: sit down and draw a strategic plan.
Audit your present connections
Assess your own network, including identifying your own strengths and improvement areas. How many connections do you have? How have they helped your business thrive? If they failed to help your business, whose fault was it, yours or theirs? Do you need to strengthen existing relationships or create new ones?
After the audit process, you will be clear on whether you need to strengthen your old connections or if you should create new ones.
Highlight your goals
Before you begin anything in life, it’s important to know why you want that thing in the first place. Knowing the why is the key to success. You have first to be VERY CLEAR about it and write it down.
Are you looking to find new leads or contacts, if so then how many?
Are you on the hunt for a mentor, partnership or sponsor?
Are you looking to find a career in another industry, who can help get you there?
Are you looking for potential people to join your team, what would qualify them?
No matter the outcome, you should have a CLEAR goal and a purpose before you join these business networking groups.
Write down your elevator pitch
I’m not a big fan of elevator pitches. Why? Because they are about us and what we want. You need to forget about what you want and focus instead on what other people want.
Yet, this should not stop you from creating a pitch beforehand. You’ll need it to introduce yourself to potential clients when they ask.
List names of organizations you want to join
You need to do some research to find out potential groups you can join. When checking groups, don’t forget to research the existing members. How many members are there, who are they, what are their job titles, where do they work, what are their hobbies, etc.
Use this information to your advantage when speaking to people, as it can be a great way to start a conversation.
The Chamber of Commerce is the perfect place to start. Contact your local chamber and find out how you can plug into a network group in your area. The chamber may even have smaller business groups that meet once a week. But to be a part of the Chamber of Commerce network group you’ll need to pay an annual fee.
Several network groups have web addresses. So find a network group for your local area
Here are some Business Networking Groups you can look at.
- Business Networking International (BNI)
- Mastermind Groups e.g Eccountability.
- Social networking groups
- The Network Club
Don’t go to groups where everybody does what you do. You need to pick groups that are diverse and rich with the type of people that you want to meet.
How to get the most out of business networking groups
Remember that networking groups will come and go. The only thing that will stay will be the relationships you have built. And the way to build long-lasting relationships is to be authentic and helpful to others.
Here are a few final tips to help you build long-lasting business relationships
- Always be the first to give referrals
- Focus on 5 or fewer individuals at a time and get to know them enough so that you remember what you talked about.
- Follow up with people after the meeting. What’s the point in networking if you can’t follow up with the people that you met. Notes or emails should come in very handy at this point. A simple email asking about how someone is fairing could make all the difference.
- Go out of your way to solve a problem of the person you met. Help that person first and be of service.
- Develop listening skills. While you listen, take note of things they like or would love to have. The reason that you would want to do this is so that you can surprise them with gifts. This is an excellent strategy for getting people to like and trust you.
- Develop the habit of giving gifts. Giving any kind of gift to someone makes them feel more connected, special and valued. For something simple I recommend wine.
Although networking involves a strategy, it’s about connecting with people. When meeting new faces you want to build relationships that will last a lifetime. The only way to do this is to provide as much value as you can, without expecting anything in return and watch what happens to your business.