When you’re running a business, networking is a valuable tool that helps you meet new contacts, learn from others, and grow your own brand.
But that doesn’t mean any old networking group will do.
Instead, you’ll need to carefully consider which networking organizations will most benefit you and your company, before doing all you can to maximize the potential of each networking opportunity.
Finding the Right Networking Group
First, you need to establish why you’re joining the group and what you hope to get out of it. Do you want to find clients, find suppliers, connect with other experts in your industry, or get some general business advice from other business owners?
A lot of groups will offer most of these benefits but they’ll often be more targeted toward a specific goal. Therefore, if your goals are in line with the group’s members and itinerary, you’re sure to find this group offers plenty of worthwhile benefits.
For example, a financial executives networking group might not be specifically related to your industry but if you’re looking for help with your finances, it could provide you with valuable contacts. Or it might put you in touch with a recruitment specialist, e.g. Robert Half in Grand Rapids, that can find a suitable candidate for your business.
Once you have a clear idea of the type of networking group you’re looking for, you can begin searching for one.
Google’s a great place to start, particularly if you’re searching for location-specific groups. Scan through the search results while taking note of some of the following points:
- What rules do they have in place? For example, are you expected to take new referrals to each of the meetings?
- What types of businesses and people attend? Are they similar to your company’s ambitions and size?
- How often are the meetings? If they’re every week or month, does this work with your schedule?
- What time are the meetings? Are they in the morning, during the day, or at night? Which suits you best?
- Are there any fees for joining? Do you have to become a member, paying a one-off fee, or are there charges for each event you attend?
- Is the group exclusive? For example, do they only allow one business/person from each niche to attend, or are there no restrictions?
The strength of each of these factors will depend on what criteria you put in place at the beginning. Try to shortlist 2 or 3 groups that you’d like to try out.
Using Your Networking Group to Make Great Contacts
In order to get as much as possible from your networking events, you need to build relationships with people that you want to retain contact with and who will be able to help you on a long-term basis.
It’s important to understand that not every attendee will be able to help you. So while it’s a good idea to chat to them and find out more about their business and goals, try to focus on people you want to stay in touch with, even after the networking group has finished.
Even though networking groups may only last an hour, your goal is for a long-term collaboration. Far too often, people run from person to person handing out business cards without spending time trying to find out who’s going to benefit their business or how they can benefit others. Plus, this is a huge waste of business cards!
Therefore, you should create a goal for each of your events, i.e. talking to 2 or 3 people in depth. This will allow you to find out what type of person/business you can assist and, more often than not, this person/business will be able to do the same for you.
Then, once you’ve got these valuable contacts’ business cards, be sure to follow this up as soon as possible afterward.
More Handy Tips to Make Networking a Success
Finally, here are a few other tips that will propel your next networking event to success:
- Don’t feel intimidated at your first event. It might seem daunting going up to a random stranger, but don’t awkwardly stand around the edge of the room – get involved and get talking!
- Don’t over-sell. Networking isn’t about selling or buying, it’s about interacting. You need to get to know and trust each other while highlighting your business’ services or products.
- Take a genuine interest in others. Even though you’re focused on getting to know people you can maintain an ongoing business relationship with, it’s important to listen to others and show an active interest in their business. That way, they’re more likely to do the same for you.
- Don’t instantly discount someone. At first glance, someone may seem completely irrelevant to your business, but ask some questions before moving on. You never know what contact they may have that they could put you in touch with.
It goes without saying that a networking group can be hugely beneficial for your company. By doing research in advance and putting the effort in to build contacts, you should start to reap the benefits of these events in no time at all.