There are all kinds of groups dedicated to networking. Some are highly structured with performance requirements, exclusive membership, and the payment of dues. Others are free form, come as you please and no charge.
Not every group is right for every kind of business. You will find that some groups may simply not have connections in the market you are seeking to attract. You will find some groups have rules that just don’t fit with how your business works.
Yet there is one factor that is often overlooked when considering a networking group; does this group offer more long-term value, or short-term value?
When you focus on short term value, you see each member of the group only as a prospect. This limits the business potential of the group because you can’t reach beyond the people who are actually present in the room. If there are only 50 members, and 25 of them fit your prospect profile, what do you do once you have presented to all 25? You can either quit that group to start all over again with another group, or you can take a long-term value approach.
The long-term value of networking group lies on building strong trusting relationships that will give you influence beyond the people in your immediate group.
If you are like most people, you are already pretty clear about what you need. What you may not be so clear on is what your business connections need. Do you know anyone who is a good prospect for them? Can you recommend or offer services that will help them? Find out what your contacts need and act to fulfill those needs.
Stop looking at every person in your networking group as a potential sale. Especially early on, be more concerned about what you can give than what you can get from these meetings.
Give materially by sponsoring group events, donating to fund raising efforts, or simply bringing in some bagels for the meeting. Give of your time and effort by contributing time in a service position or simply be free with great ideas and a welcoming smile.
Especially give liberally by helping others make valuable connections. If you can help one of your fellow group members by making an introduction, do it. If you are generous, the effort will come back to you.
People seek out people they can trust. Cultivating trust takes time and effort, but is totally worth it. When it comes to business, trust is based on three factors:
Value – do you consistently bring value to the relationship?
Dependability – are you the real deal? Can you be depended upon?
Consistency – are you consistent over time? If you are occasional participant, or just passing through, it is harder to develop trust.
Hold regular one-on-one meetings with group member. Get to know them, and they will get to know you.
Networking groups provide you with valuable business allies who can open doors and remove obstacles. Cultivate relationships instead of just asking for sales appointments. Because strong relationships build strong businesses, over the long-term, this is the most valuable approach to networking.