Starting Your Own Networking Group - Be Sure to Weigh the Risk and Reward and Begin With a Bang!

Networking and connecting can be incredibly rewarding.  And as you get the hang of it you may determine that the time has come for you to start your own networking group.  While many who choose to will succeed, the risk involved should be measured against the potential reward before jumping in.

There are many rewards for starting your own group should it succeed.  You may be in a highly competitive field like banking, insurance, or real estate and all the positions in the established closed groups are filled.  Starting a group would provide you with an opportunity to participate in a closed or exclusive group.  Of course when you start a group you have the added luxury of determining who will be allowed in the group.  And by starting your own group you can determine when the group meets, where it meets, and virtually all other logistical aspects of the group.

While there are many other benefits to starting your own group, one final benefit is that you have the opportunity to demonstrate your leadership skills.  This will make you instantly more likely to receive leads and referrals.  Everyone wants to associate with a leader.

With benefit we often find risk, and the risks are many when it comes to starting your own networking group.  You may not succeed and those you attempt to bring into a group will be disappointed.  This may lead to fewer leads and referrals.  You may alienate a friend or networking partner if you do not invite them to your new group.  There may be power struggles and difficulty moving the group to action from time to time.  And if you choose to charge a fee to be apart of the group you will have the headache of maintaining the books for a new business venture that will make little if any money for some time to come.  If you don't charge a fee you may find it harder to get participants to take the group seriously.

While the risks are many the reward in many cases will outweigh the risk.  You should choose to jump in if this is the case.  But you should do so after careful examination of all the factors that will impact your success.  The most successful launches of new groups always begin by identifying a core group of key participants that will bring excitement to the group.  These participants should be people you know well but don't network with as often as you would like.  Once you've identified a core group, choose a day of the week and time that works for everyone and stick to it.  Have an initial meeting to get the group going and to determine the other business categories you wish to fill.  Then plan a launch party with at least four weeks notice.

Begin with a bang by inviting more people than you need to fill the group.  Each person in the core group should invite at least ten people to the launch party.  Make this truly a party atmosphere full of fun and excitement.  Plan this meeting well and invite more than one person from each business category.  What should result is a competition for the open slots between the invitees.  This creates buzz and desire to participate.  These newly drafted members will add excitement and enthusiasm to your group.  Do this as many times as it takes to fill the group.  Don't be overly ambitious about membership.  Most closed groups function best with between six and twenty members.

You may notice we have made no reference to open groups in this discussion.  We believe there is an abundance of open networking groups and no need to create more.  If you're looking for an active, powerful, open group, look no further than your local chamber of commerce.  If it isn't functioning at a high level, volunteer to super-charge the networking for them.  You will have an instant audience and you will be more likely to succeed.

Starting a group is typically the last resort or only necessary if you cannot find what you are looking for in another group.  It is an option if your category is filled in all the exclusive groups or if there is a lot of competition in your industry.   You can set yourself apart by starting a group.  Be sure to identify the potential risk involved and measure it against the potential reward before jumping in.  Starting your own group can be fun and rewarding so long as you know how to do it and what you hope to accomplish.


Knock, Knock! Know Who Is There At Networking Events: Business After Hours (BAH)

Perhaps the one event that has done more to ease people into networking is the business after hours.  A staple of chambers of commerce and associations, the business after hours usually attracts the largest crowds and the most diverse audience.  Knowing what to expect is crucial to success at a business after hours (BAH for short).

The major difference between a BAH and all other networking events is alcohol.  Most BAHs will have at least beer and wine and many will have mixed drinks as well.  This creates a more relaxed atmosphere where people will let their guard down and be more social.  Work is over, the drinks are flowing, and people loosen up quite a bit.  BAHs can be very powerful opportunities.

However BAHs can create the biggest risk as well.  Most BAHs will be held immediately following work.  Intoxication happens more quickly when you drink on an empty stomach.  While it is rare that anyone gets really drunk at BAHs, many will have their judgment impaired by alcohol.  So a word of caution:  Drink with care and beware of those who have been drinking.

Of course there will usually be food available at a BAH.  The trick is to manage food and drink all while standing since most BAHs are held in a cocktail-party atmosphere.  It is equally important not to appear gluttonous by remaining near the buffet for too long.  Since this is a social event, more focus will be put on your social skills.  You must be aware that, like it or not, people do watch and people do talk.  Everything is amplified when you add alcohol to the mix.

Do not be mistaken.  This article is not intended to discourage you from attending BAHs.  Quite the contrary.  BAHs will attract attendees that you cannot reach at any other function.  All the high profile executives will attend as will the busy entrepreneurs and solo practitioners.  The BAH is the one event where you truly can meet most anyone you wish.

Knowing how to meet people, what to say when you meet them, and how to meet the right people at an event will be critical skills necessary for success when attending BAHs.  Remember that you should focus on others not yourself and that the conversations you hold should be designed to determine if you are meeting someone that you should get to know better.  Be social, meet several people, and then determine the three to five folks that you can help and that can help you.  Talk with them a bit longer and be sure to get their business card to follow up.

Remember these general rules about business after hours events:  Most are powerful opportunities.  The smaller the event the more likely you are to make a great connection.  The more focused you are the more likely you are to meet the right person. Therefore, eat before you arrive, skip the alcohol, and be clear who you are looking for.  By following these rules you will always leave the event with connections that count and a clear head.


Knock, Knock! - Know Who is There at Networking Events - Lunch Groups

Whether you realize it or not you have been to a networking lunch.  Food, lunch time, and more than one person are the requirements for a networking lunch.  Having lunch with a prospect or co-worker is a networking lunch by definition.  But for our conversation we will focus on structured, multi-attendee networking luncheons.

Most networking luncheons attract a wide variety of people from all business categories with one common bond; nearly all will be directly or indirectly responsible for sales at the company they represent.  For this reason the networking lunch takes on a different personality than all other networking events.

Networking luncheons vary from structured events with a formal meal and keynote speaker to a loosely tied together group where everyone brings their own "brown-bag" lunch.  What makes networking luncheons different from networking events at other times during the day (aside from the preponderance of sales people in the room) is the compressed time frame.  Most people who attend networking luncheons have scheduled meetings before and after the lunch and therefore have limited time.

Except for the largest groups, most networking luncheons provide an opportunity for the attendees to give their elevator speech or sixty-second commercial.  Few people who attend networking luncheons are shy since there are many sales related professionals in the room.  You should be prepared to deliver a self-introduction for one-on-one interactions and to the audience that is concise and audience-focused.  You have approximately seven seconds to gain the interest of the listener before he or she mentally turns you off.

One of the best things about networking luncheons is that you will easily meet new people if you want to.  Even if you attend with a co-worker, sit with someone you haven't met.  By the time the lunch is over you will know a lot about your new friend and they will know a lot about you.  This is the beginning of a relationship that will lead to more connections.  You can't help but get to know people when you share a meal with them.

Since most of the people at networking luncheons are in sales, they will have a vast network of connections and it is highly likely that someone in the room will know the person or people you are trying to meet.  Focus on the people you meet and the ways you can help them.  When asked, clearly state the benefits you can offer others and the connections you are seeking.  You can quickly open doors through the relationships you will forge at networking luncheons.

But heed this one word of caution.  Except formal events, a networking luncheon is a relaxed atmosphere. Since there are so many sales people at networking luncheons, you may mistake their candor as sales pushiness.  While there will be a few pushy sales people to be certain, the vast majority of the group is there to meet new people and grow their network.  Although it does happen, don't go expecting to sell something to someone that day.  And bring plenty of business cards but don't hand one out unless asked.   Rarely does anyone follow up with someone from an unsolicited card.

Networking luncheons provide an outstanding opportunity to meet a lot of people and to meet many who know the people you need to know.  Just remember that the networking luncheon is a time-compressed, full contact, networking event. It requires a clear understanding of the attendees and for you to have a concise, audience-focused message.  Be certain to attend, meet new people, and follow-up promptly and you will win big at networking luncheons.


Knock, Knock! Know Who Is There At Networking Events: Morning Groups

Perhaps you are a serial networker. You attend every event you can and you meet a lot of people.  And of course you meet other serial networkers.  But have you ever stopped to examine the different types of people and which events they frequent?  This can be a powerful aid in finding the right prospects for your products or services.  Knowing who is there will assist you in determining where your efforts will be best spent.

 

Networking events are held at all hours of the day.  In larger cities you can even find networking events twenty-four hours a day.  However most networking events fall into one of three time frames; breakfast, lunch and after-hours.  While serial networkers will attend all three, the remainder of the crowd will be determined by the time of day the event is held.

 

Most every early morning networking event will be held before 9:00 a.m.   You can expect breakfast of some sort, from bagels and pastries to a full plated meal and you can expect to meet a select group of people.  Since these events happen before the workday starts, breakfast meetings are often the choice of C-level executives and business owners.  Whether a solo-practitioner or a busy corporate executive, breakfast is often the only discretionary time these folks have to participate. 

 

Professional people and C-level executives from all fields will choose breakfast networking meetings.  Not only are they more available in the morning, but they also know they can control to a large degree the types and number of interactions they will experience.  The busiest and hardest to reach people will often arrive just before the program starts and leave promptly upon conclusion.  If you are going to connect with them you will need to plan carefully and be realistic in your expectations.  Just because you met Jane Mega Company at the breakfast doesn't mean you have the right to call and email her. 

 

First determine exactly whom you wish to meet.  When the opportunity arises, introduce yourself and ask permission to contact them at a later date (you may even be able to set an appointment right then and there).  Remember that most people who are busy are also highly organized.  When they come to networking events they are bombarded by sales people.  When you handle the interaction as an opportunity to connect and discuss business later you will stand out from the crowd.  Of course you can ask a few questions about them and their business, but keep it brief and plan for a meeting in the future. 

 

One outstanding way to ensure you meet everyone is to volunteer to be a greeter at the event.  Even if you can't serve in a formal role, you can stand near the entrance and exit and welcome people with a warm handshake and smiling face.  But consistency is the key.  Everyone must be treated as if they are the most important person in the room, after all they are to someone and they just might be to you.  Additionally, being a greeter once in a while won't work.  Be consistent in greeting people at events and soon everyone will know you.

Breakfast meetings present an outstanding opportunity to meet people that rarely attend events at other times during the day.  Including breakfast meetings as a part of your networking plan will maximize your effectiveness and increase the likelihood that you will meet the right people.


Observe the Multiple Networking Group Law: No Double-Dipping

As you begin to find success in networking you will undoubtedly expand your network to include more than one group.  Becoming active in several networking groups focused on varying interest, geography, or industry is a wise move that will broaden your exposure and increase your effectiveness.  We encourage and highly recommend that you are involved in more than one group, chamber of commerce, or both.

 

With expanded exposure comes the opportunity to share your network with a wider variety of people. You will provide more solutions to more people and they will provide you with more connections.  Your network will grow.  This benefits you, your network, and your new networking partners. 

 

However there is one rule that you must never violate if you are to succeed in multiple groups. Never under any circumstances give two people in the same business the same referral. If your friend Sam is buying a new house, you cannot refer Sam to two mortgage brokers in different groups.  That is just like double-dipping chips at a party; you just shouldn't do it.  It is not cool and everyone gets hurt when you share the same referral with two people in the same industry.

 

Your friend Sam gets a mixed message and begins to feel like he is just a number to you.  He is likely to think you are not trying to help him as much as you are trying to help yourself.  The two mortgage brokers end up embarrassed and looking like little more than glad-handing salespeople.  And you end up with a loss of credibility that will lead to fewer referrals and potential expulsion from both groups.

 

But do not be confused. It is appropriate and desirable to share the same referral with solution providers in similar but different industries.  You most definitely should share Sam's name with one mortgage broker, one realtor, one insurance agent, and one moving company provided you know that Sam has an interest or need for these services.  Your knowledge of Sam's needs is a direct result of your relationship with Sam.

 

Your relationship with Sam may not be close enough for you to know all his needs and interests. You may have recently met Sam and you only know he is in the market for a new home.  It stands to reason he may have a need a mortgage broker, insurance agent, realtor, and mover.  But you are not close enough to Sam to know for certain.  You should still share Sam's name with one provider for each service from your network.  In doing so be clear with each person that Sam is a lead, not a referral.  In either case, sending resources to Sam that can solve his problems helps him, the referral partners, and you.

 

Understanding how and when to share referrals is essential to your success in networking and in life. Observing the law of  "no double-dipping" will ensure you have greater success.