Be a Leader – Get Involved in the Operation

Leaders are missing in most every aspect of life.  There is a void of leadership that continues to weaken groups in all areas of our society, and networking groups are not immune.  We need those who possess skills and enthusiasm to keep the group on task, on time, on purpose, and on going.

As with all things in life, successful networking requires careful planning, consistent attendance, full participation, and careful results measurement.  But to truly soar you need to do more than just consistently attend events and participate.  By volunteering to take a leadership role you will set yourself apart from the masses.  Everyone values those who give of their time to ensure the success of the group.  Giving of your time in a purposeful way will yield great results.  You should seek out opportunities to serve where you can make the biggest impact for the group and for you.

Choose a leadership role that aligns with your unique set of skills.  Those who facilitate groups in their business lives should facilitate networking groups.  Bankers, financial planners, certified public accountants, and other financial professionals should volunteer to assist with management of the finances and financial reporting of the group.  Always seek opportunities to showcase your skills when seeking a leadership role.

Check your ego at the door.  While you may be the captain of your ship, leadership in a volunteer group requires a servant mentality.  To lead is to serve others.  Bring all your talent and skills to be sure, but resist the temptation to be overbearing simply because you are the expert.  Remember that others are serving as well.  The last thing any group needs is a dictator.  Be empathetic.

Perhaps the best thing about being a leader in any group is that you will be considered a leader in all walks of life.  People naturally assume that you are a mover and shaker when you are the head of an organization and they will ask you to lead in others.  This gives you access to the heads of other organizations.  They now represent your peer group.

Become known as a leader and you will be amazed at the level of people you meet and how many of them will want to know you.

Consistent Action in a Purposeful Manner is the Key to Networking Success

While most people don't want to hear it, the key to success in networking is consistency.  Nothing will replace consistent action in a purposeful manner.  You must plan your networking success and work your plan consistently, making adjustments as you go to ensure you are getting the most for your efforts.

Most of us have heard of someone who came to his or her first networking event and met a great prospect that became a client.  Many have even heard of someone who has done business at a networking event.  Perhaps you have had the good fortune of meeting someone who was in need of your product or service and you closed the business at the event.  It does happen.

But patience and perseverance are required in networking as in most every other endeavor in life.  Consistency is the key to success.  Joining a health club doesn't make you healthy.  Once you join you have a greater likelihood of going, and once you go you have a greater likelihood of using the equipment.  Using the equipment doesn't ensure health either.  It is the purposeful use of the equipment in the proper fashion and proportion consistently that ensures improved health.

Networking is very similar.  Joining a group increases the likelihood that you will attend a meeting or event.  Attending increases the likelihood that you will actually engage in a conversation with another attendee.  Engaging in conversation increases the chances that you will meet someone who could use your product or service.  But the purposeful planning of which meetings and events to attend and whom you wish to meet, coupled with the successful execution of that plan, will ensure that you are successful in networking and in your business endeavor.

The old saying, "who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you are saying" applies in networking.  While your appearance plays an important role,  how often you appear at events is critical.  People will begin to know, like, and trust you when they see you more often.  This increases the odds that they will remember you when they meet someone who needs what you sell.

Therefore, you should plan out your networking for the next six weeks and stick to it.  Measure your success at each event and determine if the right connections are attending the same events you are.  Be honest with yourself.  How well did you connect?  How much did you give each event?  What impacted your results?

Be sure to visit each event or group more than once before you decide to fully engage or eliminate it from your plan.  Then be decisive.  Choosing a few events or groups to fully engage in each month will bring far better results than taking a shotgun approach.  You'll begin to see the same people and they will see you as reliable.  Then they will open up their contact list to you.  This is when networking becomes powerful.  Remember, meeting people and doing business with them individually is great, but the real power comes when you gain access to their contacts and referrals.

Networking success requires a plan and that plan requires consistently attending events and meetings and measuring your success.  When you fully engage and consistently attend you will find better relationships, better use of your time, more referrals, and greater success.  Be consistent.

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.