I spoke to a business coach recently who told me she goes to four or five networking events a week. I cannot even imagine doing that. It would kill me. I’m not a great networker. But I get that it’s important for any business. You can’t just hole up in your house watching Game of Thrones, as much as you’d like to. To run a successful business you have to be out promoting it. Not four or five times a week like that crazy person. I think a couple of times a month is plenty. And if you’re going to get out and do this, here are four suggestions that have worked for many of my clients.
Try a meetup.
When people hear “meetup” some think I’m suggesting a dating site. Sorry, I’m not. Meetup.com is an amazing resource, regardless of where you live (and what your marital situation is). The site lists hundreds – no, thousands – of meetups in your regional area for just about any interest. Some are free and some charge. Find one that’s business-related. I sometimes go to technology or sales and marketing meetups. They’re usually in public places and run by a core group of people. I enjoy these so much my company started a couple of our own specifically related to the products we sell where clients and prospects can get together and talk best practices. Meetups give you choice and flexibility and the ability to learn, meet new people and yes, darn it, network a little.
Vistage or EO.
Both Vistage or EO require commitment. You pay to join (and believe me, it’s not cheap) and you get assigned to a group of local business owners, normally not in your industry. You promise to meet these people monthly and you don’t break this promise because you’ll be letting them down (and you’ll likely be thrown out). You share your confidential financial information and your deepest thoughts with them. And they do the same with you. You’ll learn much from your peers. Yes, this is more therapy than networking. But as your relationships develop, you’ll take advantage of their networks too.
Go to your industry conference.
For most of my clients, getting out of the office to go to a “networking” event is not usually high on their list. There are games to coach, shopping to do, TV shows to watch. But if they’re going to go, then they’re going to go to their industry group. And so should you. Hopefully you’ve joined an industry association. Writing your dues check was the easy part. Now comes the hard part: participating. Join a committee or board (they’re always looking for help). Attend a regional meeting or go to the annual one in Vegas (they’re all in Vegas because…well…you know). This is the best type of networking: you’re learning, you’re meeting suppliers and potential partners, you’re schmoozing…and everyone can speak your language. You don’t have to explain what you do – people know that already. You just have to figure out how to form more profitable relationships with people that do things similar to you.
OK, I give in…check out a Chamber of Commerce meeting.
I don’t want to poo-poo this kind of thing, because there are many great Chambers of Commerce organizations around the country that hold many great events. Maybe you have friends there. Or maybe it’s just something that you like to do a few times a year. You’ll probably hear a good speaker. And if breakfast is provided (it usually is) you can eat as much bacon as you like and no one will have to know. Your business should be a member of your local Chamber – it supports the region and gives you creditability. Now, if you’re going to be a member, you might as well show up at a few events. Go with low expectations though. That way if you’re like me, you won’t be disappointed.
There’s one secret to all of the above. You get out of it what you put into it. You don’t have to do all four things. Pick just one networking resource and commit. Show up. Spend a little money. Show you care. And do it for the long term, not just a few months. Eventually, you’ll recognize people and they’ll recognize you. You’ll form deeper relationships. And, like life, it’s all about your effort.
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