The dictionary explains networking as “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts” and I think that is an excellent definition.
Most people look at networking as something they don’t really enjoy doing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it should NOT be that way.
There are many different groups to network in and with a little research you can find the best ones for your industry. Think about where your prospective clients or employers are spending time. Is it at a BNI group? Chamber of Commerce? Women’s business network? Men’s business network? Specialty group (realtors, consultants, coaches, etc.). Take a little time to look into this and narrow down the list. Once you have done that, take the time to really look into and explore the 3-5 places you have on your list.
A great way to build your list is to find out from colleagues where they network and what they like best about the groups. Often if they are groups someone needs to invite you to, you can ask for them to do so.
Most networking groups will allow you to visit for a few times for free to make sure it is the right group for you. Take advantage of that and get to know the other members. If it is not a fit for you, don’t be afraid of upsetting someone if you move on. You need to be in a group that will help you grow, not just waste your precious time.
The benefits to networking include meeting new people that may become clients, employers, mentors, or even friends. You also usually get discounted pricing at various places the group promotes or other perks that you can take advantage of. Sometimes you even get to speak at the group meetings to promote your business.
You want to be sure the group is one that you enjoy. You should enjoy the company of the people you are networking with. You should feel comfortable with them and not intimidated. This should be a place you can let your talent and personality shine while growing new relationships that can help both you and the other person.
Networking is an opportunity to get in front of the people that you want to work with or for. It is a time to build relationships at all levels and give people the chance to get to know, like and trust you. It is also a two way street. Don’t attend networking events with the sole purpose in mind of seeing how many business cards you can collect. If it is a weekly or monthly networking meeting, take time at each meeting to meet a few new people. Then in the coming days you want to follow up with them. Remind them who you are and even what your conversation was about. Compliment them on their website if you liked it or something else, but be authentic. Ask them about their business and goals and really listen. Often this one thing alone will give you an inside view of the people you are connecting with and allows you the space to really think over how you can support them based on your conversation.
Not a group person? No worries. Networking also includes one-on-one conversations with those you want to build a relationship with. Schedule a 15 minute call. Meet for coffee for an hour. Set up an Informational Interview (let me know if you want to know more about this one).
Have fun with networking and really put in the effort. It won’t be overnight, but trust me, networking can bring you new opportunities when you least expect it and often when you need them most!
If you would like some guidance on how to find the right networking groups/individuals I am happy to chat. Just reach out and set up a time to talk with me.