Okay, this is in response to a request that I write about this subject, or to be more specific, “…if you have some time, could you write about networking groups, their purpose and some of the successes resulting from their use… also maybe why there are so many in Fort Wayne and how to make the most of as many or few of them as realistically possible?”
This is from a young lady that I first met over 20 years ago who is now in the business world and wants to be as successful as possible. Her employer hired her so that some of her co-workers could go out and network to increase their business; and she is also involved in some fill-in work at some formal networking groups.
When I returned to my profession of radio 3 1/2 years ago, I knew very few people in this town that knew me too. Let’s say less than 15. Probably more like less than 6 who knew what I did and how I had helped others be successful in their businesses.
Within 6 months, I was invited by a potential client to come to his informal networking group and talk about radio advertising. Well, I attended with about 6 or 7 other business owners and instead of talking about what I did and my level of expertise in radio advertising, I spoke about their telephone!
I wanted to give these men and women some information that they could apply to their businesses right away, and we spoke about the subject of marketing, specifically, “What happens when a current or potential customer calls you? How is the phone answered? What is the attitude of the person answering the phone, etc?” I wanted to present myself as someone that could help them with many areas of their marketing and relationship with their customers, not just give them a pitch about how great my radio stations were.
Afterwards, I made sure they had my card and invited them to schedule a time for me to help them evaluate their business marketing, including their paid advertising. 2 of those 6 later became paying clients of mine.
Networking is about leveraging your time.
Networking is about building your reputation.
Networking is about developing relationships.
Networking is about helping others.
Networking is about setting yourself apart from others in your profession.
Networking is about building a solid foundation so that you don’t have to wonder where your next sale or dollar is coming from.
Thursday afternoon I was given a list of 51 networking groups in the Fort Wayne Area that meet on a regular basis. I attend 2. I asked a man sitting next to me how many he attends, and he said 5 or 6 a week. There is no correct answer; it depends on how you need to balance your time.
There is no one else in my profession (radio advertising) that attends any of these networking groups on a weekly basis that I am aware of in Fort Wayne. Only occasionally have I seen anyone from newspapers or TV attend. Earlier I attended a business seminar and there was one other person from my company that attended but they left early.
I have never had a problem finding enough leads; I have had problems making time for everyone. (This is why our company is in the hiring mode right now. Contact me directly and I’ll give you more info.)
One of the groups that I have been apart of for the past 2 ½ years is a B.N.I. group. We have had our ups and downs, but we continue to be strong. Check out their website for more information, or again contact me directly for more info. I volunteered about a year ago to provide the education segment for our group. This gives me double the amount of “talk time” and enables me to help others and opens doors and, well, everything else that I mentioned above.
B.N.I. is a structured, organized group of professionals that pay dues, and in return members are offered exclusivity in their profession.
The other group I attend meets later on the same day as the B.N.I. group and has its own format and pros and cons. I have done business with members of both groups and they have with me, but here is the most important part, I believe, of networking groups:
While it would be great to have all 20 members of my B.N.I group as clients, along with the 30 who attend my other group, that is NOT what I really want for me. That is too short sighted and probably why there is no one else in my profession in town that does this like I do. Because of my giving to others, either an idea for their business, or an education piece that I presented, or passing along a contact name and number that someone was looking for, I have people that I do not know, contacting me, looking for me to help them either spend their advertising budget, or help them with evaluating their business marketing, or serving on a board, or, you name it.
This goes back to the leveraging your time. If you can give the others in your networking group enough good, quality information about you and what you do, then they are your marketing sales staff.
Too often though a business person does not present him/herself well when they have their minute or two in the spotlight at these meetings, and that needs to be overcome. Look at what was written about competition recently in this blog and keep that in mind as you prepare for your chance to present yourself to the group. Even if you are the only one in your profession in your group, there are others that we know that we might be referring our friends to unless you can give me concrete reasons to put you at the top of the list.
When my wife and I bought a house recently, I knew about 4 or 5 agents and a couple of mortgage companies. We chose the ones we were the most comfortable with to get the job done.
Okay, to finish the answer to the original question of the successes of these groups, it depends on how you measure success. For me it has been a long term, growing measurement. I know a carpet cleaner who gets leads every week from our group. He has also been in the group for 8 years. And this is his number one source of new business.
One of the reasons I like B.N.I is we ASK for referrals and also GIVE referrals. We have a simple form we use to do this and it is immediate. The other group does not have this and it is like making a presentation, but not asking for the sale.
Aside from these organized groups, there are also a couple of business people in town that I trade leads with. It could be as simple as giving him a name and phone number, to a personal introduction over lunch.
And finally, two more things:
1) Pick a group to go to and then become a member, not an occasional guest. This is about building relationships, not a “one night stand”
2) Remember Givers Gain. That is the motto of B.N.I and it is true.
Again if you have any questions or comments, contact me directly.
P.S. Here’s a guide for those of you who attend networking functions (mixers) from the folks at JustSell.com