7 Tips to Get the Most Out of a Networking Group
Updated: May 23
As small business owners we need to continuously find new avenues to promote new business. Joining a networking group can be a great way to expand your business contacts and develop a larger potential lead pool. Israel is blessed with a nearly never-ending array of networking groups meeting throughout the country. The basic idea behind any of these networking groups is to provide a setting or a base to meet and develop business relationships with other business people and professionals on a regular basis.
What are Networking Groups and how do they work?
There are large networking organizations that run groups in multiple locations throughout the country, such as BNI, Shefa and the like. There are also individual, standalone networking groups such as Bn4es. There are networking groups for English speakers, Hebrew speakers, groups for women-only such as Maagal Tnufa and many others. In general, the groups allow only one person, in any particular profession, to join the group; thus ensuring that there is no rivalry or competition within the group and also to ensure a healthy mix of professions and interests within the group.
There is usually an annual membership fee and a per-meeting fee to cover the cost of food, room rental, etc. Regular meetings are usually held anywhere between once a week to twice a month. Each group has a group leader to run the meetings and usually a few of the members hold a handful of group administrative positions, including new membership officer, guest speakers’ officer, training officer, treasurer and the like.
The idea behind networking groups is that within the framework of these regular meetings, you can develop, over time, a true business relationship with a wide range of professionals. As you build trust and understanding with the other members, you can and will mutually endorse and recommend each other to all of your friends and contacts. And unlike annual/semi-annual conventions of same-minded/same-profession professionals, the mix of interests and expertise creates a fertile ground for partnerships, collaborations and straightforward business referrals.
How to get the most out of a networking group
Having been both a dues-paying member of a networking group and having attended meetings at a variety of other networking groups, here are my 7 tips to getting the most out of a networking group.
1. Learn about the networking group. Before you attend any meeting, learn about the group's members, read the group’s website, Facebook page and LinkedIn page. Before you invest time and energy to visit a group, ask the group's leader if the group already has someone in your profession, the average age of the group members and names of members you can contact in advance.
2. Be prepared! Prepare for these networking meetings as you would for any business meeting. Bring your business cards, prepare your elevator speck (see below), have brochures, work samples and any other tools you need to help people get excited about what you do. Take along a pen and paper and write down the name and profession of anyone that sounds interesting to you during the opening introduction (see below).
3. Have a great 60 Second introduction! Every group begins with an opening introduction period where each member and guest introduces her/himself. This is the time to give your 60 second introduction / elevator speech. Create, develop, practice and hone the delivery of your elevator speech. You want people to remember you and that begins with your introduction to the group. What to know more about elevator speeches, read my blog article here.
4. Give yourself time! Clear enough time in your schedule to get to the meeting a bit early, stay for the entire meeting and stay for at least a half an hour after the meeting to talk to members, understand the group acceptance process, etc.
5. Mingle, mingle, mingle! There is usually an opening period, before the meeting officially starts, when people mingle and eat/drink. There is also, usually, a break after the introductions to mingle. During the opening period, smile and introduce yourself to as many people as possible. The break period after the introductions is the time to engage and talk to anyone you noted during the intros. You are here to meet people, go out there and shake hands!
6. Play the field. Shop around for a group that fits you, your personality and your business. You may find it hard to communicate within a large networking group environment and would prefer a small group. You may find that the local branch group of a large networking organization does not suit you, but the group in another city may. You may prefer a group that meets in the mornings rather than the evenings. There is such a variety of networking groups out there, that you have no reason to “settle”; find a group that makes you feel welcome and connected.
7. Work hard. Finding and joining a group is only the beginning. Recommendations and leads will not fall into your hands magically. Get involved in the group. You must work hard to develop business relationships with group members. Get to know them as they get to know you. Arrange private one-on-one meetings with group members on a regular basis. Start to recommend group members.
The hard work and benefits of Networking Groups
Networking takes time, hard work, persistence and a willingness to listen, share and develop business relationships. I warmly recommend that every small business owner explore one or more networking groups. Many of the groups will allow you to attend two to three meetings as a guest, before you must either become a member of the group or leave.
Regular networking can have incredible benefits beyond the obvious business leads. Networking can help you:
1. learn to communicate more effectively within a supportive environment.
2. listen better to others.
3. create and cultivate business relationships and partnerships.
4. learn about others businesses and how to reach out and share with others in the business community.
5. find inspiration and a sense of camaraderie amongst business owners.
No matter what your business, I warmly recommend you explore a business networking group today! This could be one of the best business decisions you will ever make!
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