At some point in your life, you realize you need to meet someone new. Your friendships are stale; your buddies just aren't as stimulating as they used to be; and talking shop with your spouse just isn't as interesting as with another peer.
You'll probably get curious about an early morning "networking group" that one of your colleagues invited you to, but never took quite seriously - that last "networking mingle" you attended was the biggest waste of your life, since "mingling" with singles fresh out of the womb and the perves that want them wasn't your idea of professional "networking".
But there's just something about meeting at 7:16am that makes this networking opportunity sound a little more legit. It's the power-breakfast hour and who knows, there may be a potential client there.
So you get out of bed at the crack of 4am to go to this meeting and lo and behold, real professionals, with business cards. A good portion are entrepreneurs, others are independent sales professionals, and the businesses are very diverse. There are lawyers, brokers, and even one consultant. What a gold mine! You decide that joining this group is worth the $200 membership fee and quickly apply.
You're accepted and get really gung-ho, but since they just had elections, you can't serve on the steering committee. You find other groups where you can unleash your enthusiasm, but get rejected because you don't fit the industry/profession, you lack "experience" or compete with a current member, or the other groups simply lack the caliber you're looking for. The ones that welcome you are composed of the same members that you got along with in the other groups you visited, and you ultimately realize you've met someone from virtually every group in your city. It's near impossible to avoid overlapping and the value you get from "networking" begins to diminish rapidly. You find yourself less $1000, in the company of too many contacts with a series 6, and no new business opportunities. What happened?
Networking is addictive for certain. For some of us, it's a reflex like breathing. The probability of becoming a network-group groupie is high. But what true networkers have realized is that networking for the sake of networking is valueless - you need a strategy. Yes, a networking strategy.
As most things in life, networking is a numbers game. The more people you meet, the more diversified your pool of opportunity. But because time is money, you should always understand your reason for meeting a person.
Networking Rule #1 is therefore to have a strategy. To develop your strategy, ask yourself what you want out of the group: a new friend or a business opportunity? A non-paid salesforce or to learn a new business tool? How about to just meet a business need, like getting insurance or finding an attorney? When you've identified what you want, how can you get it? Never approach all these needs with the same pitch; work on your approach for each scenario.
Rule #2 is thus to refine your "elevator" pitches to the point where everything you say is a reason to give you what you want. But if you've made it this far, you've probably already realized that getting what you want isn't instant.
So, Rule #3 is cultivate, don't sell. And remember, cultivating takes time, so be patient. You've got to see the angles and indirect value. Before a one-on-one meeting or housecall with another networker, you need discussion points based on the first two rules so time isn't wasted. After your meetings, always follow-up. Before you realize it, all the cultivating yields an honest-to-goodness friend. And it is from this friendship that springs the fruits of your networking labors - personal and/or professional opportunities, (oddly enough, not everyone you meet will offer you an instantly gratifying contract with cash upfront).
Why are these rules essential to networking? Many wiser men than I have told me that networking is like going out on a date - you wouldn't just ask for sex on the first date. (Well, most of us wouldn't). You've got to go out on several dates, whine 'em and dine 'em. Show 'em you care. Maybe even do them a favor - for free, even. Then you pop the big question.
As you well know, you wouldn't refer a physician to your friend without knowing whether or not this doctor likes to overcharge or might leave a scalpel in your chest. So how can you refer anything you haven't at least tried or heard of?
At the recent 2nd Annual Students + Leaders Conference: Entrepreneurs & Networking Leaders, speakers Simone Kelley, Founder, Give N Take Network; Nancy B. Schess, Co-Founder, Gotham Groups; Ekrem Nurhan, Founder / President, Young Professionals of New York City; and the Honorable Herman Badillo, Founder, 100 Hispanic Men, Inc., essentially said the same things. Joining a networking group isn't about what you can get out of it; it's about learning to become a resource for someone else.
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