Today my client and friend Laura Marchbanks invited me to attend Visitors Day with the Networking group she is a part of (The Northstar chapter of BNI.) It was by far the best experience I have had at a networking event! I met some very friendly people, had a few laughs and ended up running out of business cards! I have not made any decisions about weather this group is something I want to make an ongoing commitment to — but it was a great way to spend this Tuesday afternoon and it got me inspired for some new blog material! So here we go…
If you are looking to get more involved in face-to-face business networking, you first will need to decide what type of group will best suit your needs, your brand and your business. There is no real right or wrong on this, it just has to do with what you are looking to put in and what you will be expecting to get out, so here is the basics on the 3 different types of face-to-face business networking groups that you might find out there.
The 3 Types of Business Networking Groups
Social groups are pretty standard fare, and probably what most of us have had experience with when it comes to business networking. These are usually non-structured gatherings set in a social setting like a bar or party. The social business group is all about “mingling” or “schmoozing”, you “work the room” and meet various others that may or may not turn into business leads. These can be fun or painfully awkward depending on your personality type. I tend to not enjoy these that much since most of my experiences at these include people who aren’t having very genuine exchanges, they feel cheesy a lot of the time… but perhaps I just haven’t been to a good one yet.
Examples of Business Networking Social Groups and/or where to find out about them (some of these are local to the Pacific Northwest of Seattle, but it gives you an idea of what I am talking about): Your local Chamber of Commerce, Girl Power Hour, Biznik…
The main focus of this type of a referral group is to generate leads for your fellow members. These are often set up as non-compete groups – meaning every niche is only covered by one person in each group. (one tax attorney, one massage therapist, etc — you get the picture!) They are also very structured because they’re all about business! These types of groups can be good for those of you who enjoy structure, their clear cut agenda makes the socializing come easier – you know everyone there is there because they want to learn about you and your business and they want to talk about theirs. Plus the structured atmosphere gives you a sense of urgency about networking — if you know you have 20 minutes to meet the newcomers, you make it a point to talk to them, but when you have 2 hours to “work the room” you may end up migrating to a circle you already feel comfortable with.
Examples of Business Networking Referral Groups and/or where to find out about them (some of these are local to the Pacific Northwest of Seattle, but it gives you an idea of what I am talking about): BNI, I Take the Lead, Local Business Network, LeTip…
These groups are targeted to your industry. You see these a lot on sites like Meetup.com and they can be more social but tend to be more of a business support group of sorts. You meet for breakfast with 8 other local Freelance WordPress Developers and you can advise each other on client matters, marketing strategies, new technologies and all sorts of things you may not hear from other business owners who are not in your particular industry.
Examples of Business Networking Trade Associations and/or where to find out about them (some of these are local to the Pacific Northwest of Seattle, but it gives you an idea of what I am talking about) (for designer/developers/freelancers): AIGA, GAG, Mediabistro…
Don’t forget LeTip! The name is funny but it is another Referral Group. I’ve been a member for over a year (Temecula, CA chapter) and it has worked pretty well for me as a designer.
One thing I would add is to look at networking as a chance to make connections. Don’t just show up to these and rapid-fire business cards into every hand. It’s annoying and people most likely won’t remember you. If your a designer (which I’m sure most of you are in one form or another) look for printers, promotional product people and other designers (especially ones that specialize in areas you don’t). Build relationships with them in an attempt to have them pass referrals to you.
Finding one new client in these networking environments is one thing, but finding a referral partner will get you many more.
I agree, Jason. I think this attitude is exactly why my experience at yesterdays BNI Luncheon was so far superior to many of the networking events I’ve attended in the past. No one seemed schmoozy at all, it was all very authentic interactions that seemed more focused on genuine connection with other business people instead of just empty sales pitches!
Came across your post over web while surfing and just stopped by to say Hello.
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