How do you feel about networking groups, and to get business from them? Do they help your ability to be perceived as an expert, improving your bottom line? Do networking groups work for you, or do you consider networking to be something far bigger? I was shocked recently by the comments of a really good business owner, talking about networking.  

Networking groups and their problems in rooms like this

Networking is far more than networking groups

It is probably no surprise to you that I think networking is far bigger than networking groups. I look at a networking group as a potential way to add more people to your network, and networking as how you manage your contacts (network) to get what you want. By the way, if you’re thinking I sound mercenary there, you get what you want by helping others. Several professional business owners were talking to me about this issue recently. Each discussion was similar, but one hit the nail on the head for me.

Networking is not the objective

The phrase that stuck in my mind is when she said:

I will see what networks that I can wangle my way into.  Sadly there are many network groups around here which seem to have the objective to become a great networker rather than networking with the objective of increasing work.  I am not sure if this makes sense but they seem more interested in networking as an end product, rather than a tactic to get more work

How do you feel about that?

Building your personal brand - how to do it, so it builds you business FREE webinar on 13th June. Click for more details

My first reaction was ‘that’s terrible’, then I thought ‘no, she’s right’. How about your reaction?

Taking the statement apart, a piece at a time helped me rationalise it.

  • “Wangle my way into“: That could almost be seen as a negative mind-set to go in with, and I have certainly learnt that negative mind-sets going into a group, means negative outcomes. If you are going into a group, think about it positively, or don’t.
  • “Become a great networker“: Getting results from your network needs you to be a good networker. But what is a networker? One who focuses on the objective of her networking, the tactics they’ll use, the people most likely to help, and those that they can most likely provide help too? To me that means thinking about your objectives, your role, and the relationship model.
  • Networking with the objective of increasing work”: As I write “good, so it should be“, I feel this very English reserve washing over me. But wait, what is your primary reason for networking? It might not be getting more work by the way (although for most of us it is). It should thus be unashamedly the objective, everything else we do in networking is to support that.
  • “more interested in networking as an end product“: Actually, if I’m honest I see this too, do you? I see many groups where helping the group to survive and thrive seem to become the primary importance. If that’s the case can it work for you?

Am I anti networking group?

No, I think that networking groups can provide a good source of contacts and potential relationships to develop, while focusing on your objective. The problem is when you’re made to feel bad about that being your objective or the link between your objective and the group’s objective seem too tenuous.

Make it work or get out?

Steps to make your networking group work for you include:

  • Clarity on what you want from the group and what you are prepared to do for the group. It won’t work if these two are no in the right proportion, or are unrealistic.
  • Clarity on how you help people, and how your contacts might recognise them (that often starts with you being clear about your own offer!).
  • Now making a real attempt to understand what others in your group are looking for, and delivering it where possible. This one sounds obvious, but 11 years of networking says this is the bit that often doesn’t happen. Good tactics here are 1-2-1s (properly done)
  • Presentation skills? Of course these are always important, but lots more effort seems to go into impressing people with a 60 second presentation (or ’10 minute’) than actually being clear about what you do/ want. Click for 5 tips to improve your elevator pitch
  • Be more genuine with your follow up. How many times have you had a good meeting, with a really artificial email afterwards? You don’t do it, do you? Here’s a true story that happened to me – How not to network

What would you add to the list of things that will help a networking group work for you?

Building your personal brand - how to do it, so it builds you business FREE webinar on 13th June. Click for more details

Written by Jon Baker The 5-50 Coach. I help professionals grow their firms from 5 to 50 employees, sustainably, profitably and still have fun. Have you got your "next step kitbag yet"? It's stuffed with guides, reports & templates helping you grow from 5 to 50 employees Click here for immediate access

Photo used under creative commons licence. For more information, click here.