Relationships are a foundation to successful business. One of the common ways to build relationships when you are starting out is through networking, often done in groups. While I say you should first tap into the people you already know and see how you can be of service to them, when you are ready to venture out into a networking group, how do you choose?
When considering a group to join ask yourself:
- What is expected of me to be of value to the group in terms of time or resource commitment?
- Are the members of the group positive, supportive and people I would enjoy associating with?
- Can I be of service to this group? Do I have something to offer?
If the expectations are reasonable for you, you like the people around you and you are able to bring something to the table, then the group may well be worth your time. I always say it’s good to date awhile. Take your time and get to know the group. Let’s talk about the options of groups out there.
Business networking groups pop up everywhere. BNI is one of the most common of these groups, but there are many others. They typically format the group by having no more than 1 person in an industry represented. The concept is to have the group be a primary referral resource that helps each other builds the others businesses. Some of these groups have a fee to join.
One issue that concerns me is when some of these groups track referrals and require that you refer and acknowledge the referrals received. If you join a group, be clear about your ethics around referrals and acknowledging the receipt of referrals. Of course if there is a contractor or attorney in the group – you might be referring your friends and family, not your clients at all, but be clear about your boundaries.
You can find groups that range from being specific to the type of business to general entrepreneurship. Often these groups allow you to test the waters for the first meeting. When you attend, get to know who is there and see if there are people that you really could be of service to and support. Sometimes the combination is not a good fit. That’s ok. Just try a few and see how you feel about it.
Most associations for counselors and therapists have networking opportunities for their members as well. The benefit of this kind of group is to build a referral base to refer out to. I think that part of providing excellent services is being connected to excellent therapists. If I refer to someone, I want it to be a good fit and those referrals are a reflection of me. (just my opinion) The other benefit is often the CEUs provided and other clinical growth that can come out of groups such as these. Be clear on what the association offers and if your values align with their goals. Don’t join an association just to have it on your CV or website. Be authentically connected to things you believe in.
If you are looking for a group to join check out Meetup. Toastmasters, Chamber of Commerces and other local organizations are great places to start networking as well, OR you can start your own group. If you can’t find what you are looking for, consider opening up the doors and inviting others that you think would be a great connection. I was part of a group of business owners that helped families in lots of different ways. We started the group on our own and as we met people that we thought would be a good fit, we invited them in.
So if you are considering networking in a group – take your time and be sure it is the best fit for you and your style. Take those relationships you start in the group and go deeper. Get to know individuals. Meet with people outside of the group so you can build trust.