Having been exposed to a wide variety of business networking groups, I can tell you that some are much more effective than others. By recognizing early on whether a group is going to be helpful, you can ensure you spend your time and energy wisely. The following are the seven key attributes that make an effective business networking group.
1. Quality Relationships (Introductions)
The quality of the relationships of the members of your business networking group has a direct relationship on the value you get from the group. Determine if the group consists primarily of transaction providers, relationship providers, or a mixture of both.
If we hear, “I want to sell/buy a house,” it’s easy to make an introduction to a realtor, or a mover, painter, or interior designer (transaction providers). They tend to travel together. Similarly, professionals who design buildings, or who build or improve commercial spaces, follow companies that are hiring new employees.
Service Providers who thrive on trusted relationships, on the other hand, are more challenging to refer, as the referrers will not hear the equivalent of, “I need to sell my house.” They will not say, “I need a coach,” or “I need a wealth advisor.” These professionals can usually make introductions to their clients, and, based on their relationships, can arrange for an initial meeting (relationship providers). These groups will rarely result in a recommendation “you should hire so and so.”
2. Learning Opportunities
Many of the best groups provide an opportunity to learn from and with one another. Rather than presenters talking to the audience, it is extremely valuable to learn together, to experience how other members ask and answer questions. This builds trust in addition to the skills and ideas gleaned from the presentations
People relate better when they get comfortable with one another. This comes from fun experiences, from personal interactions, and from building trust, camaraderie and confidence. While friendships may not be required for an effective business networking group, they are definitely helpful and aid in the building of a tribe – an effective, sticky, network!
Some groups offer and encourage members to grow their relationships between meetings, and the best ones make it a habit. How can you expect to build relationships if you only see one another in group meetings?
4. Consistent Structure
While ad hoc relationships can be successful for a while, that does not build long term participation. Monthly meetings and consistent structure are vital. People will be keen to participate if they know there is an agenda, and if the meetings start and end on time. They also want to know there is an intent to hone and improve the way members appear, and to balance learning, fun, and building the network.
Not all people are right for all networking groups, and not all networking groups are right for all members. The best ones are selective. They invite only the people who meet their criteria. These criteria should be broader than just what the member does or provides. They should also consider the length of time they have been in the business, in the community, and/or how many clients they have. The best members are ones who value commitment, openness, and the quality of their relationships, and the best networking groups make these attributes a high priority.
Many networking groups identify as “givers.” They self-describe their members’ intent as “give, not receive,” and yet the members often show up with a “what can you do for me?” attitude. The members will either greet one another with ideas for presentations they can give to your clients, or they’ll hit you with marketing materials and ask “Who do you know that could use this service?”
If the group’s true intent is to give, not receive, it will be clear from the way members interact. Members who truly give without keeping score or seeing what they can get out of others make the networking group worthwhile. Those kinds of members build their brand by adding value to their clients, prospects and fellow networkers.
We join networking groups because we can’t be everywhere all at once. We want to expand our contacts, Centers of Influence, and the services we can offer or recommend to our clients. Ideally, we are dealing with the same types of business owners and service providers, as this allows us to maximize the usefulness and leverage the group provides.
If we are in the Business to Business market, it would not make sense to expect much from a group made up primarily of those who provide business to consumer. Similarly, it doesn’t make as much sense to join a group consisting of members who provide to services customers that are out of our geographical sweet spot.
Give these areas some thought, find the network that is right for you, and if you need help, give us a call. We have expertise in building communities as a part of our core competency!
By Bob Dodge