Are you fed up with attending networking events which are either expensive or filled with the ‘wrong’ kinds of connections, or both? Why not take control by establishing your own networking group?
Let’s face it, there is one primary reason for attending any business networking function – money. We ‘give up’ our precious time in the hope of meeting potential clients or introducers of work. Good referrals are at the heart of any successful business network, and networking plays a vital role in the business development strategy of most modern professionals.
If you are considering setting up your own group, here are my 10 suggestions for making it a success:
1. Ensure that members know why they are there. It may sound obvious, but members need to understand from the outset that the primary purpose of attending your group is to refer work to each other.
2. Have a visible leader and organiser. This role can be time consuming but brings with it the power to control and guide the agenda, membership and ethos of the group.
3. Don’t make it too pressurised. Members need to look forward to attending and too much pressure to refer work and connections will be counterproductive. Consider that fact that younger professionals may need an opportunity to learn how to grow their networks and talk about their own skill sets.
4. Make it easy to meet. The prospects of members attending will be enhanced by the ease with which they can attend. If possible, consider a narrow geographic range with easy transport links.
5. Keep a tight control of membership. One of the main difficulties experienced by ‘free-to-join’ groups is attracting and keeping members. This is one of the primary responsibilities of the organiser/coordinator, but a small, tight and motivated membership will have more chance of survival than a large uncoordinated group
6. Keep meetings to an hour. Depending upon the nature of the group, endeavour to keep meetings to an hour. If attendees feel that the length of meetings are not impacting on their working day, they are more likely to obtain or give themselves permission to attend.
7. Enforce the substitute rule. An imperative rule that needs to be impressed upon members from the outset is the requirement to send a substitute in the event of their non-attendance. This keeps the lifeblood of the group flowing, makes members take their responsibilities seriously and ensures continuity
8. Ensure that everyone speaks at each meeting. In order to continually feel part of the group, each member must be encouraged and have the opportunity to present to the group at each meeting. Even if not a formal ‘elevator pitch, members should be able to make a short presentation outlining the nature of the work they are currently conducting and who they need in their networks by way of referrals.
9. Keep a log of referrals and remind members of the value of success. If the primary purpose of attending is to gain new clients, then members need to be able to measure success. This could take the form of the number of referrals or the value of the new instructions, or both.
10. For goodness’ sake, have fun. Make sure that members look forward to attending. If finances permit, donate prizes for referrals and applaud success. Attending your group should be a happy, rewarding and positive experience that doesn’t feel like business. Even if your name is Mr McBadgeface.