Thursday, February 28, 2013

Should I Join a Free or Fee Based Networking Group? Consider these 4 Points before Joining Either.

The proliferation of networking groups has led to a significant variation in how each is organized. Some organizations charge for participation while others have no fee. This may seem like a benign distinction, but it often leads to a significant difference in infrastructure and therefore varied results for the participants.

Fee based networking groups are normally professionally managed and will either assess a periodic dues for membership or have an a la carte model where each event and service has a fee. In comparison, free networking groups are generally organized to take advantage of free facilities and are run by volunteers. Each model has unique benefits, so it is up to the individual networker to determine which method best serves their need.

As you look to join a new group consider these thoughts regarding fee versus free networking groups. Like most general discussions, there are no absolutes and you with likely find some exceptions to these thoughts.

  1. Organizer motives - Building and sustaining a networking group takes a lot of time and energy. If they are not getting paid, how is the organizer benefiting? Maybe they want to get people into their facility to create awareness and drive referrals or sell product. Are you comfortable with supporting that interest?
  2. Participant obligations - How are you at serving on committees, taking a leadership position or becoming a volunteer? Most free and a few fee networking groups are sustained through volunteerism. While it is an investment, volunteers have additional opportunities to build intimacy with like minded peers.
  3. Leadership variability - Membership and programming often ebbs and flows in direct correlation to the ability and commitment of the current leadership. Just as well known and charismatic leaders can bring organizations to new heights, the installation of lesser leaders can begin a downward spiral.
  4. Member commitment - When you pay for a membership, how does your commitment change? What if the amount is significant? Since networking is best when you are around like minded people. Do you want to be around people who are highly committed or marginally committed?

The question of whether to join free or fee networking is really about determining the value of your time and that of participation. A payment is made in either case. Depending on our choice, we pay with either our time, our money, or our results...or more likely some combination of all three.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How to Pick a Networking Group? Answers to the 7 Most Popular Questions

Picking the right group, for many of us, is the foundation of building an effective network. Groups provide a forum and regularity that helps each of us maintain and grow our networks.

Here are answers to the top 7 questions that will help you select a group that is best for you.

  1. Should I join a large group or a small group? All other things being equal, joining a large group versus a small group is better in networking. A large group will have more quality contacts with whom you can meet and build relationships. Joining a large group will also give you more diversity in potential contacts as your business grows. The key, as always, is to focus your efforts.
  2. Should I join a group that provides content at their meetings or just focuses on networking? The events themselves are just for determining who you should meet outside the event one-on-one. Good content is not only enriching for you, but it also attracts better contacts. Also, good content help provide a steady stream of new potential members into the group, better assuring sustainability.
  3. Should I join a group that meets frequently or less frequently? Everything needs to be in balance. The whole intent of going to networking meetings is to figure out whom to meet with outside of the events. It is important to moderate you event obligations so that you have the time and interest to get together with the contacts that you’re making. Otherwise e you are wasting of potential energy.
  4. Should I join a group that has my prospects or client resources? Networking is about working through one contact to many, not about selling. Approximately 95% of networkers say that their best referrals come from their existing and past clients. If this is the case for you, then participating in a group that predominantly contains professionals who would be excellent resources for your best or prototype client will be most valuable. Building your bullpen of quality resources who can be called in at a time of client need is by far the best way to drive sustainable referrals.
  5. Should I join a group that has accountability requirements or one that is flexible? This really depends on you. For some of us, having a nudge and framework is important. The most important consideration is, “are the rules productive.” Some examples of  unproductive rules include “that if you join our group, you can’t be a part of any other networking organizations” or “that you are not allowed to refer to anyone outside of the group, if the group has a resource in that industry.” Be client and problem centered always.
  6. Should I join an industry group or a general business group? The simple answer is both. Whether to prioritize joining an industry or general group really depends on your business and role. If you’re in sales, your clients will have needs that stretch beyond the industry so both is the right answer. Other roles should be involved in an industry group to continue to broaden their knowledge and contacts, though participating in both types would certainly have benefit.
  7. Should I join a local group or a national group? Local groups are important for everyone as having good connections in our local community is helpful even if our client base is national. Participating in a national group is most valuable for professionals whose clients are regional or national. If your business is more local, however, you will grow your sphere of influence fastest by focusing your networking in your marketplace.

Your primary goal in joining a group is to meet people with whom you should build a greater relationship. Pick at least 1-2 people at each event to learn more about outside of the event. Do this well and your network will become very productive.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Who Are the Networking Stakeholders and What Questions Should You Ask Them?

Networking is a wonderful dance performed by three actors. The networking actors or stakeholders play roles that create a symbiotic balance. Each player needs the other to make the process work.

Just as a firefighter is drawn to help put out fires, complimentary stakeholders are compelled into action when a problem arises in their network. Awareness of each role helps networkers be effective.

The Three Stakeholders

  • Problem - The most important of the three stakeholders is the person with the problem. The other two actors take their cue from this person. Knowing what challenges and opportunities lie in front of the people important to us allows us to value and enhance relationships where appropriate. By asking good questions and using empathic listening when talking to your associates, clients, and friends; you will hear problems and opportunities from every part of life; home, family, work, community, etc... Your passion and ability to help other people solve their problems through your connections is the fastest way to accelerate your sphere of influence. Good questions to ask your clients, friends, and associates:
    • Besides what we just met about is there anything else that you are looking to solve?
    • What is will change when you are able to solve that challenge?
    • Is this something that you are looking for outside assistance to solve?
  • Solution - This resource is drawn from your bullpen to help solve specific problems for people who are important to you. You meet these people every day; at events, on planes, through friends, etc... The challenge that you have is to find out where your contacts specialize. Good questions to ask resources to qualify their expertise include:
    • What do you do?
    • Who do you do it for?
    • What differentiates you from your competition?
    • How did you get into this line of work?
    • What does an ideal client look like?
    • Why do you clients love you?
    • What are not good clients or opportunities for you?
  • Introducer - Some people call this role the center of influence. Similar to the kid’s game memory, the role of the introducer is to make matches. Good introducers match demand with supply not the reverse. When you introduce a “Solution” it is still incumbent on the person with the problem to qualify that this is the right resource for them. Your single objective is to refer the best resource that you know for the problem as you understand it. To do this it is important to first assure that the person who you are trying help, the person with the problem, wants outside help. The surest way to failure in networking is to send a solution where there is no problem or even worse a problem not looking for a solution. These are called false alarms. Be careful not to “cry wolf” as you will reduce your credibility in the community with each occurrence.

By playing each role well, you will foster goodwill throughout your networking community and beyond. Remember, depending on the time of day, you could be playing any of these three roles.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Form Versus Substance

Is it better to look good or to be good? Sometimes reviewing the extreme ends of alternatives is the easiest way to answer questions of this nature. If you could only have one of these two qualities, would you be without form or without substance? My guess is that you will ultimately choose having substance over form.

A life of substance is not only critical for us as networkers, but also as human beings. Building relationships of substance, doing work of substance, creating results of substance, and leaving a legacy of substance makes wanting to look good pale in comparison.

Form is superficial and often masks the true person. Overtime and as if by magnetic attraction, people and opportunity gravitate to individuals of substance. When you have integrity, depth, and build value you are trusted not just by those who you know directly, but through the people who you know to the broader community.

Form is not useless; indeed those with good form are more readily interesting. Poorly wrapped presents aren’t the first opened. The danger, however, is that without a foundation of substance, no amount of form will help.

As we turn the page to 2013, we have an opportunity to evolve into the person we intend to be. Let’s focus on what we control and make 2013 the year of substance. The rest will take care of itself!

Best wishes to you for a healthy and prosperous 2013!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Follow the Joy - Take Trust to a New Level

You don’t have to look any further than our current political landscape to see how much professionals are challenged to build trust. Similarly many networkers focus on proving their value by what they say not what they do. The most aggressive networkers will often dominate conversations by sharing everything they can about themselves. They’ll tell you every detail about their product and service and why they think that they are so good.

In the famous words of John Maxwell, “people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We begin to build long-term trust when we help people get what they want. A friend of mine calls it, “helping people find their joy.” Is some cases an individuals joy is business related, but more often it is personal and their business endeavors are more of a means to an end.

Joy is uniquely defined by each individual. The specifics of learning how each of your key contacts defines their joy are situational. Most often the best way is to learn about their goals and interests over time. The more thoughtful and curious you are the more each individual will give you clues about their joy. Examples of how an individual might describe their joy could include: retiring at 50, spending more time with their family, sailing around the world, or seeing their kid’s graduate college.

Simply being aware of your contacts interests will make you more sensitive to recognizing valuable knowledge and relationships that would benefit them. Connecting people to what they need, when they need it is the essence of networking. When we are aware of how someone defines their joy and we can help them realize their dream, we build trust.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

3-Steps to an Online Business Networking Plan

2013 is only two weeks away and it time to get our online business networking plan together. Last week we tackled building an in-person business networking plan. If you have big goals then you need a plan to assure that you’ll do the most meaningful activities to create your intended result. Hope is not a plan...

Having success at both in-person and online networking gives us both depth and distance. In-person we can develop a high degree of intimacy and trust, while online we can extend our anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Three Step Online Networking Plan

  1. TIME AVAILABLE - On average, how much time each week can you allocate to online networking? We recommend that online networking is a weekly (if not daily) activity.
  2. TIME AVAILABLE FOR INITIATING CONTACT - Multiply your weekly available hours by .4 or 40% to get your time available for initiating contact. We suggest allocating your available time as follows 40% initiating contact, 40% one-on-one exchange, and 20% follow up and staying connected.
  3. CHOOSE YOUR PLATFORM(S) - Often scarcity helps us make better choices. When you limit the time available to go to use social media you will get more out of those tools. Based on whom you want to meet and your available time, decide which social media you should commit to.

Example Plan
This example plan is based on having 5 hours available to network each week. Your availability will likely be different.

  • Weekly online networking schedule - 2 hours
    • List the appropriate social media platforms
    • Prioritize by most to least valuable for you
  • Weekly one-on-one exchange availability - 2 hours - if you’re going to go over budget on anything this is where to do it. Meeting with and building relationships with the right people IS NETWORKING.
  • Monthly follow up and management availability - 1 hour
    • Reconnect with people
    • Pass valuable information
    • Make introductions and referrals
    • Continue to invest in relationships
    • Manage your database

The most important elements of online networking are your ability to search for key contacts and that there is no geographic limitation. You may target meeting local people who you can get together with face-to-face. On the other hand you can focus on connections in other geographies, in which case your meetings will be virtual using tools like Skype and Hangout. Combine this online business networking plan with your in-person plan and you will develop an exceptionally broad and deep bullpen. Assure great business networking results in 2013 by creating your plan today!

Stay tuned for additional content over the coming weeks about online business networking best practices.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Three Steps to an In-Person Business Networking Plan

With only three weeks until 2013 it is a perfect time to think about what you want to accomplish in your networking next year. This week we’ll work on our 2013 in-person networking plan and next week we’ll construct our online networking plan.

Whether you want to build a deeper bullpen of resources to better serve your clients, create strategic alliances to help expand your business, have introductions to great candidates for your open staff positions, or develop a steady stream of warm referrals to help you achieve your 2013 growth goals having a plan will help you get there.

Three Step Networking Plan

  1. TIME AVAILABLE - On average, how many hours can you allocate to networking each month? We recommend estimating a monthly number as many networking events are monthly.
  2. TIME AVAILABLE FOR EVENTS - Multiply your monthly networking available hours by .4 or 40% to get your time available for events. We suggest allocating your available time as follows 40% event participation, 40% one-on-one meetings, and 20% follow up and staying connected.
  3. CHOOSE YOUR ORGANIZATIONS/EVENTS - Often scarcity helps us make better choices. When you limit the time available to go to events you will choose better events and you will get more out of those events. Based on whom you want to meet and your available time, decide which organizations and events you should commit to.

Example Plan
This example plan is based on having 20 hours available to network each month. Your availability will likely be different.

  • Monthly event schedule - 8 hours
    • List organizations and events
    • prioritize by most to least valuable for you
  • Monthly one-on-one meeting availability - 8 hours. If you’re going to go over budget on anything this is where to do it. Meeting with and building relationships with the right people IS NETWORKING.
  • Monthly follow up and management availability - 4 hours
    • Reconnect with people
    • Pass valuable information
    • Continue to invest in relationships
    • Manage your database

Of course the key to any plan is not just authorship but the implementation. The written plan gives you direction and your actions give you speed and together they yield progress. Assure great business networking results in 2013 by creating your plan today!