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.