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The Value of Networking
Businesses are always looking for new opportunities to grow. There are traditional options such as advertising and marketing campaigns, of course, and these can be very effective. But they also can be expensive.
There is an option that requires little more than an investment of time: a business networking group, in which businesspeople come together to share insights and leads. You may have been invited to join such a group, and perhaps you have accepted these invitations. But you may be wondering whether you really are getting any return on the time you spend.
Most businesspeople agree that networking groups can be very worthwhile, but they also can be a colossal waste of time. In order to get the most from your networking experience, consider the following:
Decide what you want from the experience, and how much time you have to commit. Do you want a formal group that meets weekly and that has requirements for membership, such as dues and/or attendance? Or do you want something more informal? Do you want a group that includes members from a variety of businesses, or do you want to meet with people from a single industry group? Are you looking for a specific kind of support – for example, if you are a woman, are you looking for a women’s business group?
Do some homework on groups available in your area. You can start your research with the local Chamber of Commerce. You also may be able to visit some groups as a guest, which will let you meet the members and see how the group functions.
Do your homework on your own business. Be able to quickly and clearly explain what you do and why customers should choose you to do it. Practice your “elevator speech” – a 30- to 60-second pitch for your business. Make sure you have plenty of business cards and other marketing materials.
When you decide on a group to join, spend some time observing group dynamics. The best groups include everyone in discussions and activities. You may want to avoid groups that seem dominated by one or two people, or groups that have trouble attracting members to activities.
Remember that networking is reciprocal. Although each member joins the group to build his or her own business, the group works best if all the members help each other to develop business.
Give it some time. Don’t expect to find new business opportunities at your first meeting. Give the group members time to get to know you and to understand how your business works.
But don’t hang on forever. If you have spent a reasonable length of time with a group and have not received any leads or new business, it may not be the right group for you. If you think the payback is too small or nonexistent, it may be time to look for another group.