Want to know how I built my network and met thousands of people?
I attended over 2,600 networking events in the last 12 years. Just went out and did a boatload of events.
Ugh. Most of us don't have time for that. I don't have time for that now. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't do it that way.
What I would do is to start my own networking group. Oh, it's more work – especially in the short term – than just going to someone else's already established group. So how can it be a shortcut?
There's nothing wrong with going to events, meetings, receptions, mixers, luncheons and chamber of commerce meetings as an attendee. I still highly recommend it as a core activity in your networking success plan.
Build your own networking group if you want to rapidly build a strong reputation as a great connector and as a leader in your community and industry. You'll quickly become known as a powerful networker within your own and other's organizations.
Don't Let Anything Hold You Back
- Time – In my personal experience, there is a much greater return on the same investment of time in being the leader of a group you built yourself.
- Competition – There is plenty of room in your community for more networking. As with any marketing endeavor, having a specific target and purpose is the key to success.
- Expertise – There are no prerequisites! To be qualified to start a group, you need to have the desire to start a group. To be a leader, you set a goal, announce yourself as the leader, give people a compelling reason to follow and then you take action. You don't become a leader,then do things. You do things, which makes you a leader. (Click to tweet this)
- Fear – What if nobody shows up? I've had some pretty small turnouts at the beginning of some groups. You must be resolute and stick with it, give great value and keep the momentum showing up. Fine-turn or ramp up your marketing and recruit some champions (see my tips here).
- Introversion – One of the great benefits to leading a group is that you don't have to go to people, they'll come to you as the leader. You can be there at the entrance, checking them in or at least greeting them without having to “work the room.” A lot of introverts have no problem addressing a crowd, as long as they know what they're talking about. Since you've created the thing, you have that completely taken care of!
How to Start Your Own Group
- Pick a regular date to meet - once or twice a month is achievable for most people.
- Finding an attractive location – restaurants and coffee shops can make it good for lunchtime.
- Invite people you want to spend time with – think of those you can help as well as they can help you.
It's almost that simple. I've started dozens of groups. One of the best experiences I ever had was the launch of a Toastmasters Club. They usually begin with an “opportunity meeting.” This can involve an entire mock meeting to a two-person demo meeting to a simple presentation by a local member. Then at the end of the meeting, you “close the sale” by asking for signups.
It takes 25 people to charter a club. Rarely does it happen at the first meeting. Usually there's a core group and then the regular club meetings start, with a few people joining at a time as the group gains momentum.
Because I has already been building my reputation as a networker, our club chartered in the discovery meeting! It was a heady experience and being a member of that club was an incredible professional growth opportunity.
From then on, I was hooked on the idea of starting my own networking groups. I went on over the years to create many more: a weekly lunchtime casual meet and greet, a women business owners' group, a leads club, a mastermind group and - one of my recent favorites – a running/networking event once a month.
The Benefits to Starting Your Own Networking Group
- Exposure - As the leader, you always get face time with the members. Every meeting. Every time.
- Efficiency - You get a lot more “bang” for the investment of time and effort.
- Professional Development - If you don't have the chance to lead at work, this is an incredible opportunity to prove to future employers that you are self-motivated. It might even show your current employer that you're ready for a promotion.
- Personal Development - No better way to grow than by doing. You'll develop skills you never imagined.
- People – You can choose who you need to spend time with and who can contribute to yours and the group's success.
One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself is to surround yourself with people who lift you up and make you grow. Building your own networking group means you can craft the exact environment with exactly the kind of people you need to be around to help you develop.
Networking Tips for Starting Your Group
- Recruit - Find a core group of two or three people to help you get started. You can't be the only person giving the group the energy and enthusiasm that's needed, especially in the early growth phase pains. Make sure to do this vital recruiting first and have those people on board. Maybe they won't do anything other than promise to show up as often as absolutely possible, but just having them be as excited as you are about the networking group is incredibly valuable.
- Purpose - Have a reason beyond networking. Groups with general, non-agenda networking doesn't help people stick together for the long term. You need a reason for the group that goes beyond "meeting and greeting." Are you going to be a leads club (it's a tough one to start with, by the way)? Will you focus on speakers to educate and share valuable information? Or, is the group going to be for a cause?
- Market - Tell people what they'll get. Yes, you're building a group to build up long-term networking success, but don't forget that you get what you want by giving other people what they want first (thank you Zig Ziglar). You should be able to describe specific benefits people will get from being part of the networking group. Time is a valuable and people won't show up more than once - or even once - if they don't know what they'll get for their investment. Focus on what they are going to get out of the group and you'll get what you want, too.
- Persist - Be consistent. It's tempting in the beginning to skip meetings if there aren't enough RSVP's. Or to leave early if it's a small crowd. Create an agenda, both for individual meetings and for your long-term purpose, and stick with it. No matter what. If someone finds out about your group and shows up on a day you decided to cancel, they will never, ever join.
Starting new networking groups may become addictive. It's a great feeling to come up with an idea, find like-minded people and watch things get started.
I'm working on another new group of my own right now (if you're a non-fiction business author in the Fresno area, let me know (email me: beth at bethbridges.com) and I'll tell you more. I've got a good idea of how to get this going by taking my own advice, of course.
I'll let you know how it goes.
If you've got an idea for a networking group and you'd like some feedback or even just some encouragement, email me and I'll be happy to help.