As I mentioned is an earlier post, I recently relocated to Southwest Florida from the Northeast. As a freelance writer and editor, most of my projects come from referrals from others, usually owners of small businesses.
To make contact with such people, I visit and sometimes join networking groups. In the Northeast I belonged to a local chapter of BNI. Nice people and good referrals. So when I was settled here, I visited networking groups. I have joined two. One group is a hand-picked team of entrepreneurs. From the results of the Team Success Survey, the team is operating in the Performing stage.
The other group was started by a consultant and, while the remaining members have not taken the Survey, I thinks it’s fair to say they are in the Forming if not the Storming stage.
Here’s why I made that conclusion. My perception of other people’s perception of “networking” is they view such events as an opportunity to pass out their business cards, sip some wine, and hope that someone in the room is desperately seeking the skills that they and only they provide. Next week, more wine and more cards.
The second networking group whose meetings I have attended do have a definite variation on the perceived theme. This group emphasizes member-to-member partnership and accountability — before you leave a meeting!
That can be viewed an innovative — or threatening. You come in for wine and cheese with your pocketful of four-color, double-sided cards and now you’re told (not asked) to team up with a complete stranger, set a SMART goal and be accountable.
Here’s my suggestion. Use a checklist to build a team. Have a set schedule for each meeting and stick to it.
- Set a start and finish times and stick to them.
- Make sure that every guest knows the org’s purpose and mission statement.
- Ensure that all guests know how this networking org differs from (all of) the others and why. The old WIFM (What’s In It for Me?).
- Pair them with a member during their first meeting.
- Get their contact information and send then a message with 24 hours after they have attended.
- In other words, give them a reason to stay and to return.
Treat this org as a special team that wants to grow and be successful. So the org / team itself must have SMART goals. It’s not enough to preach it. Do it. If this team takes itself seriously, others, including guests, will recognize that and the serious ones will want to be part of that. So give them a reason to stay.