I had been to three other networking groups before I found my networking home. I realized pretty quickly that you have to decide what you want before you join any networking group. When I went looking I wanted one thing, real relationships.
Why real relationships over immediate leads? Why friends over business associates? I wanted real relationships because they stand the test of time. I have been out of the healthcare industry for almost three months. Since leaving healthcare I have sent out six referrals to my friends from the healthcare world. What I observed with myself was that it didn’t matter to me that I would not personally benefit from sending the leads when I knew my friends would. I spent three years building solid relationships, real friendships. I went to birthday parties, happy hours and weddings with the people I sent the referrals to. Our bond was real and still remains to this day.
If you’re in a group where people care about you, the biggest value may actually be the information you get or the information your friends give, not the sales. Speaking of sales, I noticed another trend among the more established networking groups, everyone sells each other’s services. In a well oiled machine, your networking group also serves as your company’s Word of Mouth Ambassadors (shameless plug). Meaning, anytime someone mentions your industry, they personally recommend you because they or someone else in the group have used your high quality services or products. Which company would you choose, the one from the internet or the one someone you know personally vouched for?
When you choose a networking group it is important to answer a couple of questions like, what is the price of my product or service, what works with my schedule (will I be able to consistently attend the events), is there a referral quota (that’s a real thing), how many people from my industry are in this group already and do I like the people there?
What is the price of my product?
Initially I believed that if the product was inexpensive a free group may be a better fit for you. I was told by an experienced networker that I was incorrect. He said, “even if you sell a lower priced product, working with established business may open up other opportunities you never thought of. Especially if you own the business. Ideas, concepts and advice of all kinds can get you money, improve department structure and, as I have seen many times, create whole new markets for the same product”. I never thought of it from that perspective.
In my opinion if you are selling large ticket items (houses, cars, software, etc.) or really any professional service, it is worth it to find a group you have to pay for. What, pay for networking? Yes!! Networking is like everything else in this world, you get what you pay for. Truly, you’re paying for it anyhow, if you are going to a networking event that meets every week and you order lunch, that is $100 per month ( always tip your server well please).
What works with my schedule?
Now it’s time to look at the time of the event and where it is located. I have seen a strong trend towards lunchtime networking groups. I really like those because I can squeeze them into my day. However, it puts me in Austin traffic (a.k.a hell) and cuts into my productivity at work (travel time takes a half-hour) and if I have to leave right away I miss out on building relationships; which is the whole point. It is critical that whatever networking group you choose that you attend most of the events in order to establish your brand and build trust with potential referral sources.
Is there a referral quota?
I can’t believe that there is actually a referral quota for some networking groups but it’s true. I hate quotas. It takes networking and makes it feel like a corporate business and disregards the essential component of genuine relationships.
How many people from my industry are in this group already?
One should also ask, “How many people from my industry are in this room?” When I say industry I should be more specific, not just real estate but more like residential realtor. I have been to networking events where there are four residential realtors, three life insurance salespeople, and three health coaches. What good is a networking group with a bunch of competition? I guess you could see if you are able to work together. I felt strange when someone else stood up and said they did the same thing as me and why they were the best at it. I don’t want to spend my lunch competing, I am too lazy for that. The second time that happened to me I decided to look around to see if there was a group that didn’t allow industry duplicates. I only found one. The issue with only allowing one of each industry is that your industry may have someone who has been in the group for years, even decades. Also, there is this weird thing where some people join, get their big client or contract and then get too busy to attend but they stay in the group because they realize the value of the relationships.
Do I like the people there?
Lastly, do you like the people at this networking event? Sometimes it felt like I was new blood at some of the networking groups. People would rush to me after the meeting and hand me their cards, giving me their elevator pitch, without knowing or asking me my name. It felt like a business transaction, not a real relationship. When choosing a group, it is important to choose the group that you laugh with. Choose the group that you think about when you’re not there and that remember your name! Choose the people that you would be happy to call family because if you play your cards right, you will be with them for many exponentially profitable years to come!
P.S I chose Networking Austin after looking at all these factors, here is my rationale:
I sell a service where information and connections are currency, they meet at 7:00 a.m. on Thursdays, at the Headliners Club on the top floor of the Chase building downtown (I only lose the 15 min in productivity with my drive back to work), the leader of Networking Austin appalls the idea of a quota (he believes that referral quotas dilute the value of leads if they’re forced) and I like the people a lot. Also, Networking Austin is over 30 years old. They must be doing something right to have lasted this long. Today Jim Comer spoke and it was phenomenal, I almost cried and I left inspired to write my own lecture. My goal was to find a home, where I would be happy for years to come, and I did it.
Networking Austin: https://www.networkingaustin.com/