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Posts Tagged ‘Association Networking’

My niece started college this year at a large state university. Due to scheduling, she wasn’t able to join the club sport she participated in all through high school. It wasn’t long before she realized that she was having trouble finding a group among the masses and needed to find a way to scale down her experience. As a child she was a swimmer, so she joined the swimming club and has now found a group she can call her own. The huge crowd has been brought down to relationship scale.

When joining a new organization the size can often be overwhelming. Joining – or creating – a small group-within-a-group Is a great stepping stone to one-on-one relationships. Some trends to try:

  • Find a club — Affinity clubs help people bond over similar interests. Sharing a favorite activity with a small group is a great way to build contacts and friendships. If your favorite activity isn’t available, start your own.
  • Take it online – Online communities are great for addressing special interests. Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr all have privacy settings that allow only members to see content. Connecting with members online often allows people to stay in touch and learn more about each other faster.
  • Bring it offline – Like everywhere else, in online communities people are seeking personal connection. Twitter users are connecting in person with local events called “tweetups”. Search www.search.twitter.com for events in your area. The NHL team the Washington Capitals created a LinkedIn group for fans and then invited them to a game. Read “A Different Look at Networking” to learn more. If you have joined a group and are only participating virtually, attend an in-person meet-up or plan one yourself.
  • Get social – Choose a few people you know a little and host a micro-event. Bringing together people you know who don’t know each other is a great way to get to know everyone better. For some great ideas, read 7 Ideas for Small Group Networking.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting to know the first few people. If you meet one person, ask him or her whom else you should know. Get a few of those people together to discuss a topic of common interest, industry trends, or just to meet others and you have a manageable event that is less stressful than a room full of people and more comfortable for some than a one-on-one lunch or meeting.

For people looking to make friends or build business relationships, a small group invitation can help avoid uncomfortable situations, confusion with dating, or worry about having enough to say. Next time you’d like to get to know someone better, invite a few others and see what happens.

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To kick this blog off, I posted a question on LinkedIn “Is networking easy or your biggest nightmare?” and got some great response. Many respondents love networking and had some great tips to offer, which I will include in future posts.

For today, I am going to focus on the reluctance to self-promote. Nicole Rivera, Product Marketing Manager at Devon Intl Group said “I don’t mind networking and meeting new people. When it comes to the point in the conversation where I’m supposed to ‘sell’ my company – so to speak – that’s where I freeze. I enjoy talking to people, the idle chit-chat, but when it comes to the real reason we’re here, that’s what I find hard. I don’t like the ulterior motive portion of it.”

I think many people feel the way Nicole does. Many people feel uncomfortable talking about themselves or that it is inappropriate or bragging. It can be, if handled badly, however for those of use whose job it is to generate business, every occasion is an opportunity, so we need to find a balance. Weddings, parties, neighborhood gatherings – events of a purely social nature – are especially delicate, but no less an opportunity. I have gotten clients out of all those occasions.

For many people “so, what do you do?” is an easy opening conversational question, even at a party. I recommend having a social version of your 30-second intro. Don’t waste the opportunity with a non-answer like “I’m in marketing.” Think of a  5 or 10 word version of what you do that will allow for a probing question if someone is intrigued – and leave room for an “oh that’s nice” from everyone else. I have a friend who is a PhD and works in robotics. I asked him if he could do it and he said “I make computers less dumb.” Brilliant. What would you say about what you do in 5 or 10 words?

When it comes to official business networking events like a chamber of commerce social, business breakfasts, awards dinners, business card exchanges it is another thing. If you are uncomfortable bringing up business in a situation designed for meeting new prospects, that’s a whole other issue. Absolutely there are people that hand out cards like candy and ask for coffee meetings only to probe your contact list. You don’t want to be aggressive, however learning someone’s kid plays little league and not why they came isn’t the best use of the money you just spent for breakfast. Try transitioning with “what do you like best about this group?” or “how have you grown your business” to find out about the kind of referrals that might be good – chances are they’ll ask the same question back to you.

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I am starting this blog for everyone who has ever walked into a room full of strangers with the intention of “networking” and wanted nothing more that to forget the $46 you just paid for lunch just to get out of there.

Most of my business can be traced back, one way or another, to networking. It’s been 12 years, and I am still in business, growing and adding employees, so I guess it works. But it is never easy, even for an extrovert like me.

There is so much written about networking, but most seems to talk about the sales side – how many people you should speak to, how to follow up, how to convert that meeting into an appointment, into a sale. Those are all really valuable things and should be focused on if you are going to use networking as a sales tool. Despite all this great info out there, what I keep hearing from people is “how do you DO that?”

Now, as I mentioned, I am an extrovert. If you have ever looked at a personality profile, like Myers-Briggs, I’m the one who scored a 19 out of 20 on the Extrovert vs Introvert scale. So it may be easier for me, I don’t know. I know I like to talk, especially in person. And when I started my business alone in the basement, showing up at a lunch with a bunch of strangers seemed a whole lot better than sitting alone in the basement.

When I started out I had never heard of networking. When I had a “regular” job I was expected to focus on what was inside the four walls, not outside. Once I liberated myself, I called all the people I knew and told them I was now “out on my own”. And the second day of business…I was reading the newspaper.  Surprisingly, this turned out to be the right thing to do. In the back of the local paper were these things called “Business Events”.  I found some kind of a local business women’s lunch and signed up. Little did I know I had learned my first lesson of networking – just go. Nothing can happen if you don’t show up. I had no idea what I was getting into, and most of the women at the lunch had blue hair and had been retired for years. I have no idea what the speaker was about or if I met anyone that day, but the next day someone from the group called me and asked if I had heard about another group. I hadn’t (of course) and signed up to go to something else. So I now had two things to do in a month. At the time, it was a really big deal. And at the second event – I knew one person.

And so my journey of networking started. I have developed a lot of tricks to help get through the social awkwardness over the years. I want to share them here, learn what struggles others have and hear about great ideas. My company is a marketing and design firm focused on strengthening membership organizations through encouraging participation. I believe that if people feel welcome, involved and included they stay in a group. That’s tough to do if folks won’t mingle. I hope to help everyone feel more comfortable jumping in.

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