So many of my clients tell me they go to a networking meeting or two but give up because nothing happens. My response is usually that you must give the group a fair trial. Building relationships takes time so you will need to attend a few meetings of one organization to see any progress. That said however some organizations may just be wrong for you and the sooner you decide that the less time you will waste and the faster you can move on to a group that will work for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to evaluate the group. If you can say "yes" to at least 8 of these the group is right for you.
1. Are there enough people from your target market and/or possible referrers to make joining the group regularly worthwhile?
Your goal is to meet people who can either give you business or refer business to you. There should be a certain number of potential customer/clients or referrers there to satisfy your goal.
2. Is the group large enough so that you get a diversity of ideas and people?
You want to learn how others see the value of what you do from a variety of perspectives. In a small group not only will you have fewer prospects and referrers but you also will not be exposed to as many different points of view. Different points of view can help you to craft better answers to objections, see your offer in new ways, and find joint ventures that you had not thought about.
3. Does the group meet regularly so that you get to network with the people frequently?
You are looking for a group that meets at least once a month. It is hard to build strong relationships in an organization that meets only once or twice a year. Fewer meetings mean fewer opportunities to meet people and fewer opportunities to reinforce an existing relationship. As the saying goes, "Out of sight out of mind."
4. Is the group growing and attracting new members? New members bring new ideas and energy.
Groups that are not attracting new members tend to lose members and fade away. Vibrant groups are growing and evolving.
5. Does the group have long term members?
What kind of member turnover does the group have? When long term members leave you lose a lot of experience and contacts. Just as new members bring vibrancy to an organization older members bring stability and connections.
6.Is the overall philosophy of the group compatible with your philosophy?
Some service organizations have a rule against talking about business. In some business focused group leads are expected to be exchanged. Will you be comfortable with a group with a particular focus? Also does the group understand and participate in the general networking philosophy of giving to get? Of course you must be ready to help others and give to them if you expect to get help yourself. This philosophy is a basic one in networking both online and off. Are you prepared to do this yourself and does the group you are considering joining encourage this?
7. Are the members accessible outside of the meeting so that you have the opportunity to talk with them privately?
If the goal of networking is to build relationships with people, members must be available to do that. You'll want to have coffee, breakfast etc with some of the people with whom you feel a special connection. This will help you build a trusting relationship so that your contacts are comfortable recommending you to their colleagues and you are comfortable recommending them to yours.
8 Are there prominent people or thought leaders in the group that you are eager to know?
Join a group where there are people known in the industry as thought leaders or prominent people in the community who are well known and respected. Referrals from these kinds of people can be powerful.
9. Are there leadership positions open to newer members that would put you in a prominent position?
Once you decide to join the organization do they make you wait to take a leadership position or are there some types of roles that new members can participate in? If you join an organization volunteer to help. The only way to get known in an organization is to become an active participant. Leadership positions help you to stand out and become well known in the organization.
10. What is the purpose of the group and are you comfortable with that purpose?
Some groups especially nonprofits and fund raising groups that you may join have a purpose other than the networking. Be sure that the group's main purpose is something you are comfortable supporting actively and having your name associated with.
By Alvah Parker
Alvah Parker is a Practice Advisor (The Attorneys' Coach) and a Career Changers' Coach as well as publisher of Parker's Points, an email tip list and Road to Success, an ezine. Subscribe now to these free monthly publications at her website http://www.asparker.com/samples.html and receive a values assessment as a gift. Work becomes more meaningful and enjoyable when you work from your values.