Organizations to Which You Already Belong
The first place to start networking is in the organizations you already belong to. Anywhere you are already connected: your homeowners’ association, office parties, Sunday school class, PTA, workout club, sports groups, political party meetings, Junior League. Anywhere.
Professional Trade Associations
Your professional trade association can put you in touch with colleagues in your field. Cultivate relationships with other members, tap into their expertise, discuss industry concerns, and swap ideas. These are the best organizations for learning about your industry, your customers, and your competition.
Check out your membership directory to find experts in the profession. Contact them for advice or ideas. The sooner you get involved in your trade association, the sooner your name will get out there. Serve on committees, contribute articles to the group’s publication, speak at conferences, run for the board. Learn and practice new skills at educational seminars. You can learn how to use emerging technologies and catch up on the techniques. Read the association’s newsletter for tips on how to succeed and use the full benefits of membership. Contact supplier members. They can tell you about new products and services in your industry.
State and National Trade Shows, Conventions, and Conferences
Business and industry trade shows, conventions, and conferences have great potential as really solid places to network. However, a bewildering number of people never take advantage of these solid opportunities even when they go, because they treat the trip as a much deserved paid vacation instead of one of the best spots in the cosmos to make new contacts. This is not the place to let your hair down and get your groove on.
Some of the big trade shows bring in buyers and sellers from around the globe. So much potential! At breakfast, lunch, dinner, and networking activities, meet as many people as possible, get their cards and stay in touch. Study the schedule and ask the organizers for a list of attendees before you go. Formulate a plan to make it a valuable investment of time and money.
At conventions, try contacting keynoters and concurrent-session presenters ahead of time. Most often we speakers are from out of town and do not know anyone, so invite us to sit with you during lunch, or schedule time for a cup of coffee. At least introduce yourself to the presenters and those sitting around you.
Trade Organizations of Your Best Customers
If the fine people who already use your services belong to these organizations, would it not be safe to assume that other members might want to use your services as well? See if you can present a breakout session or seminar on something related to your work.
Chamber of Commerce
They don’t call them Chambers of Commerce for nothing. More than likely, your Chamber of Commerce is your best local networking source, but only if you’re active and informed. Most Chambers welcome guests at functions but are usually only interested in recommending their members. The upside is that you can join as a business or as an individual.
Chambers sponsor networking activities like after-hours mixers, business-networking breakfasts, luncheons, and even leads groups. Chamber events are great forums for sharpening your skills and opening face-to-face relationships.
Organizations with the Same Philosophy as Yours
If you care about the purpose of the organization, you will be proud to be a member and reap personal satisfaction, along with the opportunity to build relationships. Get involved in a charity that feels right.
Small Business Development Centers - SBDC
Most metropolitan areas have a couple of SBDCs. Whether you have your own business or are an employee, the business centers offer courses and resources to help you to grow, as well as to meet people.
Join groups that offer possibilities for making contacts and achieving personal growth: art appreciation, dancing, chess, astronomy, wine and food clubs, etc. You will meet others with similar interests who are ready to network. Go to meetings that feature discussions on a topic you’re interested in.
Golf has long been the sport for business networking. So if you’re a somewhat decent swinger, tee up. Jerry Lindsay (successful business owner, avid golfer, and a great dad) offers these words of caution: “The way a person relates to golf mirrors the way they relate to business. So putt everything out, play the ball where it lies, let faster players play through, do not throw clubs, and most of all, do not cheat.” Other sports work fine for networking, too. The key is to find a sport you are interested in, and get involved.
I am NOT suggesting that you join a church or synagogue only for the business opportunities. But let’s face it – many solid business relationships are forged in the pews and folding chairs of spiritual organizations. Go for the right reasons and let your light shine. Hide it under a bushel? No. You’ve got to let it shine.
Workshops, Classes, and Seminars
Take every chance to learn more and make yourself better. Other people committed to jogging the road to success will be there too. Contribute ideas. Ask questions. Look for a list of upcoming workshops in your local business journal’s calendar of events. Expect a higher grade of professionals at the workshops and seminars that are sponsored by area business journals.
Having common backgrounds makes for easy conversations and many really get a kick out of helping an alum of their university.
Meet some people with style and taste. Theater, symphony, art exhibits, rodeos, tractor pulls…
A great way to gain visibility and develop relationships is through volunteering with any of the above-listed groups. Almost all these groups could use a hand. Step out and step up. Look for volunteer jobs that will provide you opportunities to show off your skills and personality, and meet and interact with new contacts. You increase your impact as well as the potential for new contacts when you actively participate.
Contributed by: Dean Lindsay, Award Winning Speaker and Author of The Progress Challenge & Co-Author of Stepping Stones to Success