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Make the Most of your Local Business Networking Group.

make the most of your networking groupsOne of the most common pieces of wisdom more experienced business people will share is that business networking is the quickest and most effective way to successfully growing your business. It is commonly stated and widely accepted that “people will do business with other people they know long before they’ll do business with people they find through an advertisement”.  It’s the Know ~ Like ~ Trust concept.

Your local networking efforts probably should not be centered around trying to making direct sales. (Although, clearly, direct sales would logically occur as a result.)  Through local business networking you will build your professional connections. The networking activities will help to establish trust. New business through new opportunities is inevitable.  You will increase your own personal knowledge while learning about others.  And, do not forget about that golden nugget: word-of-mouth advertising.

As the founder and director of the Women’s Business Network of SE MA (WBN), I see how our members are using this particular group to help grow their relationships, and their businesses. Each member may find a different aspect of their membership to be more valuable than another member. Members who take advantage of the face time opportunities, as well as the social media, inbound marketing and other online presence building opportunities that the networking group offers, have experienced real, measurable and constant growth in their business. Other networking groups most likely offer similar opportunities, but it is truly up to each individual to work each aspect if they are to experience the relationship building results that will bring them business growth.

WBN offers this large variety of opportunities to help our members grow their business. Other local networking groups may offer similar aspects.

Here are suggestions on how to get the very most out of such local networking groups.

Monthly Business Meetings:

Many of our members enjoy attending our ten monthly meetings held each year. These meetings offer both informal networking and formal presentations by members and business experts. They also allow us to network with other businesswomen from the region and to introduce ourselves and our business to the group.  For some, the opportunity to have 30 – 60 seconds to stand up and tell us their name, their business and their tagline is exactly the reason that they have joined this group. They will use this part of the agenda to take note of others in the group that they would like to invite to a ‘one-on-one’ to learn more about in a quieter setting. In addition to the exposure we receive for our business, we benefit from the personal advice and mentoring of other women in business. WBN members operate a variety of businesses and run the gamut of experience from “highly seasoned” to “just starting out”. They belong to many other networking organizations that we all can learn about and join as well.

Small Groups:

Our meetings often include a “Group Activity’  These activities are designed to break up our 30 or so attendees into smaller groups to work on questions posed by the group leader. Group Activities are designed not only help everyone get comfortable with each other, but they also help us, as business people, in networking – the practice of meeting people and forming relationships that can help in our professional endeavors. The goal of these exercises is to have a rewarding, enriching shared experience, one that will establish solid connections between participants.”

Spotlight Presentations:

Many local networking groups offer members the opportunity to schedule a timed, in-depth presentation of their business to the group during a meeting in order to increase awareness of what their business has to offer, and spark interest and interaction throughout the membership.  WBN members have often chosen to use their presentation time to teach more about their journey toward starting their business or what drives them in their business.  Rarely is the spotlight presentation a sales pitch, but rather, an opportunity to educate the attending members about the presenter and her area of expertise. These are an excellent learning opportunity for our members, in addition to being excellent exposure for the presenting member.

Informal Networking:

Monthly meetings may allow time for informal networking before and after the scheduled meeting start/end times.  Often, it is during this informal networking where the ‘magic’ happens. Connections are made. Follow up meetings are scheduled. In addition, outside of the monthly meeting dates, members may set up coffee hours and other opportunities for smaller group sessions.  Meeting with each other around a table and in a different setting has been extremely valuable to our members in strengthening their knowledge of the other members’ personality, product or service.

In addition to these many face-to-face opportunities, business networking groups may offer multiple online opportunities to allow members to connect with each other, as well as to increase their own search optimization and general online presence.

Blogging:

Your local networking group, much like WBN, may have an active blog. Members are encouraged to use this as a source of information to deepen others’ knowledge of their products, services and expertise. Each member is encouraged to regularly provide a paragraph or two about a current project they are working on for posting. Members are encouraged to share their own newsletters or blog posts with the membership via the blog.  I might add that the blog, in addition to being a wonderful way to help members learn more about another’s product or service, is a fantastic way to gain a strong, viable and relevant inbound link in order to strengthen their search optimization through inbound marketing. In addition, it helps members establish themselves as a trusted expert in their field.

Newsletter and Calendar:

Members are able to market products, services, events and offers directly to the entire network mailing list through a bi-weekly newsletter. Some members have made it their practice to offer other network members a discount on products or services. Listing business events, seminars or classes on the network’s online calendar is another way to keep members up to date with happenings.  Even better, in my opinion, is that it gives our members another valuable inbound link to their website to help them in search engine results.

Social Media:

Many network members are in the practice of using social media to continue to support each other’s marketing efforts. Members “like, comment, and share” others’ posts on personal and business Facebook pages. They also have the opportunity to build relationships through a closed group page on Facebook. There may even be a hashtag (we use#wbnsema) the group uses, or a list for Twitter in which members may opt to engage with other members to ‘like, comment and share”.  All members are encouraged to connect and engage with each other on LinkedIn. In addition, members are encouraged to follow each other’s business pages on Facebook and LinkedIn. The idea is that the more that you know about someone else’s business and online presence, the easier it is to share their info with your own circles.  In addition, the more that you engage with another member on social media, the more you feel connected to them, and they to you.

Membership List:

Work it!  Your networking contact list is a great place to get started. Do you have an email newsletter? Encourage members to sign up to receive your newsletter, and request that they share it when possible. Are you and your business on social media? Go through the list to find all the other members and connect wherever possible – as your personal profile AND as your business profile (where appropriate).  Do they have a blog?  Read some of their work to become more familiar with what they do.  Share it with your contacts when you are moved to do so.  Comment on their blog whenever possible. Consider a collaboration in which you offer guest blog opportunities or include each other in one of your blogs. Have they listed their birthday?  Make a note to connect with them. Did you recently read an article you thought they’d like? Email it to them with a kind note.

There are so many more ways to keep in touch with your network members other than your monthly meeting.

It seems to me that in a networking group, just as in so many areas of life, you will get out of it what you put into it.  If your goal is to simply introduce yourself with a tagline or elevator speech, then you can certainly stick with that and hope that people will remember you. If, however, your goal is to develop a circle of dedicated supporters, then it is a good idea to use the inbound marketing, casual networking, social media and other opportunities that are made available to you, in addition to introducing yourself at meetings.

You have the advantage of being able to be top of mind with each and every member of your networking group if you are doing something regularly to remind them about you and your business.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Please contact me with your comments.