If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re happy to while away your days dreaming up new products and fantasizing about your grandiose visions of success. While those are important drivers for any business, there’s another task that’s equally important and a little more down-to-earth – networking.
Networking gets you and your company out in front of people, introduces you to new partners and clients, and builds personal connections. Plus, it’s good for you and your business. When you interact with people and businesses from within and outside your industry, you gain new perspectives and ideas on how to run your own company.
Not all networking is created equal. Different channels offer different results based on the level of effort required. Here are four typical types of networking and what you can expect to get out each.
#1 Online Networking
Online networking is fast, free, and easy. No face-to-face meeting means even the most socially awkward among us are capable of building vast virtual networks. Online platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter allow you to display your company’s brand and information clearly and liberally, which builds your visibility. Special interest groups and hashtags allow you to deliver your messages right to your ideal clients, while industry and professional forums give you the opportunity to ask questions and build professional networks.
The fast, free, easy nature of online networking is also its downside. Because connections are formed and maintained virtually, the “ties that bind” are not as strong as in-person relationships. In order to be successful online, you have to stay active…like, all the time. Profiles on your social network accounts need to be updated continuously, and you have to be proactive about regularly connecting with new people. Plan to spend time every day engaging with your existing network and adding new contacts.
#2 Networking Events
A time honored tradition, these large (and largely anonymous) events are what we all think of when we think of networking. And, to be honest, these types of events are a hard nut to crack. Everyone is there to promote themselves and to pass out as many of their own business cards in as short amount of time as possible. The relationship building opportunities presented by this traditional networking are fairly low. It’s conceivable (but not likely) that you might bump up against someone who’s looking for the exact service you offer at exactly the time they need it. The prospect that your business card is going to stand out from the handfuls attendees will take home is also pretty slim. Which is not to say you shouldn’t attend this type of event. It’s always good to meet with people and build connections. Find events marketed to your ideal customer and others in your profession. This allows you to get your message in front of the people who are most likely to buy your product and service, and gives you the opportunity to create professional relationships.
#3 Leads Groups
Leads groups are frequently sponsored by local Chambers of Commerce or by private organizations like BNI.com. Typically non-competitive, Leads Groups allow only one representative from any business category as a member at any given time. These are relationship-based organizations where the expectation is that members will provide business “leads” to each other, and many groups have a baseline amount of business you are required to bring to other members of the group. Regular group meetings and an established membership means that these groups offer more robust relationship building that networking events or online networking, and many times members form relationships and partnerships outside the group. The primary purpose of a Leads Group is generating referrals, so these are a good option for an entrepreneur looking for allies to promote their business.
#4 Group Coaching & Masterminds
Group coaching and masterminds offer a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability, and support in a group setting. Many of the most effective mastermind groups are facilitated by professional business coaches who lead exercises and discussions designed to help members grow their business and personal skills. Typically, each member is invited to share their professional and private challenges and successes, while the business coach and other members of the group offer support and encouragement in finding solutions and celebrate accomplishments. As a non-competitive group, members are encouraged to dig deep in sharing and offering advice to each other on the most intimate parts of their business. This willingness to be vulnerable fosters strong relationship-building between members on a personal level, while the connections developed in the group frequently develop into joint venture opportunities, lead sharing and professional networking. The peer-to-peer mentoring and professional coaching of a combined Group Coaching and Mastermind is perhaps the most profound opportunity for an entrepreneur to maximize their networking efforts from a personal, professional, and business growth standpoint.
Networking for entrepreneurs is a must. Pick the right channel for you and your business and you have the opportunity to grow yourself along with your network. Good luck!