Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Do You Hit the Bullseye?

Tim's comment on my last blog raises a very interesting question. When it comes to taking networking opportunities,as Tim put it, "So we all have time (168 hours per week), energy, and money. The question is 'how should we spend it?'"

So, where can you go to network and connect with people? There are more and more networking opportunities for business people to choose from. As most people are attracted to networking either through invitations from friends and colleagues or through searching the internet, how do you choose the right opportunity for you.

Broadly speaking, you can split business networking events into three categories; they are 'Brain-Building', 'Profile-Building' and 'Referral-Building' networks.

'Brain-Building' networks promote self-development, encourage learning or enable attendees to share best practice. I am a member of the Professional Speakers' Association, where Speakers discuss how they run their businesses and how they can provide the best service. There are other similar trade networks, Business Links and other organisations frequently host seminars on a range of business issues and many industries run Continuous Professional Development courses and networks.

Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Business (FSB) and a growing number of Women's Networking Groups are classic examples of 'Profile-Building' networks. Meeting on a monthly, quarterly or other less regular basis and focused on getting large numbers of attendees, the focus is on raising your businesses profile in a local community. You may meet different people at every meeting but, as the popular saying goes, "It's not what you know, but who you know". Can I add something to that? "It's who knows you". Online networks, such as Ecademy and Linked In have taken the Profile-Building model online.

Referral-Building networks, such as our own Business Referral Exchange (BRE) are very much focused on the members generating key introductions for each other. To achieve this, they meet on a much more frequent basis, ideally every week, and the group numbers are kept much lower. In BRE's case, we do not encourage groups to grow beyond 30 members as an absolute maximum.

The idea of weekly meetings and smaller groups is to help members to build strong relationships. Referrals are based on building strong degrees of trust and understanding and this can't happen in a larger, less frequent forum.

All of the networks in your area will have elements of one, two or all of the features above but will tend to focus on one above the others. The novice networker needs to sit down and work out exactly what they want from their networking activity, look to see which networking groups operate locally and then decide which meet their needs. Don't just join one, but get the right mix.

Just make sure that you spend your time, energy and money wisely and hit your own bullseye.

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