Often I am asked, “Where do I start?” in reference to networking.
It’s such a subjective question, and could be answered a hundred different ways depending on who you ask and what their experience has been.
In this article, I will attempt to illustrate a few ways that have been successful for me and people I know. This is not an exhaustive list nor is this intended to be a quick fix for a sales quota. Networking is a lifestyle, not a fad.
Get involved with a local non-profit, something you are passionate about. For me, getting involved with Christian Radio at a board level was an easy fit because of my love for music and sharing the good news. For you it may be the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, church, the Heart Foundation, United Way, the list is endless. This should come as no surprise, but non-profits would love your help! My point is, if you’re looking to get involved, it’s NOT hard. You’ll never meet your sales goals by volunteering or joining a group, but the long term relationships that you’ll form are priceless.
The Chamber has a great network of local councils that are specifically geared to get you plugged into the business community. With 12 local councils to choose from and numerous monthly networking opportunities, it’s a no-brainer. As with non-profits, civic groups welcome you with open arms to serve on boards and collaborate with other business leaders in your market to bring positive and sustainable results. Other organizations, such as Rotary, Kiwanis & Civitan, with their common mission/vision statements, have multiple chapters eager attract engaged members.
From structured to open groups, you have more options than you thought possible in a small town like Chattanooga. “Structured” meaning financial requirements to be in the group, weekly gatherings, and expectations to produce referrals. In my opinion, this style of group is perfect for someone new in a market, new to a position, or simply looking to get reconnected. The open groups are usually more casual and may require more discipline to stay connected and involved because the audience changes so frequently and meets less often. Your challenge is to find one that best reflects your style of networking.
This may be the most unconventional style of networking for most because you don’t consider that networking. I would also include grocery stores like Whole Foods and Enzo’s in this category. By far the hardest to quantify results because of its casual nature, but could be the most productive way to engage new relationships without the pressure of a scheduled meeting. You can make phone calls and send emails anywhere, so why not from where you might have the opportunity to meet someone new or be seen in the community? The ice breaker takes care of itself by the fact you have the same taste in coffee.
In terms of professionally branding yourself, probably one of the best decisions you can make is to get involved in social media. The statistics don’t lie; refer to my previous article, “The Power of Social Media,” or better yet “Google it!” My personal favorite for business networking is LinkedIn. Don’t just create a profile for the sake of having one; the more content the better. Give recommendations and ask for them. Be creative but honest with your job title; it might be the only line of your profile anyone reads. Post discussions that are relevant to your industry and position yourself as a subject matter expert without the sales pitch.
All of these suggestions are merely a means to an end – creating mutually beneficial relationships. Be you and give of yourself without expectations.
Craig Miller is the Founder & Director of B2B Networking Chattanooga, for more information go to: www.b2bnetworkingchattanooga.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org