How to Choose What Networking Events to Attend
Right now as I type BlogHer '11 is in full swing in San Diego. While I am bummed that I am not there -- what's not to like - great conference, great people, and a great city - as I mapped out my travel schedule for the year, it wasn't meant to be this year. So I'm counting on a wonderful team of contributors and members to capture and share the magic so I can feature it here in the coming week. Whether it is a big conference or your local business networking group - how do you choose which to attend? Let me share with you my advice.
I am someone who wanted to do it all when I first started my business. So I did - I went to as many local networking events as possible. I made networking my full time business. This was fine except you can literally spend all your time hob nobbing at events and never actually doing any business. Networking and travel can also suck the life out of your personal life and any semblance of balance unless you are cognizant of your choices.
The single most important criteria you can apply to your decision is to ask yourself:
What am I doing? Why am I doing it? and Who am I doing it for?
These questions cover all the bases on both a surface and deeper level. It takes away the random throwing spaghetti at the wall approach where you get thrown off course when all your friends and colleagues are going to the next shiny bright conference and you think "I have to go or I'll miss out!".
One of my early aha moments was when I read the book The World's Best Known Marketing Secret by Ivan Misner and encountered his list of 6 types of networking groups. He defines them as:
- Casual-Contact Networks: General business groups that allow many people from various overlapping professions. (ex: chamber of commerce)
- Strong-Contact Networks: Restricted groups with only one person per profession that has referral requirements for its members. (ex: BNI, LeTip)
- Community-Service Clubs: Opportunities to give back to the community while making contacts and receiving good PR. (ex: Rotary, Lions)
- Professional Associations: Industry specific associations where the primary purpose is education and exchanging information. (ex: Bar Association)
- Social/Business Organizations: Combine business plus social activities.
- Women's Business Organizations: Professional organizations dedicated to women and professional development (and often also include men). (ex: NAWBO)
Whether you subscribe to these different groupings or not the important point is that you diversify your networking efforts. Every group as its own mission and vibe. It's important to find ones that are right for you. Hanging out only with other people in your same industry only meets one portion of your business' needs. This is why it's important to choose a few different organizations across the spectrum and work them deeply. In my experience it is far better to belong to a few organizations and build deep relationships through volunteering and regular attendance than it is to belong to everything under the sun but not truly know anyone in the groups.
I've also found it very important to have a combination of both local and more regional/national events on your yearly calendar. This helps keep you from falling into a rut of thinking and doing things like everyone else in your area. Let's face it there is nothing like gathering at a large conference like BlogHer and being exposed to such a HUGE range of diversity in thoughts, experiences, and styles. You just cannot get this experience by limiting your networking to the local business club.
My personal approach is to divide my efforts up as follows:
- Local special events/periodic groups
- 1-4 times per year (for the big, travel intensive type conferences)
Do I always hit the mark on this? No. Yet it is a great guideline for me to ensure that I am striking a balance between actively working my in-person relationship building without driving myself into the ground. After all, the single most important element of networking is the follow-up. So if you don't leave time in your schedule post-event to do follow-ups with those you met, what was the point of going in the first place? Sure you might have a good meal or an outstanding round of drinks, but it certainly won't build your business or career prospects.
How about you? How do you decide which events (both big and small) to attend? Would love to hear from you in the comments.
Paula Gregorowicz, The Intuitive Intelligence™ Coach
Download the Free Report: Your Own Uniqueness: The Path to Purpose, Prosperity, and Playfulness at http://www.intuitiveintelligencecoaching
Follow BlogHer on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/BlogHer-28615
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