Last night I met up with a crowd of restaurant reviewers from the local Yelp community. Yelp, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a community of on-line reviewers who contribute reviews of restaurants and other businesses. Over time, visitors to the site can get an increasingly accurate perception of how businesses are perceived by prior customers, and I have found the site to be hugely valuable in planning restaurants to visit and businesses to hire.
I went to the meet up because I actively contribute to Yelp. I enjoy the process of critiquing my experiences at restaurants and other businesses and I like knowing that good service can be rewarded with the simple act of writing a review. I also went to the meet up because I now take every possible opportunity to meet new people and to give them my business card. I know that the more people I meet, the more people I can attract as clients. That should not surprise anyone, but I know a lot of business owners who really think that business will find them. I assure you, if you are a small business owner, that is not the case.
There are a lot of networking opportunities that will present themselves if one keeps one’s eyes open. Many of those opportunities are free or minimally priced. Moreover, most of them can be enjoyable if you approach them with the right mindset. Networking events can be virtual or in real time. They can be organized by any number of organized or they can be self-organized, formal or informal. Here are several ways that I have either networked in the past month or have plans to network in the coming months.
Formal Networking Groups: There are a number of formal business networking groups in existence. BNI is the world’s largest business referral network and I have known several people who have belonged to chapters. Some have found that they have gotten many referrals from their chapter and others have been less successful. Nevertheless, the weekly meetings are a good opportunity for members to meet other local business owners and the possibility of getting business referrals should justify at least considering membership in such a group.
Grass Roots Networking Groups: Many local organizations are now sponsoring business groups from their membership. For example, my church (a Catholic parish with over 7,000 parishioners) has a networking group that meets once per month and which encourages both referrals among its members and from the parishioners as a whole. The meetings are both a wonderful community building activity and a way to find new business while mingling with fellow parishioners, most of whom I would never have otherwise met.
Social Networking Groups: Membership in a social organization, such as the Knights of Columbus or the Masons, also serves a quasi-professional purpose. It is only natural that friends will refer business to friends. Business does not have to be a focus of the social activities that the organization pursues, but through basic human interaction, business can evolve organically.
Educational Programs and Seminars: Even if you have no direct need to attend an educational program, if it is the type of program that you can credibly attend and which you know potential customers might attend, attendance may be worth your time. Many of my clients are website developers and other “creatives.” Accordingly, I am pleased to have registered for a conference that will feature a panel discussion on the creative process.
Offer Educational Talks: Even better than attending an educational program, offer them. Later this year I am tentatively scheduled to speak at a writer’s conference and at an event that is being scheduled for local musicians. I am happy to share my knowledge with each group, but I also know that by appearing approachable and intelligent before each group, I am likely to develop clients as well.
Lunch: Take the time to meet with people one on one. This past month I had lunch or coffee with several people, typically other professionals from whom I hope to receive referrals or with whom I hope to collaborate. Other than a noticeable increase in my waistline, the meetings require very limit effort on my part and they tend to be quite enjoyable. Some have already generated new relationships from which I am sure I will benefit over time.
How do you network? Where do you meet people?