Once you have joined a group, there will be certain things that are expected of you, just as you expect things from the other members. They are probably pretty clear in your mind already, but this will help to make sure that each is thoroughly explained.
It will also cover some of the less obvious points associated with professional networking groups. Just like all specialized fields, there are things that may need explaining to new members.
You will be expected to generate leads.
The main responsibility of members in a professional networking group is the generating of qualified leads for the other members of the group. This is a requirement. It would be unfair for someone to ask the other members of the group to give and not to get in return.
Getting leads is a very simple process. Keep your ears open and listen to people talk about what they need. Chances are good that someone in your chapter can supply that need. You will learn, at least in the groups that provide good support and training for their members, other ways to do this. No matter how good your other networking skills become, the simple act of listening is where most of your leads will come from.
Some groups have "fines" of a small amount ($1-$3) for each meeting you attend to which you don't bring qualified leads. This is not intended as a punishment, but as a reminder. These fines go directly to the local group for their treasury.
Attendance at meetings is also a requirement.
These are either weekly, twice a month, or monthly. The groups with weekly meetings will provide better opportunities for all involved. They help promote better relationships among the members, and they do so more quickly.
They also ensure that when you get a lead from another member it is recent, and the person hasn't gone out and gotten the job done or bought the product already by the time you call.
Another advantage of weekly meetings is that people simply don't have the opportunity to forget what you are looking for. Monthly meetings can mean a lot of space in between hearings of presentations, and that can mean that most people will just not remember you as clearly and quickly. Which means less business for everyone involved.
The same things that make frequency of meetings important also explain the emphasis placed on attendance. It is very important that you make the time to be at the meetings as scheduled. It is in your benefit as well as the groups for you to do so.
You will be expected to pay for your meal at each meeting.
You will be expected to bring guests who wish to become members.
This is a simple enough task. When you let people know about the business you are picking up as a member, they will usually approach you with an interest in joining.
In a way, that may present your biggest challenge. If the person is obviously not a viable candidate, you may want to offer to bring them in and let the group make the decision instead of doing it yourself. This is especially tempting if the person is a friend.
Don't do it.
If the person who approaches you has one or more problems with their business that make them clearly NOT a viable candidate, you are not doing them a favor by setting them up in a no-win situation. You can either simply ignore the request, which they may not allow you to do, or you can address the problems that you see.
If they are a friend, you will be doing them a favor by pointing out to them anything that will help their business. In most cases, if you are a reputable businessperson your friends will be also. If this is the case, the problems may be as simple as professional appearance. Fixing these can be as simple as saying "Well, the group has rules that they are pretty strict about. It would help your chances if you ..."
If the problems go deeper, into areas where you are dealing with legitimate questions of integrity and reputation, you may need to be a bit more blunt. Remember, you are going to ask the other members to go along with your judgment of a persons credibility when you propose someone for membership. If your judgment is clearly in error, they may question you as well.
Again, this is as much for your own benefit as that of the other members. The wider the pool of people watching for opportunities for each other, the better the increase in business for everyone involved. The higher the quality of the businesses involved, the better the quality of the business that will be generated.
You will also occasionally find yourself at a meeting talking with guests before the meeting starts. Remember to present yourself and the group in a professional light. You are being appraised by the guest every bit as much as the guest is by you. This is one of the few points at which you represent the group to a new prospective member. Make that image a good one. Make them feel welcome and at ease. And show them what the group is really all about.
Promoting the chapter and the organization.
It is very important that you present a credible image when you find yourself discussing the group with others. If people ask questions, answer them directly and be open with them.
The only areas where you may be called on to avoid answering a question would be the unlikely chance of someone asking you about things that are covered by a non-disclosure agreement.
Normally these will fall into the area of responsibility of the chapter officers, and aren't the sorts of things that come up in casual conversation. If this happens, simply tell the person that you have agreed not to discuss that because it is confidential information. Most people will respect this level of directness and honesty.
If your organization holds social gatherings that involve non-members, be sure to participate, and do so in a way that reflects well on yourself and the group. Being stiff and stuffy isn't required. Professional behavior is the rule at such gatherings.
You would probably not do business with a person who was rude at a social gathering. Others will avoid it also. And they will not recommend someone they would not do business with themselves.
If the chapter decides to get involved in community activities, this is an area in which you are especially encouraged to participate. You, as a businessman in the community, receive from the people around you. It is encouraged that you give back in return. This sort of activity is a win-win for all involved.
It is always in your best interests to present the organization in a professional and positive light. Treat it as a resource, and as a group of friends. If you think of it as both, you will always know the right way to respond in group-related situations.
Refining your networking skills.
This is the best thing you can do, both for the group and yourself. All that is involved here is developing some simple skills and a certain way of thinking.
The way of thinking that is required to really generate leads is not "Who can I recommend this person to to cover my leads for this week or month?", but rather "How can I help this person get what they want?"
If you listen for what a person truly wants, you will be more likely to be able to help them. In most cases this will mean knowing the *right* person to recommend them to. If not, and there is a way for you to help them out, if it's practical, do it.
Has someone ever done something for you simply because they could see it meant something important to you ? Or sent you business without anything in it for themselves ? I'll bet they have.
How did you feel about that ?
You probably felt as good about the fact that they helped as you did about the actual thing that was done. And you probably tried to return the favor. It's human nature.
They probably also felt good about having been able to help someone deal with a problem. Don't you, when you do this sort of thing ?
I'm not talking about charity. That's a matter of personal choice. I am talking about helping people solve their problems and satisfy their needs. When you look for ways to do that, and it has become second nature for you, you will find people bringing you recommendations because you have shown them that you are someone who cares and who can be trusted.
That is the networking mentality.
When it comes to refining your networking skills themselves, you will probably find a lot of help in direct skills from the organization you belong to and from its' members.
You can also join local organizations like the Toastmasters or the Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs. These will help in developing skills such as public speaking, help you to widen your circle of both personal and professional acquaintances, and generally expose you to people with well developed skills in this area.
Your public library or local bookstore are also good places to find information on the topic. Personal development books, information on better ways of dealing with people and handling problems, all of these will go a long way to helping you maximize your ability as a networker.
That ability will serve you in all areas of your life, not just your association with a networking group. As you learn to deal even more successfully with people, your life will be richer and more fulfilled in every aspect. Many people who have gotten involved with networking have found this to be the highest reward from their involvement.
ProfNet is a professional networking group with over 30 chapters throughout the US and expanding to international markets.