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The Truth About Belonging to

Networking Groups

contact Nancy Roebke

One of the most cost effective ways to generate revenue for your firm, is to have other business professionals refer your business. When this happens, it's like having a sales force out there working for you without having them on your payroll. The only way you can get other professionals to do this for you, though is if they know, like, and trust you. In other words, if they have a relationship with you.

But how do you build these relationships in a timely fashion and strong enough to ensure they WILL refer business your way when they run across it? The easiest way is to get business professionals together in the same place at the same time and have a program in place that allows them to build relationships with others.

That's where networking groups come in. They meet at the same time at the same place, like an appointment, at regular intervals to encourage this relationship-building. This can happen weekly, by-weekly, monthly or yearly. Studies have shown that the more exposure a person has to another person, the faster the relationship gets built. Using this information, it would be fair to expect that relationships you built in a group that meets weekly grow stronger faster than those that only meet monthly. In a year's time, a weekly meeting would expose business professionals to each other 52 times while with a monthly meeting, there would be only 12 times.

Groups also vary in their composition. Many groups are comprised of one business professional from any chosen field, thus eliminating competition within the group for specific business leads. Other groups place restrictions on length of time in business, or level of responsibility in the firm when deciding on the acceptance of specific members. Still others have no restrictions at all. Restrictions that are placed on the membership of a group often help ensure that the membership is comprised of business professionals who are all looking for the same thing. In other words, they are all playing by the same rules. These restrictions can also help eliminate conflict within a group, thus allowing an easier time for relationship-building.

Groups vary considerably when it comes to the cost of involvement. Fees for membership can range from nothing to thousands of dollars a year. The concept of networking groups is not a new one, by any means- some older groups have been around for over 50 years. Almost without a doubt, the groups that last that long, charge a fee to belong to them. This ensures that participants are not going to just breeze in, take what they can get and breeze out. That's not to say that doesn't happen, but it lowers the incidence of it. Charging a fee makes a prospective member make a commitment to the group. It also means that all members have made that same commitment.

The use of the fees varies from group to group as well. Some groups have a Corporate sponsor- a company that has a name that is recognized as a Professional Leads Group. In this case, fees are paid to Corporate and the benefits of a Corporate sponsor are assumed. One of these benefits is usually that Corporate provides a Representative to the group who is responsible for the marketing of the group, so that members can focus on the marketing of their own businesses. When the group does not have a Corporate sponsor, these fees are usually used for the needs of the group- marketing and advertising support is a common use . Members are expected to market the group as well as their own businesses.

The only way these groups will work to the maximum for any business professional is if that person participates in the group's activities. This participation would include but may not be limited to :

1. Attending the functions of the group- the regularly scheduled ones and any special events they may have.

2. Inviting guests to the group who fit the requirements of membership in the group.

3. Having a commitment to learn how to best help each member of the group.

4. Getting in a networking frame of mind so that, when business for a group member presents itself, it can be passed on to that member.

5. Serving on a committee or Board of Directors.

6. Developing loyalties within the group.

One of the easiest ways to help remember the wealth of business that can come from participation in networking groups, is to think of the group's functions as "appointments" instead of "meetings". You have the luxury of being able to meet with multiple prospective clients at the same place and time, in one "appointment", instead of each one individually.

Networking groups have different structures and focuses. Some of them can be very rigid and structured, others can be very loose. Effectiveness in a group is enhanced by being in a group that "feels" right- where the personalities and the group's dynamics suite the personality and dynamics of the individual members. Most groups will allow guests to visit at least once for free to get a feel for the group. This is strongly encouraged to ensure that, when a member joins a group, there is enough of a comfort level with the group dynamics to build strong business relationships.

Networking groups work. They help business professionals achieve their business goals and they help develop relationship-building skills that are just as effective out of the office as in. The process is called "Networking", which means it involves "work". Networking groups are one of the most effective types of work that can be done for business development.
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