First Person: Are Networking Meetings a Waste of Time?

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Since I first entered upon a career in sales when I got out of the U.S. Air Force in 1979, I have attended hundreds of networking meetings. As a small business owner from 1997 to 2003, I used to attend El Paso Chamber of Commerce Business after hours mixers, where we had a table. Our walk-in printer maintenance work came primarily from this source.

A Few, But Not All, Networking Meetings Are a Waste

In all of that time, I have attended some really lousy meetings. I definitely felt at those times that networking meetings were a waste of my time. One in the early 80's seemed dumb at the time and even worse in hind sight. The speaker at a Century City Chamber of Commerce meeting had a contest to see who could collect the most business cards. He totally missed the purpose of networking meetings.

The Purpose of Networking Events

No, it's not to make sales, at least not there. The most beneficial goal is to develop relationships. Over time, these relationships will prove golden because they will produce your buyers or your referrals. So don't just go rushing around to collect business cards. Start building relationships.

Small Business Tips for Working These Activities

Here are a couple points I learned over the years to make networking meetings more helpful to my sales efforts as a small business owner or salesperson:

- They are social events so be social. Build relationships. Connect with people.

- Avoid trying to sell at social events. Your name will get spread around as someone to avoid.

- They already know you are there for business connections. They are trying to decide if you are someone they want to know, like and trust.

- Everyone is tuned into WIIFM, "What's in it for me?" So you need to focus first on the other person.

- Pick the right groups to participate in. All suspects are not created equal. To be silly about it, consider this: if you sell a $20,000 solar energy package, avoid meetings aimed at helping people in foreclosure or learning how to restructure their debt through bankruptcy. For that kind of product, I would get involved with boards of realtors instead.

- What are you contributing of value to the other person? If you want to make a friend, do something for him or her - with no expectation of a return, no strings attached, just be of service.

My Experience as a Vendor at Association Meetings

For a couple of years I attended credit union chapter meetings as a vendor. I walked around and met the people there. I provided a nice raffle prize to get my name announced and to be seen as supporting their organization. The smallest benefit I got from these chapter meetings was gaining access to the credit union managers. I also made contacts that became customers outside the meetings.

By attending networking meetings with the objective in mind of developing new relationships, you will be on the right path to making a success out of participating. You will begin seeing your time as an investment instead of a waste. Just remember to always look for the ways to add value to the lives of those you meet. You will find yourself building strong business relationships and enjoy doing so.

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