Of the many marketing tactics available, personal networking can be the most effective – or the most distracting. To help you focus on the actual return on investment for your time (and membership fees), ask yourself the following questions (better yet write them down for future reference):
What do you want to get out of your involvement with the networking group?
Or in other words, when leaving a networking event what would make you feel that the time was well spent? Over the years I have found face-to-face networking very useful for the following objectives:
What Networking Groups are likely to meet your objectives? What is the cost of each?
If you are looking for sales leads, you want to make sure your networking groups contain many potential prospects. If you are looking for inspiration and support you want to find others like you (start-ups, growing, established businesses) but that do not have a competitor on the list. Also important are all the “costs”: travel to/from meeting location, attendance requirements, membership fees.
After assembling the list of potential networking groups, attend each one as a guest before committing. Talk to the other members and see if the structure and members will meet your goals above.
Calculate your Networking ROI.
First is your investment. Commit to six months of active group participation. Schedule one-on-one coffee or lunch meetings with other members to learn more about them, and to allow them to know more about you and your business. Give to the group and to the members.
After six months you should have a sense of the “return” for your investment based on your goals above: leads, referrals, resources, education, inspiration or partners.