If you’re not a joiner, maybe you oughta be! In my last blog post, Business: It’s All About Relationships, we talked about how business is built, maintained, and grown via relationships. But how do you cultivate those relationships? Where and how do you meet new people to grow your business? Well, you become a joiner. You get out there and join in — formally and informally — and meet new people.
How Do You Meet New People?
When it comes to meeting new people, there are myriad ways to do it. But the number one thing is to be willing to get out there and talk about yourself and your business, and most importantly, listen to what’s being said by the people you meet, wherever you meet them.
Putting yourself out there is often outside the comfort zone for many people, but if you’re in business, you have to find a way to communicate what you do, how you do it, and why to all sorts of people in all sorts of contexts. Of course, you need to be smart about it. The advice in the last blog still holds true here — don’t sell until you’ve established a relationship and determined the person is actually interested and can use whatever it is you offer. And context is key! Letting people know what you do in casual conversation is fine, and in fact, encouraged.
Casual conversations can lead to surprising things. Say you’re waiting with other parents for your child’s practice to end. This is a great opportunity to get to know the people around you. That person looking exactly like the stereotypical soccer mom meme might be your next best referral source or turn out to be your biggest customer. The point is, you never know, so don’t judge books by their covers and embrace the idea that the person who may not ever be your customer may be someone who sends tons of customers your way.
Step It Up from Casual
The reality is, casual conversations will only go so far, and it’s generally not far enough. This is when business owners start looking at networking events, groups, and other business-focused events because it’s much easier to talk yourself up when the context is one in which it’s expected.
If you find the right networking event or professional organization, you can garner a lot of new contacts and referrals over time. But, in order to get to this part, you have to spend the time researching and attending various events and groups to find the right fit for you.
There are lots of resources and the internet is a great place to start searching. But here are some ideas to get you started. Keep in mind, almost all networking groups and organizations will allow a certain number of non-member visits so you have the opportunity to check them out, meet some people, and figure out if it’s the right place for you and your business.
Organizations/Events to Join
- Chambers of Commerce. These can often be a great place to start. Begin by checking out your local Chamber and then perhaps expand to Chambers in your surrounding area. I joined my local Chamber, the Randolph Chamber of Commerce, and have ended up on the Board. It’s been a great way to meet other business owners, as well as the folks involved in the local politics in my new hometown.
- Networking Organizations. Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my are there a lot of these! Do a Google search or use Meetup.com to help you find the groups meeting in your area, as well as ask any business friends you may have where they go. Find a group that is going to feel good to be in and around and that aligns with you and your business. I am a newish member of the South Shore Women’s Business Network (SSWBN) because I love, love, love working with other women business owners and helping them reach their ideal customers. And I thoroughly enjoy the sense of support I receive along with the great advice and tips that we share. But on a very practical note, the group (and its events) is located on the south shore of Boston which is where I can get to.
When I was based in Providence, I often attended WEBOND events (out of the East Bay Chamber of Commerce in Warren, RI) in or Newport Interactive Marketers events in Newport, or Providence-based Network After Work events. Many people get great benefits out of belonging to more formal groups like BNI. Whatever group you join, just make sure it fits YOU, from its members, its focus, to the when and where of meetings and events.
- Conferences: Business, Entrepreneurial, Personal Development. These are great places to meet new people! Whether it’s during a breakout session, around the lunch table or mid-afternoon coffee break, or the ubiquitous after-hours cocktail party, it’s super easy to call upon what you’re learning and hearing at the conference and talk about it with someone new. Last year I attended the collaborative conference with She’s Local and the SSWBN called the South Shore Conference for Women — it was a fabulous event! (And they offer several throughout locations in MA.) And I fully intend to attend again, as well as add a couple other events, both professional and personal development conferences (which, let’s just admit, always ties to professional when you’re a business owner.)
- Celebratory Events. Many business organizations have regular or annual events honoring member achievements, milestones, etc. Chamber’s will have annual dinners, there will be award-focused events, all incredible places to expand your network of peers, business colleagues, and friends.
- Professional Associations & Organizations. In a nutshell, these organizations exist to advance a particular profession and support the interests of the people working in that profession. The benefits they offer range from growth and development opportunities in the form of conferences, workshops, online learning resources, and newsletters with relevant industry updates. And, of course, there are generally annual conferences at various locations across the country presenting highly valuable networking opportunities. These organizations can vary significantly in cost, as well as education requirements, so take your time to research what makes sense for you and your business.
- Business Coaches and Masterminds. Yes, there are a ton of coaches out there, and yes, there are a ton who really shouldn’t be out there. BUT, if you do your research, and if you take the time to follow them, read their stuff, especially the testimonials, you can hone in on the few that might be a fit for you. Then really pay attention. What content do they put out? Is it valuable to you? Does it make sense to you? If so, schedule some time to talk with them and figure out of it’s a fit for your personality, your business, and your budget.
Working with a coach one-on-one can be incredibly valuable, but if you work with a coach in a mastermind group program, you’ve also immediately opened yourself up to meeting new people who may need your services or who can refer you to someone new who does. My first clients were all people I met while involved in a business group coaching program.
Become the Business Butterfly
Being the social butterfly in the business world isn’t a bad thing at all, especially if you’re always authentically yourself. No one wants to interact with the used car salesman, but everyone loves talking with someone who is engaging, who listens, and who offers helpful tips.
So, the point is, find a couple things to go to and become the joiner. Bring your business cards, your elevator speech, and get out there and meet some new people!
What are your favorite ways of meeting new people? What do you find is your biggest hurdle when it comes to networking? Let us know because I, or someone else reading this, can offer some helpful advice.