The following is an excerpt from “Confessions of an Introvert - The Shy Girl’s Guide to Business Success” by Meghan Wier. Preorders of "Confessions of an Introvert" will be taken starting in September 2005. For more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org .
FINDING A COMFORTABLE “HOME BASE” FOR NETWORKING
There are almost as many different ways to network as there are people. You may find that you like only one type, or you may like them all, and you will find vast differences between groups, even within chapters of the same organization. So, shop around for the best fit. This will be your “home base”—the place that you can feel most comfortable, on your own turf and meet with the most people at once.
Generally group networking they can be categorized into three types, formal, semi-formal, and informal.
Formal Networking Groups
Formal groups meet for the purpose of networking and sharing leads or referrals. Often these groups offer new friendships, support, and other important information about things going on in business or the community or advice. These groups generally require regular attendance, and dues. The benefit to a formal Networking Group is that you are able to build strong networks with the other members. You will see the same people each week/month and get to know them well. They may only allow one person per industry to be a member, so there is no competition. The downsides can include the time commitment, strict policies, and dues. I have found that the right formal group can make a huge difference in both my ability to increase my networking skills, but also to the growth of my business. These groups are a great source for referral business.
The Semiformal groups meet usually for education and also include some sort of networking element, such as a seminar, or discussion. There are many groups such as “Women in Communications” or the National Association of Women Business Owners, (NAWBO), or Alumni Associations fit into this category. These are great groups especially for networking within your industry, or amongst your peers. The downsides may include non-exclusivity in your industry, and a lack of referral business because others in the group do what you do, and the meetings don’t specifically call for referrals.
Informal groups tend to create themselves, a mother’s group, a bunch of friends that get together for coffee, or buddies from school. These types of groups provide a great networking opportunity, especially if you pay attention. Your friends, family and co-workers all have information they need and information you want, sometime you just need to listen harder, and ask the right questions.
Informal groups are beneficial because leads and referrals come naturally, and the environment is very casual. But you may also have to work to keep the group going, as attendance generally isn’t required and the meetings unstructured. Expect that not everyone in the group will have the same agenda, and don’t be afraid to express your objectives for the group to keep it productive.
You may choose one type or multiple types of groups. The best way to find the place for you is to visit several different types of meetings, but choose based on your interests. Go to a “BNI” meeting, or a “West-siders” group. Many times these groups have a “visitor host” or greeting committee. Connect with these people immediately. I recommend also bringing a friend, especially an outgoing friend, or going to a meeting with someone who is already a member and who will introduce you to the other members, and answer any questions that you have.
No matter what kind of group, make sure it makes sense for you to be to there—your time is valuable, make it worth it! The agenda must fit your needs and the people in the group must have similar goals and interests.
(c) 2005 Meghan Wier