Networking is one of the most effective ways to further your career. To not network is to miss out on the pulse, to miss the flow of opportunity and change. Making valuable professional connections and contributing to the exchange of ideas and solutions with other thought leaders in a networking setting strengthens the value proposition for all involved.
Speaking from personal experience, however, it’s important to note that not all networking events and groups are the same. In fact, that’s exactly why I decided to start my own networking group. With more than 25 years of experience in franchising as both an investor and consultant, some of the greatest business lessons and professional breakthroughs I’ve experienced to this day have come from networking with fellow professionals outside of my industry.
For several years now, I’ve had the chance to run an inclusive networking group made of extremely talented, authentic and resourceful professionals and entrepreneurs in southwest Wisconsin. Our networking group meetings are held monthly, in tandem with larger thought leadership networking events that are generally of topical relevance or bear contextual importance to the current economic or business landscape.
When it comes to successful networking, the secret is simple. The key is to network with purpose. Here are the tips that I advise my group to consider to make the most of each networking session:
Leave competition at the door
When attending a networking group or event, it’s important to abandon your ego and to view fellow attendees as collaborators and resources rather than competitors. At the beginning of each networking group I lead, I remind attendees that we’re all on the same team and that by working together and sharing experiences and resources, every attendee will leave the networking session with a stronger value proposition.
Come with an open mind
Network through conversations with real people. Be willing to discuss the good and bad in business, such as maintaining strong cultures, staffing challenges and ask for advice if you need it. I strongly recommend attending networking sessions when you have the
ability to invest time and emotion into the conversation – that’s when you’ll get the most out of it. In fact, most of the folks at our networking group view it as a business support group.
Embrace the abundance mindset
In addition to keeping an open mind, the most successful networkers start each conversation with an abundance mentality. Developing that type of mindset in both business and life leads to more sincere conversations and greatly influences your ability to succeed as a business owner and/or professional. A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet – how can you help them succeed?
Bring your toolbox
Knowledge is power, and there’s plenty of knowledge that each of us holds that can be beneficial to others. Whether you’ve owned your business for 45 years or you’ve pursued careers in various corporate roles and industries, every individual has professional experiences and lessons that can offer value to others. Approach networking with the idea of what you can bring to the table, not what you can take away from it.
Follow up with intention and authenticity
There’s more to networking than exchanging business cards and contact information. Be genuine and show intention in your follow-up conversations. It’s important to nurture the connections you make and build your professional relationships with authenticity.
Successful networking groups evolve
Every group has a “shelf life” of utility for its members and all successful networking groups should evolve to meet the changing needs of the group. That issue of utility, and thus shelf life, sticks with me through each meeting. If it isn’t adding value, people will migrate out. If they are growing and evolving because of the support in the group, they will stay. That is why I try to keep mine relevant to every attendee by knowing what they do, why they’re there and what specific value they can offer.
As you build your trusted network of personal and professional contacts, find opportunities and groups that best align with what you need and what you can offer as a professional. Think outside the box! Be open-minded. Try something new. Forge a new path. Network with intention.
Check out my full contributor article in In Business Madison.