Networking commentators agree that networking is an essential skill for most business people, but especially for entrepreneurs. Arguably to make, grow and maintain business relationships they are required to engage in various networking activities such as participation in chamber events, business breakfasts (also known as mixers elsewhere in the world), support groups, referral groups etc as well as in relevant virtual social networking forums. I always receive the following question during my presentations and workshops: Which networking forums or organisations do your recommend? Now, having worked as Senior Executive for The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Southern Region) for a significant part of my professional life, I have overseen the hosting of hundreds of networking functions and the establishment or revitalization of various peer support groups. I was always questioned on the value for participation or attendance. It was this “to-the-point” questioning that continues to shape my mindset today in teaching business networking.
The average business professionals such as accountants, financial advisors, entrepreneurs and others are increasingly faced by a challenge to get maximum benefit for time invested in any initiative which includes the participation in networking activities and organisations. Allow me to share the perception about doing business in Cape Town. It is generally believed that Cape Town’s business decision-making processes are extremely laid back in comparison with cities elsewhere in South Africa, in particular Johannesburg. One cannot argue that our popular laid back holiday destination, frequented by hundreds of international holiday-makers, enjoying the glorious sun, sea and Table Mountain, does not impact on of the mindset and attitude of local businesspersons.
This brings me to the Fine Women Network, established a year or so ago in Cape Town. As an authority on the subject of networking and as a passionate networker, I frequent many networking forums. I first attended The Fine Women Network early last year and was subsequently invited as a guest speaker on the subject “Discover The Power of Business Networking” and other related topics thereafter due to popular demand. So I had ample insight to interact with the attendees and as a result continue to recommend this forum as one of the places to network. But this forum also confirmed what I had known and articulated before .i.e. that not all Capetonians are laid back. What happened? Well, I was invited to be the first speaker for this year and despite the holiday vibe during January, the forum was over subscribed! Lesson one: Never take perception as a reality, always make an effort to find out for yourself.
This experience has prompted me to suggest a few tips to consider before you decide to invest your effort, time and money in a specific networking forum as part of your overall business networking strategy. In doing so, I have also done research on the advice offered by other experts and I hope that the following tips will help you with making a decision about the appropriate networking forum for you:
Identify your business networking objectives: I want to grow my business, obtain professional support, access resources etc.
Determine the ideal contacts you would need to make and think about relationships that you will have to build.
Equip yourself with the required skills and techniques to make ideal contacts and build relationships.
Next, you need to determine where you are likely to find your ideal contacts. Compile a list of different networking groups that are currently in the area, or areas where you would like to do business. Do research to find out about how they operate. Ask other business owners what groups they attend and ask if they will invite you as a guest so that you can find out more about the group. Do they offer what you are looking for? Do they have an opening for someone in your field? Do they allow more than one person offering a similar service to participate?
Obtain information about the groups’ or organisations’ operating standards and some may even have a code of conduct. Make sure that you are comfortable with it as you will recommend your other contacts and clients to participate in the group or organisation and/or use the member services.
Next, look at the group owners’ marketing efforts. Do they promote the group in a positive way? Do they have a regular emphasis on new members? Are they genuinely and sincerely interested in your success? Are they mainly focused on collecting attendance or membership fees as well as the promotion of other products and services offered by them? Do they stress loyalty of regular attendance and participation? These are all factors you should consider after you have attended one or two sessions and when you meet with them.
Certain groups stress the importance of loyalty within the group because of the importance of credibility and trust. Where the emphasis on social interactions is very high you need to be super efficient to make contacts and build relationships. People do business with people they know, like and trust. Remember to have an attitude to “giving and helping others first “.
Compile a networking budget, including a budget of your time. This will keep you from becoming financially overextended and networking will not become a “burden” on your time as you will see it as an investment in growing your business.
Remember that some groups are more social in nature while others are more formal-business like. It is important that you feel comfortable with the style of the group if you are going to develop the kinds of relationships that will lead to the greatest benefit for yourself and the other members. So why did The Fine Women Network grow at such a remarkable rate and what is the attraction? Initially, it was established as a regular forum to network (Cape Town) through monthly breakfast meetings. The owners Patti and Emily Graham are passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and they take a personal interest in every individual member. They understand the rewards of giving and they have added a new range of offerings including workshops and training to give aspiring and existing entrepreneurs the edge. I encourage you to visit their website www.finewomen.co.za and you will see that Cape Town entrepreneurs are doing more than networking! Visit www.businessnetworkingsouthafrica.co.za to see Karl in action, see what Karl’s clients says, book Karl to speak or to do in-company training, attend a public event, subscribe to his newsletter or to use the free networking resources.
Copyright 2008 by Karl Smith
This article may be copied or republished with the following credit:
“By Karl Smith, South Africa’s Business Networking and Referral Coach, Cape Town, South Africa. +27 (0) 71 444 2210 “