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Oh, the Places You’ll Network!

If you want to build priceless business relationships, you’ve first got to crack the networking code. How can you get started? First, research the various networking options open to you. Then, commit to a networking strategy. Get out and about and reach out. Be proactive. You’ll find opportunities for business relationships everywhere. On planes, trains and automobiles. On golden pond and even on the bridge on the River Kwai. (Sorry, I got carried away with the movie references, but you get the point.)

Look for groups and events where networking is encouraged. People expect to make new contacts and exchange business cards at professional gatherings, so it’s a great place to start. However, since membership fees in professional organizations can be expensive, consider your affiliations carefully. Most groups will allow you to attend at least one event as a non-member. Also keep in mind that you shouldn’t join any business organization unless you can commit to being an active member for at least one year. These things take time.

Another caveat: many people go to business networking events with the wrong focus—they make it clear that they’re only interested in themselves and what you can do for them. Be on guard, or you’ll end up trapped, stoically listening to a bunch of pitches instead of engaging people in mutually beneficial, meaningful conversations.

Time to get started. Following are 12 proven places to network:
  1. Organizations to which you already belong (i.e., homeowner's association, office parties, house of worship, PTA, etc.)
  2. Professional trade associations
  3. Local and national trade shows, conventions and conferences
  4. Your best customers’ trade organizations. (If the fine people who already use your products/services belong to these organizations, it’s likely that other members might want to give you business as well. Ask to address the membership; perhaps you can present a breakout session or seminar related to the business.)
  5. Chamber of Commerce
  6. Golf/sports clubs
  7. Houses of worship. (I am NOT suggesting that you join a church or synagogue only for the business opportunities. But let’s face it—many solid business relationships are forged in the pews and folding chairs of spiritual organizations.) Go for the right reasons and let your light shine.
  8. Workshops, classes and seminars
  9. College alumni associations
  10. Referrals/leads groups
  11. Fraternal organizations—Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Elks, Moose. (I know there is an animal joke in there somewhere.)
  12. Become a volunteer. This is a true “win/win.” You’ll help others while helping your business. Look for volunteer opportunities that will allow you to show off your skills and personality and to meet and interact with new contacts.

Six ways to volunteer:

1. Serve on a committee for your professional association. You can help shape the association’s policy, as well as work closely with, and learn from, experts in your field.

2. Chair a committee or run for office at your local Chamber of Commerce. People will experience your leadership, communication and organizational skills in action.

3. Man (or woman) the reception desk at your best customer’s next trade organization gathering. You will meet potential customers as they sign in.

4. Help direct people to the right rooms at state and national trade shows, conventions and conferences.

5. Be a greeter at a networking group meeting. The greeter spot is ideal if you consider yourself to be somewhat shy, because the title alone forces you to connect. Plus, as a greeter, there is an automatic assumption that you are “in the know” and others will naturally come to you for information and assistance.

6. Join the board of your favorite charity. You will likely connect with key industry leaders and gain a reputation as a leader yourself.