Choosing the right networking event, group, or organization
One undeniable fact every author must face is the reality of the clock. Twenty-four hours in a day; seven days in a week. Somehow, we have to fit it all in. So, I understand those who say they just don’t have time for networking. I also believe where there’s a will, you will find a way to make time. But if you live in a large metropolitan area like Phoenix, you can’t possibly attend every event. In fact, I just checked the Networking Phoenix site and counted 42 — YIKES, FORTY-TWO! — events scheduled for next Tuesday, a date on which Valley of the Sun Express Network, one of my member groups, is hosting its monthly meeting.
That’s a lot of competition for your time, energy, and money!
But Laura, just a few posts ago, you told us that your rule of thumb has always been that I can’t really begin to expect to see results from a group until I have attended long enough for people to miss me when I skip a meeting. If I can’t attend every meeting, how will I determine which ones to start with?
A fair question, indeed, my astute SBMs!* Time to put on your common-sense thinking cap and do some analysis. First, it helps if your community has an awesome site like Networking Phoenix, which has all the events aggregated for you in one place. If that’s not the case, you’ll have to do some research in your local paper (The Business Journal is a good source, if your town has one), online, and by asking around to the other authors and businesspeople you already know.
Then examine the components that will help you narrow down your selection.
PRICE. First, it helps to determine a monthly or quarterly networking budget. While free events like mixers can yield plentiful results, I would strongly advise making plans to pay for at least a couple events a month — but only you know what you can realistically budget for networking.
LOCATION. In some areas and/or communities, distance is not such a big deal. In the Phoenix Metro area, which covers nearly 1,000 square miles, distance can be significant factor in deciding on whether to attend an event and/or join a group.
TIME OF DAY. Some business owners I know prefer to network in the morning, because it leaves them free to do business the rest of the day. Many Phoenix-area groups seem to schedule lunchtime events, which make people-meeting easy but can tend to disrupt the day. Then there are no end to the mixers and cocktail hours which take place in the evening hours. Perhaps your schedule changes from day to day; so select the meetings that best fit your interests and work within your calendar.
OPEN/CLOSED GROUPS. Though you’re going out with the intention of meeting new people to grow your brand and your platform, it’s always a nice thing to attend events/groups where you already know one or two people. Some groups are closed, meaning they require that guests be invited by a member, while others are open and welcome all new people, regardless of how they come to the group. If there’s a closed group to which you’d like to be invited, it’s time to scan your LinkedIn connections and start expressing your interest to existing members of that group.
LEADS/NETWORKING GROUPS. There are a few important distinctions between a leads group and a general networking group. Most notably, the first goal of a leads group is to pass leads. They do this most successfully because they almost universally limit membership to one person from each industry. Additionally, every member is expected to refer business to others in the group BEFORE referring business to anyone else they may know who does the same kind of work. For instance, say your cousin is a real estate agent and you also have a real estate agent in your leads group. One day, your husband tells you his boss is looking to sell his house and asks if you know anyone. Your duty as a member of your leads group is to refer this business to your fellow leads group member before (or perhaps exclusive of) referring them to your cousin. Leads groups tend to work well for highly competitive industries, like real estate, insurance, and financial planning. I’m not certain how useful an author would find them.
Networking groups, on the other hand, tend not to limit membership by industry. Leads happen within them, but organic networking (as opposed to the specific passing of leads) is the primary focus of these types of groups.
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT GROUPS. Different still from networking groups, business development groups place a certain emphasis on teaching and/or enhancing their members’ business skills. They often feature speakers at their events and may also offer workshops or other opportunities to grow your business skills. Most also usually dedicate a portion of their meeting time to personal intros/networking.
AUTHOR/WRITING/PUBLISHING GROUPS. Depending on where you live, writing/author/publishing groups may be plentiful. In the Phoenix area we have the Scottsdale Society of Women Writers (formerly associated with the National Society of Women Writers), Arizona Book Publishers Association, and Arizona Authors Association, to name a few of the more prominent ones. As we discussed earlier, the benefits of attending groups like these are numerous and include things like spending time with others who share your passion, sharing tips and tricks of the trade, developing your knowledge of the publishing process, and sharing professional resources like editor or graphic design referrals.
SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS. These might be industry-specific groups, like the American Association of Office Nurses or the Financial Planners Association. They might be religious groups like American Christian Writers or those affiliated with particular denominations or houses of worship. They might be ethnically affiliated groups like Irish Networking Phoenix. They could be civic groups like Rotary or the National Organization for Women. If you have a specific interest (beyond writing and publishing), there’s probably a group out there for you somewhere. And if not, there’s probably someone else waiting for somebody to start one — maybe that somebody should be you! A good resource for researching and locating almost any kind of association is the Center for Association Leadership website.
SPEAKING ORGANIZATIONS. If you’re serious about growing your platform and you are not already an accomplished public speaker, Toastmasters should be one of the first groups you join. With 280,000 members participating in 13,500 clubs located in 116 countries around the world, it’s a good bet there’s a club near you. Not only will Toastmasters give you great practice at speaking in public, but it will also help you develop two essential L’s: listening and leadership. Additionally, it’s great networking! The Phoenix Book of Lists, published annually by The Phoenix Business Journal, consistently ranks Toastmasters as one of the top ten networking groups in the Phoenix area. On a personal note, of all the groups I’ve joined over the last 10+ years in Phoenix, some of my closest and longest-lasting friendships have come from my Toastmasters club.
If you’re already somewhat accomplished as a speaker and really want to move your speaking career forward, you may want to consider joining the National Speakers Association, which has 47 chapters across the continental US.
MEETUP GROUPS. Then there’s Meetup.com. The people who came up with this concept are pretty smart cookies! Meetup is the world’s largest online network of local groups. Their website makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting face-to-face. More than 9,000 groups get together in local communities every day. Whether it’s writing/publishing, personal development, stamp collecting, or hog calling, chances are you can find a Meetup near you on your specific topic of interest. And if there isn’t one, the site keeps a tally of those who’d be interested in joining one if someone — why not YOU? — started one.
The fact is that the only way you’ll know whether a group is for you is by visiting it. If you like the people and the energy, go once or twice. Try out a few different groups before you decide to join a formal organization that requires paid membership. And once you do join, make it a priority to attend your new group’s events.
By the way, though it’s thorough, this is NOT an exhaustive list. If you know an aspect of networking groups that I’ve overlooked, please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Next up, we’ll discuss setting goals to meet particular kinds of people at your next networking event.
*Savvy Book Marketer
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