How To: Network With A Purpose

by Shonali Burke on June 25, 2010

Business owners know that connecting with other executives, mentors, and industry experts must be a key component of a growth strategy.

They also know that there aren’t enough hours in the work-week to attend every networking function that they would like to attend – especially in the DC region where there could be 8-10 high-profile, competing networking events on any given day. There are so many events now in this area that an individual could attend a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and reception event every day of the week and still not make the rounds to every event out there.

So how does one decide where and with whom they should spend their valuable time?

This was one of the excellent questions I received this past weekend when I presented at the inaugural Women Grow Business Bootcamp (photo of Marissa at the boot camp by Shashi Bellamkonda (cc), www.shashi.name | Social Media Swami | www.networksolutions.com).  In response to that question, I reflected on the process I use to evaluate organization membership.

First, analyze your objectives for joining specific organizations, and for attending specific events.

Some of the reasons people attend networking events or join networking groups include:

  • Learning/education
  • Business development/lead generation
  • Meeting specific individuals that are affiliated with a specific group
  • Competitive analysis
  • Brand-building
  • Taking a leadership position (committee member, Board member)
  • Expanding your social circle
  • Emotional support/personal connections

Every decision a business owner makes must be tied to the strategic objectives for the company’s growth. This includes evaluating which networking organizations and functions are most closely aligned with your strategic objectives.

Second, create a budget for networking and membership.

When considering the budget, it’s important to determine how you will measure a return on investment.

If a membership costs $2,000/year, are you anticipating contracts (through new contacts) that will exceed the $2,000 plus the cost of doing business? Are you expecting to meet a certain number of strategic partners? Are you working to build your brand recognition? Do you anticipate learning about specific topics that are relevant to your overall business strategy?

It’s important to factor in additional expenses that are outside membership fees, including fees associated with activities such as networking breakfasts, lunches or dinners, awards ceremonies, retreats, and conferences.

Third, realistically determine how much time you can dedicate to networking, and who else in your organization can/wants to participate.

Candidly assess your schedule and the competing demands in your life. We’ve all joined organizations with the best intentions of attending the majority of events, but often business and life gets in the way of networking. For example, if an organization hosts monthly lunches that run from 11:00 – 1:00, realistically you should set aside 4 hours of downtime to attend that event.

While the event may “feel good” and give you an opportunity to connect with interesting, enjoyable people, at the end of the day, does it impact your bottom line?

There is an “opportunity cost” to attend functions. What are you NOT able to do because you are attending this events? Write proposals? Meet with customers? Engage with your employees?

Your time is valuable, and the allocation of that time is either an expense or investment.

Fourth, correlate your organization affiliations to your growth strategy.

In other words, visualize where your company will be a year from now, and determine which groups can help you get there. Which groups will connect you with the people you need to meet your goals? You shouldn’t join a group based on where you are today.

Rather, you should join a group based on the future vision of your company, so that you can grow into your group, and your group to foster your growth.

Fifth, make your decisions based on logic.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the “fun” of networking when we are trying on a regularly scheduled event or organization for size and the right fit …

To read more of Marissa’s column, check it out at the DC Women’s Entrepreneurship Examiner, from where it’s been excerpted with permission and minor edits.

More from Women Grow Business:

Guest contributor Marissa Levin is Founder and CEO of Information Experts. Marissa was named a 2008 BRAVO Award winner, and a Smart100 CEO for both 2009 and 2010, by SmartCEO Magazine (which honors the region’s 25 most influential women CEOs); recently she was listed in Washington’s 100 Technology Titans by Washingtonian Magazine. She is also the DC Women’s Entrepreneurship Examiner. Describing her true passion as “helping other business owners be successful with their own business growth,” Marissa can be reached through her blog Marissa Levin.

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