Entrepreneurial networking has become an art form if you ask me.  There seems to be no shortage in ways to network these days which is the good news.  Maybe the not so good news is that our choices of networking may be a bit overwhelming and confusing too.  I mean, how does one decide on these key factors: first, how many networking groups should one belong to?  Is five too many?  Is two too few?  What is the “just right” factor?  A second question may be who do you want to network with?  Should you network with other people in your industry?  For instance, if you sell cosmetics, should you only hang out with others who sell cosmetics?  Still another factor at least for some of us is cost to network and benefit from the network experience.  I belong to several networking groups, some which are costly to join and to attend and others that are inexpensive but may not give me the benefit of networking with people who are likely to do business with me.

If this all sounds like a giant conundrum to you, then it’s time to do some soul searching as to what you are looking for in the networking game.  If your primary focus is to get known for selling a product or service, it may behoove you join several networking groups on a trial basis to see who’s in the group, and to find out what others are selling and if members find the group beneficial to their business.  A lot of networking groups will let you attend one or two of their meetings for the individual cost of the meeting (i.e. lunch) so that you can find out if this will be a good fit for you and your business.  Sometimes, networking groups look more like the “ladies who lunch” than an actual networking organization.  Find out if the people in the group are actually “selling” their products.  Are they making new contacts within the group and converting those contacts into sales? These are some tough questions and we may not like to appear pushy or indelicate when asking, however if we are going to invest money in a networking group, we want to be sure that it is a good fit for us.

I’ve also noticed that “birds of a feather” tend to flock together meaning that the same networking crowd belongs to several networking groups which is all well good and fine, but if our goal is to meet as many new people as possible to connect with, seeing the same familiar faces at each networking event may be comfortable, it is not helping us increase our numbers of new folks to meet.

Something that I am hyper-aware of is the time of day to network.  I am at my best from early morning to mid-afternoon, so going to an evening networking event is just about the worst thing I can think of.  I have little or no energy and meeting new people can just be a blur to me.  So, think about your “peak” time of day when you are at your best and try to make a good fit/connection with networking groups.

What about things like chamber of commerce mixers?  These types of events may be large in fact almost too large to really make good initial connections.  Remember, the goal of the chamber that is hosting the event is to sign up new members and the goal of a lot of the attendees is to garner as many business cards as they can to justify attendance, so these events may not be the best reasons for you to attend!  A good rule of thumb that I like to use when deciding if a mixer is a good investment of my time is to see a list of potential attendees.  If there are a lot of bigger companies attending and very few/no entrepreneurs attending, I may decide not to waste my time. However, it may be a great idea to attend one mixer just to get the “lay of the land” for future attendance decisions.

Shifting Networking Gears
The bottom line for most of us is to be prudent with our networking time and money.  While attendance may be fun and a way to get out of the house, if it isn’t bringing you new or added business, it may be time to move on to the next networking group.  Personal preference is the name of the game!