I don't belong to BNI – or any other official networking groups.
Someday, I might decide to join. I've been attending a local BNI group and considering whether it's a good fit for me. The jury is still out on that. Not because they aren't awesome people (they really seem to be) – just because I want to be sure it's the right investment of time and resources for me and my business.
In case you aren't in the BNI loop, BNI is a networking and leads sharing group. Essentially, each member becomes a “salesperson” on behalf of the other members in the group. So, when I'm at a party and someone mentions they are building a new house, I tell them about my amazing window coverings consultant friend (who is in my BNI group). At some point, my window coverings consultant friend will be at a home show and someone will be looking for a speaking coach. She will then hand the card over of her amazing speaking coach friend (that's me!) It's a cool concept and I know quite a few people who have built a large chunk of their business through the BNI connections.
BNI isn't the only group like this, of course. But the gist is the same: gather with others who are looking to grow their businesses and support one another in that effort.
Pretty cool, right?
And yet, so many of these “networking” events just feel… strange. Off.
For much of my early business life, I avoided them because of this. Until, at one of the women's networking groups I attended, I somehow got talked into being on the programs committee. At first I spent most of my time dreaming of ways I could get out of this new commitment I didn't really mean to make.
Then something unexpected happened.
As I invested time and energy in my role on the leadership team, I started to really care about the programs and speakers we put on the agenda. I began to use my great strengths in research and planning to put together what would later be called by the board and members, “our best program lineup ever!” I began to get to know the leadership in the organization on a much deeper and more real level. In a way I never had before, I began really looking forward to the monthly meetings.
I also began signing on clients at a pace that surprised me.
At one point, I stopped to check in with myself about what had changed so much in my experience of networking at this group. Why was I enjoying it so much more – and why were clients coming to me without my really trying very hard?
It was then that I realized, I had stopped “networking” and I had simply begun doing what came completely naturally to me:
connecting with lovely, brilliant people and contributing from my greatest strengths. No wonder I was having such a great time.
I wasn't “networking” at all – at least not in that contrived way I avoided for so long.
As my role in the organization shined a light on my strengths – and added greater visibility into me and my work overall – conversations and connections across the membership became more natural. Since we do business with people we know, like and trust, this lead to more clients coming my way.
I'm wondering – is there anywhere that you have been showing up (or not) where you can quit “networking” and start making real connections and contributing from your most awesome strengths?
I triple dog dare you to make this switch in your approach. Send me a note and tell me what happens for you, will you?
Meantime, I'm continuing my own search for the right place to get really connected and make a meaningful difference with other business people here in my new town across the country. Because I'm just not into “networking” anymore.
Thanks to RedHead5147 on Flickr for this slice of life networking image.
Amazing how connecting with interesting people and building relationships will make a difference.
It’s just the truth, isn’t it? Thanks for engaging, Cindy.
Indeed. You must find the right places to be yourself and when you do that ~ the gates open up!! Thanks for the reinforcement 🙂
Plus, it’s so much more interesting and fulfilling showing up all real and fully. Thanks for being here, Laura 🙂
Thanks so much for this Michelle! A breath of fresh air!
I worked really hard at BNI for a solid 8 months, and it really didn’t work for me – nor did any other similar referral groups I attended. Like you, I have to feel a connection, and know that I can contribute in a meaningful way, that plays on my strengths.
I think I go to groups that are more aligned with me now, so let’s see what happens!
I would love to hear how your more aligned group involvement plays out for you, personally and professionally, Sarada. Thanks for sharing your experience here.
Very well said, Michelle.
I personally do not network. I’ve found that the local groups I’ve joined in the past do not lead to building relationships. The exception was a very small group i joined in 2009. But, they’ve disbanded. Oh well. May be it is time to give it a try again.
I do find such a great amount of variability among groups. It seems to come down to my own ability to see ways I can authentically make a contribution to the group and then getting meaningfully involved, while making sure to monitor my time so I don’t give away too much and actually lose traction on business. It is really important that the people in the group recognize and value what we can bring because this allows us to make a big impact on the group’s success – and it naturally attracts members of the group as clients as well. Do give it a try again! I’d love to know what comes of it.
Michelle – you made such a valuable point about finding the right fit for you. I’ve been heavily networking since January and have learned some valuable lessons. I’m in the process of making some big shifts and trying some new groups because it can be hard to find just the right place.