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In recent year's specific groups, clubs, and associations have been formed for the express purpose of helping their members' network with each other. Some of the groups have been formed to develop networks of business contacts. Others exist as self-help groups or support groups using networking techniques to accomplish their goals. Still others meet in a structured way to share knowledge or skills.
Let's take a look at several unique and successful groups and learn how they use a formal structure to help network their way to success.
"After Hours" Networking
Perhaps the most best known and most popular structured networking groups are those sometimes called "after hours" get together or business card exchanges or "swaps." These groups most often are not stand-alone groups but are sponsored by some other larger and more generalized organization. Typically it might be a local Chamber of Commerce, Visitor and Convention Bureau, YMCA/YWCA, or a business, social or civic club.
The format is informal. Most often the sponsoring organization provides a meeting place for an after-hour gathering. Refreshments are often included, either with or without cost to the attendees, and of course, the most important element of all is provided - the name tag.
Beyond that, the networking is up to those who attend, with little help from the sponsors. The idea is to socialize, to meet people in an atmosphere where everyone knows that they are expected to communicate with total strangers for the express purpose of satisfying some networking need. The participants bring that essential networking tool to the meeting - their business cards.
Those who participate in these after-hours gatherings vary in their networking intensity, from casual to aggressive to over bearing. The results most often reflect the networking approach. The business card exchange concept has many pluses. It provides both the place and the social atmosphere to seriously network.
Do Business Card Exchanges Really Work?
Yes they do, because of a continuing group of new participants there seems always to be a divergent enough group to provide viable prospects for those who attend. The effective exchange of cards in the setting of a structured "exchange" is based on the complete concept of networking. You just begin with the card exchange. From there, you have to, in as short a time as possible, develop a rapport with those people who you perceive to be good additions to your network. Then you should make notes on their business cards so you can add their names to your database. At this point the networking process continues, using all of the techniques outlined in these chapters.
Business Networking Clubs
Business networking clubs are much more structured, meeting on a regular monthly basis and most often charging membership fees or dues annually or per meeting. Frequently these clubs meet in the morning, but this early meeting time often rates mixed reviews. The "early birds" feel that they get charged-up and ready to take on the world following a networking session. The "night people" reluctantly accept the sunrise sessions, recognizing that they'll get business by making the 7:00 am sacrifice. Some of the clubs are run on a co-op basis but most are run for profit.
The organizers not only provide the meeting place and opportunity for a meal (paid for by the members) but they also impose rules and regulations. Frequently the number of members per chapter is strictly limited. Some clubs admit only one member representing a particular business or profession. Organizers or officers will often make inspection trips to applicants' places of business to make sure that they conform to expected standards.
Some clubs require regular attendance and expect members to regularly exchange leads. Still another possible requirement is that members are expected to give a short program on their product or service, which provides added interest and a member benefit that helps justify fees.
In order to stimulate acquaintanceship, some clubs require members to shake hands and or exchange business cards with everyone in attendance. To insure compliance there are secret greeters; if you miss greeting them you are fined.
Membership in the networking club is made up of business and professional people. At meetings you'll find retailers, craftspeople and salespeople for every imaginable product and service. Professionals including doctors, dentists, architects, accountants and lawyers are attracted to networking clubs as a means of getting new clients without overt advertising.
Each member can not only network with the expectation of getting business from fellow members (a big inducement to membership) but they can also expect to get leads from members for prospects outside the club. If for example, a real estate member has just sold a house, he or she will pass the name of the buyer along to others in the group who has products or services that might be used by the new homeowner.
Le Tip International, Inc
LeTip International, Inc. is a California based network of networking clubs typical of the many clubs springing up around the country. LeTip has more than five hundred chapters across the USA and Canada and is one of the largest organizations in the country. The organization says it is committed to putting "Dollars in Your pocket." LeTip was founded by Ken Peterson, a life insurance broker 1978.
Professional Women's Network
Another approach to serious networking is the Professional Women's Network of Honolulu, Hawaii. The group started in 1978 with only six to eight members. Their purpose was to provide mutual support and to exchange business ideas, leads and information.
Interest in the group proved so strong that within six months larger luncheon meetings with speakers were held. The club adopted by-laws, initiated a membership program and had its "official" beginning with 56 charter members. Today there are more than 250 professional women included in the group's membership.
The Network is a group of dynamic professional women who are actively seeking ways to expand their business position in the Hawaii market place. The Network's Objectives are to promote the exchange of professional ideas and to provide an opportunity to share experiences of Hawaii's unique market place. The Professional Women's Network continues to grow each year, providing the women of Hawaii the opportunity for intellectual enrichment and professional enhancement in a business forum.
Commercial networks, developed on a for profit basis, offer aid to those seeking professional help in a wide variety of fields. These networks put those looking for specific information in touch with individual people who might be of help. Commercial networking groups assess a charge based on online access to their substantial databases.
Professional Networking Groups
Whether you join an informal gathering of interested net-workers, a business card exchange, a structured club, or a commercial information exchange group, join up for increased networking success.
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