By Michael Gunther

Over the last several weeks, I’ve heard many business owners and other professionals complain about networking obligations such as lead groups, chamber mixers and other association events. Many of these individuals said they felt networking was a waste of time and that they never get any results.

I questioned them further to gain a better understanding of why they undervalued these events. I discovered that many of them had been forced to become more involved due to the slowdown in the economy which required their organizations to be more proactive with lead generation. Some of them were completely new to the process and they felt awkward and ill-prepared to attend the events successfully.

Interestingly enough, as I was listening to all these grumblings, our local Chamber of Commerce released their annual member survey and the number one item members valued and wanted more of was: networking events. So why the discrepancy?

First, I think people expect immediate results. They’ve been to a couple of events and haven’t found any new leads, so they give up and believe the events are not worth their time.

Business is about relationships. Solid business relationships take time to develop, to build mutual trust and respect between both parties. You can’t expect leads to come pouring in after attending a few meetings. Members want to see regular participation and know individuals are committed to not just getting business but to the organization or association itself. No one wants a fly-by-night sales person—sweeping in, fishing for leads, never to be seen again. Join a group that you believe is the right one for you and your business; be active and be patient—remember it was the turtle that won the race with a consistent, steady pace.

Second, I believe too often people attend these events with no goals or strategies in place. They have no plan defining what they want to gain or what they hope to contribute.

In my opinion, it is a waste of time to attend networking events without a clear strategy of what you hope to accomplish. For instance, how many new leads are you going to identify? How many strategic partners do you want to meet? What do you hope to learn? Better yet, how many people are you going to try to connect to other people—building your reputation as a resourceful contact?

Change how you participate and increase your success rate just by asking some simple questions. You’ll create standards to measure your achievements and you’ll use your time more wisely. Without a focus at these events, many people will leave empty handed, with no new prospects, and no new knowledge gained. Without the measurements, networking could be perceived as a waste of time.

Business relationship networking is really no different than building relationships in one’s personal life. In my family, we have many ongoing events—with more than 50 immediate family members! Between birthdays, weddings, camping trips, picnics, etc., it’s impossible to get closely connected to everyone. But the family members who attend the most events, including our annual camping trip, do tend to be closer with one another. They’ve been able to spend more time together, and have built stronger bonds, gaining a better understanding of each other’s lives. It seems more difficult to connect to the family members who participate less—when you only see or talk to someone once or twice a year the relationship just isn’t going to be very deep. The same holds true in business networking.

The Bottom Line

If you want to build a consistent flow of business, a solid networking strategy must be in place that is steady, measureable and relevant. Successful networking professionals understand the long term value of building strong relationships, and they are not only looking to generate leads for themselves, but committed to helping other members succeed.

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