Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Networking: A Business Basic Worth Revisiting

I've had networking on my mind this week. And by networking, I mean the good old-fashioned,  face-to-face variety. Amid the myriad of things you must do when launching a business (or maintaining a business, or growing a business!) is networking until you think you can't possibly smile anymore. And then, networking some more. While I'm clearly a huge fan of social media and other promotions, nothing beats getting your face out there and forming personal connections. 

Yes, this is Business 101. Yet the subject of networking has come up randomly in several conversations this week and I found a common feeling among a variety of business professionals: networking is, at best, tolerable and, at worst, miserable, for one main reason: too many groups that claim to be for networking really amount to private clubs. As one businesswoman so hilariously said to me this week about a certain local business "networking" group: "I stopped going; they're so clique-y that I forever felt like the fat girl at the junior high school dance." I've had my own similar experience with a particular women's group that I can only describe as slightly less inclusive than the characters in the film Mean Girls

Baffling, isn't it? The basic idea of networking is to expand your contacts and, ultimately, grow your business. And, especially in this economy, who doesn't need to do a little of that?

I offer up as a positive example the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. Admittedly, after said experience with the "Mean Girls", I most definitely fell into the networking-is-a-necessary-evil category. This week, however, I walked into a Chamber event, knowing not a soul in the room, and was met by an "ambassador" Terri Abbruzzese of Warwick RI-based PuroClean. Terri introduced me around and generally made sure I felt comfortable and welcome. Helping her in that task was, well, pretty much everyone else at the event. Ahhh, I thought. A networking event where people actually want to network. Heaven!

I understand from my own experience in groups where I was a long-standing member... it is all too easy to fall into the comfort zone of chatting with those you already know. But, consider: by not introducing yourself to that fat girl at the junior high school dance, you just might have missed out on meeting the love of your life or the most loyal best friend of your life. Don't similarly let opportunity slip away for your business.

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