It’s been about a year since this pandemic hit the United States. It’s been a wild ride. I think all of us are missing hugs, and meetings, and networking, and in-person human interaction of all kinds. In order to get back to a little bit of what I consider to be normal, vaccination is going to help. My wife just got her first shot yesterday and my second shot’s coming up in a few weeks.

Now, I don’t know where you stand on that, but my wife and I are personally looking forward to getting back to something closer to normalcy.

While I was running my business a handful of years ago, I used to get out and network a lot. As a matter of fact, I used to go to upwards of 20 networking events per month. That’s a lot of networking.

Today, I want to share with you some good lessons learned during this past year. If you want to grow your business, you have to learn how to network better.

The ROI of Networking

During this lockdown, there has been a lot of new networking opportunities online. I would find many new groups and give them a try. And many times I would go to them once a week, once every other week, or once a month, but it still took time and it was very much like the old networking that I did. I put in a lot of effort, but I really didn’t see a lot of return on that investment.

I’ve learned over the course of the years that it takes a while for networking to really kick in. I’ll give you an example. I was part of a BNI group, which is Business Networking International. And this group was a big group of about 40 people that met every single week out of the year. Now, these groups are paid for groups, so it cost me about $1000 with the fees and other networking meeting expenses, like they had a Christmas party, so buying gifts and all that stuff.

This group met 50 weeks out of the year, meaning that at my lowest rate of $100 an hour, it would take me about three hours to leave, go to the meeting, and come home. That means I had $300 I could not bill, which was $15,000 a year in lost revenue. In my world, I often talk about the fact that I should be making $3 for every $1 I spend marketing or networking, and when you add in the other $1,500 for gas and food and other expenses, it costs me around $17,500 a year to be part of that BNI group. My expectation is I should have made $50,000 in additional sales to make it worth my time. But I’m here to tell you it didn’t even come close. I was lucky if I made close to half of that.

I want to talk about what you need to do. What kind of networking is going to give you the results that are worth your time and energy.

Meet Me Online

I don’t know about you, but depending on what you do, most networking can take somewhere between two weeks to two years to start paying off. That’s something I always remind myself, if I’m going to join a group, I’m going to stick with it for two years. Not the ones I did during the pandemic, but the ones that I am absolutely committed to.

The second thing is, you have to be consistent in order to get anything out of it. Just showing up occasionally will not bear fruit. And often, you have to invest in educating people inside of the group on what you do and what makes you special. Now, you can do this inside the group if they give you an opportunity to give presentations, but usually, it means investing in one-on-ones, which is additional time.

And you want to make sure that you’re doing one-on-ones with people that would have value to you and the people around you.

Now, there are three kinds of groups or three kinds of referrals that networking can provide. I call these the maven, the cohortionist, and the connector.

The Maven

The maven is the kind of group where you gather intelligence about people who you get to know, like, and trust and can share their business with other people. An example of this is I have a local networking group in my neighborhood, and we have a Facebook group. People ask, “Does anybody have a good plumber, a good handyman, a good insurance person?” And you can go on there and say, “Yes, I met this person and I know, like, and trust them.”

The key thing about that is, many of these local groups are filled with network marketing people, contractors, realtors, financial services people, not necessarily people that are going to be asked for in these groups. But I call this the maven because you may meet a multitude of people that you can maybe recommend. There may be three different plumbers or three different HVAC people and let people choose the best fit for them. So you have the opportunity to be a resource. There’s nothing wrong with that type of networking, but it’s not going to grow your business.

The Cohortionist

The second type of group I called the cohortionist, and the reason for that is you meet people who can become cohorts. People that can use your business, and maybe you can use theirs. In the BNI group, there was an SEO person, a video person, people that I could use their services to promote mine, and vice versa.

But the key thing around that group is there were a ton of contractors, and they would blend together. So the electrician would use the plumber and the carpet repair person, or they might do the same thing, but bring those people in to do specific or very unique things. It created a cohort of people that could support each other.

And those are great groups, but a lot of the time you might have to change your product offerings to blend those in. For example, I don’t necessarily sell SEO services, but if a client asks for it, I can help by bringing in somebody else who can.

The Connector

The last type of group is what I call the connector. This is a specialty-type of networking group. It could be something where you are talking with people who are selling to your ideal client already. They just sell a completely different service where you can actually become a much stronger power partner.

An example of this kind of thing is I’m in a networking group where there is a sales consultant and my marketing can help his sales team sell more things, but I don’t do sales so I may bring in that consultant to help one of my clients if they have issues with their sales team.

This is a place where you meet people you can refer to each other to support or buy from and the needs for your services that you provide enhance what they do. And the best way to build that know, like, and trust is to provide referrals to people first and then they get to know, like, and trust you enough where they may refer you to their own clients.

Final Thoughts

I want to leave you with a few final thoughts. And the first one is, givers, gain. The more referrals you give, the better chance of reciprocation.

Number two, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

And finally, networking is beneficial, but the right networking can help you scale your business faster. So get out there and start connecting.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Comment below and share your thoughts, ideas, or questions about how you can network better. Have you had to overcome any of the presented concepts? What worked and what did not live up to expectations? Do you have any ideas or advice you could share?