Are you a member of a business networking group that doesn’t seem to be getting results, for anyone? There are a number of reasons that can contribute to a group’s poor performance; here is some of what I’ve learned from building, supporting, and participating in business networking groups over the last 18 years.
It’s too small. In Mike Macedonio’s book Truth or Delusion, Busting Networking’s Biggest Myths, he says if the purpose of the group is to pass business, then it’s better to be in a big one! What are the possibilities of a group of 35 over a group of 19? It’s not just a difference of 16 members, it’s the difference of 16 plus all of the people each of those 16 people know who they could potentially refer you to. In smaller groups, I see barely existing contact spheres struggle. Most referrals come from contact sphere members, those businesses who are complimentary to yours and not competing. You want to have a contact sphere at least 8 people deep, and meet with those members more often than the others to really capitalize on your referral opportunities.
It’s too social. It’s great to like the members in your group and even to hang out socially. However, when the social aspect becomes stronger than the business aspect, members no longer hold each other accountable.
I hear all the time “I love my fellow members,” yet they complain (usually with a disappointed sigh) that they don’t get business from the group, or they’re not getting enough referrals. A sure sign that the group is too social is when it loses its focus on stats/results. The number one reason members join a business networking group is to grow their business. Successful businesses have great metrics. Thriving chapters who pass tons of business have great relationships among members, frequently deeper than the relationships in the more social groups because the members focus on helping each other grow their businesses to enhance their lives.
There’s no education. One of my clients is in a network that provides no members education. Once he enrolled in my Referrals For Life® program and started learning all the referral strategies I teach, he began to see so many untapped opportunities in his group; opportunities other members do not even know to look for because they don’t have the education. A group that learns together earns together. One of the most successful networking groups in my area hosts two big education events for their members annually and they encourage participation in other events throughout the year. They pass $2M-$4M in referral business annually.
Attendance sucks. You know your networking group is in trouble when members don’t even bother to show up.
Members aren’t referable. If you can’t give a referral to a member because you’re worried it would damage your reputation, they wouldn’t take care of the referral in a professional manner, or you don’t even think they’re really qualified to deliver the services they offer, this is a problem! This also includes members not representing their primary business. When a member is not representing their primary profession, or they’re representing a business that is more hobby than career, they aren’t going to put in the effort that they would if their livelihood relied on their success.
The group isn’t referable. Having trouble getting members to bring visitors? That’s a red flag your group isn’t referable. Members bring visitors when they are proud of and excited about the group. You will not have that pride and excitement – or referability – if: morale is low, attendance is low, the quality of the businesses represented is poor, no one greets you when you walk in the door, no one is passing business, or more people are leaving the group than joining. Members are worried that something embarrassing would happen while their visitor was there, or the lack of activity, or the casual/not-so-professional environment would really turn off an actual smart business person.
Apathy. When members can’t be bothered to lift a finger to contribute, you know your group is in trouble. Passing business and referrals takes effort and intention.
How to turn things around….
Focus on growth. The more the merrier! Bring new people into the group. Invite, invite, invite! (See my other articles on how to invite!) Guests bring energy, new connections, and business! A constant stream of visitors coming through is a great sign of a healthy and thriving networking group. Growth also includes increasing member attendance and members are more likely to attend when there are more opportunities in the room. Bringing guests increases the opportunities to your members because the more people in attendance the more opportunities for business!
Create a Vision. “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know if you ever get there?” A group vision is that destination. Creating a vision is a great team building exercise. When members get to contribute, they feel valued and participate at a higher level. Get their input and have your resident wordsmith help with editing it together until you get a vision that reflects the culture that your members want to be a part of. When your networking group has a focused direction, watch how the camaraderie and energy shifts towards that vision!
Example of a business referral group’s Vision statement:
“Contra Costa Business Referral Network (CCBuRN) is the #1 BNI showcase chapter in the Bay Area. Known for our professionalism, energy, and continuing education programs, we operate in an environment that supports our businesses and challenges us to keep growing.
“On a monthly basis, our 75 members pass 150 referrals, have 225 outside 1 to 1 meetings, earn 300 chapter education units, welcome 20 visitors, and have a 98% attendance rate.
“With intelligence, generosity, and a little in-chapter competition, CCBuRN generates over $3.5 Million in closed business annually.”
Report, track, and announce your stats/results. The old adage, “what gets measured gets done” is as true for business networking groups as it for business in general. If you want to increase the amount of referrals and closed business passed in the group, then track it, announce your results! It can be very rewarding to work together on a goal and then celebrate together!
Carefully vet your applicants and members. The number one attribute of a great member is their attitude! I would look for people who have a real giving attitude. They are open to new ideas, learning and growing, have a can-do attitude, and are the type of people who help get things done. If you run across an attitude of blaming others, entitlement, or complaint, do not let them into your group! That is a recipe for drama. One bad apple can spoil the bunch. And when it is time for a member to renew, be willing to say “NO” because of their attitude.
Create a great environment. First impressions absolutely count. Think about the first time you walk into a new group of people … would you rather the group ignore you, or have people come up to you, give you a warm smile, and welcome you. Create that experience for your guests and members. Make sure everyone feels welcome and wanted. Introduce them around. Share with them what you like most about the group and the results you have gained from your participation.
My business partner, Dawn Lyons, says “if you’re green you’re growing, if you’re ripe you’re rotten.” As business owners, as people, we want to keep growing. Being a part of a strong business networking group – and actively working to keep it strong – is one way to keep growing.