Thursday, January 8, 2009

Networking: A look at Las Vegas Social Networking Old School Style

There was a time when a network was ABC, CBS or NBC. That’s long changed. Now we use “network” to describe social gatherings (in person and online) to get to know people who we THINK can further our businesses.

Networking is carried out for a variety of reasons whether it is to finding a strategic partner, meeting like-minded people, finding answers to questions, career networking to get a new job or simply to get hot leads. It is not a new phenomenon but is just a term given to the natural process of getting to know a person, which is not -- by any means -- new. What has changed though are the opportunities to expand our network of contacts.

With the web you can now build relationships with people on the opposite side of the earth and consequently make your business global. It does happen., MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Fark, Newsvine are just a small sampling of places to socialize and market online FREE.

Now, in the REAL brick and mortar world, there have always been “clubs” and various “society” groups. But a quick glance at the most recent “In Business Las Vegas” publication, it’s clear that the Las Vegas Metro area is FLOODED with all kinds of special interest groups. The following is a subset of the “Meetings” section that include: meetings / lunches / events / breakfasts / dinners and so on. These include:

• BizPack Networks
• Business Network International
• CityCare Business Network
• Commercial Real Estate Women of Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Elite
• Hot Pink Mamas/Red Hot Papa (aka Network with Women)
• International Association of Business Communicators
• International Training in Communication
• Italian American Club of Southern Nevada
• Kiwanis
• Knights of Columbus
• Las Vegas Commercial Group
• Leadership Networking Group
• Leads Club
• LeTip
• Lions Club
• Moms in Business
• National Association of Mortgage Women
• National Bar Association of Black Lawyers
• North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce
• Savage Network
• Society for Marketing Professional Services
• Status Group
• Successful Women Actively Networking (SWAN)
• Toastmasters
• Women and Network
• Women in Networking
• Women in Successful Enterprises
• Women’s Council of Realtors

Now this is just a subset of the list….There are other groups not listed above including:

• Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce
• Women’s Chamber of Commerce
• Henderson Chamber of Commerce
• Las Vegas Social Registry
• Women in Communications
• Women in Film

Now here’s where it gets a little muddy. Who are the leaders of these groups? Are they qualified to lead? Do they have an education – either formal or from their many years of work in a particular field? Dues for many of the above are between $300 and $800 per year. But wait, there’s more: Most charge for each and every meeting, lunch and mixer. The minimum is typically $25 (if you’re lucky) to $75.

If case you do not know, most times, these are NOT non-profit organizations but companies that have figured out that the way to network is simply to open their own networking company. In short: Monetizing Meetings – for THEM. I mean, seriously, one “CEO” of a local group is a former time-share sales person and another a former beauty queen. Are these community “leaders” really interested in growing your business? Or is it simply a way to rake in the dough? You make the call.

In many cases, after you’ve been to 3-4 meetings, you see the same people again and again and again. Without fresh blood, you quickly realize that if the other meeting attendees haven’t bought your product or service yet, it is not going to happen. So now you’ve spent the yearly fee AND spent between $100 and $300 on meetings that have garnered you ZERO ROI.

No two networking groups are the same – some have less than 10 people, some have 100, some have many more. Each group has a different business model including but not limited to licensing chapters and/or geographies. – which is an additional and substantial revenue stream

Some of our local groups have a structured, rigid agenda while others are just an informal gathering. Different groups will have their own agendas and cultures. Even two groups under the same umbrella (Hot Pink Mamas, for example), can be different depending on who is leading a particular chapter. 

So here’s the bottom line:

• Do your research and choose wisely
• See what the offerings are
• Determine if the dues are worth it. (If you get one business deal in the course of a year and 6 luncheons, that’s not a very good ROI.)
• Are you reaching decision makers?
• Will this organization TRULY help you grow your business?
• Is the leadership strong?
• Do they have the credentials to lead and attract the best of the best?

Finally, remember, it’s not just the money you spend; it’s also the time you put in, the cost of the materials you give out at the meetings, etc. You do have choices. You CAN find the right group(s) for you and your business. Building that business requires an integrated approach: marketing, advertising, public relations, an online presence, etc. including networking.

Now get out there and mingle, collect those business cards and follow up!

OK, time to feed the dogs….

Mary Ann McQueen Butcher

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