|Do you fit in with the character of this group?|
My wife and I were watching the crowd of rambunctious teenagers roughhousing in the hotel pool. We're on our family vacation this week up in Traverse City. Ordinarily we're here in October for the Fall colors, but we thought we would change it up a bit and come in June to enjoy warmer weather.
What we didn't expect was the complete change in character of the resort itself.
In October, during the week, the hotel usually has vacancies -- not so in June. In October, he other folks staying here are almost all retired couples -- a relatively quiet lot. In June we find ourselves surrounded by boisterous young families. This also means that the number of people per room are much higher -- I'm sure many at or above the limit for the space.
Like it or not, it's the other people, and not the weather that define the character of the resort.
The same thing is true in networking. Your local Chamber of Commerce may host several different events which seem similar on the surface. You might have a before-work breakfast, a "lunch and learn", or an after-hours mixer. They all involve time to network and most will have a speaker or two. Each, however, will have its own character.
From my experience, in general:
- Early gatherings: These are the serious business people -- usually business owners. They want to get their networking in and then get on with the business of doing their business. Whether at a Chamber breakfast, or at a local BNI meeting, they are looking not just for clients, but for the means to make their businesses more competitive.
- Lunch crowds: While not always the case, the folks attending these events are often looking specifically for clients. They may also be in transition and be seeking a new employment position. They are often in sales of some sort. Business owners are much less common here as they are often busy running their business at mid-day. This doesn't necessarily make lunch time a bad time to network, but be aware that unskilled networkers may focus on selling more than connecting.
- After hours: After hours tends to be a little more social. You'll often get a roughly even split between owners and employees. The challenge is that since most folks are thinking of it as a social event, they will have a tendency to sit and talk with people they already know. Be prepared to get there early and engage with the other attendees before they start to cluster into their cliques.
Of course, before you join any group, you want to verify that the members are either your target market or (better) serve your target market. After you've determined that, though, you still need to attend their gatherings to make sure it makes sense for you to join. It could be that the events you would be willing to attend won't have the people you want to meet.
And that would be a waste of your time.
Image by Svilen Milev