“..know when to hold ’em…when to fold ’em!”

Kenny Rogers may not have been talking about business development and professional networking when he recorded this famous ballad…but the overall concept remains true.

As I sit here in the early morning hours I am replaying the past two years since deciding to venture out on my own…trying to determine what has worked and what hasn’t throughout my entrepreneurial effort. Several key actions come flooding to the surface, but one keeps resonating time and time again through every step I’ve taken  – establishing relationships through professional networking.

As a marketer, I understand the importance of networking and the role it plays in opening doors. As a small business owner,understanding is often “trumped” by the ability — or inability to pay the various fees associated with joining networking groups. So how do you make the intelligent decision to “bid” or “pass” on a particular networking membership? You go in with a plan and work it.

There are many networking groups, lead groups and professional associations out there all vying for the limited dollars you have to beef up their membership numbers and show economic promise to national chapters. Some boast “low” or “no” fees, others involve “national” as well as “chapter” fees running into the thousands of dollars.

When I originally began this journey I was determined to follow the networking “rule of thumb” by choosing three professional/industry organizations to participate in. Two included truenetworking” programs designed to provide a platform for interaction with industry leaders, remain abreast of current industry trends and provided an industry specific focus. The third included a “professional” association…where the primary goals were to remain connected to my peers, keep abreast of industry trends/changes as they relate to marketing and business development, and to continue my career development as an “expert” within the industry.

I did have a plan going into these memberships and fully intended to “work the plan”. What I soon found out was that “my plan” did not align with “their plan”. One of the organizations (the most expensive $$$), did bring excellent educational and trending programs, and was one of the leading industry organizations and definitely had its finger on the political/industry pulse.   What I didn’t like was that I saw an opportunity in an industry (construction) where they could have made a huge difference in helping member and non-member firms during a time of crisis, but they were more concerned with meeting numbers and finding new ways to raise money.

If they had taken advantage and introduced a “recession recovery” program (i.e. reduced membership dues and/or payment or split programs, specific training related to new business development and/or lead generation techniques) perhaps they could have increased membership and thus revenue. Instead they remained focused on the same ol’…same ol’”.

Needless to say, my membership expired and I looked elsewhere and here’s where it gets interesting. In looking elsewhere, I focused not necessarily on my industry (Architectural, Engineering and Construction), but on the projects and clients that I felt could help me grow. First, Florida was in the midst of pursuing its first commuter rail and high-speed rail programs – I felt that this was the future of the state and wanted a part of it. Secondly, I knew that I could help in getting the word out to the public about the new programs and how it would benefit them, ultimately helping the State and Central Florida in procuring these projects and building ridership. Third, and not least, I saw the potential for new long-term work…which in essence is what business development is all about, right?

I did some research and joined a community-based professional organization with heavy duty “clout” in Florida both at the state and local levels, that had it’s finger on the “pulse” of what was happening. I immediately became involved in projects that were of interest to me, joining core groups and began to “work the plan”. As a result I have opened several doors and positioned myself for potential work through the connections and involvement.

The difference between the first group and the latter?…I can’t tell you specifically other than how I felt. This is key…if you are looking to join a group remember that YOU are the client. Your membership dollars are your “ante”, if they are not delivering,“Fold ’emand cut your losses. Don’t keep throwing good money after bad, Networking is all about relationships…some work and some don’t.

As a small or medium business, spreading those dollars to obtain maximum leverage is an art. It involves tenacity, mutual benefit/reward and insight. When looking for networking opportunities keep in mind not only the obvious…What can they do for me? What can I bring to them? But also… How can I “hedge my bet” and get the most bang for the buck? If they are not “in it to win it” with you, Cut Your Losses and move on.

Some other considerations include:

  • What level of connection do I want to make (Local, Regional, State, National, International)?
  • How much time do I have to “work the plan”? How involved can I be? The key to networking success is involvement.
  • How will I measure my membership’s effectiveness? If you don’t know … you won’t know when to “Get Out

For our report “Seven Things to Consider Before Joining a Professional Networking Group” click here.

DAVNA Enterprises, LLC is a marketing solutions firm dedicated to the Architectural, Engineering and Construction industry to improve the effectiveness of their marketing initiatives and keeping marketing professionals apprised of new and upcoming marketing tools and resources.

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