Network(ing) is an Asset, not an Activity
For more than fifteen years Ralph Sachs has been a stalwart member of his local chapter of ACCA, the Air Conditioning Contractors Association, and its Management Information Exchange (MIX) Group. For the first ten years of that tenure, MIX events were essentially social gatherings. “Lot of mature family-run companies that really didn’t see their firm as a ‘business’” Ralph said. “We’d meet a few times a year and in between meetings, nothing would happen. It was way too social.”
Ralph wanted to help grow his company, Albemarle Heating and Air. He was uninspired by the small talk.
Network(ing) is an ASSET, not an activity
When we think about the word “network” most people think of it as an activity, something to do. It conjures images of cocktail parties where you wear name-tags, look over your shoulder mid conversation anxiously for the next “better” person to chat up, scarf down free fried appetizers and stand uncomfortably with the mob at the cash bar, desperately trying to get the bar tender’s attention. One of my clients sees a lot of these folks at the free seminars he runs; he refers to them as “plate lickers” because they attend for the free food and booze rather than the quality of the conversation and content.
But for entrepreneurs who want to scale and grow their businesses, that kind of networking is complete a waste of time. Savvy entrepreneurs, like Ralph, know that a “network” is an asset, something you build.
Find your peers
In fact, you want to build a peer network, not do networking. The distinction of a peer network is its peerness, it consists of individuals who share similar attributes (e.g. business size, job title, stage of life, geography, etc.) A peer group can provide a wealth of ideas, encouragement and guidance to you and your company.
That’s why cocktail party networking fails. Lack of peers, little value.
Peer advisory groups also create a safe environment where executives share strategies and offer each other specific actionable advice, as its members must not be direct competitor lest the trust of the group will be undermined. Or as Entrepreneur magazine puts it: “What is said in the room, stays in the room.”
That’s another reason why cocktail party networking fails. There is no foundation for trust.
As for Ralph, the dynamic at his ACCA MIX chapter changed when another seasoned peer joined five years ago. He brought process and organization to the group as well as his own experience as a member of Vistage, a national executive peer advisory group.
Since then his ACCA MIX Group has transformed from an activity to an asset. The group meets each month for a couple of hours, often through Google Hangouts, to discuss current business challenges and issues. The group tracks attendance, evaluates participation and holds members accountable to complete specific actions.
Different groups for different purposes
ACCA MIX is a professional advisory group for air conditioning contractors. Its focus is very narrow. Vistage has a different focus. Vistage connects CEOs and business owners in private peer advisory groups that are facilitated by expert chairs to provide coaching, leadership development and mentoring.
There are different types of advisory groups you can join, for different purposes. Below I’ve described several groups; over the course of this year we will interview several of their leaders to give you insight into how each can add value to your business.
Optimizing your network is one way you can grow your business. If you are interested in learning more, check out my book Optimize For Growth: How To Scale Up Your Business Your Network And You
- Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) (www.eonetwork.org)
- The Indus Entrepreneurs (www.tie.org)
- Renaissance Executive Forum (www.executiveforums.com)
- Women’s Presidents Organization (WPO) (www.womenpresidentsorg.com)
- CADRE (Washington, DC) (www.cadredc.com)
- Metropolitan Business Network (New York, NY) (www.mbnnyc.com)
- Virginia Council of CEO’s (Richmond, VA) (www.vaceos.org)
- Associated Builders and Contractors (Construction) (www.abc.org/peer-groups.aspx)
- HTG (IT) (www.htgpeergroups.com)
- TAAN (Advertising) (www.taan.org)