networkingbyRedHead5147onFlickrI don’t belong to BNI – or any other official networking groups.

Someday, I might decide to join. I’ve been attending a local BNI group and considering whether it’s a good fit for me. The jury is still out on that. Not because they aren’t awesome people (they really seem to be) – just because I want to be sure it’s the right investment of time and resources for me and my business.

In case you aren’t in the BNI loop, BNI is a networking and leads sharing group. Essentially, each member becomes a “salesperson” on behalf of the other members in the group. So, when I’m at a party and someone mentions they are building a new house, I tell them about my amazing window coverings consultant friend (who is in my BNI group). At some point, my window coverings consultant friend will be at a home show and someone will be looking for a speaking coach. She will then hand the card over of her amazing speaking coach friend (that’s me!) It’s a cool concept and I know quite a few people who have built a large chunk of their business through the BNI connections.

BNI isn’t the only group like this, of course. But the gist is the same: gather with others who are looking to grow their businesses and support one another in that effort.

Pretty cool, right?

And yet, so many of these “networking” events just feel… strange. Off.

For much of my early business life, I avoided them because of this. Until, at one of the women’s networking groups I attended, I somehow got talked into being on the programs committee. At first I spent most of my time dreaming of ways I could get out of this new commitment I didn’t really mean to make.

Then something unexpected happened.

As I invested time and energy in my role on the leadership team, I started to really care about the programs and speakers we put on the agenda. I began to use my great strengths in research and planning to put together what would later be called by the board and members, “our best program lineup ever!” I began to get to know the leadership in the organization on a much deeper and more real level. In a way I never had before, I began really looking forward to the monthly meetings.

I also began signing on clients at a pace that surprised me.

At one point, I stopped to check in with myself about what had changed so much in my experience of networking at this group. Why was I enjoying it so much more – and why were clients coming to me without my really trying very hard?

It was then that I realized, I had stopped “networking” and I had simply begun doing what came completely naturally to me:

connecting with lovely, brilliant people and contributing from my greatest strengths. No wonder I was having such a great time.

I wasn’t “networking” at all – at least not in that contrived way I avoided for so long.

As my role in the organization shined a light on my strengths – and added greater visibility into me and my work overall – conversations and connections across the membership became more natural. Since we do business with people we know, like and trust, this lead to more clients coming my way.

I’m wondering – is there anywhere that you have been showing up (or not) where you can quit “networking” and start making real connections and contributing from your most awesome strengths?

I triple dog dare you to make this switch in your approach. Send me a note and tell me what happens for you, will you?

Meantime, I’m continuing my own search for the right place to get really connected and make a meaningful difference with other business people here in my new town across the country. Because I’m just not into “networking” anymore.


Thanks to RedHead5147 on Flickr for this slice of life networking image.


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