Networking – we all do it, and many of us hate it. But if you’re a small business owner, or if your job rewards you for bringing in new business, it’s a staple in your life.
Networking is an art. People don’t do business with people they’ve just met once – they need to get to know you. They need to trust you. And you need to really stand out as the master of your craft, product or service.
So you go to your local Chamber of Commerce, or some affinity group, in the hopes of networking and building relationships. I’ve made some good friends and served briefly on the board of the Los Angeles Jewish Chamber of Commerce, and I go to a few women’s networking groups as well.
About two years ago I was introduced to an organization whose structure was a bit different for me: the two people with the title “Managing Director” were actually owners of the Los Angeles franchise of a national, for-profit networking group. They held events and seminars that helped members grow their businesses. It always struck me as odd that someone owned this so-called networking group.
Last week I went to another group with this same structure, and the person who owned the local chapter invited someone higher up in the organization to be the guest speaker. While the people attending the meeting were very interesting, the program was nothing but a pitch for the group. Interestingly, no one has followed up with me about membership.
And today, a friend who is also involved in the college admissions process and I attended a meeting for a women entrepreneurs’ group. We each paid $75 for this meeting, held from 11:30 to 1:30 today (hello, does that scream LUNCH TIME to you or is it just me?) at an office building in which they did not validate parking. When we arrived, there were 7 of us in the room: the two “Managing Directors” (owners) of the franchise, their administrative assistant, my friend and I, plus two more people: a manicurist in the process of transitioning to selling life insurance, and a custom frame store owner.
There were two cocktail-sized plates on the table with about 8 (as my friend described them) 2×2 sandwiches stacked on them. There was a basket with cookies. And some bottles of water.
We each took a few minutes to introduce ourselves, and then the sales pitch began. Despite the fact that the Managing Director who did most of the talking started by saying that people hate to be sold but love to buy, from the moment we walked into the room, she was selling us this group. She wouldn’t tell us how many members the group had (ie how many people will I be networking with, if I attend a meeting that has more than 7 people at it?) and when we presented our business challenges for input from the group, she was the only one who spoke and her answer was always that we needed coaching, which you receive for “free” with your $290 membership fee and $16.95 monthly dues to this organization.
She clearly realized that it was ridiculous to have people pay $75 for a not-quite-lunch meeting with four people, because she immediately offered us a $30 discount on next week’s meeting, which she claims will have 60 people in attendance.
I left a few minutes before the meeting ended because, well, I was tired of the hard sell. The structure really irks me; I think networking, which is forced to begin with, should be as organic as is possible under the circumstance, and I don’t think a structure in which someone owns the group has the best interests of its members at heart. If you make money from every single person who joins, you can’t truly be looking out for all of them – you are looking for your own bottom line.
So I drank at least three bottles of water – $25 apiece as far as I can tell. And then I came home and ate lunch.