Purposeful Meal Meetings Equal Networking Opportunity

So, what exactly is a purposeful meal meeting?  First, I’ll clarify what it isn’t.  It’s not a way to escape work, it’s not a time to have three martinis, it’s not a romantic date, and it’s not about critiquing new restaurants or reviewing fine wines.  All these things can be great fun, I’m not arguing that–it’s just that none of them are focused on, or maybe even conducive to, productive networking.

A purposeful meal meeting is nothing more than a meeting that includes a meal and a specific, meaningful purpose.  And the specific purpose I want to talk about today is networking.  When networking at a meal meeting, your networking purpose might be to further develop the relationship, to help a colleague solve a problem, to learn how to refer someone in your network, to introduce your colleague to someone significant, or to teach someone how to talk about your business to his own network members.  These meetings are strategic and results oriented.  They provide high value for your invested time.

Let’s begin by considering the average work week of five days.  There are three main meals which could be eaten per day.  Barring the usual hindrances to daily scheduling, this gives you fifteen opportunities each week to have a purposeful meal meeting.  That’s 780 opportunities in a year.  Now, dining with 780 people could not only put a hole in your pocket, but it could tear a hole in some of your personal relationships as well.  Let’s be realistic . . . imagine what your significant other would begin to think if instead of eating the majority of your meals with them, you were out eating each meal with a different person.  You certainly don’t want to stay away from home so much that your children and/or pets no longer recognize you.  So, let’s say half of your meals are spent eating with your family–you still have an estimated 390 opportunities for purposeful meal meetings.

NeverEatAloneThe point is, the potential exists for a substantial amount of networking over meals.  No one capitalizes on this concept better than Keith Ferrazzi in his book Never Eat Alone: “I’m constantly looking to include others in whatever I’m doing.  It’s good for them, good for me, and good for everyone to broaden their circle of friends.”  This level of networking increases his productivity and helps him connect with people from different parts of his community.  Ferrazzi believes that his strongest links have been forged at the table.  He has learned how powerful the art of throwing a dinner party can be in creating memories and strengthening relationships.  Something magical and companionable happens when friends break bread together.  Ferrazzi is quick to mention, however, that if we continue to have dinner parties with the same people, our circle will never grow.  His solution is to identify and invite “anchor tenants” to your party.  These are people who are related to your core group but who know different people, have experienced different things, and thus have much to share.  They tend to be the people who have had a positive influence on your friends’ lives.  It’s akin to inviting the CEO to the manager’s table, as Ferrazzi says.  Soon, other executives will want to be there too.

I had the opportunity to experience one of Keith’s networking parties firsthand and the anchor guest that night was the legendary author Gore Vidal.  Providing the entertainment was America’s oldest collegiate a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs of Yale.  Clearly, not all of us will be able to get Gore Vidal and the Whiffenpoofs at our networking party, but I’m guessing that Keith didn’t have them at his first party either.  However, the strategy is sound, and I encourage you to try out the concept as a way of building your visibility in the community.  Keith has paid close attention to how a meal can most appropriately be leveraged for a business networking opportunity; the primary focus should always be on developing the relationship.  Learning about each other, helping one another with problems, and giving of ourselves–that’s what defines a purposeful meal meeting.

Do you have any stories about purposeful meal meetings or dinner parties where you made memorable, beneficial connections?  If so, I’d love to hear your story–please share your thoughts in the comment forum below. Thanks!

Making Connections to Start Your Own Business

I recently got asked a really great question on Ask Entrepreneur: Where do I get connected with people who can help me open a business?

Though there is evidence that business is currently on the rise and the economy is moving in a positive direction, the recent downturn in the economy prompted many people who found themselves unemployed to tap into their entrepreneurial spirit and consider starting their own business.

This begs the question above–are there efficient ways to get in touch with people who can help you start your own business?

The answer is yes, and here are my three recommendations:

1) Go through your contacts and talk to people you personally know who have started a business. Set an appointment.  Let them know what you are doing and ask if they’d give you an hour of mentoring.  If possible, meet with them in person.  Show up with specific questions written out in advance.  Send them the questions prior to the meeting so they have a good understanding of what kind of information you’re looking for.  When you meet, focus on those questions, write down the answers, and stick to the time frame you promised.  If the conversation goes well, ask if you can meet with them in the future.  Follow this process with two or three people who have opened a business successfully.  I guarantee you will find this to be very valuable.

2) Find a business coach who has experience with start-up businesses. Hire them to coach you through the process.

3) Read, read, read!  There are a lot of books out there on opening a business. I have personally reviewed many of the books published by Entrepreneur Press on starting a business and they are excellent.  Go to EntrepreneurPress.com to see some of them.

I strongly encourage anyone genuinely interested in starting their own business to pursue the endeavor. I have owned my own business for almost thirty years (that’s a picture of me at top right, when I first started my company, BNI, and was running it from my house and garage with only one other employee in the mid ’80s) and it continues to be an amazing and fulfilling journey. I don’t think I would ever go back to working for someone else.

Make the Connection

One of my employees told me this week that she passed some advice from one of my books on to her cousin; it was about making connections at networking functions.  She told me that her cousin, Greg, recently joined a chamber of commerce to promote the new business he started after being laid off from the company he had worked in for a number of years and he felt clueless as to how to form connections with the strangers he came in contact with at mixers.

My employee remembered reading an article by Alice Ostrower in my book Masters of Networking about making connections so she passed it on to Greg. Reportedly he feels much more comfortable at mixers and has been having a lot more success in networking his business because he now has a strategy for making connections and he feels he knows his purpose when he arrives at a networking event.

Here are the four standard techniques that have been working for Greg and I guarantee they will help you get your networking message across effectively and encourage a positive response (Thanks, Alice! :)):

1.  Get the person’s attention.  Show interest by asking questions: “How are you?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “Have you heard about? . . .” “Did you know? . . .”

2.  Add interest.  Respond to the answer but don’t move the conversation to you; elicit more information from the other person.

3.  Involve.  Use the “feel, felt, found” formula (“I know how you feel, I felt the same way, and this is what I found”) to involve yourself in the other person’s message before you deliver your own.

4.  Network.  Tie it all together by connecting one person’s needs or goals with the resources, needs, or goals of another person.  For example: “I felt the same way until I met John Jones.  He really helped me accomplish my goals.  Why don’t I have him give you a call?  Is tomorrow evening convenient?”

This is networking at its best.  Your new acquaintance finds a solution to a problem, your referral gets new business, and you gain a reputation as a friendly, reliable, knowledgeable person who seems to know everybody.  Your name and reputation will become familiar to more and more people, and your business will automatically benefit in the long run.

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