The truth is, if you choose a networking group that focuses entirely on your target market, chances are you’ll be in a group of people who are a lot like you. Sounds like a good thing, you say? Well, it’s not. A group that consists of a whole lot of people like you tends to hang out together in other settings and is likely to have a lot of the same contacts as you. This limits the size of your network, and the diversity as well. It’s good to have some people like you in your group, of course, but it’s important to have people who are not like you as well. Never assume that someone who is in a totally different industry or social group or market from you can’t possibly know anybody you’d like to meet and do business with. You never know who they know.
Even if you share a target market with many others in the group, you can’t really tell from the roster or by collecting business cards at the first meeting how effective they’ll be as referral sources. You have to be in the group a while before you begin to know who they know and how likely they are to pass along good referrals. Much of this information comes up in open networking before and after the meeting: “Tell me about some of your favorite clients. Who do you like working with and why? What kind of work do you like to do best?” It takes weeks, sometimes months, to develop the kinds of relationships that bear fruit–and until then, you never know who they know.
Groups that are built primarily on a social model tend to be homogenous. It’s simple human nature for people to cluster in groups according to age, education, income, profession, race, neighborhood, social status, religion, and so forth. Hanging out with similar people makes it easier to carry on conversations, share similar experiences, gossip, and compare notes. It does not tend to expose one to new experiences or new points of view, and it especially does not provide many opportunities to open new frontiers in business or marketing.
I’ve run across many people over the years who want to form business-to-business networks. They think, I’m after this market, so therefore I need people just like me all around me. So who do they get? They get people who are just like themselves. This includes people in businesses that are much like their own and who may not want to share their databases with others. It includes some people who have the same kinds of contacts, sometimes even the exact same individuals. Forming a group with such similar people for the purpose of generating referrals is usually a big mistake. (Telling people it’s a mistake is a little like telling a boxer, “Lean into the punch!” It’s counterintuitive. Most people don’t believe it until you explain why.)
Never assume that someone who is in a totally different industry or social group or market from you can’t possibly know anybody you’d like to meet and do business with. You never know who they know.
Networks tend to form naturally among clusters of people who are like each other and who know each other to varying degrees. Your friends tend to be friends with one another. However, if you want a powerful network, you obviously want different contacts and different kinds of contacts. Diversity is key in a referral group, and not only in the classic sense of diversity–race, gender, religion, ethnicity–but diversity in types of businesses. We’ve run into people who didn’t want to join a referral network because there was a painting contractor in the group who came to the meeting wearing overalls. But in fact, painting contractors often have great contacts. You never know whose houses they are painting or what kind of connections they’ve made.
A diverse set of personal contacts enables you to include connectors or linchpins in your network–people who have overlapping interests or contacts and can easily and naturally link your group with other, different clusters of people. These people, according to Wayne Baker in his book Achieving Success through Social Capital” are the gateways. They create shortcuts across ‘clumps’ of people. The strongest networking groups are those that are diverse in many ways; these are the ones that tend to have the most linchpins. A master networker strives to become a linchpin between as many networks as possible.
You never know who someone knows. Please share with me any experience that you’ve had with this concept.