“Your network is your net worth.” – Tim Sanders, New York Times
Best Selling Author
While it’s important to prepare and train to enter the workforce, your ability to network and build social capital will significantly help you progress faster professionally. But just like logging onto WiFi, if your connections aren’t strong and genuine, your efforts will fall flat.
No one wants to feel like a number. The power of networking is found in mutually beneficial relationships built with integrity and trust. So before you re-order more business cards, consider these relational approaches to build your network in greater Lynchburg.
In many communities, the local chamber hosts opportunities throughout the year specifically designed to help people network. In our community, an abundance of organizations provide newcomers with the chance to tap into the local business community, such as the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Lynchburg Association, and Central Virginia Business Coalition (CVABC). (CVABC has received Gold for “Best Networking Event” multiple years in a row for their monthly networking event Coffee Talk.) Also, Tuesdays Together is a national movement by Rising Tide Society and Honeybook, which connects creative professionals—there is a group in Lynchburg.
While all of these organizations host events on a regular basis (such as LRBA’s A.M. Alliance or the Bedford Chamber’s Business After Hours), it’s essential that you do more than attend a couple events and pass out cards. Consider membership in an organization that best fits your business culture, budget and goals. Invest your time in serving the other members. When you begin to volunteer to help these organizations in addition to attending their networking events, you will maximize your membership and grow your network.
Did you know there are Lynchburg-area groups that meet regularly and are designed to send you referrals? Referral groups are very popular in Central Virginia because they help keep your business top of mind with individuals who interact with your target market. Realtors send leads to mortgage lenders, mortgage lenders to insurance agents, and the list goes on and on.
While these groups may be difficult to find, many of them have a social media presence like Money Tree Referrals, Connect, Two Twelve, and Business Minded Women. Check them out on Facebook or simply ask people you know if they know of any referral groups with openings. Meeting often with these groups of business leaders will help you get to learn more about what they do, so when you run across someone who could benefit from their services, you can make the connection.
Service clubs offer a unique opportunity not only to “build goodwill and better friendships” but to do good in the world. One of the best ways to meet people is to serve alongside them. While serving on the board of a nonprofit offers some opportunities for networking, service clubs tend to meet at least monthly, host social events and encourage you to meet with members outside of meetings. Locally we have groups like Kiwanis, Lions, and Junior League, and seven different Rotary Clubs in the Lynchburg region. All of these organizations have international ties. If you’re interested in giving back to our community and the world, just post on Facebook and ask your friends: “I’d like to visit a service club. Are any of you a member?” You could also use the “Recommendations” status feature to poll your friend list. You’d be surprised how many people choose to give back in this fashion. Before you know it, you’ll be serving too!
Networking can take place in fun, creative environments. While you may not make as many connections, it’s a great way to deepen relationships and talk with people one on one. Attend a First Friday event, a Hillcats game or event at the Academy Center of the Arts. Go to a local Farmer’s Market and talk to the vendors, or visit a local restaurant to hear a band play. There are always events happening in our community and when you take the step to leave your home and strike up conversations with fellow residents supporting these venues, you’ll be sure to make new friends and build relationships.
There is value in every conversation, in every interaction. The more you talk with people and serve people, the more you expand your horizons and your reach. Branch out beyond socializing online, unplug and invest in talking with people face to face. That’s how you grow as a person and that’s how you expand your network. Then, it’s not about the sale. You’re simply serving friends.