I LOVE networking! Networking is simply the act of creating mutually beneficial relationships for business. In fact, I love networking so much that I have successfully organized a Meetup for over four years made up of over 500 business professionals. Every business owner knows that one’s most important asset is their network of contacts. Not business cards, but actual relationships.
I don’t know if it is the economy or just a random shift that has resulted in a massive increase in networking organizations in the past 2-3 years. While more options and opportunities to network are awesome, I have noticed a disturbing trend: the rise of “networking cults”. Below are five telltale signs of a networking cult.
- Leaders and members use terms like “servant leadership”. On paper, the concept of servant leadership is great. Basically, a servant leader is someone who leads by serving others. They are marked by humility and genuine concern for the well-being of others. Sounds awesome, right? PROBLEM: Many organizations now use this terminology as a secret code for “we are going to milk you for everything you have”. This includes time, relationships and resources. Remember, networking is creating mutually beneficial relationships. In other words, if you are providing value to others, at some point, it should be reciprocated.
- Members spend more time recruiting than building relationships. Some networking groups are starting to resemble direct marketing organizations. If after you attend a single event, you have a letter in the mail, five voice mails and a host of emails inviting you to join, you are in trouble. I appreciate follow-up as much as the next person, but if it takes that much effort to get a new member to join, then there is a value issue. People should want to join after attending events, not because they are eventually worn down. Additionally, if you are asked to recruit versus spread the word, there is problem.
- The group acts more like a posse than a networking organization. If a member invites you to meet with them, but then you find yourself meeting with a group of folks, Houston- we have a problem! If members bring 4-5 other members to business meetings, client meetings, etc., you may want to run.
- The organization has “rival” networking organizations. This is not gang territory in Los Angeles people. If a networking organization is constantly bad-mouthing another networking organization, you can bet your bottom dollar that you are in the wrong place. One does not have to “belong” to a specific networking organization. In fact, I’ve always encouraged members of my own networking group to attend other events- I’ve even provided lists of other great organizations. Ultimately, a good networking group is made up of members/attendees with strong individual networks.
- Networking within the group is interfering with business/ professional duties. The purpose of networking is to meet and build relationships with people who you can help and who can help you grow professionally or in business. If you find that attending events, meetings and “doing projects” for the organization is taking away from time you need to grow your career/business, it’s time to get out.