Some agents were born to network; others can’t stand the thought of it. The word “networking” itself is somewhat of a catch-all term. The fact is, there are several different ways to join a group of individuals with a common interest — be it business, personal growth, a sense of community, serving others or just for fun.
The key in all networking is to know what you want to get out of it. Many groups have their mission stated right on the main page of their site, making it easier to understand what they do and who might want to join.
Local business organizations
Considered a very traditional form of networking, the local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club generally offer a structured opportunity to meet and connect with others, as well as hear a few speakers and discuss one or more featured topics.
Most if not all the participants share the same general location/neighborhood, but as a Realtor you can join the one in your target market. Just remember that everyone there knows, likely lives in and tends to care about what is going on in the area.
Young Professionals Network (YPN)
The more modern approach to networking are Young Professionals groups. These tend to be very social, and as the name would attest, are often attended primarily by those on the younger side of things. There is normally less structure, where connecting with peers and enjoying the scene are tops on the list, and many might consider these more like “events” than “meetings.”
Those held around cocktail hour may have booze playing an integral role. Business conversations aren’t necessarily part of the formula here, so discussions around what you do and learning more about others may be incidental.
If you’re a younger member of the YPN, go in looking to build your network and make the connections that might serve you for the rest of your career. If you’re older, act as a mentor and offer valuable information that you’ve learned over the years.
Business Network International (BNI)
The most structured networking associations tend to be groups that meet every week. BNI is the primary example of this type of networking, the largest of its type in the world. Meetings tend to take place before the normal workday (7-8:30 a.m.) or over lunchtime. Those who can’t fathom being at a weekly professional event at 7 a.m. might find this option challenging.
It does offer one thing that most other networking opportunities do not: Exclusivity. Only one person per profession is allowed, and “Realtor” is often the most highly sought after slot of all.
These have a very specific framework. Time to chat: each person gives their “elevator speech,” then one member is featured and gives a more in-depth discussion about their business and how best to refer them clients, and then there’s a set segment when business referrals are actively passed between the members.
After all, the mission of the group is to pass referrals. You build up familiarity with each member’s business operations because you hear about it all weekly. That’s how you tend to get more comfortable in referring them to others.
Meetups and masterminds
Agent-to-agent meetups are great for socializing, but unless they’re with agents outside your service area you shouldn’t expect any business from them. However, if it’s a “mastermind” setting where agents discuss common challenges and share best practices, that can help you run a more efficient business.
No matter what, think through your networking plan ahead of the event:
- Focus on retaining three pieces of information about someone before finishing the conversation. That way, when you follow up with them, you’ll have topics to talk about and they’ll know you were listening. If people feel heard, they’re more likely to connect with you and refer business to you.
- I’ve never liked the term “elevator pitch,” but it is important to have some form of a prepared description of what you do and how you’re different than others in your field.
- Know the difference between meeting and connecting — you meet people all the time, but those you connect with are more likely to actually refer you business.
Regardless of how you network, make sure to try different types to find the right ones for you. Discovering what you enjoy doing and following a plan usually leads to closed business.
Just remember — be intentional, be real, be yourself, and add value to the conversations you’re engaged in.
Dave Nimick is a real estate broker and the head of The Nimick Team, Inc. with Keller Williams Lincoln Park Realty in Chicago. You can find more of his writing at his blog, Chicago Real Estate Minute.