The Power of Mini-Networking

There’s a lot of talk about the power of networking, and some of it is even true. But the usual kind of networking that happens at large events has a couple of big drawbacks: First, events that are suitable for you to network don’t happen all that often, and second, large events can be intimidating and competitive, severely restricting your opportunities to make any useful or meaningful contacts.

That’s why you can often get better results by supporting “mini-networking” events. We’re talking about a lunch, a dinner, a happy-hour, or any kind of social activity bringing together just a handful of people.

Here are some tips on how to make and cultivate new contacts through your own program of mini-networking.

Make It Selective

At large networking events, you’re usually thrown in with a broad cross-section of people, ostensibly so you can move on from dull conversations and search out people with whom you resonate.

You won’t encounter this broad cross-section at a mini-networking event. That’s why it’s important you be selective about the four to eight people you bring together.

You can invite people you hardly know, of course, as well as existing contacts. But either way, you should carefully consider what attributes each person brings to the table. Look for characteristics that you and the others you invite will value, such as: experience, expertise, connections, talent, knowledge, outlook, values, and/or drive.

You’ll find you can start and maintain a “virtuous circle” of mini-networking by inviting the kind of people with whom the kind of people you’re inviting will want to network.

Keep It Loose

At any networking event, you’ll want to avoid trying to close a sale or asking for an immediate favor. It’s better to concentrate instead on simply “planting a seed” that will grow into a connection or relationship. This is even more true at a mini-networking event.

For this reason:

  • Avoid working your own agenda directly, and focus on getting to know more about the people you talk to.
  • Try to make connections between other people. For example, attending a recent series of mini-networking events I discovered a person who produces music and another person who sings professionally. I made sure they met, and they have since begun to collaborate.
  • Allow your mini-network to grow organically. As you discover more about the people you’re meeting, look to add people to your mini-network who are likely to find a connection with those you already know.

Keep It Mini

Mini-networking will inevitably bring you in contact with more and more people. To accommodate them all, you could allow your networking group to grow larger and larger. But it’s often more productive, instead, to split them up and host more than one mini-networking group.

This approach has a couple of important advantages over expanding the network into a larger event. You’ll find that staying with the mini-network strategy:

  • Allows you to keep each group more homogenous, personal, and focused on particular interests and styles of interaction.
  • Retains the informality and in-depth connections that are often lost as networking events grow larger.

Keep Doing It

Studies show that fruitful relationships usually take time to develop. Just showing up as a group, time and time again, greatly increases the chances that people will begin to learn about each other and meaningfully interact.

For this reason, it’s important to keep convening your mini-network group(s). Once you’ve called the same people together six times or more, you’ll feel the group gain energy and begin to take on a life of its own.

You’ll probably find that some people drop out, and some people attend only sporadically. That’s to be expected in both your work and your life.

What’s important is that you provide a safe place for a small number of people to gather and exchange ideas, information, even confidences. You’ll be planting seeds that can germinate, take root, and blossom through mini-networking into satisfying and productive relationships.

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