Have you ever thought of starting your own networking group? It takes work—but the results will pay for the effort many times over. An extremely valuable way to network your way to endless referrals, this entails involving a diverse group of business owners and/or salespeople representing a range of different businesses.

If you have ever participated in this kind of organization and felt it didn’t work properly, you might be thinking, “These things don’t work.” Not so. When run well and worked correctly, these groups are highly effective—and highly profitable.

One way to do this is to join an organization such as this that is already up and running. For example, one superbly well-run referral organization is BNI (Business Network International), founded by Dr. Ivan Misner, which is international in scope and is sure to have a chapter in your area. There are others, too.

The other option is to begin your own. For the sake of this article, we’re going to assume you’re choosing the latter option. I began my own networking organization nearly twenty years ago when I moved to a new city where I knew absolutely no one. In virtually no time—but with a lot of effort—I had business coming at me at a remarkable rate.

One Is the Magic Number

While total membership in your group can grow as large as you like, in order to ensure there is no competition in your group, you’ll want to establish a limit of one person for a particular type of business: one printer, one chiropractor, one Florist®, one Realtor®, one sign-maker, one insurance person, one banker, and so on until you run out of categories. This fact alone provides you an excellent opportunity, providing you handle it correctly. After all, you’ll be the only person in the group who represents your product or service.

Your intentions here are: (1) to develop and maintain a give-and-take relationship with as many other businesspeople as possible; (2) to train each of these people to know how to prospect for you; and (3) to know how to match you up with their 250-person sphere of influence. The whole point is qualified referrals, referrals, referrals and more referrals.

In the networking process, it’s vitally important to give to others first, and to give consistently. In this context, this means referring business to others. Within your organization, those who quickly establish themselves as givers typically will reap huge rewards.

General Group Leads

In your group, there are three basic types of leads and referrals: general group leads, individual referrals and individual leads.

“General group leads” are leads given by one member that could possibly benefit several or more members of the group. For example, an office building is going up along Highway 1 in Tequesta, Florida, not far from where I live. This lead could be useful to the copier salesperson, the Realtor®, the insurance salesperson, the cleaning person, the sign person, and many others.

Individual Referrals: “Feel Free to Use My Name”

These are referrals given by one member specifically to another. The referred prospect might be a person who could use that particular service. In this case, the referral provider is friendly enough with the prospect that using his name would be a help.

It should be made clear whether or not the prospect expects a call from the person to whom the referral was given. If that is the case, make sure you do call, or else the person who provided the referral will be made to look bad.

Also, determine whether or not this is simply a lead (i.e., the referrer knows there is a need, but has never spoken with the prospect about it), or a referral (in that it was mentioned to the prospect who agreed to take your call), or a “presold.” A presold is the highest level of referral: here, the referral provider (who most likely has a know you, like you, trust you relationship with the prospect) has already established your credibility to the nth degree; basically, all you need to do is show up.

Individual Leads: “Please Don’t Use My Name”

These are leads—possibly excellent ones—given with the stipulation that the lead giver’s name not be mentioned to the prospect. The lead giver might say, “Joe Sprazinski, I know he needs[the person’s product or service]. Unfortunately, he and I don’t exactly hit it off, so I wouldn’t suggest you use my name.”

Why not? Hard to say, exactly. Perhaps that person is still a prospect for the lead giver, and the lead giver might feel the prospect will resent the idea that her name is being given out to others. Or maybe the prospect is someone who doesn’t especially like the lead giver. Doesn’t matter: The person could still be a good prospect. Find another reason to get in there and see Mr. Sprazinski.

When lead givers don’t want their names revealed to the prospect, their wishes must be respected. Otherwise, you’ll never get a lead or referral from that person again—or from anyone else in the group who hears that you went ahead and used the lead giver’s name despite a request not to do so.

Now that we’ve looked at the basic concept, stay tuned for Part Two, where we’ll discuss how to make it happen.

BOB BURG is a faculty member of
Networking University and a frequent
speaker at networking conventions.