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Networking 101

As a health club owner or manager, you think about the profitability and success of your club. You ask yourself how to get ideas for programs or how to recruit more members. To find the answers to these questions, where do you go? If you've created a good network, you go to your colleagues. But how do you create that network?

Creating a network with others in the industry is the best way to get help with anything you need. Most important, a network helps you get things done quickly and efficiently. Without a network of people to rely on, many tasks can become challenging. Networking is necessary to success, according to Diane Danielson, executive director of Downtown Women's Clubs and co-author of “The Savvy Girl's Alternative to Networking.”

“In today's society, no man or woman is an island. You cannot succeed professionally and personally all by yourself,” Danielson says. “Networking is not about schmoozing, social climbing or manipulating people. It's about building relationships with people you enjoy and the mutual help and assistance you can share.”

Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), agrees. “You know, it's not only important, it's vital. We believe in today's world that we can do it all ourselves,” Milner says. “You need to be networked to get things done. As they say, you're only as valuable as your Rolodex.” Milner has run health clubs in the past and says that networking is one of the best low-cost marketing skills in the business.

Establishing your network is the most difficult part of networking, but once this is done, connecting with people becomes easier. Here are tips from the experts about how to start your network and how to make these contacts pay off for your club.

  • Know why you want to network

    The first question to ask when creating your network is why you need it. You need to know what kinds of contacts you want to make and what purpose your network will serve. Think about the strategy you'd like to use, and what goals you'd like to accomplish. Ask yourself which people could help you accomplish your goal. Danielson says establishing a goal helps you decide how to spend your time, what types of people to talk to, or what programs you should get involved in.

  • Get out of your comfort zone

    The key to establishing a network is being visible and being fearless about whom you talk to and network with, Milner says.

    “People need to know that you're out there; you need to be seen. Attend events to meet people in your market,” Milner says. That means attending industry events and trade shows. Laurie Cingle, owner of Club Programming Resources, recommends splitting up your group at trade shows and trying to meet a couple of new people each day.

  • Introduce yourself and ask questions

    When you introduce yourself to a potential contact, make sure to find out about them. As Milner suggests, “Become someone interested in them — this is a better way to create a long-term networking partner. Find what is of value and interest to the people you network with.” If you want to network with a person, find out as much about them as you can.

  • Find your forum

    As Danielson says, not everyone likes to chat people up at cocktail parties. She suggests finding an organization or activity that fits your strategy. If you want to expand your female membership, join a women's organization to find out what would bring them to your club.

    And in today's world, you don't have to network face to face. Networking can be done over the phone, through e-mail, or in chat rooms.

    You can find contacts in three places. Your first bet is area-of-interest opportunities, such as fitness conferences. You may be able to get more out of networking at these events than at the sessions you attend. Second, look locally for groups to network with. Try the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce or any social clubs in your city. Just because they aren't in your industry doesn't mean they aren't good networking sources. Third, be open to anyone around you. It's important to keep your eyes and ears open, because you never know whom you'll come across that may help you network. Talk to everyone you meet and find out what they do.

    Also, remember to network with your staff members. By connecting with them, you may be able to get answers to many of your inquiries.

    “Network with anyone at any level,” Cingle says. “Get out of your office and walk around the floor. A lot of smart, successful employees can give you good advice.”

    Both Danielson and Milner suggest finding like-minded people to talk with. “The fastest way [to build a network] is to be around like-minded people. Tell them what you're doing — they'll help you meet the same kind of people,” says Milner.

  • Make it pay off

    Once you've established a network of people, making it pay off is the next step. Danielson suggests making sure everyone in the network knows your strategy and what you want. “People aren't mind readers,” she says. “It will help them to know better how to help you, and vice versa.” Milner and Cingle suggest staying in touch with your contacts. Unless you contact them, you'll never get those connections to pay off.

  • Stay in network

    Even after you've quit a job, your network is still yours. You still have those connections, and it's possible to start up a new business with the contacts that you have acquired. Milner started the ICAA three years ago and has established 20 networking partners since the start-up. He says he couldn't have afforded to connect with these groups except through networking and building relationships.

Cingle agrees with Milner. “You can save a lot of time, heartache and money talking to people with similar businesses and philosophies so you can make better decisions,” she says.

With these pointers, and a little enthusiasm, you can create a network that will help your club immensely. Just make sure to get out of your comfort zone, and say hello to people you normally wouldn't talk to. And as Milner says, “The better you are at it (networking), the more you'll achieve. But nothing happens until you ask.”

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