Not that it is unfathomable to do both, but my question is two-fold. The art of meeting people with the hope of establishing some sort of business relationship sometimes becomes diluted, and takes a period of time as it is. So a mixing of business with pleasure can blur the lines of good communication and stunt opportunities that slip through the martinis, where under normal circumstances, would never be an issue. This may marginalize your reach, so watch it.
See if these simple tips help you stay on task, targeting the right connection for your business model, taking it to national levels and beyond. Remember, slow and steady may win the race but there are a few "must-haves" that will launch you into another stratosphere.
It Is Not About The Food
While ok to meet for a meal, do not make it a habit. Keep the meeting about formulating common grounds for partnering. A full stomach tends to dull the senses, memory and focus. Think about the timing of these meetings. If your family expects you home for dinner, no matter the family member who is networking, reduce hurt feelings by scheduling early enough to be home instead of forming habitual meals on the run. Your family, wallet and waistline will thank you.
Establish Clear Boundaries
It really is sad to have to mention this, but there are many who cross the line here. They turn a networking event into a dating free for all. Networking is neither the time nor place for making personal or emotional assessments if the target is business. Just as there are corporate guidelines, you need to build a foundation of terms to safeguard your reputation, business and networking threshold.
There is not one person, all naivety aside, who thinks the alternative is a good idea. Find dates on your personal time, should that be your aim, but do not include this as part of your professional curriculum or your credibility will go south. A word of caution: when feelings change-business changes-permanently. If you think I am kidding, ask the partier who failed to see the difference. They usually reside at the bar, not the boardroom.
Follow A Process That Makes Sense
In the spirit of socializing, some may feel that coffee-toting will fix what ails you-this can be true. However, make sure that you know which of the sub-groups are strictly social between networking events so you know what you are getting into. There is nothing wrong with meeting members of these sub-groups for weekly or monthly events. But, if your goal is to network at these venues, you had better be sure that this is the agenda for that particular meet-up.
Professionals creating these events before or after hour groups, outline from the outset, the goal of the meeting. Example: "Join members from the BNI group for breakfast on the third Saturday of each month at Cheesecake Factory. We have a free-spirited discussion on current topics, local chatter and catching up on everyone's week. Come casual and enjoy the jazz featured at CF's Jazz Brunch.
If they have not indicated business do not bring a load of business cards to stack on the edge of the table because protocol was explained in the invitation. Trying to make a bold statement or change the theme of the group's meet-up is the quickest way to be removed from future invitations and may unwittingly oust you from future networking, so do not become shortsighted. Instead, have a coffee roll and some juice and sit down to some tunes and conversation. Break bread not relationships.
Next time, I will discuss appropriate attire for networking. Now go reach beyond the stars with world class networking!