Networking: Beyond the Golf Course

Through the late 1980s, physicians typically did not have office hours on Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, doctors were at the golf course. There, they got to relax and know their colleagues better. No doubt they talked about upcoming vacation plans and the college graduations of their children. They talked about difficult patients and what therapies could be used to treat them. Referral relationships between General Practitioners and specialists like Cardiologists and Nephrologists were formed. In other words doctors, who for most of history were independent business men in charge of their own incorporated empires, used Wednesdays on the golf course to network.

The time-honored custom of networking on the golf course still thrives and it now includes a small percentage of women as well as men, who still predominate. In your Freelance consultancy, I suggest that you consider including a sport in your networking activities. You may prefer a sport that is less costly and time-consuming than 4 hours on a golf course.

Consider inviting current or prospective clients and referral sources to visit the tennis courts, drop into a spin, yoga or Pilates class or go out for a run or bike ride. Networking without the presence of food and drink can be very productive. Elisette Carlson, founder of SMACK! Media, a marketing and PR firm that focuses on the sports, health and fitness industries, recommends that we take advantage of the warm weather that has finally arrived and invite networking targets for what she calls “sweat-working”. Like the doctors on the golf course, connecting around an activity encourages the formation of much more meaningful relationships than what will grow out of a restaurant or office meeting. The trick is, getting a client to accept your invitation.

Inviting prospective clients for a round of golf is easy, because the practice is standard among businessmen and golfers love to find each other and get out on the links. Persuading someone to visit a Pilates class requires a strategy and not a small dose of good luck. Still, it’s worth a try and you will not be hurt if your offer is declined.

First, you must assess whether your prospect is the physical sort. Golfers can be in less than prime condition, but unless your prospect appears to be fit, you will have no success in persuading him/her to join you in a physical activity. Next, you must discover the activity that your prospect likes that you can also keep up with. Business owners can successfully use this approach as well, by inviting the employees of a B2B partner out for a group activity. It can take place on the golf course, but a level 1 hike or private beginner-level boot camp class can also be arranged at a local fitness center. What an excellent team-building activity can be designed!

If you know that your networking target bikes to work and you ride, too, then by all means suggest a bike ride, maybe with a riding group. A Pilates class is likely to be a safe bet also, because it’s cross-functional, does not require a sophisticated skill set and most classes are only an hour. Yoga may require a somewhat higher skill level and all classes seem to be 90 minutes, but it’s nonetheless work a try. Avoid “killer” classes, unless your prospect shows enthusiasm for high-level fitness. Your goal is to promote social interaction and a good feeling from a pleasant little workout and use that as a springboard to relationship-building.

The timing of the “sweat-working” session is also crucial. My vote is for early morning, but some may have no problem with either lunch time or evening. The preferred time of your networking target is the time you go with, obviously. Remember also to ask your prospect what a good location would be—near his/her home (for an early morning workout, in particular) or office and take into consideration where the post-workout shower can happen.

During the workout, watch your prospect and monitor whether s/he may want more or less activity. Do what is necessary to create a satisfying experience. If a contest is suggested, or if score is kept in the activity, the client must win, if only by a nose. If there are regularly scheduled games, then the client wins 65% of the time.

If you can set it up right, outdoor or indoor physical activities will provide a whole new dimension to your networking activities, becoming relationship-building vehicles that your business can monetize.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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