The best writers’ group I ever belonged to reminded me of something you see in movies. We ate hummus, grapes, olives with pits, and hunks of dark chocolate as we gave each other updates on what we were working on. Then we would write for 30 minutes and share what we’d just created on the spot.
The group started when my mentor, a writer and entrepreneur, invited a core group of 15 writers to her apartment once a month. Not everyone attended every time, but the room was always full because members brought along their friends.
Being around such a talented group of people on a regular basis gave me the motivation to finish a novel, advice on job hunting and working with clients, and a dozen new friends, plus copious connections. We regularly discovered that we had many mutual friends.
I never published the novel, but I did learn that the best way anyone can get really motivated and narrow in on a project is to have a great networking group. Here are some things to consider when you’re joining networking group, or starting one of your own.
Don’t worry about having one focus
My group existed so that writers could network, find motivation to finish their projects, and eat great food. But networking is all-around good for you, so if you are inclined to bring people together, it doesn’t need to be outcome-oriented. New connections and collaborations will happen organically.
Dayna Ghiraldi-Travers, the owner of Big Picture Media, an entertainment PR agency based in New York, had a lot of friends and peers who lost their jobs during the recent recession. And she felt compelled to help.
“I spent so much time on email connecting good people to good people,” she recalls. “I figured I should just throw a monthly event to connect everyone in person under one roof with delicious cocktails.”
Have an online component
“The best way to build networking communities today involves a combination of cyberspace and real space,” says Rob Asghar, special advisor to the president of the University of Southern California and a university fellow at the USC School of Public Policy.
Asghar wanted to connect his circle of career-oriented friends and colleagues, who he sensed would benefit from some community.
“I realized that there was a hunger to get together with others—to exchange ideas and concerns, to encourage one another, to find ways of supporting one another,” says Asghar. “I was able to pull a group together, despite busy schedules. But the online component was still essential, because it’s just not easy for people in Los Angeles to be able to find a time to all come together.”
To connect your group’s members online, consider starting a private Facebook group, or use an online platform such as Meetup.com, Google Groups, or even Slack. Members will be able to communicate easily with one another in between the meetings they attend.
Start small, go big
To borrow some advice from the self-help guru Danielle LaPorte, start where it’s easy. Use your style and sensibilities to launch the kind of networking group you’d want to join. If you like to plan parties, make your group an “Interesting People Party,” and invite people to bring fascinating friends. Having a general theme like “Friends in Tech” or “Founder Friends” can help you narrow your focus.
If you come up with the right focus, the group will grow on its own. Just like my writers’ group, people will be eager to share it with others.
Pick the right space
You don’t need a loft, or even a living room of your own, to get people together. Here are some ideas for places that you could use (probably for free): the back room of a bar on a weeknight (when there isn’t a game, of course), the tenant lounge in your friend’s apartment building, a public park, or a pretty atrium. If you know someone who works for a startup, ask if you could meet in their office after hours. (And leave a few bags of nice coffee beans in the kitchen as a thank you.)
Enjoy being a “connector”
The beauty of starting your own networking event is that you get to plan a networking situation that makes you the most comfortable. The added good-karma benefit is the connections, new ventures, and sense of community that others will reap as a benefit of your work.
Photo credit: Lauren Kallen