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Organizing a networking group can be a boon for your business. By bringing like-minded professionals together you can improve your ability to strike new connections and meet more centres of influence (COIs).

Dian Chaaban, investment and wealth advisor with RBC Dominion Securities Inc. in Toronto, says her networking group has enabled her to expand her COI network “tenfold.”

Chaaban started Women of Ambition, an invitation-only networking group, more than three years ago. As a new financial advisor then, she preferred attending events rather than cold calling as a way to meet new prospects. When Chaaban met other female entrepreneurs, she got the idea to start an informal networking group, which now includes about 100 women.

Often, the act of networking can feel contrived, even in situations designed to help professionals make connections. But taking an informal approach to networking can take the pressure off and make the process more pleasant.

Chaaban offers the following suggestions on how to start your own informal networking group:

> Find a common denominator
Contact other people in a situation similar to yours. Whether you’re all at the same stage in your career or going through a transition, surrounding yourself with people you can relate to personally can be helpful.

For example, Chaaban sought out female entrepreneurs who also were in the early stages of building their business and who, like her, were “hungry” for new contacts.

> Look beyond your referral base
Your first instincts tell you lawyers and accountants are the natural COIs for any advisor.

But it pays to expand your circle of contacts to other professionals, Chaaban says, so you can offer your clients an unexpected service. So, for example, if the topic of weddings or health issues should come up in a conversation with a client, Chaaban is able to refer clients to a wedding planner or a health and wellness expert she can vouch for.

> Strive for diversity
Having a wide range of perspectives can be a great asset to your networking group. This diversity opens up a host of opportunities for group members to collaborate and learn from one another, Chaaban says.

As the gatekeeper of her group, Chaaban selectively invites professionals in various fields. “We could all be each other’s clients,” she says. “We could all complement each other.”

Chaaban not only wanted to minimize the chances of people within her group competing for business, but has also found that many are eager to share their knowledge with one another. For example, when she puts a callout requesting speakers for a seminar she is organizing for the group, a handful of members usually volunteer.

> Be patient
Recognize that it takes time and patience for your networking efforts to pay off. Chaaban often refers clients of hers to members of her networking group, who may reciprocate by referring clients of their own.

But don’t expect those reciprocal referrals right away, says Chaaban: “It’s a mutual, long-term relationship.”

> Hold regular gatherings
Schedule group get-togethers on a regular basis. Every so often, Chaaban organizes a roundtable, an outing or a conference call for group members to reconnect. Because it’s an informal group, members can participate at a time that is most convenient for them.

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