Networking is not in my DNA. As a business owner I’ve tried the classic chamber mixers to drum up new business. I’d arrive with a friend, talk to my friend and leave having spoken to no one but my friend. New approach. I would go alone figuring I’d have to meet someone interesting, right? Glass of wine in hand, I’d scan the room for anyone not engrossed in conversation. Wait – there’s someone who might be a prospect. I approach with a standard open-ended question, and twenty minutes later I can’t escape. Help!
Fast forward. I took up a the game of golf and discovered a better setting to network in the process – and a new company! Women on Course is the fastest growing networking organization connecting like-minded women using golf. According to Barrons (March 30, 1998 cover story: Investing in Golf), one-quarter of the 25 million golfers in the U.S. are top management executives and 80% of that number agreed that golf is an important business development tool.
Adrienne Wax, co-author of Even Par: How Golf helps Women Gain the Upper Hand In Business, says, “Outside the office, you can communicate differently with your higher-level peers and get to know one another in a way that the office can’t provide.” Being able to talk golf in the office gives you a chance to bond with the bigwigs. If you can talk about golf, suddenly you have reasons to talk with the CEO.”
If the extent of your golf experience is mini golf, that doesn’t mean you have to rule golf out. There are many ways to leverage this game and break into the informal networks formed on the golf course. If you’re serious about making new connections, it’s time to add golf to your business tool kit.
You’ve Got Game
If you’re already a golfer you can use the game to deepen relationships and solidify a loyal customer for life. Where else can you spend four quality hours with your valued customers? I often play business matchmaker at Women on Course events knowing that a strong bond will form during the round. There’s something powerful about a shared experience that allows people to let down their guard and reveal a deeper level of their character. Once you get below the surface, you’ll find the connections to be more lasting. The next time you’re looking to get some face time with your clients, bypass the lunch meeting and extend an invitation to golf.
Level the Playing Field
If you won’t be noticed for your stellar swing, you can stand out with everything else impressive about you – provided you’ve done your homework and are prepared. Skip the traditional round of golf and opt for an outing with a social focus and team format. While it may take years of corporate climbing to be included in the senior level inner circles, it only takes hours to break through the corporate hierarchy when you find yourself next to the CEO in your golf cart.
Golf without Swinging a Club
If you’re learning the game and not comfortable on the course, that doesn’t mean you can’t use golf for networking. In my previous corporate job I discovered how to use golf as a conversation starter in the office quite by accident. One casual Friday I wore an US Open shirt and struck up a conversation with a senior executive in the elevator. An executive who later made an introduction and helped me win a major government contract. Afterwards I made it a practice to wear or carry a ‘clue’ that I was a golfer.
My Pebble Beach Golf tote bag became quite the conversation starter and expanded quickly outside the office. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to meet people when you mention the word golf. I’ve collected more business cards in airports, cocktail parties, and even on the sidelines at my children’s soccer game. It’s a surefire way to get people talking as most people love it, struggle with it or have thought about playing it.
Be a Fan
Corporate entertaining around a sporting event is a common practice, but there is no need to be stuck in a seat for 3 hours. Score tickets to a PGA golf tournament and spend the day entertaining clients in a festive atmosphere. You can move around the course to meet different people all day long, camp out at one golf hole, or move with the flow and follow a player. If you’re fortunate to have access to a hospitality tent it’s bound to be full of interesting people who would be happy to explain the game.
Many charities and corporations host golf tournaments, and volunteering provides inside access to meet everyone on game day. If you’re comfortable with basic etiquette offer to deliver refreshments in a golf cart or man a sponsored station at a golf hole. If the clubhouse is more your style, greet golfers at the registration table and work the silent auction after the round is complete.
Ready to Close the Deal?
Golf is no different from other business networking environments and it’s most important to fit in and represent your best professional self. Preparation is half the game. Step up your wardrobe and dress for success. Become familiar with the basic rules and etiquette surrounding the game. Do some research on the people you’ll be meeting, and have something interesting to talk about. Show up on time, stock your golf bag with business cards and enjoy the interesting people and conversations.