Almost every single one of my business coaching and marketing consulting clients use face-to-face networking as a means of meeting new people in the hope that this will lead to new customers. One thing that I recommend to each of them is that they network off the beaten path.

What do I mean by that? Be creative in how you meet new people. Sure, you can go to chamber of commerce mixers, referral clubs, and other types of business functions, but don't you see a lot of the same people over and over when you do?

Now believe me, I'm not knocking seeing the same people over and over. But, what we're talking about here is meeting new people. And, it's difficult to do when you keep going to the same functions month after month.

As my old manager would say, you need to shake it up. Go somewhere else entirely new to network. A place where almost every single person is new to you. Wouldn't that be great? Maybe it won't, but you won't know if you don't try. You already know what it's like to keep going to the same group and if that's not providing you with enough contacts, then it's high time you broke out of this pattern.

Here are some suggestions on how you can follow this advice:

1. Go to and peruse their tons of groups you can join. Be sure you find groups that are active – have met in the last 30 days – and have an event scheduled for the next 30 days. Look for groups that aren't about networking per se. By this I mean why not find a group that likes French cheese or Arabian stallions? Follow a hobby to a group.

2. Join a non-profit and volunteer your time. Some of the best people in our community volunteer their time. They like other people that volunteer their time. In between doing your volunteer work you typically will talk to others about what they do. You're likely to meet people who are not only interesting, kind and generous, but you just might find someone you can do business with. At the very least you'll have done something noble.

3. Look in the Events Calendars of your local paper, e.g., the San Mateo Daily Journal, on Craigslist, and Peninsula Shops. You're bound to find events listed where you could do some networking but aren't classified as networking events.

4. Go to charity fund raisers. Would it benefit you to meet some of your area's movers and shakers? Well, these people often are the ones that go to somewhat expensive charity fund raiser events like the Junior Achievement Taste of Success event coming up on San Francisco next month. Admittedly the tickets to events like these aren't cheap, which is the point. You're going to meet people with means and that might be just the ticket for your business. Going to a few events like this per year could be part of your marketing budget.

5. Go to school related functions. My daughter's school has multiple functions throughout the year. Each time a certain number of parents participate. These are people that I share a commonality with and fund easy to strike up a conversation with. Inevitably – at least with men – the topic of occupation surfaces.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Stop just looking at the classic networking events as your only means of meeting new people you might do business with or be referred by and you just might grow your business this year.

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