For five years I've belonged to a wonderful BNI group (Business Networking International.) The group has been as large as 40 people and as small as eight. There are times I'm incredibly grateful to be a part of this group and find myself anticipating the next meeting. And, there are times that I dread the 5:30 a.m. wake-up call and wonder why I bother week after week. It's during those times that I make sure to remind myself of how the experience has enhanced my life and business.

"Networking" among a group of people who, over time, become friends and confidants is the best way to explore the truth and reality behind your mission. When I stand up every week and offer a 60 second description of my business, I know when I've hit the target. Eyes connect and body language speaks as people realize that they may know someone who would benefit from the services of a business and life coach. I also know when I've missed the target and see that they just don't get it. I've learned to capture the attention of a group in less than 10 seconds and get my message across in less than 60.

Why is this important? Have you ever been in a store, at a party, or working at the coffeehouse when someone asks you what you do? The first sentence out of your mouth is the only opportunity you have to capture their interest. If you lose them, you've lost a potential customer or resource. This may seem inconsequential, but we all know that the best advertising is word-of-mouth so your words are critical in situations like this.

Another wonderful benefit of this group is that I've learned the true meaning of networking. It's not about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. Giving is THE most important aspect of networking. Not only does it feel great and help you grow as a person and professional, but your generosity will be returned somewhere down the line. If people come to know you as a valuable resource, word will spread. People genuinely want to give back. Life has a wonderful way of balancing itself out.

As much as I've bucked the system and fought for my freedom and independence in the corporate days of past, adding some routine to my work week has been more important than I ever would have guessed. It's a reminder that I'm still a professional, I own a real business, people still take me seriously (some of the time) and I am a part of the business world even though I no longer wear suits and allow commuting to consume over three hours of my time each day.

I can think of so many other benefits; friendships, clients I've received, affirmation of my ability to help others, things I've learned from others, and the wonderful rewards reaped from giving, giving, and giving some more.

So every Tuesday morning, when the alarm cries out with its incessant beeping, I may momentarily feel tempted to put a pillow over my head and fall back into a restful slumber. But I picture the faces of my friends and colleagues at BNI and know that there is a new experience awaiting me in the disguise of a weekly routine.