How many networking invitations have you had this week or this month? I have had at least 15. I could be networking morning noon and night for at least five days, and sometimes six, in a week. I enjoy networking. I run some networking groups because I believe networking works. However we can’t accept every invitation. So how do we decide which events to go to?
Set clear goals
Networking should be an integral part of our marketing plan and as such should be accompanied by clear goals. What do you want to achieve from your networking?
- Do you want to find more names for your prospect list?
- Do you want to find a joint venture partner?
- Do you want to check out the competition?
- Are you looking for a strategic introduction to a person or business?
- Do you want a chance to showcase what you do?
- Do you want to find people who can help in your business or support your business’ development?
- Do you want to branch out into new areas or locations?
Choose your events carefully
Networking events and groups have many different characteristics. We need to match the characteristics of a group or event to our goals.
So let’s consider the advantages and disadvantages of some of your options.
‘Work the room‘ events
These are the lunchtime or early evening events where you receive an attendance list, a glass of something and maybe some sandwiches or canapes and then you dive in to see who you can meet.
The advantages include meeting a lot of people in a short space of time and with that the chance to pick up plenty of business cards. If the organiser knows all the attendees you may be able to secure an introduction to potential joint venture partners, specific individuals or personnel from a target business. You will probably be able to check out the competition.
However you will have little opportunity to showcase what you do and these events can be very difficult if you are shy or find it difficult to break into or get out of conversations.
Business referral groups
These are usually membership groups, often restricted to one member per category, and meet regularly sometimes even weekly. Examples include BNI and Athena.
The advantage of these groups is that you build relationships over a period of time so your fellow networkers should gain a clear understanding of what you do which will allow them to refer leads to you. Each meeting follows a set structure which includes an opportunity to showcase what you do. These groups can be particularly useful for reaching out into other people’s contact books. They are particularly effective for some sectors such as trades people where one project might provide work for four or five members.
The disadvantages are that you have to attend very regularly, may only be able to promote one aspect of what you do, and have to look for referrals for other members of the group. They can also be quite expensive.
Open groups with structured meetings
These groups usually borrow the best features from the referral groups in that meetings are structured with an opportunity to showcase your business and often to learn from an expert speaker. Examples include The Business Dinner club and Fabulous Women.
The advantages therefore are similar to the referral groups but because membership is less restrictive you can promote all aspects of your business. you might also meet your competitors which can be useful when you want to bid for a project which is too big for you to undertake on your own or when you are too busy to accept all enquiries.
The disadvantage can be that the group may have a fluctuating membership or attendance making it more difficult to establish meaningful relationships and a deep understanding of your offer.
These tend to be events with no structure, no attendance list and rely on people just turning up for a chat.
They can be useful for meeting new people and socialising but as a tool for generating business they are of limited value
10 tips for solving the networking conundrum
- Decide what you want to achieve from your networking
- Choose an event which is most closely matched to your goals
- Test out a number of different organisations and events
- Think who is likely to be at these events, are they your target or will they know your target?
- Find out how the event runs and prepare your ‘pitch’ and materials accordingly
- Ask the organiser for introductions to help you meet your objective
- Follow up with your new contacts but don’t assume they all want to be on your database, they don’t!
- Expect results to take time so visit a group regularly until you have established relationships and then often enough to maintain the relationships.
- Don’t spread yourself too thin by accepting every invitation you get
- Measure your results over time and repeat what works. Match your measuring to the goals you set.
Our My Marketing Planning tool includes a section on networking to help you identify your goals and measure your success. Email me if you would like to know more.