Networking – when you run a small business this can be a vital way of selling your goods or services. If you belong to a larger company you may be asked to go to find potential clients. Love it or hate it networking can be really effective at drumming up new business and finding good contacts for you and your clients
I was talking to a networking event organiser the other day and was surprised to hear how demanding networkers can be, and why some people go networking when there is no obvious reason as to why they are there.
Networking events have different formats – from free and unstructured, mingling in a room (buy your own drink/food), to paid for fully structured. I like the free format ones (much more relaxed), and I also like some of the structured ones, as the content can be good and the format can help focus my mind. I don’t enjoy the over structured ones that focus too much on the input/success of everyone in the room and following a very prescribed format. This can sometimes reduce the amount of good networking time and comes across as very rigid.
The format of these events is usually well known up front and it is a good idea to try each type to find the structure you are comfortable with. Also you need get to understand the mix of businesses in the room. Are they your target market or do they have access to it? Other than that you tend to get out of networking what you put into it. It is a two-way street.
I have occasionally seen people at these events and wondered why they are there. They seem only interested in their own product and don’t want to know what the other person offers. They don’t tend to do so well!
Some seem to come for the company – they don’t appear to explain their offering, or have much to say as to why you should use them. They do put business the way of the others in the room, but never seem to wan, or get, any business. They are often the least prepared for the meeting. I have met a lady who confessed that the reason she goes to networking was to get out the house, meet people and have a bit of structure to her day.
I have seen people sign up for some of the more structured events, and then complain on how they are run and the information provided. They want a list of attendees – rather than collect business cards and write their own notes. To me this is lazy – you need to be listening to, and taking your own notes of what others in the room are looking for.
Networking pays dividends when you make the most of it – connect on LinkedIn soon after the meeting and book 121s between meetings to get to know your fellow networkers better. Also don’t be afraid to book a 121 with the event organiser, and don’t wait for them to book one with you. Networking event organisers often run more than one event each month, so remembering to book 121s with members can slip through the net.
You also need to identify if your target customer is in the room. If you are offering professional services for companies with 50+ employees, then the casual get together at a local pub is unlikely to produce any contacts.
Whatever your reasons to go networking do review your return on investment. Are you getting back in business more than you membership and meeting fees? If not you need to review if you are making the most of the group, or if it is time to leave and find a more suitable group. And also, be nice to the organiser!