So, you’ve decided networking is the way to promote your business and you’re going to launch yourself on the networking community… but with so many events out there, which do you choose?
Do you go for something formal, where you pay a large subscription fee, they allow only one member of each profession to join, have regular weekly or monthly meetings that you are required to attend (or send a substitute) and which expect you to bring referrals for other members every time?
Do you go for the one that’s semi-formal, not such a large subscription fee, which still meets regularly, but there’s no commitment to be at every meeting nor to provide referrals to other members?
Or do you go for the one that is free and informal, you can attend as many or as few events as you want, there’s no “lock out” and again there’s no requirement to give referrals?
You need to research the different events in your area (and surrounding areas) to find out which are right for you. There is no point signing up to a formal event, with a large subscription fee, if the other members don’t match the sort of people you’re looking to bring you business.
First, ask your business colleagues, etc., what networking groups and events they go to and find out what works for them.
Attend the events (even the most formal ones should allow visitors to attend one or two meetings before having to sign up) and even if you don’t get to speak to everyone, if the members’ business cards are on display, take one of each so you can study them when you get back to your business.
Remember, especially with the formal clubs and groups, the members want more people to join, so they will be super-positive about how their group will help your business. If it is group that operates a “lock-out” (i.e. only one person from each industry can join), then take it with a “pinch of salt” if they tell you the last member from your industry left because they were getting too much work from the members. A friend of mine attended a group that I used to be a member of, and got this response from the members as to what I left. The real reason for leaving was I wasn’t getting enough referrals to cover the cost of my membership (and I had told the members this). Why would I leave a group that was giving me so much work?
Of course, you need to remember that it’s not just the members of the group that count, but who they know that matters and they could give you third party referrals. But, even then, take a close look at the types of industries they operate in. For a time, I was involved with a group that was mainly made up of members from the building industry (architect, planner, builder, plumber, etc.). They were passing a lot of work between themselves, but very little to the other members.
Don’t forget that some networking organisations have more than one group and while the one in your immediate area may not suit you, another nearby might be perfect.
The above sounds good for formal groups, where you’re paying a subscription, but surely if the event is free, then that information isn’t important? Well, actually yes it is.
While you’re not paying any money to attend a free networking event you might still have other costs (travel, etc.) plus there is your time. If you’re at the event for two hours, that’s time you could be in your business earning money. So, it is still important to make sure that you don’t attend a free event every time if you find you never get any referrals or work. Of course, getting others to use you takes time, as they need to trust you, so you need to build relationships, but you need to decide if the people you’re meeting are likely to buy from you in the future, or you find you’re just attending and “chatting” with people – possibly over a drink.
It is easy to fall into the trap of “well, it’s nice to get out and meet people, even if I don’t get any business” (and I know people who do this every week). If you can spare the time and money to meet others over breakfast, lunch or whatever and not worry about ever getting business, then great, but that’s not why most people are networking.
So, think carefully about what you want from the events and groups, check that the members will fit your business and that referrals are being passed to members from a wide range of industries.
Finally, you don’t have to attend or join everything. It’s better to concentrate on 2 or 3 groups, and build solid relationships within those. Try as well to pick clubs or organisations that have very different make-up of members and industries.