Becoming more involved in the local networking scene lately – both as a member and a guest speaker, I have discovered just how much variation is on offer. You can waste considerable time and money signing up to a type of networking that suits neither you nor your product/service. What is sauce for the goose is most definitely not sauce for the gander.
So rather than simply falling into the nearest group, or being bullied into the one with the most forceful marketing hype, make a list of what you need from the sessions. It isn’t enough to think ‘more business’, either. Anyone who networks effectively knows it is about building relationships and slowly developing that ‘know, like and trust’ element, rather than going for the sales jugular.
I have three questions that I ask myself before committing my time and money to a particular group:
- Does this group attract the kind of people who may genuinely be interested in my products/services?
If you only sell expensive group training to corporate or public sector clients, then it probably isn’t worth your time to attend a cosy format that is populated by sole traders. In a similar vein, you won’t get many takers from attending a high-powered, CEO-populated meeting if your business is crocheting Star Wars figures for small children.
- Can I commit to formal, regulated events without compromising my day job?
For some folk, nothing works better than the discipline of dragging yourself out to a 6.00 AM Breakfast meeting, complete with obligatory referrals and exactingly timed introduction slots. Others need more flexibility, such as the many ‘pay as you attend’ networking franchises. Personally, I have never been fond of the bossy boots, formal format. Apart from being unachievable for a busy trainer, I get the impression that the regular dollars in the till matter more than whether the delegates are getting the most value from their attendance. Each meeting can work out incredibly expensive if you are unable to make a regular commitment.
- Where is my most natural home? Is it in all female/all male/mixed group?
Even in ‘woke’ 2019, there are still folk who prefer single-sex meetings, where they feel more comfortable or cosy. Do beware though – feeling at home can quickly translate into ‘achingly laid-back and just do your own thing’ types of meetings, where the basic organisation tends to be a little ad-hoc. Often to the extent that everyone hangs about aimlessly clutching cups of coffee or self-consciously engaging in earnest discussion about the Great British Bake-Off. When what they are really thinking is “Why the hell have I wasted valuable business time coming to something that resembles a WI coffee morning?”.
Whichever group you choose, always remember the six degrees of separation rule – you never know who other people know. Always be courteous and listen to others, don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because someone seems remote from your needs, that they aren’t a valuable contact. They may happen to be married to/work alongside/meet regularly at the gym … your most ideal client ever!