Networking – is it really for me?

I’ve been attending quite a few networking events recently and it’s been interesting gathering various points of view about whether networking is really a useful tool in business.

Nobody can deny that you get to meet many other small business owners. This is where the case becomes controversial.  Some wonder what the point is of meeting other people in the same situation as yourself when it will be rare that they want to buy your product. However, most networking fans are quick to point out that the reason for networking is not to make direct sales but to build long term connections.

You could say that the principle of six degrees of separation applies here. If you make enough connections, eventually someone will know someone who needs your product or service. I guess the question here is how much time you have to devote to networking. If you look hard enough, you could probably attend one event every day but I don’t know many business people who have that time to spare! It then becomes a case of choosing the events you go to. You might make your selection based on time, location, type of meeting, cost, size of meeting or a combination of these. At first it may seem a good idea to keep going to different events so that you can meet the maximum number of people and give them your business card. This is false economy. Turn it the other way around. You’ve been to an event and met 15 people and collected 15 business cards. Now what? Are you going to recommend them to a friend after only one brief meeting? Can you remember who everyone was and what their business was about? The best networkers select a few events to attend regularly so that they can build relationships over time.

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Many say that one of the main mistakes people make when networking is to stop when the going is good. You are making lots of sales and don’t feel you need to network anymore. Always keep one eye on the future though. Your connection might be less inclined to help you out if they only see or hear from you when you need something. It has to be a long process of give and take. This does mean devoting time and potentially money to an activity that you are not necessarily getting any immediate benefit from.

Of course what some don’t realise is that networking events aren’t just about meeting people. There may often be a guest speaker or presentation and these can be very interesting or inspiring or just thought provoking. If the event itself was free, then you have got extra benefit from attending. You can also find out about other events happening in your community that might be beneficial to your business.

So far we’ve not touched on the social aspect of networking. You are meeting like minded people and getting the chance to chat with them on a range of topics. Many networking events include food and drink whether it is just coffee and biscuits or a three course meal it’s a chance to leave your usual surroundings, especially important if you work from home, and get a new perspective.

Finally, networking can give you something new to put on your website, Facebook page, Twitter, or Linkedin page, which helps you keep your profile fresh and up to date.

So if you’ve been won over by networking, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Try a variety of events to start with to see what events suit you best but then stick to just a few to attend regularly.
  • Don’t be the person who rushes around shoving business cards at everyone you meet and telling them all about your business before disappearing. You won’t make any sales or connections that way!
  • Having said that – don’t forget your business cards as there will be plenty of opportunities to hand them out.
  • Follow up on your new connections. Email those you have met and find them on LinkedIn to say you are please to have met them etc. The important thing is not to send an email trying to sell them anything unless you had already started this type of discussion and you truly feel you have something of benefit to them. Try to keep in touch so you are in their mind. Perhaps you could share an article or website you think they would be interested in.
  • Once you are a regular at an event you could volunteer to do a speech or presentation at the next meeting to help raise your profile.
  • Download an app. There are a few apps that help you find local networking events such as Meetup, which can help you get started.
  • If you are thinking about setting up a business, consider networking before you start. I’m sure you will find everyone helpful and you will probably get lots of good advice on how to get started.

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Some of the events I have been to are listed below. You might want to take a look to see if they would suit you.

I wish you all happy networking!