Networking is a great way to build your contact list. It can be an effective and low-cost marketing method for developing sales opportunities and building relationships. But with so many networking groups out there how you do chose which ones are right for you?
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Where are your clients based? If you are an online company your client base will be much wider than if you are a local hairdressers or beauty salon. If you have a local shop or your clients are required to travel to you, review your market research and look at how far people are willing to travel. If your research shows that people are only willing to travel 3-5 miles for the service you offer, it would be a waste of time and money attending networking events 10+ miles away.
If you visit your clients, how far are you willing to travel? Remember that the further you travel the lower your profit margins, unless this cost is passed onto your client. If you are passing the cost onto your client there is only so much you can increase your prices by before instructing someone local becomes a more viable option for them. You will of course have much more leeway if you or your business has an outstanding reputation, or the service you offer is particularly specialised.
2. The Early Bird vs The Night Owl
If you are naturally an early bird then a breakfast group may be a good option for you. Breakfast meetings are a great way to network without having to interrupt your day or risk missing an evening event due to an important deadline that may keep you at your desk into the evening.
If you are a night owl and you turn into Sleepy or Grumpy after getting up early, breakfast meetings are probably one to avoid. You are not going to create a great impression if you are subdued and yawning away.
Lunch meetings are great if you do want to break the day up. They make sure you get away from your desk and usually include a lunch so you won’t be skipping a meal either.
Evening groups are great if you want to get through your working day first, especially if you would like to enjoy a glass or wine or a cocktail while networking!
3. Structured vs Unstructured
Some groups will with have an “Information session” or “Talk” on a particular topic and you will be given the opportunity to ask questions at the end (an opportunity you don’t get when reading a book or an article). The presentation or discussion can also be a great conversation starter during the networking section of the event.
There are other much less formal groups where there may be a quick introduction or even a 60 second elevator pitch but afterwards you are left to mingle. There are even some groups that are solely for open networking, however, these groups can be hard work as you may need to talk to a lot more people to find those that you wish to speak with most. Whereas, if there has been an introduction or elevator pitch, you already know what people do and you can make a bee line for those you would like speak with most.
4. Frequency and Commitment
Some groups require you to attend on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Such groups can be very effective as you get to know people in the group very quickly and vice versa. They usually require you to pay an annual membership fee plus a monthly breakfast or lunch fee, whether you attend every meeting or not. If you are unwilling or unable to make this kind of commitment they are going to be less effective and can work out expensive.
Other groups are more relaxed and although they may meet once a fortnight or once a month, you are not expected to attend every event and there are no membership fees. As you book onto and only pay for the events you wish to attend, this more flexible approach may be useful if you are unable to commit to an event at the same time every week/fortnight/month. It will also be a less expensive option if you are only paying for the events you go to. However, as people dip in an out of these groups it is much harder to build relationships.
5. Make Up Your Own Mind
Everyone you speak to who has ever been to a networking event will give you their opinion on which ones are better than others but what you have to remember is that it is their opinion based on what suits them.
I cannot stress enough that you need to work out which group or groups are best for you and your business. By all means ask other peoples’ opinions but try the groups out for yourself.
Look at the location, the frequency of meetings and the type of commitment required to narrow down the number of possible groups that could work for you. Once you have done this visit all of them (or the top 10 if you have a long list) to see how they are run, whether you like the sound of how the group operates and see whether they feel right for you.
I would always recommend visiting each group at least twice to reduce the risk of you only visiting the group on a particularly bad or a particularly good day. Even those groups that require you to pay a membership fee will often allow you to visit twice without asking you to make any commitment.
The dynamic of a group can change over time so it’s also good practice to reassess whether the events you go to are as effective now as they were 12 months ago. If not, it may be worthwhile carrying this exercise to see whether they are some better options out there for you.
As a starting point http://www.findnetworkingevents.com/ is a great site to help you find networking groups in your area. The list is not exhaustive so do ask around and see what other options are out there. If you are in or looking for groups in the South Manchester/Cheshire area how about joining Wendy Green at one of her Moxie events (http://www.moxie-mingle.com/)? Or, if you’re a bit of a wine connoisseur how about joining Janet Harrison for one of her Women Who Drink Wine events (http://crackingwine.co.uk/)?