Will networking events work for you and your small business? In my experience, it very much depends on your personality and, to a large extent, luck.
There are many different types of networking events. Some are relaxed, some are very rigid in the way they work and some groups will have expectations of you. I don’t intend to cover the type of events here only what (based on my own experience) you should look out for.
Be honest with yourself. If you are not the outgoing type or if making a five-minute pitch to an audience sends you into a panic then networking is probably not for you. That’s fine, there are plenty of more promotional techniques to try.
Based on my experience here’s what to watch out for:
What are your goals?
Who are the attendees?
What’s the agenda?
It’s a long term game.
Give and thou shalt receive.
All are equal but some are more equal than others.
There’s a lot of luck involved.
What are your goals?
This is often overlooked but it is important. Decide what you expect to get out of networking. If you are expecting immediate leads for your business you are probably going to be disappointed. If your goal is to make contact with people who may be helpful to you (and you to them) over the long term you have more chance of success. Define the type of people you would like to meet and why.
Who will attend?
What types of people will be there? You are unlikely to get an exact match with your target audience. That said, there is no point attending if there is little chance of engaging in any useful conversations.
How many of each type of person will be there? Some groups only allow one person from each discipline (one accountant, one lawyer etc) but many don’t. There is no point attending if there are many wolves and only a few sheep.
What’s the format?
Some groups stick to a rigid format, others are more relaxed. In my experience, the ones that stick to some sort of agenda are the most useful but if this does not fit with your personality, avoid them. Obviously, the agenda needs to have some fit with what you are looking for from an event.
It’s a long term game
If you expect to attend your first event and find immediate sales prospects then (unless you are very lucky) you are likely to be disappointed. First, you need to let people know what you can do. You need to show that you, and your business, are credible. You need to do the basic social interaction stuff.
You should be looking to build relationships over the medium to long term. Those relationships need to be mutually beneficial.
Give to receive - but!
Concentrate on building relationships first. Ultimately those relationships are going to work best if they are mutually beneficial. If you can help others at an event then in my experience it is best to resist giving that help at early meetings. Event attendees will be checking you over in your first few events (see above) it is best if you do the same to them. Give when it has the most chance of benefiting you.
All are equal - but!
In many networking groups you will find little cliques. In the group you may be the best at service X, it may be your speciality. However, you may find others in the group are referred work for service X even though it is not their core business. Why? Because they are in a little clique and they are probably close to those who run the group.
You might hit lucky
Some people do well out of networking. Yes, they are a good fit for the group and they are the right type of personality but there is something else. Often they happen to have joined a good group. The people at their event just happen to be good networkers and/or they are a good mix. Travelling a long distance to attend networking events is generally not a good idea. There are a limited number of events to choose from in a given area. Some people just get lucky.