Something we wanted to talk about today was choosing a networking group.
Networking is a key, instant way to start getting your business out there. It is what we did when we launched our business, and saw a fantastic return on investment, but what is really important is ensuring you are attending the right groups for you. So this article isn’t about how to maximise your networking investment, but rather how to find the group that is going to bring you the best results.
It is important first to understand what you want out of networking. ‘More business’ is what most people will say, which is completely fine, but break that down further taking into account the types of people you want to meet. Are you looking to directly meet potential clients? Are you looking to meet potential referrers? Are you looking to meet potential collaborators? Are you looking to meet suppliers? Are you looking to meet distributors? This is important, as different groups will be frequented with different types of people, so you need to know exactly who you want to meet.
Other reasons you may go networking may include to meet people you can learn from (including competition), or even social reasons (it can be lonely being self-employed). So don’t discount these completely, but know your main purpose.
The heart and soul of a networking organisation is the people that make it up.
ACTION: Write down exactly who you want to meet at networking events, and why. The more detail the better.
Now you understand the type of people, it is time to start looking for events in your local area. In all honesty at this point…revert to Google. There will be many different groups we imagine, so it is going to take a little bit of time to do some research. Websites like eventbrite will be a good place to start too. Maybe even just ask around to see if your contacts know of any good ones.
ACTION: Make a list of potential groups in your area, including how often they meet, where they meet, the meeting fee, and how to book yourself on.
It is important at this point to understand that most networking events differ. At one end of the spectrum you will have very formal events where you are required to bring business for other members (the most popular one being BNI), and at the other end of the spectrum you will have very informal groups, where a room if filled with people and you have to mingle and make your own conversations. Then there will be mixtures in between with slightly different formats.
There also maybe networking events for a specific type of person, or a specific industry, or a specific purpose. Some may have a speaker that teaches you something, some may have a round-table introductions, some may have dedicated time for 1-1 meetings. The point is there isn’t a right way and wrong way of doing networking. But there is a right way for you, and you need to know the best way you can flourish.
In our opinion (people could argue on this one), we think the groups that have a little bit of structure are more effective. People are put off groups because they have to stand up and talk to the room, BUT this is a fantastic opportunity, and you shouldn’t let your nerves hold back your business. Over time it will be easier, we promise!
ACTION: The best way to judge a group is to go to it, and see for yourself. Don’t trust what they say online, don’t trust what the organiser has said. Just go and make up your own mind. So book yourself on a handful of groups and do some research.
Now you need to decide which group is going to be best for you. So these are the things you need to weigh up, and questions you need to find answers too…
– What numbers does the group regularly get?
– What is the cost of joining and attending?
– What do other members think about the group? (ASK them when you are there…it is a good conversation starter)
– How many new people attend? (Regular members are essential, but so are new members to keep the group fresh)
– Are there any promotional opportunities for joining the group?
But the most important thing is…
– Are the right sorts of people attending that you outlined in your first action? If not, then this group probably isn’t for you.
After you have asked all these questions, there should be one or two groups that stand out above the rest. These are the ones you want to join.
After you have joined a group, go regularly. It takes a little bit of time to build those relationships up, and see the return on investment.
ACTION: Always be on the look our for new networking events to attend. It is easy to become attached to a group, but remember they are a business tool that you are investing in, and to see the biggest return you need to be attending the right groups for you, so always ensure the time you spend at these groups is worthwhile.
ACTION: Measure how much business comes from being a member of a group. This will come in useful in the future when measuring return on investment.