Many business networking groups will tell you that no matter which of their groups you visit you will get the same experience, and that every networking group is the same. However, in reality do you really get the same experience no matter which group you attend? In my experience you don’t, and there are some key differences I’ve identified between networking groups:
First impressions count, and the way you are welcomed makes a huge difference to your perception of a business networking group. Are you greeted by friendly smiles? Is the signing in table well organised – with receipts provided for any meeting fees? Is the person on the signing in desk wearing a name badge? I’ve been to some events where the signing in table was inside the room rather than outside, and the cash was laying on the table rather than in a cash tin. It’s essential when being involved with the running of a networking event to make sure that all the visitors are made to feel welcome.
The best events I’ve been to have several welcomers near the entrance to the event, who show visitors to the signing in table, then someone else takes over and shows you to a seat to put your bag and coat down, and then takes you to the tea and coffee station to get a drink (especially needed if it’s a breakfast meeting!), before introducing you to people who you might be able to form a business relationship with (more about that later).
Some events are unstructured. There is a regular event held in Nottingham for the IT industry where people just turn up in the evening and socialise. That’s great – unless you are a shy kind of person who doesn’t find it easy to approach strangers. If people aren’t making an effort to actively approach strangers and speak to people who are on their own then it’s not going to be a great networking experience for everyone. Personally I always make the effort to speak to new people and approach people who are looking “lost”.
Sometimes you will get people who corner you and try to sell to you, or get you to join their latest network marketing opportunity. Dealing with these types of people can sometimes be challenging because often they are nice people, but coming across as “desperate” because of their desire to sell rather than build relationships. If you have any good tips for dealing with these type of people please feel free to add your comments below. One technique I’ve used is to politely say, “I’d love to find out more, and there are a lot of people you must want to get around tonight, so can I have your business card and we can arrange a one to one meeting some time later?”, and you can also say, “You go this way, and I will go this way – if I bump into anyone who might be interested – I will send them over to you!”
The best way to use the open networking time is to find out what people do, arrange one-to-one meetings later, then pair them off with another person who they may be able to build a relationship up with. That way you can work the room more quickly and not get stuck in long drawn out conversations with people that could be done later. There is nothing worse than leaving a big networking event and only having made a few contacts. Success is always in the follow up of any networking event, so remember to make those calls and arrange follow up meetings to find out more about the other person’s business and start building up a business relationship that could lead to dream referrals!
Many events have a structured part of the meeting that may involve everyone standing up and speaking about their business for 60 seconds, or listening to a speaker. Other events involve a guest speaker who talks at some length about their background often sharing tips that may be useful for the business community. I tend to find events that have minimum speeches, and are more focused on generating business more effective.
I’ve been networking for years but until recently the only thing I got out of it was a few small jobs and a massive collection of business cards. I must have over 4,000 business cards! I only wish that I put them onto a spreadsheet because then I might get some use out of them.
However, since finding a really good structured group which I’ve since become highly involved with, I’ve found that my networking has really started bringing in the business. The main difference I’ve realised through studying the habits of effective networkers is that by focusing on helping others with their needs, you will naturally encourage others to look for business for you in return.
By all means go to open networking events such as Chamber of Commerce events. Those can be very good for random contacts. It’s the luck of the draw who you will talk to. For best results do your research beforehand and identify who you want to talk to and what you want to accomplish from meeting them, do you want to arrange a one to one meeting later, or do you want to ask them advice on a particular topic? Don’t go in for the sell straightaway and bear in mind if they don’t know you and trust you they aren’t going to be likely to introduce you to their best client.
Find out who near you is successful in business networking and go along to one of the groups they are involved in. See if it’s right for you. The organisation I’ve chosen to be involved in is Business Network International who have over 600 groups throughout the UK. You can find your local BNI Chapter here.
For more tips on networking I recommend the following sites:
Please use the comment form below to share your experiences of business networking!