With so many business networking meetings available throughout the working week, where should you spend your precious time?
Networking should be treated as part of your marketing strategy – the same way you plan your social media and other marketing activities. You need to be clear what you want to achieve from your time and money. And, as there are now greater options and formats to try online, you don’t even need to limit yourself to your local geography if you don’t want to.
Here’s a few tips to help you decide on the best approach for you.
Ask for recommendations
We all have different goals for networking, so be clear about what yours are. Asking for recommendations is a good way to identify what groups are out there and its worth trying a few different types of networking to compare their approaches. Remember that networking is a personal experience. Don’t write off a meeting format because someone else said they got nothing from it. There could still be a valuable opportunity for you.
What time of day and how often?
Be honest with yourself about what time of day works best for you personally; or even better, mix them up. You’ll often meet very different types of people at different points in the day, so it’s worth knowing when your potential decision makers come out to network.
How often you network is really up to you, but it’s worth having one or two meetings that are religiously in your diary each month, where you can develop strong, proactive relationships. You can then add in a few ad hoc ones to help expand your network.
Find your tribe
Before you commit to a group, especially if there is a membership fee involved, make sure that that you feel comfortable working with those people. Each group can have a very different personality. Even with branded format meetings, each location can feel very different. So, don’t be afraid to try out another location of the same brand before discounting it entirely.
The best format?
Networking tends to fall into two distinct camps – Referral and Open. Both work if you make use of them properly. Better still do a mix of both.
Open Networking tends to be more social in style and may include a speaker who provides useful business insight. Sometimes these rooms can be very busy, so it can be pot luck who you end up speaking to. Nevertheless, they are an excellent way to increase your contacts and get known in your business community. Many are ‘pay as you go’ while others charge a nominal membership fee.
Referral Networking requires more of a commitment to a weekly or fortnightly meeting and there’s usually a membership fee and a one business per sector policy. However, it is generally accepted that these meetings have the more measurable return on investment because of their frequency and their strong emphasis on relationship building with a consistent group of people. These contacts over time gain a much deeper understanding of what you do and can therefore recommend you to others more confidently.
Are you getting good return on investment?
If you do decide to pay for a networking membership, treat it like any other marketing investment. Work out how you’re going to deliver a return and measure your success.
Remember…building relationships isn’t instantaneous!
Success at any type of networking is entirely dependent on a robust follow up process. Regardless of the format you choose, you’ll get nothing from just handing out a stack of business cards. The magic happens when you take time to get to know people and develop lasting, proactive relationships within your network.
Relationships are a process and they take time to come to fruition.
With so much choice there’s bound to be a few groups where you feel ‘at home’. But don’t worry if it takes a bit of time to find the right one. When you do, it will be worth your investment and you’ll very likely make some fantastic new friends as well as seeing some exciting success in your business.