Business networking doesn’t have to be a flaky affair

How often do you go to a business networking event and find it’s badly organised, or you never get any client’s. Or the organiser doesn’t know what they’re doing, have little subject matter experience, or they ‘talk the walk’ and don’t ‘walk the walk’.

To be quite frank…
You’re not getting what you need.
It’s an utter waste of your time.
So in the end, you’ve had enough and you don’t bother going to any networking groups.

I must say that I have certainly experienced this at one time or another. It’s also true to say that networking groups are diverse, just like people and businesses. There isn’t one size fits all. However, I do see this as a positive. As there are plenty of remarkable group’s out there that are fit for your purpose, no matter what stage you or your business is at. Also, if you’ve been recommended a group, it doesn’t mean to say that it’s right for you either. What I will say to you though, is you’ll probably need to do a little bit of legwork first, to find the right one for you.

So let’s break it down.

Searching for a networking group

So the first thing I would advise, is to really understand what you are looking for from a networking group. What’s important to you? What are your objectives? The obvious starting points are to look at whether you prefer a structured environment, or an informal affair. Do you favour one-to-one or group support or a mixture of both? How far are you willing to travel? Does the networking experience give you the results that justify your precious time away from your business? Are you looking for a group to help with a specialist subject or a variety of business needs? What are the dynamics of the group – safe & supportive or ambitious & driven, or a mixture? And don’t forget the cost.

Types of networking groups

Next, spend time looking at the type of networking group you need for you and/or your business. For example, if you’re a new business owner then a group that supports start-up is probably your go-to place. On the other hand, if you’re an established business owner, then a group that specialises in revenue growth or increasing your capacity with associates, will more likely be up your street. Of course there’s also groups on how to network too! You may also want to mix sport with your business connections: I recently came across a business squash club and a golf networking for business group. Here’s a flavour of some of the networking group types that are available:

 

Education

 

 

Advice

 

 

Support

 

 

Personal development

 

Referrals / build relationships

 

Business growth / revenue / KPIs / research / strategy

 

Recruitment / Associate model

 

Financial

Raising your profile

 

Peer support / mentoring

 

Social benefits

 

New business / customers

 

Sales

 

Speed networking

 

Tailored to start-ups or established businesses

 

Men or Women entrepreneurs groups

 

Industry / sector specific groups

 

Social Media

 

Marketing online / offline

 

Talks by experts / confidence in giving talks

 

Membership

You will find that there’s usually a fee to become a member of a networking group. Some are pay as you go and some are monthly/yearly. In addition, most groups will allow you one or two visits, for free, so do take full advantage of this opportunity.

Networking takes time

How much time are you willing to give to networking? And I don’t mean just time out of your day. As part of the membership, some networking groups expect you to attend one-to-one sessions, give a presentation, as well as assign you business homework to complete. This all takes preparation time.

Research before you join

This for me is super important. Before you join any networking group, research everything you can about them. The majority of information can be found online. I also recommend that you have a chat with the organiser/mentor/members and have a set of relevant questions that you want to ask. Other considerations to factor in:

  • What experience does the organiser/mentor have?
    • Are they an expert in the subject matter that you’re interested in?
    • Do they ‘walk the walk’?
  • What do their members say about them and the dynamics of the group?
  • Can you talk to an existing member prior to joining?
  • What type of businesses/suppliers attend their events?
    • Are they aligned to or do they complement your niche market?
    • Are there too many of your competitors in the group?
    • Does your target audience attend the event?
  • Asses whether the level of business calibre meets your requirements/needs
  • Is it important to you that the organiser / mentor is certified?
  • If they have testimonials, reach out to the reviewer and ask for their feedback

Initially this may take some time, however it’ll be quicker than going to visit groups that aren’t fit for your purpose and then you might find that you give up going altogether!

Networking with intent

When you have started with your chosen group, it may take time to ensure that your money is being spent in the right place and you’re not wasting your time. So do give the group 100% of your focus.

Do take time to prepare in advance. Think about your focus for each session and what you would like to achieve. For instance, if you are presenting a short pitch, make sure the topic and content engages your audience, with the end result being to generate a conversation with a person or several people. Furthermore, I encourage you to practice your pitch so that you feel super comfortable and confident. Remember, your connections are buying from you.

Intentional networking can come in various formats:

Fill your skills gap

If you’re struggling to find a person to fill the skills gap in your business, then networking enables the opportunity of finding a person with the right attributes & skills. Or at the very least, someone in your group may well recommend the ‘right’ person for your job vacancy!

Upskilling

Many networking groups offer the opportunity to upskill. Whether it’s to help you give a talk confidently or learn about KPIs or social media, there’s something for everyone. You may also find that the trainer has their own business and offers their services too. This could help you with filling your skills gap.

Lonely at the top

I know myself how lonely it can feel being a business owner. So meeting with like-minded peers who have similar interests to you can be enormously beneficial. Also having a peer relationship, you may find that you both share equally and openly the challenges of your businesses. An outside perspective from a trusted peer may help you see a situation from another perspective. Or you could even find that collaborating together is the way forward. Overall knowing that you’re not so alone can bring about a feeling of togetherness, or a sense of community.

‘Walk the walk’ influencers

I would also encourage you to connect with people you admire, or aspire to be like. Ask their advice on business matters. Additionally, there are plenty of experts in your preferred subject matter and they may well give talks or have a networking group near you. If they don’t they might do a podcast for you to listen to. Another thought is to see whom they follow, who they think is amazing and start connecting with them too.

Building relationships

Ultimately, going to a networking group is about really getting to know people. Building enriched relationships. So get out of your comfort zone and speak to someone new each time and really be present with them.

I appreciate that networking is not for everyone or every business. However my business is relationship driven, so for me, a networking group is a lucrative asset. People come from all different walks of life and you never know who you might meet at your next business networking event.

Business Networking Groups

There are many national, global and regional networking groups. Simply search online for your preferred group or feel free to look at some of the suggestions below:

Institute of Directors

British Chambers of Commerce

Federation of Small Businesses

BNI

CBI

The Met Club

Forum of Private Business

Ashoka

The Supper Club

British Council

Entrepreneurs’ Organisation

By Wendy Johnstone
Director of Wendy Johnstone Ltd

 

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