Do you network in person as part of your strategy to grow your business? How do you feel about it?
It’s something I’ve had to embrace since I left my job as a commercial contracts lawyer in a large corporate.
And I now enjoy it – by doing it on my own terms.
I’m even the joint organiser of one informal group that meets monthly. Who’d have thought it?
Here are my tips on how to make the best of it.
1. Find out what you’re opting in for before you turn up
There are so many types of events and formats. Different times of day (early mornings are a killer for me, so ideally I would avoid this): what suits you?
Is there a cost (other than your time, course!): is it worth it? How many people will be there and are they or at least some of them your target market or linked to them?
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions before you attend.
2. What’s the format of the event: are there any ‘rules’?
Your questions should also extend to the nature of the event. Is the group for everyone or is it that some limit in terms of age, is it for men and women, type of occupation etc?
Is there a restriction on more than one person from an occupation attending? Is it formal or informal? Is there a good speaker, nice meal? Do they make the cost worth it?
I’ve realised now that I only really like informal events: I tend to want to rebel against any restrictions.
3. Is anything expected of you?
Are you going to be expected to talk about yourself/your business for 60 seconds (or another set period)? This can be intimidating (surely that can’t be the intention?). Some people take this very seriously and take a lot of trouble preparing. I don’t. It can help, however, to do something to make you more memorable – for example, taking a relevant prop (eg sample of your work) or tell a relevant story of how you helped a client.
When you hear someone’s ‘pitch’ for the first time, you are so desperately trying to pigeonhole them by occupation (in the nicest possible way!), that you can’t take most of it in and miss much of it. And, if you haven’t had your ‘go’ yet, you will be thinking about that rather than listening.
If you attend regularly, you will have to hear more or less the same spiel each time with a topical twist. It all gets to be rather a bore – even if you can all join in with the speaker’s tag line or slogan.
You will guess that I avoid ‘elevator pitches’ like the plague. The reality is that people usually only remember a three or four word phrase about what you do: they will only really take in more when they know you better.
4. Are you expected to make an ongoing commitment?
This goes back to the formal/informal issue. Can you just turn up when you want or are you going to be expected to turn up each time (or send a substitute)?
Often you can attend groups as a visitor (but you may still have to pay, especially if there are refreshments). How many times can you visit before you have to commit?
Then you need to think about the cost of the commitment (time/money) and whether it is going to be worthwhile for you… bearing in mind everything that’s relevant.
In practice, I might attend groups with people I like or to support them, even if it isn’t going to bring me lots of work.. provided that I’m not expected to attend regularly and the cost isn’t extortionate.
5. Don’t expect anything…
Just make the most of meeting interesting and/or different people who can share information and experiences with you.
One reason I didn’t like networking when I was expected to do it as part of my firm’s ‘business development’ was that I felt a failure if I couldn’t bring in a new client or cross sell the firm’s services (I wonder if anyone achieved this at one event?)
Other people have tales how someone got a fabulous job because they happened to meet someone at a networking event. That’s not happened to me… yet anyway.
In my experience it doesn’t work like that. I’ve made useful contacts and have got some work but things don’t happen instantly – you need to take the long view. Enjoy meeting people and help them, if you can, and eventually this is likely to bring its own rewards.
How do your experiences of networking compare to mine? Do please share them by commenting below.