So you’ve decided you want to give networking a go (or another go). And you’ve found a few events through recommendations from friends or from internet searches. But how do you choose an event that is suitable for you?
Well there are a couple of practical considerations for a start:
1. Where do they meet?
Is the event held somewhere that’s easy for you to get to, does it have parking or public transport nearby?
2. How much does it cost?
Networking groups vary in how they charge. Some charge an annual fee with monthly fee per meeting, some just charge per meeting, and some merely request that you buy a drink at the meeting venue. If you’re visiting a group that charges for membership, find out what you get for your annual fee and how many times you’re allowed to visit before deciding whether to join.
3. When do they meet?
How does the timing fit in with your working day? Networking events may be held at breakfast time, mornings (some after the school run), lunchtimes or evenings – so there is something for everyone.
Some networking events are held every week, and some monthly. Groups like BNI require you to go every time, and to send a substitute if you are unable to attend – but this is not the case for the types of events that I go to.
If you regularly go to the same events, you build connections with the same people, so it’s good to try and focus on a few groups or events and not spread yourself too thinly.
As well as the practical considerations, don’t forget that networking is all about the people….
4. What type of people attend?
Networking is about people, and about finding connections. So try a few different events and see which ones you like. See what types of businesses go to the event, whether you enjoy chatting to the people who are there.
Approach each event with an open mind and talk to everyone who approaches you. You may think there’s no point talking to someone, but you never know what conversations you might have or what connections you could make.
5. Do they allow more than one person per profession?
Some groups only allow one person per profession to attend their meetings. If your business is easy to classify then you might find this useful, as you’ll be the one getting the referrals.
However if your business is a hybrid of more than one profession, or you’re still evolving it, you might not wish to be pigeon-holed. For example, my work crosses project management and marketing, and I don’t want to be solely thought of as one profession. I also change and offer new services, so being classified is tricky for me!
6. What do they do at the meetings?
I’ve come across a range of different styles of networking event. The kinds of things that may happen include a “60 seconds” introduction from everyone present, one or two presentations from members, brainstorming on someone’s business issue, informal 1:1 chats, and testimonial sharing.
Think about what suits you best. If you don’t enjoy standing up in front of a group, you might wish to find networking events that don’t include that element (for example the Business Biscotti meetings I’ve been to in my area don’t require you to do this).
Being able to describe what you do succinctly is an important part of networking however, so unless you’re really petrified of the whole idea, I wouldn’t recommend avoiding these completely.
And of course, think about why you want to network….
7. Does the group meet your networking goals?
Why are you networking? What do you want to get out of attending these events? You will have your own reasons for attending, over and above making connections that will hopefully lead to business.
For example, because I work at home, one of the things I enjoy about networking is getting out of the house and meeting up with other self-employed people for a chat.
I also like events where you get to learn new skills, or help others with their business problems – as well as having 1:1 chats to find out more about the other people attending.
Some groups I attend
(Check their websites for up to date information and membership details. I’ve only summarised below.)
- Fabulous Women – monthly, currently in the South East but expanding. Friendly and supportive. Mainly but not solely women.
- Thames Valley Business Women’s Group – a monthly event in my area with a talk and 1:1 networking. Women only.
- Ladies Who Latte – monthly, UK wide. Informal and low cost (you just pay for a drink). Great intro to networking. Women only.
- Business Biscotti – monthly, UK wide, a lot of groups to choose from. Great for 1:1 chats. Men and women.
- You Inspire Me – a regular event organised in London by Corinna Gordon-Barnes. Highly recommended for those with a less traditional business or mindset. Mainly but not solely women.
Other groups I’ve come across
- Athena – women only, requires membership
- Chamber of Commerce – men and women, varies locally
- BNI – men and women, requires membership
- 4N – men and women, requires membership
- FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) – men and women, varies locally
- And every area will have local independent events, which you’ll hear about from other people once you start networking
Next week – tips on how to make the most out of networking