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Part 1 in my “Get the most out of Networking” series – I look at the key questions you need to be asking yourself when considering whether to attend a Networking group.

It’s  the fundamental question you need to asking yourself in the beginning. I’ve come up with a quick set of questions that could help you make this decision easier and quicker.

I’ll use my own experience / answers to these questions as an example, obviously adjust things to suit your own situation.

 

Why do it? What do I want?

The first and most fundamental question to ask yourself before networking is why? What are you aiming to get out of it?

I want to connect with local businesses. As my target audience is small local businesses and start-ups, networking would feature on the ‘places to be’ of these types of businesses – so Networking is a must really.

I am aiming to develop a working relationship with these businesses, by offering my help and support (often for free) to help them succeed. By doing this, I will establish myself as someone that knows what they are talking about and this will hopefully in time develop into a paying relationship. If it doesn’t then there are no problems there, I will still have developed a contact in a particular industry and they may be able to help me out in the future – it’s a totally win-win situation.

Who do I need to connect with?

Developing relationships with the group leader(s), and established members of your networking group is important. This helps you be introduced to other members and so increases your contacts exponentially. As well as this, it’s really important to make contact with people who seemingly have no connection to your industry. As there are many more industries you are not a part of, it stands to reason that you will make more connections via this route than sticking within your industry. Besides – it’s not about selling to the room, but selling through the room.

What do I say?

It’s easy to go to networking with the single-minded intention to sell yourself and your services. In my experience, it’s the most common mindset for newbie’s to the networking circuit. But put yourself in the shoes of the individual you are speaking to who has probably had to listen to many others in the room talk about themselves too and probably is only taking in 1% of the information you are spouting off about yourself.

The way to be remembered and stand out is to take it slowly. It’s often said that the best speakers are the best listeners, and people remember people that listen to what they are saying far more than people that simply talk about themselves.

So as a small business, I attend networking meetings in order to learn about the other businesses in the room and how I can help them specifically.

 

How do I organise things?

Being organized is important to getting the most out of your networking meetings. Here’s the elements that I organize:

Diary – make sure you can regularly attend your chosen networking meeting(s) as consistency is the key. Being there most of the time means that any questions or referrals people have will get passed over at the next meeting. Regular contact also instils trust.

40 seconds – I plan my 40 second speech every week so I know what message I am aiming to send out at the next meeting. This gives a much improved impression of yourself than stumbling through adlib!

Business Cards and paraphernalia – having this ready in advance means that although I’ve got ready that morning in a half-asleep doze, I arrive prepared with business cards and other advertising  materials.

Follow-up – following each meeting, I am to follow up with any new contacts I’ve made with at least an email the same day. This shows that I value them as a contact and means I can potentially arrange a meeting with them should we need it.

 

How do I know it’s working?

This is a simple fix really, let me show you:

Going into my networking career, I knew it would take a year or so to really become established and part of the group. So, I’m not expecting to break even over the course of the first year.

I’ve kept a tally of my membership-related spending:

Membership fee = X

Meeting fee =Y

Meetings attended = Z

Approx Petrol = V

This formula will give you the total expenditure for your networking:

(Z  x Y) + X + V = TOTAL

(meeting fee x meetings attended) + membership fee + petrol expendutre = TOTAL SPEND

Now, work out how much money (or time as a monetary value) you’ve received a s a direct result. I personally have received 3 hours of someone’s time (who normally charges £100 per hour) so that’s indirectly already nearly covered my membership fee.

If, after your chosen time period – maybe 2 years as a suggestion – you’ve not made your money back. You should probably consider the following:

  1. Changing your strategy in the meetings
  2. Changing your networking group
  3. Stopping networking

I hope this has helped you understand the various questions you need to ask in order to work out if Networking is for you. I honestly don’t buy the “networking doesn’t suit my business” idea, as all businesses need to be in front of people and can benefit from contacts in the local community. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another post.