The bad news and the good news about networking

I recently had the honour of presenting at one of Reigate & Banstead Borough Council’s Entrepreneur Academy meetings. The topic that we discussed was Networking.

I started with two bits of bad news.

  1. Networking doesn’t work
  2. Networking costs a fortune

In truth, point 1 should really say ‘Networking doesn’t work in isolation’. More about that later.

To explain point 2, I broke down the cost of networking into:

  1. Membership fees (to one organisation)
  2. Pay as you go fees
  3. Your time, including travel, based on two networking events per week

I demonstrated how the annual cost for networking could amount to a whopping £17,000+.

In that case you’ve got to make damn sure you gain a Return On Networking Investment (RONI).

I then delivered the good news to the Entrepreneurs!

Networking can be your best lead generator (with a well thought through plan).

Why isn’t this networking group working for me?

A newish member to a networking group that I regularly attend asked me, “How do I get this networking group to work for me?” He’d probably attended four meetings, but hadn’t met anyone outside of these occasions, so hadn’t had the opportunity to get to know anyone better or allow others to find out more about him.

It takes time to build a relationship to the point where you understand enough about someone to either use their services or feel confident enough to recommend them. This doesn’t happen by attending the networking meetings alone, even if you do go on a regular basis. So, my first suggestion was to book some ‘coffee meetings’ with people he felt he had a connection with.

3 ways to boost your networking results

As well as the ‘getting to know you’ meetings, here are 3 further ways to improve your RONI.

1. Turn your thoughts about networking on its head

It’s natural to go to a networking event hoping that you’ll meet your next client.

What if you went with no thoughts at all about gaining business?

What if the very best outcome you wished for was to introduce someone to their next client?

Following a recent networking event, I was able to make five introductions via email to my network of contacts. That made me feel very satisfied and excited to hear back as to the fruitfulness of the connections I’d facilitated.

Whilst I did this because I’ve built up an extensive network of business contacts, I also understand the law of reciprocity. It’s human nature to want to return a good deed. It may not come back directly, but the laws of Karma suggest that at some point that good deed will be returned, somewhere, somehow.

2. Don’t expect to get business from those you meet networking

It’s more likely that you will generate a lead by gaining an introduction from a networker rather than actually do business with them. Hence the expression ‘work through the room rather than in the room’.

It’s networkers’ connections that are of great value to you.

To make this work you need to be very clear about who your ideal customer is so that you can describe them, giving detail about the characteristics that are easily recognisable to others.

Some example questions to get the introductions you would love:

  • Who do you know that <describe the types of problems your customers have>?

E.g. Who do you know that is always losing staff and frustrated about going through the recruitment process again?

  • Who do you know that would like <describe the benefits that your customers gain through your products or services>?

E.g. Who do you know that needs to refresh their brand so that it clearly reflects their business as it is today?

  • Who do you know that <describe a very specific characteristic that your ideal customer has>?

E.g. Who do you know that has just started their business?

Of course, you still need to put time and effort into building a solid relationship with networkers who will be good introducers, because you’ll need to demonstrate you’re worthy of the introduction.

3. Networking doesn’t work in isolation

Finally, back to my original point about networking not working when it’s a stand-alone marketing activity.

I often use the analogy that your marketing activities are like stepping stones guiding your prospects across the river. When they finally reach your side of the river, they’ve become a customer.

If networking is the first stepping stone and it’s not followed up with further communications, then it’s highly unlikely to be successful as you’ve only taken them one step in the journey.

Here are 7 stepping stones you can put in place to support your networking activities:

  1. Arrange an informal meeting over a coffee with those you have an affinity with.
  2. Connect on social media channels – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.
  3. Post on social media channels so that they learn more about how you help your clients.
  4. Comment, like and share their social media posts. This shows your support and interest in them, as well as keeping you front of mind.
  5. Gain permission to add them to your email marketing list and share your knowledge generously in regular eNewsletters.
  6. Create an offer that’s a free or low-cost taster of your product or service. This is a low risk way they can try before they buy.
  7. Invite them to another networking event that might be of interest. 

This list is not exhaustive. If you have a tried and tested method that boosts the results from your networking activities, please do share them in the comment box below.

If you would like help to devise a strategy for improving the return on your networking investment, please get in touch.