As you leave the house for your morning commute to work, the early bird Networker will already be ensconced at his breakfast meeting tucking into a full English breakfast and copious cups of coffee. Later that same day as you sit back on your sofa with a glass of wine and maybe tucking into your evening meal while watching your favourite soaps, the night owl Networker will have just arrived at his local meeting place and be supping his first glass of cheap wine from a plastic cup whilst surveying his surroundings and searching out his new prey.
So who is this Networker, what does he do, and does it work? Well, in the second half of 2013, in an attempt to promote an independent venture with little or no marketing budget, I became a Networker somewhat by chance and somewhat by design. The design part being to take the advice of fellow independent business owners, which went along the lines of....
"Oh you don't want to spend your money on printed advertising or even a website. You must get out there and Network."
Of course I googled "Networking" and put in my location and "Good grief!" I was amazed at the choice and possibilities open to me. I could join up to a networking / or meet-up group for every interest I could possibly have and those I hadn't even thought of. Ploughing through: KENS Events, Italian Food Lovers, and a Ladies Lap Dancing group, I signed myself up for what sold itself as a business networking group which met in the local synagogue.
With some trepidation I arrived for my first evening thinking "I'll just do this one, chat to some people, get some contacts and that will be that." How wrong was I? Very soon I was approached by Networkers inviting me to their "other" groups and naively taking up all invitations from this and subsequent meetings I found myself attending either a morning or evening group twice a week for the following 6 weeks! On my travels I come across a few hard core Networkers who must be spending 40% of their working day at Networking do's and soon came to establish that these people were picking up 70% - 90% of their new business through Networking in this manner.
There are many different and varied business Networking groups. Each will follow a slightly different format and have various levels of formality and, I have to say, different levels of success. In all of the meetings everyone is given between 30 seconds to 3 minutes to stand up in front of the group and talk about what they do and what they are selling. This becomes a skill in itself, to promote your business and services in this brief time frame, and your success here determines how many people will subsequently approach you during the "mingle" session afterwards. For the evening meetings assume you are at a business cocktail party and have plenty of business cards with you. The Breakfast meetings are not a favourite of mine, purely because I am definitely not a morning person and struggle to find my voice and charisma over breakfast.
The big tip for Networking is "follow-up". If you meet someone who could be useful to you, don't let it drop - contact them after the meeting and follow-up.
There are national and international groups and there are some profit making groups with heavy subscription fees. These normally come with rules and regulations around joining and participating and possibly have their own handshake that as a guest I didn't get to experience. There are groups that are not run for profit with a small fee payable in advance or on the door to just cover the expenses.
There is no shortcut here. You must go to several different meetings until you find the one for you with the right level of formality and process to get you the referrals and business you are seeking and enough interest to keep you going. For me, I like the meetings where there is an interesting speaker and have learnt a great deal about Networking that relates to both small and large businesses.
The all important ingredient here is the other Networkers at the meeting. Are they right for you and your business? A wide range of people from all types of organisations go Networking and these people themselves may be good for you, or know someone who knows someone. Remember you are only ever 5 people away from Royalty etc etc. The Networker is there to Network for themself, but is there to help you too - Networking works both ways.
I expected the majority of my fellow Networkers would be individuals with small, independent businesses, with maybe 1 - 5 employees at the most, but this is not necessarily the case. As marketing and advertising costs soar and social media and online sites such as LinkedIn flourish, "Networking" is becoming more and more popular and relevant for the medium and even large sized businesses looking to win business off testimonials, word of mouth and goodwill instead of expensive, glossy advertisements in trade magazines.
So before you next go to print, think again. Think "Network!"
Anyone looking for a friendly, informal and informative Networking groups, with great speakers in North West London, try out the NW London Business Network on LinkedIn or at www.nwldn.co.uk.
Written by Jane Fransen-Hale: Director JEM Retail Consultants