I think the first piece of advice I was given when I set up my business 21 years ago was ‘go to networking events to find business’, so I did.
21 years ago I hated walking into a room full of people I didn’t know and trying to have ‘business related but not salesy’ conversations – and 21 years later, I still hate walking into rooms full of people I don’t know and trying to have ‘business related but not salesy’ conversations. I’ve had too many dull conversations that you know aren’t going anywhere and drunk too many glasses of not-quite-chilled-enough-to-disguise-that-its-cheap white wine at networking events. I would happily never go to another networking event in my life.
Networking really does work – if you’re choosy and strategic about it. Networking has bought me the majority of my clients – hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of work over the last 21 years.
What doesn’t work (for me) is walking into a room full of people I don’t know and trying to have conversations that aren’t overtly salesy with people who may (or more likely may not) be interested in your business.
So now I don’t go to networking events – I go to events. Events that I think will be interesting, useful and hopefully fun. Events where I will have something in common with the other people there. Events where I’ll see some familiar faces who might, in turn, introduce me to some new interesting/useful/fun people. I also join organisations that allow me to build a powerful, long-lasting network, not meet new people every two minutes.
If all an event offers is ‘networking’, these days you can count me out. I’ve come to value my time and realise that I can be choosy about the events I go to – it really is about quality, not quantity. I rarely carry business cards as I don’t want to just be added to your rolodex (or worse, your mailing list). If we both want to stay in touch, connect with me on social platforms (and not just LinkedIn) while we’re stood here or let’s arrange a coffee here and now.
I’m aware I’m very rarely an ‘instant’ purchase when I meet new people. I don’t think I’ve ever said to someone ‘I’m a public speaking coach and event compere’ and they’ve immediately replied with ‘OMG, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for!’. For me it’s all about people knowing who I am, what I do for clients and how I may be able to help – at some point. Then when they meet someone at another event who says they’re panicking about a forthcoming pitch or presentation, they immediately mention my name, even if it’s months or years since we met.
I don’t want to constantly meet new people. I want to meet the same people time and again so I get to know them and their business and they get to know me and mine, because if they know, trust and (most importantly) like me, they’re far more likely to refer me.
I try to go to lots of different sizes and types of events because I learned very early that you don’t need to go to ‘national’ events to meet ‘national’ clients, or that if you go to local events you’re only going to meet local businesses. Two individuals I met years ago through my local Chamber of Commerce here in Brighton made introductions to people they knew who have gone on to become long-term national and international clients worth tens of thousands of pounds to my business.
For me, networking is dead – but long live the network.