It is something that I had to ask myself very early on in my business. Why did YOU first start networking?I initially started because I had no business contacts to speak of and as time went on I enjoyed the training available at each of the events that offered it and of course the friendships I made. That is all well and good but is it paying you back for your fee/time?
Unfortunately these days you have to measure the success of everything, in order to work out if it is worthwhile continuing. Let's face it joining a network can be fairly pricey, you spend money on the event itself, parking, petrol, clothing, hair, makeup and sometimes food/accommodation. So how can you measure its success?
It would be very unfair to measure how you network just by cash alone. Any new business loses money at the beginning. Finding your feet and your audience can be very hard initially. Market research can be conducted but that also costs. I think what would be more pertinent to measure would be leads and opportunities. This can be measured by asking when someone contacts you "How did you hear of me?". Not all quotes and queries turn into business straightaway, if anything - its quite rare. If you have however managed to add that lead to an email database you stand a chance of building a possible rapport with them.
Each time you meet up with someone at a network it creates a relationship that you can build upon. This person may never give you any business personally - there is a chance however, they know someone who will though. This generates opportunity. We are very much inspired by the people we network and meet with. If you mingle with open minded entrepreneurs who want to support others as well themselves you're on to a winner. You need to be that person too, mind! You are going to be someone else's ambassador as well.
I have learnt some fantastic lessons from people at networks too. They have helped me overcome my own insecurities, guiding and supporting me when I have felt overwhelmed. Getting a personal recommendation from someone you trust can also save you tonnes of time (and money) when finding platforms that may support your business too. These people will also feel more inclined to retweet and share posts of yours in support.
A connection at a network can also introduce you to other businesses you can collaborate with - there really is a lot of possibilities when you work with a network.
So let us review now why you network? Or indeed why you haven't perhaps started to yet. I do genuinely appreciate that it can be very nerve wracking going into a room of "suited and booted" professionals and not knowing anyone.I remember feeling extremely nervous and felt well out of my depth for several meetings. I would also forget peoples names frequently which felt embarrassing as they always (annoyingly) remembered mine! I would rehearse on my way to an event (I'm not kidding) my elevator pitch and think of as many "hooks" that would make my potential client want to learn more about what I do.Finally I worked out that the more anxious and desperate I came across the worse it was for me. Going into a room of people who all want to sell, sell, sell achieves nothing. Go into a network to learn. Take notes, understand and listen. The more you listen, the more people want to give you.
These networks are there to facilitate the "meeting of people", but that shouldn't be the only time you meet. Arrange to meet or Skype or call outside of this event and do a one-to-one. Find synergies that work with you both and work together going forward. It is time consuming yes - but so very important to do. People want to work with people, not machines.If you would like any network tips or guidance, please do not hesitate to contact me.