Choosing Your Network Events
6 questions to ask yourself ...
Posted by Jacky Sherman on 06/05/2020 @ 8:00AM
Times of uncertainty always gets people reviewing what they are doing. Some are having to make radical changes to their business model, or seek out new markets. That lovely little book Who Moved My Cheese comes to mind ...
It's important to choose networking events which match your own goals!
copyright: kritchanut / 123rf
Still, others are just reviewing what they are doing and making sure they are getting the best value for money. One question I'm getting asked a lot at present from the SME business owner is, "Which are the best network events to attend?". My answer is always that it depends.
Here are 6 questions to ask to choose the best networking events for you:
Why are you going?
People attend events and join groups for many different reasons. They may be actively looking for new business. The event can have different meanings to both the organiser and the attendees.
Some events are like a market place, where participants are looking for customers and in turn, being customers to each other. Some are just browsing, seeing what's around. Others networking events are specifically designed to build relationships between members extending your network and swapping introductions. Many events have other primary purposes such as mutual support, sharing knowledge and skills, supporting a charity or just having fun.
Before you go anywhere, be clear about what you want to have happened as a result. Then you can assess two things. Firstly, is the meeting set up to help people achieve that, and secondly, is that what others in the group want too?
Imagine turning up for your local football team and handing around leaflets for your web design business ... maybe not the best way to fit in! On the other hand, it's amazing how many people attend networking events designed to facilitate business relationships, rock up for the meeting at the last moment, give a 60-second pitch and never give a thought to those people until the next meeting.
Where do they meet?
At present, of course, the only events are online so practicalities such as travelling distance are less of an issue. I suspect many membership groups will continue with this approach even when the current crisis abates depending on what the regular membership finds more important.
However, returning to your purpose. Developing relationships online with fellow entrepreneurs around the world may be great for new knowledge or if you have a worldwide distribution network, but there's no point in building fabulous relationships online with Australian entrepreneurs if you're after selling your services to clients who operate just round the corner in Milton Keynes.
When do they meet?
The more frequently you all meet, the quicker you'll develop your relationships. However, if a group meets every week and you cannot attend every week, others will see you as less committed. Pitching up infrequently to such events and then attempting to sell your products to the room is unlikely to make you many friends.
No point in whinging that, "Networking doesn't work for me!" On the other hand, a large conference may only meet once a year so your preparation and follow up processes need to be geared to match that rare opportunity.
Who else will be there?
If you've matched your expectations with the event, the chances are the right people will be there. One of my most embarrassing 'aha moments' I had as a novice was realising that I was networking for referrals in a group where no-one knew the sort of people I wanted to meet.
So, who do you want to meet? Are they there? For knowledge and support, you may want your peers ... others in your own industry. To meet your customers, maybe an international conference or a local exhibition? For referrals, you want others who have a similar target market so can identify people needing your services.
What is the style of this event?
Different people like different ways of networking. For me, I analyse meetings as:
Highly structured with a set agenda and little time for casual conversations
Facilitated with enough of an agenda to help people get to know each other
Laissez-Faire just pitch up and circulate
I remember, as a novice, going to a large event where I knew hardly anyone and the format was just open networking until the speaker starts talking and then open networking afterwards. This is my idea of hell! Gratefully, I bumped into someone I knew as we entered the room. "Yippee" she said, "A room full of people I don't know ... see you later Jacky!" and she launched herself forward to the largest group.
There are people who love casual contact groups such as this and circulate with ease. There are others, like me who, whilst they may learn how to circulate, much prefer belonging to a group who meets regularly and the event is facilitated to help people meet.
Online meetups require a more structured approach just to ensure that the meeting is not taken over by one or two of the attendees. On the other hand, too much structure (such as speed networking with a whistle when to move on) leaves me with a pile of business cards and no much else.
Which leads us lastly, and most importantly, to the first and last question you should ask about any event:
How does it make you feel?
Business like, supportive, open, organised, friendly or ... ? Does it match your preferred style or least have the flexibility to accommodate your preferences? A networking event may be set up to do exactly what you want, be full of people with the right background to help, but if the ambience or the atmosphere isn't right, business will not flow.
I leave you with another reminiscence. A curry night recommended to me by someone who certainly didn't know me saw me rocking up to a restaurant miles from where I live. I was totally ignored by the organiser who was busy talking to her friends in a corner. Someone said just to grab a seat, so I put my coat on the first empty seat I spotted.
"I found myself seated at a table with six lovely young male accountants who I suspect had only just started shaving!"
They just wanted to drink their beer, eat their curry, chill out after work. and talk about rugby. I don't remember the organiser speaking to me once the whole evening. And the tables didn't facilitate getting up and circulating once we were seated. These lovely young men were very sweet, but I most definitely wasn't who they wanted to talk to that evening.
Did I go back again? What do you think?
Until next time ...
Would you like to know more?
If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like to discover more about how to get the best from the network events you choose, call me on 07970 638857, leave a comment below, or click here to ping over an email and let's see how I can help.
About Jacky Sherman ...
I help people build and maintain productive working relationships both with their work colleagues and with a wider network to win more business. I do this by combining my skills in coaching, mediation and training with my extensive experience in senior management.
What I love most about my work is when my clients get those a-ha moments because I know they have seen for themselves the way that they want to move forward. Then they will achieve their ambitions.
Helping people who are having challenges with their working relationships gives me enormous pleasure. It was my privilege when working in health care to see how people working together can make the impossible seem easy and accomplish miracles as a result.
So helping people build or restore strong relationship with their colleagues makes even the hardest work easier, alleviates distress for the individual and reduces problems for the whole organisation.
In all this work trust is an essential ingredient to winning business so most of my work comes through referrals. Referrals come through strong business relationships so it was a natural extension for me to train others in how to get consistent and predictable referrals from their network.
What a fantastic way to earn a living!
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