For many businesses, face-to-face networking can be a key business tool and form part of their overall marketing and sales strategy, but like all business strategies, this requires planning and foresight.
You need to know what your networking goals are, how you are going to achieve them and what the acceptable return on investment (ROI) would be from your networking activities.
Many people network because other people tell them that it will benefit them or their organisation, but they don’t stop to work out what those benefits will be or what they will look like. It’s not all about sales and new business.
Just going out to networking events is not the most effective way to succeed. Many people mistake the whole art of the networking process with networking meetings and joining networking groups. You certainly need to understand where, when and how to network, but most importantly you need to know WHY.
Before you or your company decide to network, join a group, book a meeting, attend an event or sign up for a membership you need to ask yourself some simple questions.
Some questions to ask yourself:
• What is the minimum return you are looking for from your networking activities and what is the easiest and quickest way of achieving it?
• What else could you have been doing instead of networking and how productive would that have been for your business?
• Why are you joining and what do you want to achieve from your participation?
• Is this event or organisation best suited to meet your needs and what do you need to do to make sure that these needs are met?
• What will networking success look like to you?
When looking at the ROI, you work out what it will all cost, not just in subscriptions and meeting costs but also in time, effort, energy and opportunity cost. You will also need to factor in the ‘intangible’ rewards, because not everybody networks purely for the financial and sales return. Many people look for other benefits, some of which will eventually lead to monetary rewards as well.
Some examples of the benefits:
- Developing Career
- New Job
- Potential Investors
- Confidence Building
- A trusted network of suppliers
- Peer group support
- Reliable sources of information
- Building strategic alliances and collaboration
- Strengthen relationships with existing contacts
- Build new relationships
- Stand out from the crowd
- Create a lasting impression
- Improving people skills
- Build your profile
- Meet new friends
Once you decide that you really want to get out there and network, you can then research the many different organisations and events available to you. Most have a “try before you buy” policy which will give you the opportunity to decide in which environment you feel the most comfortable. You can then pick the ones that fit in best with your networking objectives.
The key is that you recognise what will contribute to success from your networking activities and focus on it. By doing so, you will be motivated to attend events with a sense of purpose instead of making excuses not to go such as the weather is bad, you are tired, you are too busy, or you just can’t be bothered.