My Anti-Networking Post
When you own a business, there are a lot of voices telling you to network. These voices frequently tell you that business networking will bring you clients and help you build your business. They also often overlook the costs of networking and the time it takes to build a good network. Networking is important, but it is a long-term solution not a short-term fix.
Your business networking investment
When you attend a business networking event, you are investing time and money. This investment extends beyond the actual event. Your time investment includes the time it takes to get yourself ready, travel, attend the event, follow up with people, and responding to their follow ups. Monetary investments include printing all those business cards, money spent at the event, transportation costs, and any expenses associated with following up.
As a business owner, you should consider all of these costs when forming your networking plan. Don’t discount them. When you add up the costs, you may find that networking is pulling your resources away from other important activities.
Self-promotion at networking events
Have you ever been stuck in conversation with the person who won’t stop trying to get you to buy their product or service? Even if the purpose of the event is to share information on your business’s offerings, being too pushy can turn off potential future clients or networking partners. You need to respect the fact that other people may not be ready to do business with you at that minute, even if you can tell they need your product or service.
Instead you need to put thought into why you are interested in a specific event, what you want to get out of it, and what the other attendees are expecting from it. The question of what the other attendees are expecting is frequently overlooked, but does play a role in how you will be perceived. This includes the purpose of the meeting, the typical behaviour at these kinds of events, what topics people expect to discuss or will be comfortable discussing.
For example, if you are attending a trade show in your industry, everyone is there for business purposes and expecting to give and receive cards and to talk shop. If you are attending a more social event, this same behaviour might not be appropriate. Even if you are at a business event, consider how comfortable or prepared people will be to talk about what your business does. If your business involves issues that people consider very personal or private they might not feel comfortable discussing it in detail at a chamber of commerce meeting.
At most events people aren’t going to be there because they are ready to buy what you are selling. If you are networking to find new clients or customers right away, you should probably look into different ways of promoting yourself. While I have heard stories about people who managed to get a big client from attending a single event, as a general rule those are the exceptions. Instead, networking is really about time, getting to know people and creating relationships. Drive-by networking where you hit lots of unrelated events and try to paper the room with business cards comes off as inauthentic and sales-y and often makes your either forgettable or off-putting.
Think about that for a moment. Do you want to be forgettable or off-putting to your clients? I didn’t think so. So what should you do instead?
Create a networking plan
Your networking plan should not be to attend as many events as possible and pass out as many business cards as possible. Instead, you need to consider the following questions:
- Even if I don’t get a single sale or new client from this event, will I still consider my attendance to be worthwhile?
- Who else will be attending?
- Are the other attendees the people I need to be networking with?
- Do I understand the purpose of this event?
- Will I be able to authentically benefit other attendees?
- Do I have a specific goal for my attendance at this event?
- How will I benefit from this event?
These questions will vary in importance depending on the event and your goals. However, I do want to emphasise the first question. There are many things that can make an event worthwhile. Reasons include:
- Valuable educational components
- Meeting new people
- Reconnecting with people with whom you already have relationships
- Scouting a group before presenting to it*
- Stress relief
Choosing events that I think will be intrinsically valuable helps me to attend without focusing on the idea of immediate sales. My experience is that these groups are the ones where valuable connections are most likely to be made.
Beyond these questions, you should also create a networking budget. This budget should include both the time and other resources you are willing to put aside for networking events. This includes preparation, transportation, and follow up. One caveat: if an awesome networking opportunity does come along, don’t say no just because it isn’t in the budget. Look at ways to revise the budget first, taking into account the likely outcome of your attendance.
Ultimately, I’m not opposed to networking. I do, however, think that it needs to be done in a deliberate matter. Before you attend an event, you need to know what the event’s purpose is and what your goals are. Then you can decide if the two are compatible. You also need to be realistic regarding what you can accomplish at an event. Pay attention to the type, who the typical attendees are, and their expectations and preferences.
Networking can be an important tool. It can also be a waste of time and resources. To make networking work for your business, you need to go into events understanding what you are investing in the event and what the likely result is for you. When you attend be respectful of the event’s stated purpose and the preferences of organisers and other attendees. Remember the long-term goal of networking is to develop a network of people who will respect and remember you.