For most people, when they decide to attend networking events, they first think about the opportunities to speak to businesses that could become potential clients. They also realise that everyone else attending is doing the exact same thing!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely about that, but networking can be so much more.
Some work, some don't
I have been to a few networking events in recent years and some really work for me, but many don’t.
What I dislike is going to a networking event and getting back to standard marketing emails from lots of people I didn’t speak to but who have picked my name up from the delegate list. Very often I don’t see that person again but get a few repeats of the same emails before I unsubscribe from their mailing list.
The best connections are those that develop from a conversation on the day. However, a tweet to say hi and “sorry I didn’t get to speak to you today, hopefully next time”, or an email to say “I’d really like to speak to you at the next event” is a good way of reaching out to people you didn’t get to speak to but would like to connect with.
I have a few different networking groups I belong to, and I get very different things from each one but deciding on the right one needs some initial work! You can’t go to all of them, so make sure what you get out of meetings supports your goals both business-wise and personally.
How Do You Choose The Right Event?
If you are just starting and a little unsure of getting out and networking, the only way to decide which events are the right ones for you is to go and test them out. You’ll get a feel for the atmosphere and people involved and whether regularly attending is worth the time you will invest. In the beginning, this can be time-consuming, but it's worth the investment to work out which ones work for you and which ones are the best ‘fit’ with your business.
Chamber of Commerce
Most town and cities have a local Chamber of Commerce, and that is a good place to start. Salisbury and District Chamber of Commerce where my business is located has several different types of events which I find really useful. The monthly ‘90 minutes’ lunchtime events are a great opportunity to meet different people each time, as we are seated at different tables at each event with an opportunity to network as a group before lunch. The secret is to get there on time and make the most of that time and attend regularly. I reconnect with people I may have been sitting with last time and start building the relationship. This type of networking event brings in a lot of our work, both recruitment and HR. I have also made friends at these events and regularly meet up with these people over coffee and lunch to discuss business and the challenges I’m facing.
I am a morning person, so breakfast meetings work for me and the Chamber also run 60-minute workshops with a networking session over coffee and bacon rolls, followed by a 45-minute presentation. Starting at 7.45am, I am back in the office for 9.15am! Topics vary, and I’ve learnt a lot from them. So, at these events, I learn and develop my skills and knowledge.
Networking for your own, personal benefit
You can get some great, free advice on many things from like-minded people you meet networking. People you get to know, who have started their own businesses usually give genuine and very sound advice as they have been in the same position as you at some point. You can also find support with things happening in your personal life or how to achieve that all-important work-life balance.
The right place at the right time
Sometimes you may just be in the right place at the right time and meet someone who at some point helps in a more indirect way. I spoke to someone at another networking event I attend, and she said that when she first started, she went to every networking event she could! One of the very first ones was a 7 am meeting about an hour away from where she lived, and when she got there she was one of only two women in a room full of suited gentlemen, who weren’t interested in her organic skincare range! After the keynote speaker had finished, the ‘suits’ left, and she stepped up to thank the speaker for his presentation. It was of real interest to her as her daughter was hoping to pursue a career in physiotherapy and because of that meeting she spent her placement year at Uni and subsequent work experiences working with one of the very top physiotherapists in the country – he worked with the England Rugby Team – which helped her move ahead of the rest and secure her dream career path.
Women on Wednesday
Another group of networkers are called ‘Women on Wednesday’, and you’ve guessed it, we are all women, who meet on a Wednesday! Many of the members are sole traders or self-employed businesswomen. Many work from home, but some work in much larger organisations, or like me with a small team. There are personal bankers, virtual PAs, massage therapists, chocolate sellers and even a tribute act performance agent! We all agree that the group is a real support for each other in many situations. We share ideas and problems, and each month when we meet have a presentation from one of our members about what we do, how we do it and why we love what we do! So, a great opportunity to shout about our businesses. It’s a social group, a real “work-life” balancer and I come away having chatted and laughed and had a couple of relaxed hours.
I’ve gotten different things from this group of networkers. I attended a Marketing Course one of the members was running (discounted for WoW Members) which was great! Just three of us, so very interactive and almost “one to one” learning which I really enjoy. I’ve worked on joint projects with a few of them, as well as supported some with looking for short-term work when times were tough. When I needed to concentrate on me last year and decided to think about my own well-being, I took a Reiki course with one of the therapists and have just finished a photography course with another – it’s been amazing!
Create Your Own Networking Group
If you can’t find a group that does what it needs to for you, how about creating your own?! We run an HR Forum which is a great way to connect with very specific and influential people within the companies we would like to work with. The group is made up of HR professionals, and the meeting is discussion-based and involves no direct “selling” as such.
Once you decide on your networking events, it’s important to attend regularly and to stick with it. It takes time to build those relationships, but the more effort you put in, the better and quicker the results. The more you go to events the more confident you become, and you are seen as being more knowledgeable – for example, I’ve been asked to speak at the Young Chamber because of my connections within the main Chamber group.
One last thing to remember is the old saying “it’s not what you know it’s who you know”, and it is as true today as it’s ever been!
Lynne is Managing Director of Personnel Placements and has been recruiting in Salisbury and the surrounding area for over 15 years. PP as it is affectionately known within the local business community is a generalist Agency that has been supporting local companies with their recruitment and HR for over 30 years. They are also an active member of TEAM – The Employment Agents Movement – which enables them to source candidates from all over the UK.