Let’s face it, there are a lot of options these days when it comes to networking, so you want to make sure that your strategy around networking is going to generate the kind of business your business is looking for. But not all networking events or organisations are created equal and some have very specific outcomes and there are also some opportunities to network out there that you may never have thought of.
In this brief article, I am going to give you an overview of the type of networking events out there and how you can use the right even to connect with your Target Audience.
Mixers and local Chamber of Commerce events
Most cities or council regions usually have a programme of free networking events. In some areas, these will be called Chambers of Commerce or Local Business Associations. Some are free, whilst others have a membership fee and or small attendance fee. These are generally aimed at small to medium-sized businesses and are usually designed to connect local business owners and or employees.
As networking is all about building relationships, if you have no network to speak of, these are a great place to start. They are also excellent if you are specifically looking to connect with local businesses in your target market.
These events often attract people new to business looking to start making connections. If your target market is start-ups, this may be a great place for you to connect. A friend of mine is a bookkeeper and she loves these events as she often meets frazzled new business owners who are time poor and looking for help with their business. But remember the Golden Rule of networking, give before you ever expect to receive and be careful not to fall into premature solicitation (meaning, don’t flog your wares on a first meeting).
Remember, all networking starts with relationships, so being involved in a social group is a great way to build deep, long-lasting relationships, especially if you have a shared interest outside of business.
For example, I’m a member of my local Toastmasters group. Whilst I am not there to grow my business I have met a number of people that I have gone on to assist in their business and become friends with. I also find this a useful way for me to give back to my local community.
Rotary, Lions Clubs etc. are also great social groups that help build long-term relationships. By building social bonds, members can get to know each other well. Service clubs can be a great place to build a network from scratch. If you are new to a town, these afford an excellent opportunity to meet other locals.
Paid Regular/semi-regular Events
There are many organisations that run regular networking mixers. Some of these are run by councils or cities, others are run by like-minded individuals whilst some are a business entity in themselves. Often these are breakfasts, lunches or workshop style events and last 2-4 hours on average.
These events usually have a guest speaker who will attract a particular kind of audience. If a guest speaker is likely to be addressing the kind of audience you want to connect with, these can be very effective ways of connecting with your audience. The topic will generally be a good guide.
If you pay you to go to one of these, check out whether they have a specific ‘theme’ or are targeted at a particular audience. For example, young entrepreneurs, tech companies, start-ups etc.
Industry associations are a great way to network with like-minded organisations. Usually, these have specific joining criteria around a profession.
Conferences targeting your specific market are excellent ways to connect. I have a friend who works in the medical devices industry and his company sponsors conferences for Doctors, more specifically surgeons who work in sports medicine. The sponsorship affords him the opportunity to connect with the company’s target market and deepen relationships with existing clients as well as meeting potential new customers.
Most conferences will have sponsorship opportunities. These range from having booths with your product/services on display to sponsoring awards, speakers, sessions or even providing speakers to talk on relevant topics.
If you are new to networking and don’t know specifically where to find these conferences, a simple internet search will show you that in any industry, there are a myriad of market specific conferences happening on a regular basis.
Workshops, Seminars and Business Bootcamps
Workshops, seminar and Business Bootcamps afford you the ability to engage with others and build relationships as you learn new skills. This may be particularly of use if you want to learn more about a particular target market that the education is geared towards.
A colleague of mine is an Accountant who specifically works with start-up business owners in the tech space. As such, he likes to attend workshops to gain knowledge on the latest industry trends. He likes meeting potential start-ups and forges strong relationships with them at an early stage of their business development based on his knowledge and interest in the space. Over the years he has connected with business owners who have gone on to build business empires, take them global and in some instances, list on the stock exchange.
He is seen as the ‘go-to guy’ in his city for tech start-ups and continues to attend workshops and seminars, continually learning about the industry and obviously meeting new potential clients, even though his business is extremely successful and large.
Trade shows often have a networking component built into them, but if not, attending a trade show oriented to your target market gives you the chance to meet potential clients and like-minded nosiness owners.
Don’t ‘spray and pray’ at these events (meaning jump on everyone grab their business card and start selling), try to strike up meaningful conversations and arrange to meet with people after the event either over coffee or on the phone.
Trade shows can be great places to exhibit a product or service that you are taking to market and want to get feedback on if you have the budget. Make sure you are clear about your objectives if you are an exhibitor. Again, the idea is to connect at a trade show then follow up later to start building a relationship.
Having an opt-in offer, a free (meaningful) giveaway or a ‘show only’ discount is a great way to connect with many people in a short time – always add massive value and under promise and over deliver on anything you do. Remember to have a CRM follow up plan in place or all your effort will be in vain and an Excel spreadsheet won’t cut it. If you’re collecting names in print form, consider outsourcing the uploading of these to your CRM database. You can find someone to help on Fiverr on one of the other many outsourcing sites.
If you are exhibiting, ask the event organiser exactly who the participants will be, how they are marketing the event and whether you will get access to the list of attendees. If this is not the first event of its type, the organiser should have some statistics on previous events. Also, ask past exhibitors what they thought of the event.
Formal Networking businesses are those that charge a membership fee to attend and are usually conducted on a regular basis. These networks are designed to help members generate each other business by referral. I’m biased, but in my experience, business by referral is the most effective form of marketing out there.
As the owner of the BNI franchise in Melbourne, I know that making a commitment to network formally is a big step for some people, but I know it yields fantastic results for members who use the system effectively.
Over the years I have seen that some members seem to be more successful at generating referrals than others. The reason for this is that the successful members are always very clear on the kind of referrals they are looking for. They know their target market and are able to effectively articulate to other members exactly what it is that they are looking for. The strange thing about life is that when you are clear about asking for something, it is usually easy for others to be able to help you get this, whether it a referral or anything we ask for.
I have a favourite saying from the founder of BNI, Dr Ivan Misner “Specific is Terrific” and I think that sums up succinctly why knowing your target market before you head out to a network is the key to success.
If you spend a bit of time working out where you want to network and approach it with a long-term ‘farming versus hunting’ mentality, you’ll soon be connecting with the right people looking for exactly what you have to offer. And remember, networking is a skill, so get out there and practice.