CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Trouble with Networking Events…….

“Now times for business development are key, so what is the verdict on networking events to increase business?”

In the last column I discussed the problem of people attending networking events and joining groups because of an invitation, without a clear outcome in mind. This person has been inundated with invitations and is now asking the question, should I be going along?

In a similar forum recently, another contributor asked whether they should pay £500 ($700) for membership of a networking group. To him, it seemed to be too expensive.

The lack of a clear outcome that I discussed last month is building increasing disillusion with networking events, at a time when businesses need them more than ever. Visit any number of forums and you will find similar questions to the ones above, coupled with complaints about meeting people trying to sell at events, meeting the wrong type of people,

There can be little doubt that networking, whether formal or otherwise, plays a key role in the sustainability and long term of success of most businesses, particularly during tough economic times. Yet, as we have already explored, people are missing out by making the wrong choices and adopting the wrong behavior.

So how do you make the right decision? To which group or events should you devote your networking energies and how does price reflect quality?

It all depends on what you want to achieve. At the moment, networking groups seem to be defined either by whether they are online or offline or, alternatively, by the time of day they meet. While useful categories for identifying which networks are convenient for you to involve yourself with, and to which you can commit, they don’t necessarily help you make the right business decision.

To decide which networking group you want to join and whether membership will be expensive or tremendous value for money, you need to have a clear vision of what success will look like from your membership. What, in other words, is going to be your return on investment?

Any other business purchase tends to be accompanied by the question, ‘what value will this add to the business?’. There is no reason why networking should be any different.

First of all, focus on what your goals are. What do you want to achieve from your membership? The type of group that will suit you will vary depending on whether you are looking for peer group support, referrals, to enhance your industry knowledge or simply getting out of your ‘cave’ and meeting other business people.

There are a wide range of reasons why people network. Some of them people recognise beforehand, such as lead generation, in other cases, people find themselves enjoying the benefits passively. A proactive, considered approach to gaining these benefits can make a huge difference.

Take a sheet of paper and split it into four columns. In the left hand column, write down the ten major areas you need to see improve, either in your business or personally. Where do you struggle? Where do you need help?

Now in the second column, by each area of improvement, ask yourself how other people can help you achieve that goal. For example, if you have written down ‘more business’ in the left hand column, you might write ‘referrals’ alongside.

You now have a clearer idea of how networking can help you than beforehand, and that should help you pick the right group but we still want to know what your return on investment will be.

How many of these improvements can you place a value on? In the third column, write down the difference such an improvement would mean to you. Quantify it where possible; if you can’t put it in words. What would it allow you to do that you can’t now? What would it mean to your personal life? How would it affect your emotional state?

You now have a tool that will help you measure a network’s effectiveness for you, understand what success will look like from that network and, importantly, help you select the right network for you.

Instead of defining networks by their time of day or whether they are online or face to face, I split business networks into three categories:

Profile Building
Brain Building
Referral Building

The categories overlap, most networking groups will deliver more than one benefit. But the key is that you can look at each group and recognise what the key benefit they will deliver is. For example, BNI is a referral-building network. You will learn and get peer support (Brain Building) from BNI Chapters and your profile will grow as people talk about you but their primary focus is on generating referrals.

In contrast, events which focus around people from the same industry tend to be more focused on Brain Building, whether through learning, best practice sharing or mutual support. Despite this, my membership of the Professional Speakers Association of the UK over the last five years has provided me with some of my strongest referrals sources. It is, however, still primarily a Brain-Building network for me.

With this in mind, look at the needs and goals you have written down and ask yourself which networks will best help you achieve them? In the fourth column, write down ‘Profile’ ‘Brain’ or ‘Referral’ by each need.

You should now have a clear idea of which types of network will suit you best and where you should focus your time. Look at which types crop up more than the others, look at the value of meeting that need to you in terms of prioritizing where you spend your time.

Now when you look at the invitations you receive, you have questions you can ask the organizers.

“This is what I want to achieve from my networking, how will membership of your group help me achieve those goals?”

“What would I have to do within the network to ensure that I can achieve the return I’m looking for?”

You are much better placed now to ask the right questions and select the network that will work for you. And when you look at the cost of the network, it falls into perspective.

After all, if the need you have identified is met from membership, and if the value of meeting that need is worth £100,000 to you, will £500 seem so expensive?

The trouble with networking doesn’t lie in the events and groups themselves. They offer so much potential to businesses who, currently in particular, need that support.

The trouble lies with the lack of planning that prevents attendees and members realizing that potential.

Andy Lopata is one of the UK’s leading business networking and referrals strategists.

For more information visit his website Click Here