The traps and opportunities of networking events

Cultivating a network of trusted and reliable colleagues, peers, friends and associates is key to thriving businesses and a healthy society. Strong, resilient and trusted relationships need to be found, formed and forged over time. 

The likes of LinkedIn, Facebook and other digital platforms have made it much easier to search for and connect with relevant people, be they prospective clients, contractors, new recruits, suppliers, business partners, or friends.

But being social creatures, most of us also like to meet with people in person, get to know them and build something in common. This takes time, attention and effort.

It may not surprise you then that networking events are on the rise. There is not a week that goes by where there isn’t some kind of invitation to some networking event, whether it be a breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning tea, or evening drinks.

The events business sector and various marketing ‘experts’ seem to be on steroids, pumping out industry education events and business summits with the promise of helping people build out their networks.

Then there are the long standing formal, strict and structured networking groups that have been around for years.

We know that networks are very useful, however, how useful are networking events themselves? Because you can build networks without having to attend a single networking event. And quite frankly, if I accepted a quarter of what is offered to me, I would never get anything else done. Don’t put all your eggs in the networking events basket or you will be very disappointed.

So are networking events worth the time, effort and money? What are the pluses and minuses of networking events?

Networking event traps

Let me now say this — networking is useful but it is no substitute for selling, especially prospecting (see the seven differences here). Yet some marketing ‘experts’ tell you that you never need to prospect or make a cold call again. ‘Just learn how to network and use digital marketing and you will be fine’ is their mantra. They are quite frankly giving you poor advice in this instance.

I am always wary when people say these sorts of things because they are just plain wrong:

• Attending networking events is not selling. If you try to sell when you are networking it will backfire;
• Networking events take longer to get to real deals and opportunities; it’s not as targeted as selling, specifically prospecting;
• Networking events are more expensive (think car parking, attendance and membership fees, travel and attendance time and more) versus making several targeted phone calls;
• Networking events don’t guarantee the right people you want to meet will be there; and
• Networking events are tiring and stressful for introverts and ambiverts.

As Adam Grant said in one of his recent LinkedIn posts:

“It’s possible to develop a network by becoming the kind of person who never eats alone, who wins friends and influences people. But introverts rejoice: there’s another way. You can become the kind of person who invests time in doing excellent work and sharing your knowledge with others.”

So if you need and want to get in front of the right people fast there is nothing quicker and more effective than knowing how to prospect. Knowing how to make a prospecting call is one of life’s vital skills.

Networking event opportunities

• Be selective about which types of networking events/groups you want and need to go to. The lesson is that less is more. Find out what the purpose of the group is, who attends and what they want to achieve. The more focused and clear the networking group is the better.

• If you enjoy socialising and meeting new people, networking events are great for both.

• If you are not there for socialising, and even if you are, your business networking event activities should still deliver you a positive return on investment (ROI). Did you generate more new business revenue from the event(s) than it cost you to be there?

For example, I chose to belong to a formally structured networking group for nearly two years to see how they worked; I wasn’t in a position to make any judgment if I was not attending. I followed the rules, turned up every week and calculated it cost me about $75,000 a year of my time to attend. I calculated that for this activity to deliver an ROI to me, I should have got back three to four times my investment.

While I was there I gave out leads and helped people get new business via my networks, however, that ROI for me was very poor indeed and it’s why I left. But this group was very profitable for the network of people from the building and construction industry who attended every week. Their network was vertically integrated and made it easy to pass on real leads of value. It was simply the wrong network event for my type of business. 

Personally, I am more in favour of building my networks through the demonstration and sharing of my expertise, rather than attending every networking event going around. I still do attend networking events but I am much more selective about which ones I choose.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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