It’s something we business owners are constantly sold: networking is essential for gathering leads. But is networking really worth it for everyone?
Let’s dig a little deeper into business networking and let me walk you through how to decide whether it actually makes sense for you and your business.
Are Your Customers or Clients There?
If (and only if) you are really clear about that and you also know for sure that your avatar is likely to congregate at the networking event you are considering, then yes – go for it. It becomes a no-brainer when you know who you are able to help and exactly where they are going to be.
However, if you are attending networking just because you FEEL like networking makes sense – then you need to more carefully assess whether this is the BEST thing for your business. And 9/10 times, you should almost definitely not be networking as a priority.
I’ve known many business owners who have been wasting an incredible amount of time – breakfast meetings, after work drinks, dinners – going to ‘network’ with people who not only fail to fit their avatar but aren’t even logical alliances! It’s a waste of time and incredibly inefficient.
Not All Business Networking Events Were Made Equal
There is a kaleidoscope of business networking events out there, and each have different demographics in attendance. And, oddly enough, often the ones that are marketed at you directly may not actually have your avatar attending – because they’re targeting you not your avatar (unless, of course, the two coincide!)
Find networking events specifically crafted for your avatar and go there. Better yet, get into those events as an authority in your field (do a presentation, or sponsor the event) so you get more visibility and are easier to approach.
Don’t just attack every networking event you come across. Be discerning.
Focus On Your ROI
Promoters of networking events will hardly ever talk about your return on investment on coming to their event. That’s because, generally, there is no immediately clear way to measure the return.
That doesn’t mean you chalk it up to a ‘fuzzy’ channel with ‘potential’. We don’t work that way here. We make sure there are some clear numbers we are looking at to make decisions about whether it’s worth your time and money – you just need to be smart about it.
Let’s say you are attending a networking event that requires you to meet every week in the morning for about 2-3 hours, and then you also end up spending another 2-3 hours during the week doing extra networking with this group. That’s approximately 5 hours of your work week being devoted to networking.
Compare this to 5 hours a week spent on your Google Adwords account, or on refining your email marketing strategy, or devising a clever direct mail strategy. How do you compare the return? Is the result from networking really covering this time-cost in the same way?
If you think it MIGHT, but you have no actual data yet, then you do need to test and measure – and collect that data!
Build a dashboard that’s specific for your networking activity. Count the number of contacts you collected at each event. Track what the result has been from those contacts (“No. of clients referred” maybe? “Become a customer” maybe?). Record time invested on the sheet.
Then you can begin to track exactly how useful each event has been in real terms. And once you are tracking, you can start to spot how to refine your method so that you target only the most useful events and limit your time investment to get the most out of your networking.
Business Networking Is An Add-On Not Bedrock
In my opinion, it is rare to find any business where networking is going to give you any greater than 20 or 30% of your business, if even that. So, unless your business is an extreme exception, it is usually a good additional strategy to an already churning marketing machine – not a strategy that will facilitate immediate business growth.
If you are looking to grow big and grow fast, networking is not usually an effective main strategy for that. However, if you are an already large business seeking to open more channels and diversify your marketing, then networking may be an option. Just keep a tight rein on the resources you are dedicating to it and, again, be discerning.
Using Networking For Authority Building
I did touch on this earlier in the article: business networking can be useful in your wider marketing strategy not as a direct lead generation but as authority building, by being present and visible where your avatar is congregating.
This, however, is a very ‘fuzzy’ result that is hard to measure. However, it may not be one to overlook, especially if you are reaching a point where you are becoming a leader in your field. Networking with the other movers and shakers in your industry can potentially be a good way to build credibility and garner thought leadership – most especially if you have the opportunity to present or do some training at the networking event.
Be The Host Instead of the Attendee
To the purpose of being an industry leader – if you think your avatar truly loves to network, why not craft your own networking event for them? That way you can get both authority building AND lead generation – and you have more control over the quality of the leads because you get to market it directly to your own avatar.
Of course, be aware that hosting a networking event yourself comes with a lot of extra work. You need to book a venue, decide on refreshments, market the event, coordinate with attendees, clean up afterwards etc – and that’s all on top of the marketing, selling, and follow up you’re planning to do!
If you have a strong team to assist with this, then it may not be as much of an issue. But if you’re a small, agile team, that may (almost certainly will) distract from the channels that are giving you the bulk of your business – which isn’t a smart move if you are looking at more immediate profit growth.
Of course, every business is different, and while networking may be an essential element for some, it is not for most. So it is worth being a bit more rigorous with determining whether networking makes sense or not for your business.
Have you had success through networking? Share your story in the comments below!
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