Networking is a highly beneficial activity that helps those wanting to grow their business. It’s great for both start-ups, and those with established enterprises. However, there are still people who are not sold on how important networking is. These people are missing out on a great opportunity for growth, and future business longevity.
Most small businesses do not survive the magical five-year mark. While it’s possible changes in modernisation, technology and of course COVID can account for some to go out of business, it’s more likely the vast majority of business owners do not understand, or value, the concept of networking.
Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of entrepreneurs are not globe-trotting, Fabergé egg collectors who take four-day weekends. Almost everyone I know treats entrepreneurship as a lifestyle and literally work around-the-clock making the business sustainable in the present, but most importantly, for the future. If you start treating networking events as an opportunity to further develop relationships with people for the future, you are much more likely to enjoy longevity in your business.
What really is networking?
There is a big difference between collecting as many business cards as you can in a single event vs. networking for the sake of building relationships. Starting out, it’s common for entrepreneurs to go to an event and hand-out / collect dozens of business cards. Aren’t we all told we need to network to get work? What better way to meet people then by exchanging business cards right? If you agree with that sentence, you might be a networking rookie. Go back a few years and even I had some difficulty learning this important concept. Make no mistake, business cards are not an outdated concept, but it’s important to always keep in mind the purpose of networking is to connect with someone in a way that builds credibility and trust.
Let’s look at five of the biggest misconceptions about networking:
#1: It’s a waste of time
Time is our most valuable resource, and we must be careful about where we spend it. That being said, networking is not one of those activities that we should be stingy about our time. Yes, it’s important to make sure you are attending the right events, but the act of developing business connections is an important one and well worth our time.
Consider which events YOUR clients attend, and go to them, especially paid events. Become a regular so people get to know you.
#2: Personalities at networking events are fake
People think that those they meet at networking events are putting on their fake “sales” face, akin to the stereotype of the slimy used car salesman of days past. Why would we want to spend our time getting to know people like that?
The truth is, you may run into a few people like that, but the vast majority of people are honest and authentic. They are out there trying to meet new people and create a quality network….like yourself. You simply have to make sure to say hi to enough people to find the good ones! Being genuine and asking non-work-related questions are key to see through the fakeness.
#3: Owners of successful businesses do not need to network
This misconception is dual-sided. People think that they won’t run into anyone worth meeting (because those types of people don’t need to attend networking events). It’s not true. Many successful business owners attend networking events to renew past relationships, meet the up-and-comers, as well as to ensure that the newbies know about their business. For those successful business people who DO feel they do not need to network, they are putting themselves at a disadvantage. Their pool for referrals will dwindle over the years, and they won’t have new people referring them.
#4: Networking and follow-up is too much effort
For those not familiar with networking, it seems like a large amount of effort. Not only do you need to attend the event, but you also need to follow-up with emails, telephone calls, engagement on social media, coffee visits, and more! While we won’t deny that effort is involved, we will say that the more you do it, the easier and more automated it becomes. When you schedule time in for the day after an event to do your follow-ups, you will get better and better at it each time you do it.
The key is to have an organized system, database and templates (processes), and follow-up sooner rather than later with everyone you meet.
#5: There is no ROI from networking
Some entrepreneurs want to associate a direct dollar value to everything, and networking does translate into a clear ROI (return on investment). When you take into account the cost of the ticket and your time spent getting to and from the event, how much money would you have to generate to make it worth it? If you consider that someone you met at one event might give you a referral a year later, it’s hard to track that directly.
That’s why it is important for you to set certain goals for a networking event. The more you can associate a goal to your ROI (such as 10 additional people to your newsletter list, 20 new social media followers etc), the better you can translate the effectiveness of your networking endeavours.
While some business organisations such as Chambers of Commerce / Boards of Trade offer less organised activities in the summer, networking is all around you! Why not organise your own little networking event? Become known as a ‘mover and shaker’ by inviting some key players out for a drink on a patio during the hot summer months. After a few times word may spread and it may catch-on. You may be amazed to know that people are always looking for new activities and events to meet like-minded people.
And who knows…maybe with all the networking success, one day you may have a Fabergé egg adorn your office desk! Until then, keep sweating-up the networking circuit until you own it.