We’ve all been there before. The networking events that are a complete mistake: filled with all the 'wrong' types of people. Then you have to have those awkward conversations with people who you have nothing in common with, and want to get away from!
And yet people still go because maybe, just maybe, you’ll meet someone good...?
Networking, done right, can transform your business. I’ve worked at The Supper Club for nearly eight years – we connect high-growth entrepreneurs were we see a valuable mutual connection, something we can do because we know all of our members individually. Most networking events, however, fill a room with people from a database where there are no meaningful relationships to be had.
I’ve seen the right connection at the right time lead to business-transformational deals, international expansion, major investment, the creation of new businesses, new partnerships…the list goes on. But it’s also easy, if you go about networking the wrong way, to be a busy fool, and spend your time with people who won’t yield much.
What do you need?
Before you launch into networking, you should work out what you need from it. Do you want to learn from speakers, or from other business owners, about how to launch in a new market or recruit the right staff? Is it to meet potential clients, or find suppliers, coaches and investors?
Your time is precious, so you need to work out what you need at this particular time. By all means, build your network for the future as you go, but don’t take a scattergun approach. Be targeted and strategic.
One way of shortcutting is to piggyback other people’s networks, and asking them to help connect you to the right person. Most entrepreneurs love helping fellow entrepreneurs and will gladly assist by opening up their black book.
I’ve spoken to lots of 'serial networkers' in the past who assume that because they have a large network, they don’t need any help. But maximising your network is completely different to just knowing lots of people!
In my experience, successful networking is about the right people coming together at the right stage of their business journey, so both parties get something valuable out of the interaction. That may or may not end up as a business opportunity but at the very least there will be a meeting of minds and a useful conversation. It’s detailed, pertinent knowledge of what people have done, where they’re going, and what they need that enables successful connections. So you can either get other people to help you do that, or (although it takes a little longer), take an interest in what other people are up to.
In that vein, don’t underestimate the importance of physical interaction. Good networking is about making emotional connections and building trust, and that can’t be done remotely.
How do you make the most of your network?
There are two things to remember in order to get the most out of your network. First, if you don’t ask, you don’t get! Ask your connections for help, connections and advice. Second, respect your network – they’re busy people too. That doesn’t mean you shouldn't be forthcoming with what you want, but think about what you can do for the other person in exchange. If you’re willing to help others, it will come back tenfold.
The same goes for openness. If you share your experiences openly, are honest and admit failures, people will do the same for you. Valuable connections (and connectors) are more likely to remember you favourably and you’ll be front of mind. If you always take, no one will want to give back.
How do you find the right network?
But all of this is irrelevant if you don’t tap into the right networks. That’s not just about finding the most prestigious or the most successful people, but about finding the individuals who can help you achieve what you want to achieve now (and to whom you have something to offer in return). So that probably means seeking out those who are at a similar stage of growth to you, or just beyond. It might mean looking for those who are in the same sector as you, or those in sectors with similar challenges or customers, for example.
In short, the key is prioritising quality over quantity. At our dinner events, for example, we have between eight and 12 attendees. But because we carefully match up attendees and our team facilitates every event, entrepreneurs have a chance to really get under the hood of each other’s businesses, and find out where they can help one another. That’s where the value lies.
Find a network of people you respect and can learn from, and you never know what can come out of it. In the right group, any connection might just be the next big opportunity!