When I tell people that I am a Network Leader for Women in Rural Enterprise, have been a passionate networker since my days in IT as a member of the Huntingdon Business Network and even well before that, working for the Society of Business Communicators in Melbourne over 20 years ago, I often hear the phrase:
“Networking doesn’t work”
This is often then followed up with statements such as “it’s a waste of time”, “I never get any business from it”, “everyone is so fake”, or my favourite to date “it’s always full of leach businesses” – referring to accountants, web designers and solicitors apparently!! Don’t you just love sweeping statements like that?!
But in my experience, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, when I was an IT Trainer I actually calculated that 80% of my business came as a direct result of networking. One company had never hired a freelance trainer before but sought me out on the recommendation of a fellow HBN member and became one of my best clients. In my current businesses the percentage is ever-increasing and many of my clients come from networking. And most recently I am thrilled to be collaborating with two businesswomen on The Be Free Project who I would not have met if not for WiRE.
So, why do some people have such an adverse reaction when it comes to networking?
Well, I believe there are five main reasons:
1 – You are in the wrong network
This is the most basic hurdle that many people fail to clear. They try one network and give up because it’s not for them and then decide all networks must be the same. Just as there are many different accountants, there are many different types of network out there and you just need to find one that suits you and your business. I’ve never been a fan of the big formal referral-driven networks, but have given them a go in the past – definitely not my scene. I’ve always preferred networks where you give referrals because you really want to, not because you have a quota to fill! Research what’s available to you locally and think about what it is you want to gain from the network. Even within a network such as WiRE there are so many different meeting types because each is run by a different volunteer with their own passion and flair. I love the informality of my own WiRE network, but if you prefer structure and exclusivity then find a network that provides this.
2 – You do not attend often enough to make real connections
I lose track of how often I hear that someone has attended one meeting and decided that all network sucks because they didn’t walk out with any new business. Seriously, you have to go along regularly to really connect with other members. It is as much about being authentic and real as it is about counting your success as just the number of new leads you have.
“People need realness, reality. People can sense when someone is being pretentious or fake. It’s because you feel it; you see it in someone’s body language.” ~ Afrojack
I believe that PEOPLE BUY PEOPLE and that networking allows you to really get to know someone before you even mention that you may need their products or services. A great example of this is people in the network marketing industry. They are all selling the same products with the same deals and discounts at the same time, but some are far more successful than others. I buy both NYRO and FLP and although I know lots of distributors of both, I choose to deal with one specific person in each case. Why? Because they are not pushy (see point 4 below), they know their stuff, they use their own products AND they have taken the time to attend meetings long enough that I have formed real relationships with them – I really like them as people as well as what they sell…
3 – You do not value it
If you view spending attending networking events as a waste of time, and time that could be better spent at your PC, then you’re not seeing the bigger picture. There is value in getting out there, meeting new people and learning new things. If, like me, you work for yourself, you can spend days locked away without any other adult contact (not counting social media). So networking gives you a way to connect with real people and a little time to work ON your business instead of IN it. It also makes you think about how you describe yourself and your business to others. Getting out of the house also means getting dressed and wearing a bra!
Speaking of which, I found this awesome mug on Etsy if this is one of your excuses for not going to a networking meeting, or indeed going out at all!
4 – You are only trying to sell
Networking is about PEOPLE (see point 2 above) and about making connections with other humans. It is not only about what you get out of it, but what you put into it. If you can offer some help to a fellow member, you will often find that it comes back tenfold in referrals or new business. If you are calculating your time vs income as the only indicator of whether networking is valuable or not, then you are missing a huge chunk of the point. Getting your message across is of course of great importance during a meeting, but really listening to other people and offering your own advice or referrals endears you more to others than constantly telling them your latest offer.
5 – You are just not a people person
I’m sure we’ve all met them! The people who attend meetings and won’t make eye contact with you or get upset if you mention that you already have a supplier for their particular product or service. I’m not talking about those who are a little shy and unsure of their talents, but of those who are pretty sure they are the only person you should be dealing with and get haughty if you dare to suggest that you don’t need them right now. If you’re not really comfortable with people, then networking can be difficult. It can take practice, perseverance and patience to really enjoy networking and get the best out of it. If you have already decided it won’t work when you turn up, then you have set yourself up for that result. Try being optimistic about your results – even if it’s just giving one piece of advice and talking to one new person – and see how quickly your opportunities for business improve.
So, there you have it folks – networking really doesn’t work if you don’t want it to. Just like anything we do in business, we can make it work if we find our niche and enjoy what we are doing. So give networking another go and see if you can find a group that embodies what you want out of your business – I dare you!