How much of your time do you invest in in-person networking?
How engaged are you with other local business people?
Do people in your industry or community know your face or name?
I ask these questions in light of the fact that in-person networking can often fall very low on the typical creative entrepreneurs’ list of weekly or monthly priorities.
Often it can feel like there is barely enough time in the day or week to do the essential tasks, let alone to be taking time out of the office or studio to attend a ‘networking’ event.
Yet, if you don’t do much in-person networking I’d urge you to think again.
Why attend networking events?
The importance of getting out to networking events cannot really be overstated from a PR and marketing point of view.
If you aim is to increase awareness of what you do and of your products or services (and let’s face it, whose isn’t?), then face to face networking should certainly be an intrinsic element of your marketing strategy.
It’s often how relationships are established and leads are generated.
Practising what I preach
Now, before I get all ‘holier than thou’ on you, I’ll admit that networking hasn’t been a priority for me either. Until recently.
Yet in the past year, I have consciously invested time and money into establishing a presence in the local networking scene. I’m also now an active member in PR-specific groups on both a local and national level. (I have even established one myself).
This afternoon I attended a networking event, in fact.
It was the ‘You Are the Media’ networking lunch; a monthly event, hosted by Bournemouth-based content marketing strategist, author and speaker, Mark Masters. The event is one of several local business events I now attend on a regular basis.
Common misconceptions about in-person networking
- It’s a waste of time
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve not traditionally been a huge fan of networking events. And, yes, they do take up valuable time.
But I think, on reflection, that I have just never found the right event for me.
What I like about Mark’s ‘You Are The Media’ events is that he has deliberately tried to do something different.
They have become an appealing way to spend an otherwise lonely lunchtime, and the key point is here – I learn something.
Attendees meet at a trendy local venue and we eat a delicious lunch (gourmet scotch eggs regularly feature – delish!). While we tuck in, we listen to Mark reveal his latest musings on content marketing. Then there are the insights of his guest speaker too (someone new each time).
We are also welcome to chip in with our comments, observations and questions. It feels genuinely like a collaboration and a community.
Once the hour and a half are over, we all head off back to our respective offices. Tummies full and our minds informed.
Perhaps an idea or two has also been sparked.
Usually, business cards have been exchanged as well.
Stories are shared and relationships are established.
Mark’s events are far from the stuffy hotel lobby networking events I’ve certainly attended in the past. He has successfully managed to bring together a community of local people who share a passion for all things content marketing.
This example shows that in-person networking need not be boring or a waste of time.
Find the right event for you and you will probably learn new things too.
- Not the right people attend
“But local business people aren’t my target market”, you may be thinking. Perhaps you have a service-based business targeting parents and families.
If that’s the case, think again.
In-person networking events I have attended are full of men and women in business. People of all ages. Many of whom are also parents. They are often juggling busy careers with family life.
Even if they aren’t your target market now (maybe their children are teenagers whereas you are targeting young families), think of all the people that they may know. Perhaps they have friends or family members who could be relevant to you and your business.
Making a positive impression at a networking event could lead to that very person you meet recommending you.
So try not to judge a book by its cover and simply write off people who, at first glance, don’t fit your target demographic.
- Online networking is more effective
When it comes to networking to generate leads for your business, you could be forgiven for thinking “That’s what social media is for!”
Well…yes. The internet age has presented us with countless opportunities to reach a vast and highly targeted audience if we so desired.
And, granted, in some respects, online networking could be considered much easier, quicker, cheaper and less hassle.
But there is certainly a strong case for getting out of your office or studio and mixing with other people. Particularly for us solopreneurs, and those whose businesses are based around selling a service.
People buy from people after all.
It really is so beneficial, from a business perspective, when potential customers (or people who could refer potential customers to you) get to meet the real person behind the business.
It’s so much more effective to have a face to face conversation with someone than to exchange a faceless email or Facebook message.
Observing how someone presents themselves, how they dress, how they communicate and how passionately they talk about their subject of expertise and their business are all things you cannot do via online networking.
While online marketing should, of course, be a considerable element of your lead generation strategy, don’t forget the power of meeting people face to face.
Potential PR and marketing opportunities
To wrap up, I hope this has encouraged you to think again about attending in-person networking events in your area or within your specific industry sector.
If you haven’t attended a networking event for some time, I would urge you to seek some out and get involved. Who knows what may come of it?
If you do decide to try this strategy out, please do let me know how you get on in the comments box below!